Village People is a concept disco group formed in the late 1970s, well known for their on-stage costumes as well as their catchy tunes and suggestive lyrics. Original members were: Victor Willis (police officer), Felipe Rose (American Indian chief), Randy Jones (cowboy), Glenn Hughes (biker), David Hodo (construction worker) and Alex Briley (Military man). For the release of "In the Navy", Willis and Briley appeared as an admiral and a sailor, respectively. Originally created to target disco's primarily gay audience by featuring stereotypical gay fantasy personas, the band's popularity quickly brought them into mainstream.
Village People scored a number of disco and dance hits, including their trademark "Macho Man", "Go West", the classic club medley of "San Francisco (You've Got Me) / In Hollywood (Everybody is a Star)", "In the Navy", "Can't Stop the Music", and their biggest hit, "Y.M.C.A.".
In September, 2008 the group received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They have sold upwards of 50 million records world-wide.
The group was the creation of Jacques Morali, a French musical composer. He had written a few dance tunes when he was given a demo tape recorded by singer/actor Victor Willis. Morali approached Willis and told him, "I had a dream that you sang lead on my album and it went very, very big". Willis agreed to sing on the first album, Village People.
It was a success, and demand for live appearances soon followed. Morali and his business partner, Henri Belolo (under the collaboration Can't Stop Productions), hastily built a group of dancers around Willis to perform in clubs and on Dick Clark's American Bandstand. As Village People's popularity grew, Morali, Belolo and Willis saw the need for a permanent 'group.' They took out an ad in a music trade magazine which read: "Macho Types Wanted: Must Dance And Have A Moustache."
Morali literally bumped into the first recruit, Felipe Rose (Indian), on the streets of Greenwich Village. Rose was a bartender who wore jingle bells on his boots. He was invited to take part in the sessions for the first album. Alex Briley (who started as an athlete, but eventually took on the soldier persona) was a friend of Willis'. The other three, Mark Mussler (construction worker), Dave Forrest (cowboy) and Lee Mouton (leatherman) were replaced, respectively, by David Hodo, Randy Jones and Glenn Hughes, who all had more experience as actors/singers/dancers. Hughes had first been spotted as a toll collector at the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Early on, one of the group's songwriters, Peter Whitehead, performed with the group for a brief time.
Altho the musical composers were French, the lyrics were all in English as Morali and Belolo used American lyricists. On the first album, they brought in songwriting legends Phil Hurtt and the aforementioned Peter Whitehead. For the next three albums (and on other Can't Stop Productions other hit acts such as Ritchie Family and Patrick Juvet) lead singer Willis was the lyricist.
The band's name references New York City's Greenwich Village neighborhood, at the time known for having a substantial gay population . Morali and Belolo got the inspiration for creating an assembly of American man archetypes based on the gay men of The Village who frequently dressed in various fantasy attire.
While the song "Macho Man" put them on the map, their 1978 anthem "Y.M.C.A." made them one of the most successful musical groups of all time.
In 1979, the United States Navy considered using "In the Navy", in a recruiting advertising campaign on television and radio. They contacted Belolo, who decided to give the rights for free on the condition that the Navy help them shoot the music video. Less than a month later, Village People arrived at the San Diego Naval base. The Navy provided them with a warship (USS Reasoner (FF-1063)), several aircraft, and the crew of the ship. The Navy later canceled the campaign.
Their fame reached its peak in 1979 when Village People made several appearances on The Merv Griffin Show and appeared with Bob Hope to entertain the U.S. troops. The group was also featured on the cover of Rolling Stone, Vol. 289, April 19, 1979. Willis left the group at the end of an international tour in 1979, and the group's downfall began.
Ray Simpson, brother of Valerie Simpson (of Ashford & Simpson), stepped into Willis' shoes in time for the group's highly anticipated 1980 feature film Can't Stop the Music, directed by Nancy Walker, written by Allan Carr and Bronte Woodard, music and lyrics by Jacques Morali (although Willis penned the lyrics to "Milkshake" and "Magic Night") and starring Steve Guttenberg, Valerie Perrine, Jean-Claude Billmaer, Bruce Jenner, and the Village People. By the time it was released, however, disco had waned and the movie won the Worst Picture and Worst Screenplay prizes at the 1980 Golden Raspberry Awards in March 1981 and was nominated in almost all the other categories. Despite that, the song "Can't Stop the Music" became a Club Play chart hit and moderate radio hit. The soundtrack also featured the talents of "David London," who under his real name Dennis "Fergie" Frederiksen went on to become the future lead singer of Toto and one of the main contributors to the Village People's next album. The movie itself has since gone on to become a cult favorite, developing a worldwide fan base.
