This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #385: YMCA by The Village People.
The other day, Keri asked me if I was going to include, “YMCA” by The Village People in “my” list of the Top 500 songs of all time. I told her that “YMCA” did not rank, according to those who did the original voting but that, just the same, I had a way to include some songs that resonated with people, like her, who like their songs to be fun. So, here is the story of one of the most widely-known and beloved songs to come along in modern music history…..”YMCA” by The Village People.
“YMCA” is a song that creates an almost instantaneous reaction from crowds at sporting events, from children at school assemblies and from people at parties and clubs. That reaction is to dance, sing along and raise your arms into the air in the shape of the letters that spell, “YMCA”. For many, their interest in the song ends the final time they form an “A” in the air with their arms. Then, sweaty and satisfied, they await the next song or else, return to their seats and their thoughts turn to something else. “YMCA” is dangerously close to falling into the category of a “novelty song” but, because of the story behind it, “YMCA” is much more that a novelty song and much more important than merely being a party song, too. The real story behind “YMCA” begins in New York City in the 1970s.
First things, first…..The Village People were all Gay. I am not sure if this is news for any of you but, if it is then, SURPRISE!!!!! It is true. The name of the group comes the area of NYC known as Greenwich Village, which was known as the epicentre of “Gay Culture”. At that time in the 1970s, homosexuality was, not only frowned upon but, it was actually illegal to be caught performing homosexual acts. In June of 1969, NYPD officers raided a Mafia-run “Gay bar” called, The Stonewall Inn. The raid was very violent in nature and many patrons were injured in the melee that followed. Then, for several days afterward, patrons of the Stonewall Inn mounted counter-protests. The ensuing confrontations became known as The Stonewall Riots and served as the first time Gay men actively organized and fought back against oppression. The Stonewall Riots helped galvanize the Gay Pride Movement (in fact, the Pride Day that is celebrated in our local communities each June is held at that time to honour the anniversary of The Stonewall Riots) and was the first step taken on the long journey toward enacting laws that recognized Gay Rights as Human Rights.
In the decade that followed The Stonewall Riots, it became a little more “acceptable” for people to publicly revel in their sexuality. One of the ways that manifested itself was in the appearance of a music genre called Disco. Clubs such as “Studio 54” in NYC, for instance, openly encouraged people to display the artist in all of us and to be open about loving who you wanted to and, often, to act upon those desires in an immediate manner. Disco music filled the air in these clubs. People such as Donna Summer and Gloria Gaynor made careers for themselves based upon the culture at play in discos. The Village People took that music out of the disco clubs and onto the national stage. By appearing on shows like, “American Bandstand” with Dick Clark, The Village People did their part to de-stigmatize homosexuality. They proudly wore their uniforms. They danced well. They were all healthy and strong and handsome. They made good music such as, “YMCA”, “In The Navy” and “Macho, Macho Man”. It is amazing to me that they were so open about their male-on-male desires and stereotypes and yet, at the same time, they were so readily embraced by audiences all across America and the world. I guess it goes to prove good old Dick Clark right….if a song has a good beat and is easy to dance to then, people will like it no matter what. And, people liked “YMCA”: and they still do to this day.
The road to equality and racial and sexual justice is a long one. As a society, we have come a long way in changing our attitudes regarding what is viewed as acceptable conduct between consenting adults. However, there is still much work to be done because the world remains an unsafe place for those who think and act in ways that others may perceive as “different”. I have said this before and I will say it again…..I believe that Love is the most important thing in the entire world and if you are fortunate enough to find Love with another then, you have won Life’s lottery. I will always be happy for those who find Love in whatever form that takes. I will always stand by those who seek Love in a different form than I did because that way is what works best for them. The Village People have helped to contribute toward the growing acceptance of non-heterosexual Love, in all of its forms. The song, “YMCA” is about one of the ways that Gay men were able to safely find each other in the days before Same-Sex Marriage laws became more common. So, as you throw your arms up into the air and spell out the letters to “YMCA” have all the fun in the world but, know that each time this song is played and people react with positivity and pleasure, you are helping take a step toward creating a more accepting and tolerant world. So, thank you very much. Without further delay, here are The Village People with “YMCA”. Enjoy.
The link to the music video for the song, “YMCA” by The Village People, can be found here.
The official website forThe Village People can be found here.