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The Village People

Before the Spice Girls, before the Backstreet Boys, and way before Avril Lavigne, the Village People came together as one for a fully branded, corporate concept suitable for smart, colorful packaging and speedy fag-market delivery. The central characters (a cop, a sailor, cowboy, an Indian, a leather enthusiast and a hardhat construction worker) existed in the mind of French record producer Jacques Morali long before the performers were hired in 1977.

It started in New York. Morali's goal was to assemble a campy, vampy, rock-and-roll dance act capable of satisfying a number of specific criteria. First and foremost, this group would make every effort to flaunt homosexual stereotypes in a manner both empowering and appealing to gay men around the world.

The act would be lightweight, compact and portable, capable of performing in small venues like nightclubs and bars - but deliver an over-the-top sound reverberating with masculinity. The costuming, behavior and personas of each performer would overlap throughout universally accepted gay platitudes, so not even a closeted homosexual could effectively declare that this band wasn't reaching out to him.

Before this "dream team" was assembled, Morali had already secured a record deal with Casablanca Records - a studio responsible for producing a series of hits by disco queen Donna "I Will Survive" Summer. Morali hired songwriters Phil Hurtt and Peter Whitehead to compose librettos which gently hinted at gay themes. Two of the initial focus group beta tunes included the following:

San Francisco (You've Got Me)
Leather, leather, leather, leather baby
Levi's and T's are the best now all right
Folsom, Folsom street on the way to Polk and Castro
You don't find them finer
Freedom, freedom is in the air, yeah
Searching for what we all treasure: pleasure
Take me to the bay, lead me to it, now, now
San Francisco / Oh I love ya / Yeah

Fire Island
Don't go in the bushes, don't go in the bushes
Don't go in the bushes, someone might grab ya, someone might grab ya
Don't go in the bushes, don't go, don't go in the bushes
Don't go in the bushes, someone might stab ya, someone might stab ya
We can scream, but let's sing
We can do each other's thing, yeah

Resembling a diverse cross-section of stereotypes commonly observed mixing and mingling in New York's East Village - the Village People were born. San Francisco got them ranked number 50 on UK pop charts, but they really began to flame across the States a year later, with the Top 30 hit Macho Man. This was followed by two international hits, YMCA and In the Navy, hovering for months in first and second place on UK and US charts.

"Jacques Morali had a concept, he had an idea, and we were the flesh and
blood," remembers Randy Jones, the cowboy. "In Jacques' world, he would have been a music superstar. So he was very protective, and at times manipulative of us. We worked non-stop. We were pushed to the limit. He thought: I'll take their images away and put paint and make-up on them so they can't be easily distinguished, and if they give me a hard time I'll can his ass, I'll fire him. There had to be an element of frustration for Jacques - here you are a gay man who has lots of money, surround by attractive men, yet you are not one of them. I think that really deep in his heart he wanted to be what we were."

Although homosexuals did indeed embrace the group, many in the gay community abandoned fanship when mainstream audiences (straight people) developed a kitschy fondness for the music as well. Over the course of five years, the group was accused of building an empire based largely around the constant recycling a scant handful of tracks.

Their first record (Village People, 1977) contained only four songs. Numerous records thereafter repackaged previously released material available elsewhere. Following albums like I'm A Cruiser and Sex Over The Phone came a string of underappreciated compilations. Titles include The Village People's Greatest Hits, The Best of the Village People, and eventually Twentieth Century Masters: The Essential Millennium Compilation of the Village People.

But enough meaningless product promotion - let's go backstage and say hello!

Felipe Rose
(Jan 12, 1955-)

The American Indian

Raised a New Yorker, born in Brooklyn. Rose insists his costume accurately represents his legitimate origins and his long-standing association with Native American groups.

His mother was a Copa Cabana dancer in the late 1940's.

Currently he lives in Richmond, Virginia.

Alexander Briley

(April 12, 1951-)

The Sailor / Serviceman

Loves to shop. Originally performed with the Village People in just a T-shirt and jeans, without being one of the characters.

Widely regarded as the most vocally diverse of the group. Assumed the lead for In The Navy.

Randy Jones

(Sep 13, 1952-)

The Cowboy

"The YMCA dance was really an organic thing that came from the audience, and to this day every weekend at weddings, people are dancing to YMCA. When someone hears YMCA or Macho Man or any of those songs, they don't feel sad, they smile. To this day people will quote lyrics. There's nowhere in YMCA where we talk about hanging out in the showers and dropping the soap."

David Hodo

(July 7, 1957-)

The Construction Worker

Nicknamed scar after an incident where he nearly burned off his face while eating fire and wearing roller skates.

Loves: animals, feeding stray cats and dogs, reading.

Enjoys: having an excellent memory.

Glenn Hughes

(July 18, 1950 - March 4, 2001)

The Leather Enthusiast

Hughes was working as a toll collector when friends dared him to respond to the Village People advertisement seeking "gay singers and dancers, very good-looking and with mustaches."

No relation to the Deep Purple vocalist of the same name.

Died of lung cancer, buried in his leatherman outfit.

No children.

Victor Willis

(b. 1952)

The Policeman

Victor Willis performed lead vocals for the Village People from 1977 to 1980.

In the late seventies, he was married to actress Phylicia Rashad - better known as Claire Huxtable on The Cosby Show.

He indulged in a generous hit of freebase prior to each performance, prompting a meeting among the producers. They replaced Willis with Ray Simpson.

Willis was arrested in February of 1997, charged with robbery and cocaine possession.

Collectively the Village People have sold 85 million albums and singles, and they regularly tour Australia.


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