The group was one of the featured guests on a November 22, 1980 episode of Love Boat, (7th episode of season 4), entitled "Secretary to the Stars/Julie's Decision/The Horse Lover/Gopher and Isaac Buy a Horse". At the end of 1980, cowboy Randy Jones left the group and was replaced by Jeff Olson.
In 1981, with the popularity of disco faded and New Wave music on the rise, Village People replaced its on-stage costumes with a new look inspired by the New Romantic movement, and released the New Wave album Renaissance. It only attracted minor attention and produced no hits.
Victor Willis returned to the group briefly in late 1981 for the album Fox on the Box, which was released in 1982 only in Europe but did have limited release in the U.S. in 1983 under the title In the Street. Miles Jaye had briefly taken over for Ray Simpson as lead singer by 1983 and contributed an extra track to In the Street. Mark Lee replaced David Hodo in 1982.
Their last album containing new material, the 1985 dance/Hi-NRG release Sex Over the Phone, was not a huge commercial success, but it fared better in sales and club play than their Renaissance album. The "Sex Over the Phone" music video, due to the rise of video on the Internet, has become a viral video phenomenon. The Sex album featured yet another new lead singer, Ray Stephens. Py Douglas came in to sub for Stephens for some of the group's live appearances in 1985.
In 1986, the group took a hiatus, but reunited in 1987 with the line-up of Randy Jones, David Hodo, Felipe Rose, Glenn Hughes, Alex Briley and Ray Simpson.
1990s to Present
November 15 1991: Village People founder Jacques Morali dies from AIDS in Paris, France.
1993: the group make a guest appearance on the hit show Married With Children in the episode "Take My Wife, Please".
1994: Village People join the German national football team to sing its official World Cup '94 theme "Far Away in America."
1994: Cowboy Randy Jones sings Greg Brady's part on a punk cover of The Brady Bunch classic "Time to Change."
2000: The group release new material under the name Amazing Veepers.
2001: Felipe Rose appears as himself on the game show To Tell the Truth.
March 4, 2001: original member Glenn Hughes (Leatherman) dies from lung cancer in New York City.
2004: Village People perform as the opening act for Cher on her Farewell Tour until it ends in April 2005. It was a highly successful tour for both artists.
May 7, 2004: Original Cowboy Randy Jones marries Will Grega, his partner of 20 years.
June 20, 2006: Victor Willis, original lead singer, issues his first statement to the media in over 25 years indicating that the "nightmare of drug abuse" has been "lifted from his life" and looks forward to living the second half of his life drug-free. Willis also reveals that an autobiography is in the works and that he will embark on an international tour to coincide with its release.
September 4, 2006: Village People perform on Jerry Lewis' MDA Telethon.
September 5, 2006: Willis is released from custody and into the Betty Ford Center. He was given three years probation and ordered to abstain from further use of drugs.
August 31, 2007: Victor Willis gives his first live concert in 28 years in Las Vegas.
October 23, 2007: Village People perform on the NBC game show The Singing Bee.
November 17, 2007: Victor Willis weds long-time love, Karen, a lawyer and executive.
July 15, 2008: At the Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium, Village People perform "Y.M.C.A." with the Yankees grounds crew during the 7th inning stretch.
September 12, 2008: Village People receive star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Star Wars characters, a Jawa, Greedo, Chewbacca and an Imperial Stormtrooper, take on the iconic roles of the Village People and lead the crowd in the "Y.M.C.A." dance at a Disney weekend event in 2007.
Due to their easily recognizable characters, the group have frequently been imitated or parodied in films, TV-series, video games and music. Numerous covers and homages of their songs have been recorded. The stereotypical masculine characters, particularly the leather-clad biker character with a handlebar moustache, have also become a widespread pop culture icons associated with male gay culture and YMCA has become something of an anthem of the LGBT community.
In 1995, a parody of the Village People was seen on the acclaimed CGI show ReBoot singing "BSnP", a parody of "Y.M.C.A." They were seen in the ReBoot episode "Talent Night". Their song "BSnP" was a jab at ABC network's Broadcast Standards and Practices organization, which frequently edited content from the show which they deemed not suitable for its younger viewers (lyrics included "Oh, it's fun to play in a non-violent way).