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The Village People Appear on the Cover of "Rolling Stone" (April 12, 1979)

Village_people_rolling_stone A few months after rocker Rod Stewart succumbed to the Disco Fever sweeping the nation in 1979 with his disco smash Do Ya Think I'm Sexy? (four weeks at #1), the world of rock capitulated further when Rolling Stone put the Village People on the cover of its April 19 issue (it hit newsstands today).  The magazine had earlier cover stories on the Bee Gees in 1977 (posing in their famous white disco suits) and Donna Summer in 1978, but the Village People cover was an indication of how gay culture was being slowly absorbed into mainstream America.  Soon their song YMCA would be played at wedding receptions and performed by ground crews at baseball games.  And a commercial for Old El Paso salsa from the early 1990s was set to the song Macho Man.


Old el paso salsa commercial


Unlike most novelty groups, the Village People managed to chart three songs in the top 20 of Billboard's Hot 100: YMCA went to #2; In the Navy peaked at #3; and Macho Man topped out at #14.   


Disco_demolition_night However, the Rolling Stone cover may have been the straw that broke the camel's back as a backlash against disco music soon began - culminating in the infamous "Disco Demolition Night" riot at Chicago's Comiskey Park in July.  But 30+ years later the mention of the Village People is still likely to put a smile on most faces.   


Other ZeitGAYst posts about the Village People:

Coming Out with the Help of the Village People

The Village People Appear on American Bandstand

Creator of the Village People Dies of AIDS

Glenn Hughes, Village People's "Leatherman" Dies

The Village People's "Leatherman" Dies (March 4, 2001)

Glenn_Hughes_(Village_People)in_memoriam Glenn Hughes, the Village People's furry-chested, handlebar-mustached leatherman died on March 4, 2001 from lung cancer at the age of 50.  The other five members of the original group are still alive and range in age from 55 to 65.  (The group's creator, Jacques Morali, died in 1991.)  The video clip below of Hughes is from the Village People's awful 1980 movie Can't Stop the Music:




Brian_wilson_sfgiants2 I thought about Hughes when watching the 2010 World Series because Giants relief pitcher, Brian Wilson, reminded me of him - except he doesn't have a hairy chest or naturally black hair (Wilson dyes it to give him an intimidating look).






The Village People Appear on "American Bandstand" (January 6, 1979)

Villagepeople.americanbandstandThe mainstreaming of gay culture began on the afternoon of Jan. 6, 1979 when the Village People performed their hit song YMCA on American Bandstand (the Good Housekeeping seal of approval for pop music).  Then in April they would crash that bastion of rock'n roll, Rolling Stone magazine, by appearing on its cover.  Having the Village People embraced by the general public was similar to when Wonder Bread came out with a line of whole wheat bread.  Indeed, their Bandstand appearance may have been the beginning of gay culture infiltrating the mainstream - the song made it all the way to #2 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart.  Such acceptance by the masses was what conservative politicians and the religious right feared (and was one of the driving forces behind the rise of the "Moral Majority").  




Was the public so benighted that the innuendo-laden message of this and other VP songs such as Macho Man and In the Navy completely eluded them?  (Then again I was also surprised that the "milk mustache" campaign took off because from the very start I thought it had a pornographic connotation.)  Or had they suddenly developed an appreciation of "camp"?  Whatever was behind it, their fascination faded the following year when the Village People "jumped the shark" by appearing in the dreadful movie Can't Stop the Music (co-starring Bruce Jenner, long before plastic surgery).





This movie fiasco can't take away from the accomplishment of our merry band of troubadours in introducing some gay culture into the zeitgeist of mainstream America.  

Jacques Morali, Creator of "The Village People", Dies of AIDS (November 15, 1991)

Jacques-MoraliFrench music producer Jacques Morali, creator of the Village People, succumbed to AIDS in Paris on November 15, 1991 at the age of 44.  Besides the Village People, Morali also wrote classic disco hits for the all-female group the Ritchie Family, including Best Disco in Town, Life Is Music and African Queens.  Morali died one week after Magic Johnson announced he was HIV+ and a week-and-a-half before Queens' Freddie Mercury died of AIDS.


Part of the burgeoning gay scene of the late '70s, The Village People were embraced by gay men with the release of their song San Francisco/Hollywood.  Despite lyrics filled with gay double entendres they crossed over to the general market, which got a kick out of the group's "camp pop".  First came Macho Man followed by the ubiquitous YMCA, which spent three weeks at #2 on Billboard's Hot 100 in the winter of 1979.  Their third album Go West was released in the spring and the single In the Navy went to #3.  Rolling Stone Magazine even put them on its coverHowever, overexposure soon ensued and the group "jumped the shark" in 1980 with their embarrassingly bad movie Can't Stop the Music.




