Y.M.C.A. (song)

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"Y.M.C.A."
YMCA by Village People US vinyl single A-side label-.png
One of A-side label variants of U.S. 7-inch vinyl single
Single by Village People
from the album Cruisin'
B-side"The Women"
ReleasedOctober 17, 1978
Recorded1978
StudioSigma Sound Studios (New York City, New York)
GenreDisco
Length4:47 (single version)
6:47 (12" disco version)
LabelCasablanca
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)Jacques Morali
Village People singles chronology
"Macho Man"
(1978)
"Y.M.C.A."
(1978)
"In the Navy"
(1979)

"Y.M.C.A." is a song by the American disco group Village People. It was released in 1978 as the only single from their third studio album, Cruisin' (1978). The song was written by Jacques Morali (also the record's producer) and singer Victor Willis.[1] A medley with "Hot Cop" reached No. 2 on Billboard's Dance Music/Club Play Singles chart,[2] while the song reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in early 1979, placing behind both "Le Freak" by Chic and "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" by Rod Stewart.[3] Outside the US, "Y.M.C.A." reached No. 1 in the UK around the same time, becoming the group's biggest hit. It is one of fewer than 40 singles to have sold 10 million (or more) physical copies worldwide.

The song remains popular and is played at many sporting events in the US and Europe, with crowds joining in on the dance in which arm movements are used to spell out the four letters of the song's title. "Y.M.C.A." appeared as the Space Shuttle wake-up call on day 11 of mission STS-106.[4] In 2009, "Y.M.C.A." set a Guinness World Record when over 44,000 people danced to Village People's live performance of the song at the 2008 Sun Bowl game in El Paso, Texas.[5]

"Y.M.C.A." is #7 on VH1's list of "The 100 Greatest Dance Songs of the 20th Century."[6] In 2020, "Y.M.C.A" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame[7] and selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[8][9] In its official press release, the Library noted that "back in its heyday, 'Y.M.C.A.' was a hit around the world, going to No. 1 on the charts in over 15 countries, and its ongoing popularity is evidence that, despite the naysayers, disco has never truly died."[8]

History[edit]

In the US, the YMCA began building single room occupancy (SRO) facilities in the 1880s to house people from rural areas who moved into cities to look for work.[10] The typical YMCA SRO housing provides "low-income, temporary housing for a rent of $110 per week" (in 2005) for stays that are typically three to six months long.[10] By 1950, 670 of the 1,688 YMCAs in the US provided SRO spaces, which made 66,959 beds available.[10] By the 1970s, the typical YMCA tenants were more likely to be homeless people and youth facing life issues, rather than people migrating from rural areas.[10]

Victor Willis, lead singer and lyricist, recalls that while in the studio, producer Jacques Morali asked him, "What exactly is the YMCA?" After Willis explained it to him, he saw the expression on Morali's face and said, "Don't tell me, Jacques, you want to write a song about it?" and they quickly wrote the track for the album Cruisin'.[11] Upon the song's release, YMCA threatened to sue the band over trademark infringement. The organization ultimately settled with the composers out of court and later expressed pride regarding the song saluting the organization.[12]

In 2015, Willis won a legal case against Can't Stop Productions, successfully claiming that he and Morali had written this and other Village People songs together, without any involvement from executive producer Henri Belolo, who was credited on the song's original release. The production company claimed that Belolo had written French lyrics that were then adapted by Willis, but this claim was rejected by the court which ruled that Belolo's name as co-writer should be removed.[13]

Composition and background[edit]

Lyrical content[edit]

Taken at face value, the song's lyrics extol the virtues of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). However, in the gay culture from which the image and music of the Village People came, the song was implicitly understood as celebrating YMCA's reputation as a popular cruising and hookup spot, particularly for the younger men to whom it was addressed.[14] The initial goal of Village People producers Morali and Belolo was to attract disco's gay audience by featuring popular gay fantasy in their music.[15] Although co-creator Morali was gay and the group was initially intended to target gay men, the group became more popular and more mainstream over time.[16]

Conversely, Willis had said that he wrote the song in Vancouver, British Columbia[17] and, through his publicist, that he did not write "Y.M.C.A." as a gay anthem,[18] but rather as a reflection of the fun activities that young urban black youth experienced at YMCA, such as basketball and swimming. However, Willis has often acknowledged his fondness for double entendre.[19][20]

In an article for Gothamist, writer Abbey White states the atmosphere of YMCA was "more complicated than the lyrics portray, with gay culture and working-class workouts coexisting in a single communal space", creating "a mix of white-collar and blue-collar residents, along with retired seniors and veterans", with about half of the residents being gay.[21] While the song gives the impression that YMCA SROs in the 1970s had a party atmosphere, Paul Groth states that YMCA SRO units actually had "more supervision of your social life — a kind of management as to how you behaved...[than] in a commercial rooming house, which mostly wanted to make sure the rooms were rented", without monitoring who you brought to your room.[21]

Song structure[edit]

The song, played in the key of G♭ major, begins with a brass riff, backed by the constant pulse that typified disco. Many different instruments are used throughout for an overall orchestral feel, another disco convention, but it is brass that stands out.

