My song today is ‘Y.M.C.A.’ This song was popularised by the American disco group ‘Village People’ when it was released in 1978 as a single from their third studio album, “Cruisin’”. The song was written by Jacques Morali (also the record's producer) and singer Victor Willis. The song reached Number 2 on the ‘Billboard Hot 100’ charts in early 1979. 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’.
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. ‘Y.M.C.A.’ is Number 7 on VH1’s list of ‘The 100 Greatest Dance Songs of the 20th Century.’
In 2020, ‘Y.M.C.A’ was selected by the ‘Library of Congress’ for preservation in the ‘National Recording Registry’ for being ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant’. 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 Number 1 on the charts in over 15 countries, and its ongoing popularity is evidence that, despite the naysayers, disco has never truly died."
Brief History of the Y.M.C.A.is as follows. The initials of the organisation stand for Young Men’s Christian Association’. The Y.M.C.A. began building single room occupancy facilities in the 1880s to house people from rural areas who moved into cities to look for work. The typical Y.M.C.A. housing provides (as advertised in 2005) “low-income, temporary housing for a rent of $110 per week for stays that are typically three to six months long”. By 1950, 670 of the 1,688 YMCAs in the US provided single room occupancy (SRO) spaces, which made 66,959 beds available. By the 1970s, the typical Y.M.C.A. tenants were more likely to be homeless people and youth facing life issues, rather than people migrating from rural areas or simply passing through town.
Although the song did not reach Number1 in the United States, it became a Number 1 hit throughout the world and has remained popular at parties, sporting events, weddings, and functions ever since.
Taken at face value, the song's lyrics extol the virtues of the ‘Young Men's Christian Association’. However, in the ‘gay culture’ from which the ‘Village People’ stemmed, the song was implicitly understood as celebrating Y.M.C.A.'s reputation as a popular ‘cruising and hook-up spot’, particularly for the younger men to whom it was addressed. 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. 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.
Conversely, Willis had said that he wrote the song in Vancouver, British Columbia and, through his publicist, that he did not write ‘Y.M.C.A.’ as a gay anthem, but rather as a reflection of the fun activities that young urban black youth experienced at Y.M.C.A., such as basketball and swimming. However, Willis has often acknowledged his fondness for ‘double entendre’.
I have only used the Y.M.C.A. on one occasion for accommodation purposes. I had emigrated to Canada for a few years between 1963-65. After spending an initial period living in Quebec, Montreal, a few months later witnessed me living in Toronto. While I initially looked around for a suitable flat to rent, I had to live in temporary accommodation and so I checked into the Toronto Y.M.C.A. where I stayed for two weeks until I secured more permanent accommodation. As advertised, the space comprised of a spotlessly clean single room, with basic solid furniture and access to the recreational and dining section of the premises; all at an affordable price.
When this song was first released in 1979, England was entering the disco scene. ‘Pans People’ had been the country’s most popular dancers on television during the late 60s and early 70s, and the hippy communes which had mushroomed across America during the same period gradually gave way to the avant-garde (‘with it’) painters, artists and young entrepreneurs congregating and forming ‘Village’ communities. As these communities evolved, they were joined by many young men and women of the ‘gay’ lifestyle and alternative persuasion. The group ‘Village People’ was a natural product of this fast-changing era, and their song Y.M.C.A. became a favourite across the globe.
I had been married ten years and would often dance and gesticulate my arms into the air to the tune of Y.M.C.A., along with everyone else in the nation’s dancehalls.
Love and peace Bill xxx