The late '70s happened to be my formative coming-out years.  I bought the Village People's eponymous first album (right) during the spring of my junior year at Penn State.  I'd get a frisson of excitement listening to the lyrics of songs such as Key West and Fire Island - places I'd yet to experience.  The dorm complex I lived at in University Park was where many members of the football team lived and some on my floor occasionally asked to borrow this LP for parties. 




Unfortunately, Village People videos from You Tube aren't available for sharing but here's one of the Ritchie Family performing African Queens.  From it you can see/hear the origins of the Village People sound/costuming.






Silly Disco Songs - And What's Wrong With That?

DiscoballWhen the first notes of a cheesy disco tune begin to play you may initially roll your eyes, but such songs can be a lot of fun on the dance floor.  They're likely to have a good beat, an infectious hook and catchy sound effects.  And with lyrics that are often non-sensical you can't help but chuckle.  Inane, yes, but irresistible to dance to.  (Of course, having a few drinks helps.)  What follows is my honor roll of lovably cheesy disco tunes. 


Ring My Bell (1979) - In my estimation, this is the silliest disco tune of all time and yet it was the nation's #1 song for two weeks.  It was sung by Anita Ward, who some friends still confuse with R&B chanteuse Anita Baker or Anita Hill (of Clarence Thomas fame).




Get Off (1978) - 30+ years later and you probably still can't get the synthesized "Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, oohs" out of your head.

Macho Man (1978) - Actually, any song by the Village People qualifies for this list, but this one was their first top-40 hit.




Honey Bee (1974) - Sung by Gloria Gaynor before she became the pre-eminent disco diva with her classics Never Can Say Goodbye and I Will Survive.  It was released in the early years of the disco era along with trifles such as Lady Bump by Penny McLean and Smarty Pants by First Choice.  Although these three songs weren't commercial hits they were popular in gay discos.




Shake Your Groove Thing (1979) - What exactly is a "groove thing"?  Based on the lyrics, "We put in motion every single part" and "We're bumpin' booties, havin' us a ball y'all", it appears it's any movable body part.

Instant Replay (1978) - Its opening countdown is one of the most distinctive of any song's.  (Interestingly, the album it's on has a song called Countdown.)  A very high spirited song, but what exactly is it about?  Produced by Dan Hartman, he released the huge club hit Vertigo/Relight My Fire the following year.




Boogie Oogie Oogie (1978) - Any song with the word "Boogie" in its title qualifies for this list: Boogie Nights; Boogie Wonderland; Boogie Woogie Dancing Shoes; Boogie Fever; and Boogie Shoes.  However, Boogie Oogie Oogie was the biggest of them all, spending three weeks atop Billboard's Hot 100.

Makin' It (1979) - Perhaps the "whitest" of any disco hit, it was sung by David Naughton, the star of the short-lived TV show of the same name.  However, Naughton's real claim to fame was being the Dr. Pepper guy in TV commercials from the 1970s ("I'm a Pepper, you're a Pepper...").




The Main Event (1979) - By far the cheesiest of any Streisand single, and even more embarrassing than Rod Stewart's entree into disco earlier in the year, Do Ya Think I'm Sexy (which spent four weeks at #1).  The Main Event, which made it to #5, was the title track from the equally awful movie Babs starred in with Ryan O'Neal.




Devil's Gun (1977) - The bass voice singing "Fee-Fie, Foe-Fum, you're looking down the barrel of the devil's gun" was especially catchy - in a Sesame Street sort of way.




Pow Wow (1979) - Its lyrics make reference to passing a piece pipe and a teepee being cold and empty; sound effects included Indian war whoops.  It was sung by Cory Daye, best known as the lead singer of Dr. Buzzard's Savannah Band, whose big hit was Cherchez la Femme in 1976.

Get Up & Boogie (1976) - By the German group Silver Convention, a follow up to their breakout hit, Fly Robin Fly, the year before.  The song is best known for its distinctive shout-out opening "That's Right!"




Funkytown (1980) - It has one of the most distinctive melodies of any song, with a great sax and strings interlude during the chorus.  It spent four weeks at #1 and was one of the ten most popular songs of 1980.