As with other Village People hits, the lead vocals are handled by Willis and the background vocals are supplied by Willis and professional background singers. The distinctive vocal line features the repeated "Young man!" ecphonesis, followed by Willis singing the verse lines. The background vocals join in throughout the song.

Willis' version of the song is used in the Village People film Can't Stop the Music, though by that time Ray Simpson had replaced him as the policeman.

Reception[edit]

Billboard Magazine stated that "Y.M.C.A." is "another example of [the Village People's] droll humor, playing off its gayness with hard hat themes."[22] Billboard also called Y.M.C.A (and its B-side, "The Women") one of the best cuts on the Cruisin' album.[23] Although the song did not reach No. 1 in the United States, it became a No. 1 hit throughout the world and has remained popular at parties, sporting events, weddings and functions ever since.

Music video[edit]

The music video for "Y.M.C.A." was filmed in New York City in July 1978. The location shown the most in the music video is at 213 West 23rd Street. Other filming locations in the city included 395 West Street, the West Side Piers and Hudson River Park. The video features the band singing the song and dancing all over the city and ends with the camera zooming in on the Empire State Building.

Origin of dance and hand movement[edit]

The YMCA dance demonstrated in a photomontage. In this rendition, the M (second from left) is done in a popular variant.
Members of the grounds crew of Yankee Stadium pause to do the YMCA dance.

YMCA is also the name of a group dance with cheerleader Y-M-C-A choreography invented to fit the song. One of the phases involves moving arms to form the letters Y-M-C-A as they are sung in the chorus:

Y — arms outstretched and raised upwards
M — made by bending the elbows from the 'Y' pose so the fingertips meet in front of the chest[24]
C — arms extended to the left
A — hands held together above head

The dance originated on Dick Clark's American Bandstand. The group performed the song during the January 6, 1979 episode. Clark then said to Willis that he would like to show him something, playing the song again with the audience doing YMCA hand gestures.[25][26] Willis immediately picked up on the dance and mimicked the hand movements back at the audience as other Village People members stared at him with puzzled looks. Clark then turned to Willis and said, "Victor, think you can work this dance into your routine?" Willis responded, "I think we're gonna have to."[25] In a 2008 retrospective article for Spin, Randy Jones has opined that the dance may have originated as a misunderstanding: the group's original choreographed dance had the group clapping above their heads during the chorus and he believes that the audience, believing them to be making the letter "Y", began following suit.[27]

Following the sixth inning of New York Yankees baseball games at Yankee Stadium, the grounds crew traditionally grooms the infield while leading the crowd in the dance.[28]

Impact and legacy[edit]

VH1 placed "Y.M.C.A." at #7 on their list of "100 Greatest Dance Songs" in 2000,[29] while Paste Magazine ranked the song #1 on their list of "The 60 Best Dancefloor Classics" in February 2017.[30]

In 2012, in a landmark ruling in accordance with the Copyright Act of 1976, Willis terminated his copyrights granted to the publishers Can't Stop Productions and Scorpio Music.[31] In March 2015, it was determined that the sole writers of the song were Morali and Willis.[32]

In March 2020, the US Library of Congress added the song to its National Recording Registry, which preserves for posterity audio that is "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant".[33] In December 2020, "Y.M.C.A." was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.[7]

President Donald Trump began using the song (as well as another Village People song, "Macho Man") to close out his rallies during his 2020 re-election campaign. Willis initially approved its use but after several incidents involving the Black Lives Matter protests, he demanded Trump stop.[34] Saturday Night Live parodied the song and the group's reaction with "Cease and desist" on the October 24, 2020, segment of Weekend Update.[35] As a result, the song was back in the Top 20 on iTunes in November 2020[36] and hit the #2 spot on the Billboard Dance Digital Song Sales chart.[37] On November 7, following the media's declaration that Joe Biden had become President-elect and defeated Trump in the 2020 US presidential election, Biden supporters celebrated by dancing in the streets and singing the song across the United States.[38]

The song blared over loudspeakers as Donald Trump boarded Air Force One for the last time on January 20, 2021, en route to Florida before the inauguration of Joe Biden.[39]

