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Disco in the 1970s

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Music
Wordcount: 2965 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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There had been discotheques before the 1970’s, but the environment and the culture of the disco, along with the spotlight on the disc jockey, took on new significance in the 1970s. The concept grew out of a need for dance music in the late 1960s and early 1970s when psychedelic, progressive rock and heavy metal reined supreme, music geared for listening rather than dancing. Disco was also born from an emerging gay culture in New York. Gay men were coming out of the closet but still remained socially segregated, and live acts were often unwilling to perform in gay venues, forcing them to resort to disc jockey entertainment. These discos leaned toward smooth black, urban dance music, represented by the Philadelphia sound of Gamble and Huff Productions, Love Unlimited Orchestra, Barry White and Latter-Day Stax recordings by artists such as Isaac Heyes.

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Soon music was fashioned to suit the format of the discos. Rather than having terse, structured verse or chorus songs no longer than five minutes in length, extended remixes of songs were made, disco singles issued only to professional DJs on 12-inch vinyl records. As the fad caught on, there were disco versions made of everything from Tim Pan Alley pop songs to classical music and big band swing. There was unvarying bass drum on every beat, moving at an optimal 132 beats per minute. There was a heavy emphasis in instrumental lecturers rather than elaborate vocals.

Disco was also decidedly European in influence. There was a substantial Euro disco movement across the Atlantic, and many popular disco hits in America were produced in Europe. A case in point is the rise of Donnna Summer as the queen of disco. Born Donna Gaines in Boston 1948, Summer was touring Europe with a stage production of the hippie musical Hair. She met Italian electro-pop arranger Giorgio Moroder, and in 1975 they recorded “Love to Love You Baby” in Munich, Germany. It was a sixteen-minute, riff-driven production over which Summer sang vamps and moaned and panted. She was sometimes rivaled by artists like Gloria Gaynor, whose hits included “I Will Survive”.

The event that most thrust disco style and culture into pop dominance was the 1978 movie Saturday Night Fever, starring John Travolta and its companion compilation soundtrack dominated by the Australian brother vocal group the Bee Gees but also featuring The Trammps’ classic ‘Disco Inferno’. Now everyone was on the disco bandwagon; radio stations not only featured disco but also adopted all-disco formats.

While the Saturday Night Fever film and soundtrack gave a realistic look into New York disco culture, it was not too complete. The significant gay aspect was ignored. Then French disco producer Jacques Morali decided to push that gay subculture more to the front with the Village People. The six men were costumed as distinct characters: A Native American in head dress, a cowboy, a biker, a soldier, a policeman and a construction worker complete with hard hat, male images juxtaposed with a homosexual image. Songs with gay underpinnings were written for the group, including “Macho Man,” “Y.M.C.A.” and “In the Navy”. Using silly campiness, the Village People managed to bring gayness to the mainstream. Their individual characterization, general musical ineptness, producer-dominated artifice, and good-humored sleaziness no doubt provided a model for groups like the Spice Girls in the 1990s.

To many, disco was a painfully superficial music that had no intention of seeking anything meaningful in its message or its music, and by the end of the 1970s it had pretty much run its course. Over the next 20 years it has had fitful revivals, but always with the campy attitude of bringing back tacky period pieces, like tie-dyed shirts and leisure suits.


Village Peopleis a conceptdiscogroup formed inUnited Statesin 1977, well known for their on-stagecostumes 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) andAlex 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 ofdiscoanddancehits, 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 theHollywood Walk of Fame. They have sold upwards of 50 million records world-wide.

The group was the creation ofJacques Morali, aFrenchmusical 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 onDick Clark’sAmerican 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 others,Mark Mussler(construction worker), Dave Forrest (cowboy), Lee Mouton (leatherman) and Peter Whitehead (one of the group’s early songwriters) appeared on American Bandstand and in the video for the group’s first hit, “San Francisco (You Got Me)”. They were later replaced 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 theBrooklyn Battery Tunnel.

Because Morali could not speak English, songwriting legends Phil Hurtt and the aforementioned Whitehead were brought in for the lyrics on the first album. For the next three albums (and on other Can’t Stop Productions hit acts such asRitchie FamilyandPatrick Juvet) Willis was the lyricist.Likewise, Gypsy Lane (the Village People band) and their conductor, Horace Ott, provided much of the musical arrangements for Morali, who did not play any instruments.

The band’s name referencesNew York City’sGreenwich Villageneighborhood, at the time known for having a substantial gay population. Morali and Belolo got the inspiration for creating an assembly ofAmerican manarchetypes based on the gay men of The Village who frequently dressed in various fantasy attire.

While the songMacho Manput them on the map, their 1978 anthemY.M.C.A.made them one of the most successful musical groups of all time.

In 1979, theUnited States Navyconsidered usingIn 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 onThe Merv Griffin Showand appeared withBob Hopeto entertain the U.S. troops. The group was also featured on the cover ofRolling 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.


The best of village people is an album that was released in March 22, 1994 with the greatest hits of Village People. It is produced under the label Casablanca.The album consists of 14 tracks.

