Village People Biography

The Village People from New York City, USA, were a concept before they were a group. The brainchild of French record producer Jacques Morali (d. 15 November 1991, Paris, France), the troupe was assembled in 1977. Morali, who had been enjoying great success on the disco charts with the Ritchie Family, intended to create a camp rock ‘n’ roll/dance act that would flaunt homosexual stereotypes yet appeal to gays. Before even constructing his dream group, Morali secured a recording contract with Casablanca Records, then riding high with a string of smash disco hits by Donna Summer. Morali’s first recruit was Felipe Rose, a go-go dancer who was dressed in an American Indian costume when spotted by the entrepreneur. Morali and business partner Henri Belolo then hired songwriters Phil Hurtt and Peter Whitehead to compose songs hinting at gay themes before filling out the group with Alexander Briley (Harlem, New York City, New York, USA), Randy Jones (b. 13 September 1952), David Hodo (b. San Andreas, California, USA), Glenn Hughes (b. 18 July 1950, New York City, New York, USA, d. 4 March 2001, USA) and lead singer Victor Willis.

Each member of the group was outfitted to cash in on the homosexual ‘macho’ stereotyping; in addition to the American Indian (Rose) there was a cowboy (Jones), a policeman (Willis), a hard-hat construction worker (Hodo), a biker (Hughes) and a G.I. (Briley). The group first charted in the UK with the Top 50 single, ‘San Francisco (You’ve Got Me)’ in 1977, but their first major US hit was the Top 30 ‘Macho Man’ in 1978, followed by two international hits, ‘Y.M.C.A.’ (UK number 1/US number 2) and ‘In The Navy’ (UK number 2/US number 3). Although homosexuals did embrace the group at first, they tired of it as the mainstream audience picked up on the Village People. In the UK their success continued with the Top 20 singles, ‘Go West’ (1979) and ‘Can’t Stop The Music’ (1980). The latter was the theme song to an ill-timed film excursion. Willis had quit the group two days before filming began and was replaced by Ray Simpson (b. the Bronx, New York City, New York, USA). With anti-disco fever prevalent in the USA, the failure of the critically panned movie virtually killed off the group’s chart career.

Attempts to resurface with new personnel (Miles Jaye and Jeff Olson replacing Simpson and Jones) and new styles (including a stint as Spandau Ballet -like ‘New Romantics’) did not aid their sagging fortunes. They briefly graced the UK charts in 1985 with the lewd ‘Sex Over The Phone’. Jaye was subsequently signed to Teddy Pendergrass’ Top Priority label as a solo artist, before achieving success with Island Records on the US R&B singles chart in the late 80s. Simpson, Rose, Hodo, Hughes, Briley and Olson re-formed the group in the late 80s, establishing Sixuvus Ltd. to control their own interests and continuing to earn a tidy living on the live circuit. They also enjoyed a surprise hit in Australia in 1990 with the single ‘Living In The Wildlife’. Their former svengali Morali died of an AIDS-related illness in 1991. In 1995, an ill Hughes dropped out of performing, but was present to help the group celebrate their 20th anniversary two years later. He was replaced by Eric Anzalone (b. Dayton, Ohio, USA), and died of lung cancer in March 2001.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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