Personnel[edit]

  • Victor Willis – vocals
  • Russell Dabney – drums
  • Alfonso Carey – bass guitar
  • Jimmy Lee – guitar
  • Rodger Lee – rhythm guitar
  • Nathaniel Wilkie – Fender Rhodes piano, clavinet
  • Bitter Sweet – hand claps

Chart performance[edit]

Certifications and sales[edit]

Certifications and sales for Y.M.C.A.
Region Certification Certified units/sales
Belgium 300,000[82]
Canada (Music Canada)[83] 2× Platinum 300,000^
France (SNEP)[85] Gold 1,450,000[84]
Germany (BVMI)[87] Gold 500,000[86]
Italy (FIMI)[88]
sales since 2009
Gold 25,000double-dagger
Netherlands (NVPI)[90] Platinum 250,000[89]
United Kingdom (BPI)[92] Platinum 1,500,000[91]
United States (RIAA)[93] Platinum 2,000,000^
Summaries
Worldwide 12,000,000[94]

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Hideki Saijo version[edit]

"Young Man (Y.M.C.A.)"
YMCASaijo.jpg
Single by Hideki Saijo
from the album Young Man/Hideki Flying Up
B-side"Hideki Disco Special"
ReleasedFebruary 21, 1979
GenreKayokyoku
Length4:43
Label
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)Kazuo Ohtani
Hideki Saijo singles chronology
"Harukanaru Koibito e"
(1978)
"Young Man (Y.M.C.A.)"
(1979)
"Hop Step Jump"
(1979)

In 1979, Japanese singer Hideki Saijo covered the song for his compilation album Young Man/Hideki Flying Up as "Young Man (Y.M.C.A.)". In Japan, the cover topped on the Oricon chart for five consecutive weeks and became the seventh best-selling single of 1979 in Japan. For the cover, the lyrics was re-written in Japanese by Saijo's manager, Ryuji Amagai.

Commercial performance[edit]

"Young Man (Y.M.C.A.)" debuted at number two on the Oricon Weekly Singles Chart, and in the following week, it reached number one, where it stayed for five consecutive weeks. The song finally became the seventh best-selling single of 1979 in Japan and Saijo's best-selling single to date, with the sales of 808,000 copies.

Following the death of Saijo on 16 May 2018, the song re-entered the chart, peaking at number fifteen on the Billboard Japan Hot 100.[95]

Accolades[edit]

"Young Man (Y.M.C.A.)" won the Grand Prix at the FNS Music Festival '79 and the 10th Japan Music Awards. Despite the hit, the song was disqualified for the 21st Japan Record Awards due to the competition's guideline that requires the songs to be original work. At the award, Saijo instead won the golden award for his single, "Yuki ga Areba" (1979).

Cover versions[edit]

"Young Man (Y.M.C.A.)" has been covered by multiple other Asian musicians, including Keisuke Kuwata, Aska, George Lam, Yang Kun, and E-girls.

Track listing[edit]

7-inch single

  1. "Young Man (Y.M.C.A.)" - 4:43
  2. "Hideki Disco Special" (Medley)

Charts[edit]

Touché feat. Krayzee version[edit]

"Y.M.C.A."
Single by Touché feat. Krayzee
from the album Kids In America
ReleasedSeptember 14, 1998
Recorded1998
GenreEurodance
Length3:09 (single version)
3:14 (album version)
LabelBMG, Hansa
Songwriter(s)Jacques Morali, Victor Willis
Producer(s)Dieter Bohlen
Touché feat. Krayzee singles chronology
"I'll Give You My Heart"
(1998)
"Y.M.C.A."
(1998)
"This Goodbye Is Not Forever"
(1998)

In 1998, Touché covered the hit for their album Kids in America with Krayzee. In this version Touche take over the vocal parts and only the rap contributes to Krayzee. In Belgium, this cover version was a top ten hit, while the success in the German-speaking countries, however, was rather modest.

Music video[edit]

In the music video Touche and Krayzee perform the song in a city area, accompanied by elaborate effects.[97]

Track listing[edit]

CD maxi

  1. "YMCA" (Rap Version) - 3:09
  2. "YMCA" (Vocal Version) - 3:14
  3. "Promise To Believe" (Touché) - 3:57
  4. "I Want Your Body" (Touché) - 3:19

Charts[edit]

Chart (1998) Peak
position
German Singles Chart 31
Austrian Singles Chart 31
Swiss Singles Chart 23[98]
Belgium (Flanders) (Ultratop) 10[99]

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External links[edit]

External video
video icon Original 1978 music video