Copacabana (1978) - Delta Dawn with a beat, Copacabana became one of Barry Manilow's eleven top-10 hits.  It brings back fond memories of my college days at Penn State where on Friday evenings I'd go with friends to Mr. C's Disco to dance and drink tequila sunrises during happy hour. 





Coming Out With the Help of the Village People

Village_people_first_albumI bought the Village People's eponymous first album without having heard any of its songs.  I did so because their medley San Francisco/Hollywood had been high on Billboard's dance chart for months so I figured it was worth taking a chance on.  I was in my junior year at Penn State and I bought the LP at the record store in State College in the spring of 1978.  (The first disco album I bought was Donna Summer's double-LP Once Upon a Time the previous summer.) 


The late 70's were my formative coming-out years and the songs on this album, e.g. Fire Island, Key West and San Francisco, provided me with somewhat of an education about gay life.  I'd get a frisson of excitement listening to these songs' lyrics about places I'd yet to experience.  


PSU_WestHallsThe dorm complex I lived in at University Park, West Halls (pictured), was where many members of the school's Nittany Lions football team lived; some players on my floor occasionally asked to borrow this LP for their parties.  Despite the fact that the Village People were embraced by gay men and their song lyrics were filled with gay double entendres, they managed to cross over to the oblivious general market, who seemed to get a kick out of the group's "camp pop".


Vp_in_the_navyThe first Village People song to chart was Macho Man, from their seconnd album, followed by the ubiquitous YMCA, which spent three weeks at #2 on Billboard's Hot 100 in the winter of 1979.  Their third album Go West was released in the spring of 1979 and the single In the Navy went to #3.  Rolling Stone Magazine even put them on its coverHowever, overexposure soon ensued and the group "jumped the shark" in 1980 with their embarassingly bad movie Can't Stop the Music.


Other Village People-inspired posts found on ZeitGAYst

The Village People Perform on American Bandstand    

The Village People Appear on the Cover of Rolling Stone

Creator of the Village People, Jacques Morali, Dies of AIDS

Glenn Hughes, Village People's "Leatherman", Dies





Looking Back at Gay History: 1981


Feb 5, 1981 - 305 men are arrested in a raid on four bathhouses in Toronto, the largest mass arrest of civilians in Canadian history.

March 30, 1981 - The Village People's movie, Can't Stop the Music, has the distinction of winning the first Golden Raspberry Award, as worst movie of 1980. 

May 1, 1981 - Billie Jean King's longtime female secretary files a palimony suit, making their relationship public.  

May 20, 1981 - March of the Falsettos opens off-Broadway.


July 3, 1981 - A front page article in the New York Times reports on "Rare Cancer Seen in Homosexuals."

July 29, 1981 - Prince Charles marries Lady Diana Spencer.

Sept 19, 1981 - Mommie Dearest opens.


Oct 2, 1981 - German film Taxi zum Clo ("Taxi to the Toilet") opens at the New York Film Festival.

Oct 31, 1981 - Producer Patrick Cowley's techno composition Menergy is the new #1 song on Billboard's dance chart.

Nov 16, 1981 - Olivia Newton John's single Physical begins its first of ten weeks at the top of the charts.  The song's video has a gay twist at the end.

Dec 8, 1981 - The NYC Gay Men's Chorus holds its Christmas concert at Carnegie Hall for the first time (and would do so for the next 27 years). 

Dec 20, 1981 - Dreamgirls opens on Broadway.

LGBT History Time Capsule: 1980



Jan 12, 1980 - Dan Hartman's classic Vertigo/Relight My Fire begins its first of six weeks atop Billboard's dance chart.

Feb 8, 1980 - The controversial film Cruising, starring Al Pacino, opens.  Some gay critics took issue with what they viewed as the sensationalistic depiction of the BDSM lifestyle. 

March 31, 1980 - 30-year old Richard Gere appears shirtless on the cover of People Magazine (cover date of 4/7/80).  It was very similar to Gere's cover in After Dark back in 1978.



June 20, 1980 - After 18 months of wild mainstream success, the Village People "jumped the shark" with the opening of their movie Can't Stop the Music.  It was so bad that it was the inspiration for the Razzie Awards.

Sept 20, 1980 - Opening night at "The Saint", New York's premier gay dance club of the 1980's.

Sept 20, 1980 - Love Sensation by Loleatta Holloway goes to #1 on Billboard's dance chart.

Nov 5, 1980 - The Fifth of a July opens on Broadway.