1. Y.M.C.A.

2. Macho Man(version of track from Macho Man 1978)

3. Can’t Stop the Music

4. San Francisco (You’ve Got Me)

5. In Hollywood (Everybody is a Star)

6. Ready For The 80’s(version of track from Live And Sleazy 1979)

7. Key West

8. In The Navy

9. Fire Island

10. Go West(version of track from Go West 1979)

11. Village People

12. Hot Cop

13. In The Navy(version of track from Go West 1979)

14. Y.M.C.A.(version of track from Cruisin’ 1978)





“Y.M.C.A.” is a1978song by theVillage Peoplewhich became a hit in January 1979. The song reached number two on theU.S.charts in early1979 and reached No.1 in theUKaround the same time, becoming the group’s biggest hit ever. Taking the song at face value, itslyricsworship the virtues of theYoung Men’s Christian Association. In thegay culturefrom which the group sprang, the song was implicitly understood as celebrating the YMCA’s reputation as a popular cruising and hookup spot, particularly for the younger gay men to whom it was addressed. However,Victor Willis, Village People lead singer and writer of the lyrics, has clarified the record and insists that he did not write YMCA as a gay anthem as he is a straight guy. Rather, Willis said he wrote YMCA as a reflection of young urban black youth’s fun at the YMCA such as basketball and swimming and others. That said, Willis has often acknowledged his fondness for double entendre and vagueness. Willis also revealed that he wrote the song in Vancouver, British Columbia.

In any event, the song continues to remain popular and is played at many sporting events in the USA. It is frequently played during breaks in the action atsporting eventswith crowds using the dance as an opportunity to stretch. Moreover, the song also remains particularly popular due to its status as adiscoclassic andgay anthem, even among listeners who are otherwise uninvolved in disco or gay culture. It is also known to be a favorite in school dances. A popular dance in which the arms are used to spell out the four letters of the song’s title may have much to do with this. “Y.M.C.A.” is number 7 onVH1’s list of The 100 Greatest Dance Songs of the 20th Century.


Village People were simply a concept group with most of the group’s hits being recorded solely by Willis with use of professional background singers and “YMCA” was no exception.In addition to the lead, Willis’ voice is also being heavily dubbed in the background. The song, played in thekeyofF-sharp major, begins with abrassriff, backed by the constant pulse that typified disco. Many different instruments are used throughout for an overall orchestral feel, another disco convention, but it is brass that stands out. Y.M.C.A.’s other distinctive element is its vocal line, with its repeated “Young man!”ecphonesis, created with use of Willis’ vocals dubbed with other professional background singers. Willis then sings “there’s no need to feel down, I said young man.” as the same background joins him once again on “Young man.” The last line of every verse, repeats the same background line, leading into five sudden bursts of sound followed by the “It’s fun to stay at the YMCA” chorus.


Executive producerHenri Belolorecalls that he saw the YMCA sign while walking down the street with composerJacques Morali, who seemed to know the institution fairly well: “Henri, let me tell you something. This is a place where a lot of people go when they are in town. And they get good friends and they go out.” And Henri got the idea: “Why don’t we write a song about it?” However, Victor Willis recently clarified that Jacques Morali simply asked him, Willis, to write a song about the YMCA after Morali asked Willis to explain to him “what exactly is that YMCA walks by from time to time.”The song became a number one hit in many places. It has remained popular at parties, events, and functions ever since. In February 2009, Victor Willis sued the group, Village People over their performance of YMCA at the 2008 Sun Bowl. The suit was settled by the end of 2009.


“YMCA” is also the name of agroup dancewith cheerleader Y-M-C-A choreography invented to fit the song. One of the phases involves moving arms to form the letters Y-M-C-A as they are sung in the chorus:

Y – Arms outstretched and raised

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

Dick Clarktakes credit for his showAmerican Bandstandbeing where the YMCA dance was originated. During the January 6, 1979 episode which featured the Village People as the guests throughout the hour, the dance is seen being done by audience members during the performance of YMCA and lead singer Victor Willis immediately picked-up on it and is seen practicing the dance himself at the beginning of the standard interview sequence, therein, becoming the first member of the Village People to do the YMCA. Other group members observed but seemed unimpressed and the look on many of their faces suggested they were thinking… why is Victor participating in this charade? Dick Clark then ask Willis,…”think you can fit this routine into your show?” Victor Willis responds…”I think we’re gonna have to.” And the rest is history. But had Victor Willis, as the group’s leader, not taken an interest in the dance, we may not be doing the YMCA today.AtYankee Stadium, after the sixthinning, the grounds crew traditionally takes a break from grooming theinfieldto lead the crowd in the dance. Similarly atSapporo Dome, duringHokkaido Nippon-Ham Fightersbaseball games, YMCA is enthusiastically enjoyed by the crowd and ground staff during the fifth inning stretch.


Young man, there’s no need to feel down.

I said, young man, pick yourself off the ground.

I said, young man, ’cause you’re in a new town

There’s no need to be unhappy.

Young man, there’s a place you can go.

I said, young man, when you’re short on your dough.

You can stay there, and I’m sure you will find

many ways to have a good time.

It’s fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.

It’s fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.

They have everything that you need to enjoy,

You can hang out with all the boys …

It’s fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.

It’s fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.

You can get yourself clean, you can have a good meal

You can do whatever you feel …

Young man, are you listening to me?

I said, young man, what do you want to be?

I said, young man, you can make real your dreams.

But you’ve got to know this one thing!

No man does it all by himself.

I said, young man, put your pride on the shelf,

And just go there, to the Y.M.C.A.

I’m sure they can help you today.

It’s fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.

It’s fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.

They have everything that you need to enjoy,

You can hang out with all the boys …

It’s fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.

It’s fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.

You can get yourself clean, you can have a good meal,

You can do whatever you feel …

Young man, I was once in your shoes.

I said, I was down and out with the blues.

I felt no man cared if I were alive.

I felt the whole world was so jive …

That’s when someone came up to me,

And said, young man, take a walk up the street.

It’s a place there called the Y.M.C.A.

They can start you back on your way.

It’s fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.

It’s fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.

They have everything that you need to enjoy,

You can hang out with all the boys …


It’s fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A

Young man, young man there’s no need to feel down

Young man, young man pick yourself off the ground


then just go to the Y-M-C-A

young man, young man I was once in your shoes

young man, young man I said, I was down and out with the blues.



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