Songs You Should Know
“YMCA”, The Village People (1978)
This disco song is now played at sporting events, and is a gay anthem; although it was not originally meant to be according to heterosexual Victor Willis. At face value, it is about his times at the Young Men’s Christian Association when he was young – playing basketball and swimming.
I was taught swimming at the YMCA. After not doing so well when I was 6 years old at the local pool, my Dad decided I was going to learn dammit! So I was given bus fare and a membership card he had purchased for me, and downtown I went by myself. I was scared spit-less. I was 10 years old.
I get there expecting the tough boys from the ‘hood’ and it turned out just to be a bunch of regular guys – go figure? The instructor, Doug (weird that I still remember the guy’s name to this day) lined us all up at the high diving board. We were going off! I am thinking, “Are you crazy? I don’t do bobbing and you want us to go off the high board?”
Younger gay men immediately associated the song “YMCA” to the Y’s reputation as a gay hang-out, and the Village People tapped into a huge market for their song.
The song of course became the group dance. If you don’t know it (how could you not know it??), here it is (done at the chorus):
Y — arms outstretched and raised upwards
M — made by bending the elbows from the 'Y' pose so the fingertips meet over the chest
C — arms extended to the left
A — hands held together above head
The origin of the dance itself is from Dick Clark’s ‘American Bandstand” which aired on January 6, 1979. The village people performed as the audience did the dance. At the original Yankee stadium in New York, the grounds keepers traditionally took a break after the 6th inning when they groomed the infield and led the crowd in the dance. This tradition continues in the new stadium.
The song itself was recorded with Victor Willis as lead singer and professional singers as backup. It went to number 2 in the U.S. and #1 in the U.K. It has sold over 10 million copies world-wide now.
The band was most popular from 1977 to 1980 and had a few other hits with “In the Navy” (which the U.S. Navy actually helped them record a video for), “Macho Man”, “San Francisco (You’ve Got Me)”, and the lesser known “Go West” and “Can’t Stop the Music”.
When I climbed the ladder to the top of the high board I was petrified. (Have you ever seen the Mr. Bean episode where he goes off the high platform?) I had strategically made sure I was not first, but not last in the pack. I had seen how Doug had held out the bar for the sputtering guys coming up after their maiden voyage off the high-board and it did not seem too bad. I jumped...
My Dad was right. I did get over my fear of water. I went on to become an accomplished swimmer and lifesaver. Thanks YMCA!