Nov 24, 1980 - Eyebrows are raised as Ron Regan Jr. gets married.

(To read about gay milestones from other years, double click here.)

Gay History Timeline: 1979



Jan 1, 1979 - Ethel Merman's infamous disco album is released two weeks shy of her 71st birthday.  It was the craziest thing she'd done since her marriage of one month to Ernest Borgnine in 1964.

Jan 6, 1979 - The Village People perform YMCA on American Bandstand.   

Feb 3, 1979 - The Village People's YMCA peaks at #2 on Billboard's Hot 100.




March 4, 1979 - Gloria Gaynor's gay anthem I Will Survive tops the Billboard Hot 100. 

March 24, 1979 - Sister Sledge has the new #1 dance record on Billboard's dance chart with He's the Greatest Dancer

March 26 - Donna Summer appears on the cover of Newsweek for its cover story titled 'Disco Takes Over'.




April 7, 1979 - Electronic music producer Gino Soccio has his first chart topper on Billboard's dance chart with Dancer.  It stays at the top of the chart for six weeks.




April 12, 1979 - The Village People appear on the cover of this week's issue of Rolling Stone.

April 15, 1979 - The Liberace Museum opens in Las Vegas.

April 16, 1979 - "How Gay is Gay?" is the cover story of this week's TIME Magazine.




May 19, 1979 - The Village People's In the Navy peaks at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100.

May 20, 1979 - David Gloss of San Francisco wins the first International Mr. Leather competition in Chicago.

May 21, 1979 - The "White Night" riots break out in San Francisco in response to the light sentence given to Dan White, convicted murderer of Harvey Milk and SF mayor George Moscone.




June 24-25, 1979 - The Village People perform at Madison Square Garden.

July 6, 1979 - Sydney, Australia holds its first Gay Mardis Gras.

Sept 4, 1979 - Liza plays Carnegie Hall for the first time.




Sept 17, 1979 - The newly formed New York City Gay Men's Chorus holds its first auditions.

Sept 25, 1979 - Evita opens on Broadway and makes Patti LuPone a star.




Oct 14, 1979 - The first National March on Washington for Gay & Lesbian Rights is held.

Oct 29, 1979 - Fire Island Pines' beloved disco, the Sandpiper, closes its doors after tonight's Halloween party.

Nov 9, 1979 - Bette Midler's first movie, The Rose, opens in theaters and leads to a Best Actress Oscar nomination for the Divine Miss M.   

Dec 2, 1979 - The grim WWII drama Bent opens on Broadway, starring 30-year-old Richard Gere.

Dec 6, 1979 - The gay dance club Heaven opens in London.

Dec 20, 1979 - Angela Lansbury appears on the cover of January's issue of After Dark.




(To read about gay milestones from other years, double click here.)


LGBT History Timeline: 1977



Feb 7, 1977 - The first LGBT film festival is held in San Francisco (now called the Frameline Festival.)

Feb 7, 1977 - The U.S. State Department lifts its ban on the employment of homosexuals.

March 26, 1977 - Gay activists meet for the first time in the White House.

April 3, 1977 - Dancing Queen becomes ABBA's only #1 hit in the U.S.




April 26, 1977 - Studio 54 opens.

May 7, 1977 - Grace Jones sits atop the Billboard Dance chart with her international hit I Need a Man.

May 25, 1977 - A fire at New York's Everard Baths kills 9 patrons.

June 7, 1977 - In Florida, Dade County's referendum banning anti-gay discrimination is voted down behind the homophobic zealotry of orange juice queen Anita Bryant.




July 11, 1977 - The Village People's self-titled first album is released. 

Sept 1, 1977 - The Log Cabin Republicans hold their first meeting.

Sept 3, 1977 - The Village People's first album begins its first of seven weeks atop Billboard's dance chart.




Sept 13, 1977 - Billy Crystal portrays gay character Jodie Dallas on ABC's new envelope-pushing sitcom, Soap.

Sept 16, 1977 - Soprano Maria Callas dies at the age of 53.

Sept 27, 1977 - Prison movie Short Eyes airs on CBS. 

Oct 9, 1977 - In an episode of All in the Family titled "Cousin Liz" Edith discovers that her deceased cousin was a lesbian with a long term partner.

Nov 3, 1977 - 47-year-old Harvey Milk becomes one of the nation's highest profile individuals who is openly gay when he's elected to San Francisco's Board of Supervisors.




If you'd like to read about more gay pop culture milestones from other years, double click here.