Words: Simon Button
Hot on the disco heels of last year’s three-disc Village People ‘Gold’ compilation comes a nine-CD boxset called The Album Collection 1977-1985, offering a deep dip into the group’s very camp catalogue.
Casual fans will be happy with that three-discer, but true fans will be thrilled with this assemblage from the so-called ‘Royal Family of Disco’ – complete with mini vinyl replica sleeves, including a glorious gatefold one for 1979’s Live and Sleazy that opens out to reveal the sexed-up sextet baring biceps, flesh and chest hair against the New York skyline.
The gay discos of New York were the first to latch onto the group’s fun and frivolous disco-pop and indeed it was in New York that producers Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo, who had moved from their native France to try and conquer the American market, put Village People together.
The 1977 self-titled debut album was really just lead vocalist Victor Willis (a singer and Broadway performer) and a bunch of backing singers. With a relentless beat and such songs as ‘Fire Island’ – inspired by the Long Island cruising ground and featuring an ironic ‘Don’t go in the bushes’ refrain – it was a musical soundtrack to Greenwich Village hedonism, but it didn’t spurn any big hits.
By the following year’s Macho Man album, Willis was fronting an actual band, dressed as a cop and flanked by a cowboy, construction worker, Indian, leatherman and athlete in homage to gay culture’s fetishistic love of roleplay.
The album and single of the same name charted in the US at number 24 and 25 respectively, but, after a few line-up changes and the athlete morphing into a soldier, it was 1978’s Cruisin' that skyrocketed the Villagers to international fame.
Morali and Willis had a co-written ace up their sleeve – the infectious as hell and camp as tits ‘Y.M.C.A.’
Complete with dance routine spelling out the chorus, the song topped the charts in nine countries including the UK and was only kept off the top spot Stateside by Chic’s ‘Le Freak’ and Rod Stewart’s almost-as-camp ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?’
An ode to the pleasures of male-only company, it remains one of the most enduring gay anthems ever.
Along with the equally anthemic follow-up ‘In The Navy’, it was also the group’s commercial zenith. ’Go West’ and ‘Can’t Stop The Music’ both earned respectable Top 20 placings over here but the movie the latter song lent its name to bombed.
Said movie, with its cheeky flashes of nudity during the ‘Y.M.C.A.’ sequence, has since become a cult classic and the accompanying soundtrack, included here, is fabulous.
The same cannot be said for subsequent albums ‘Renaissance’ and ‘Fox On The Box’, though their 1985 swansong ‘Sex On The Phone’ is at least notable for the title track’s advocation of safer sex as AIDS continued to cut a swathe through the gay community.
It’s a shame there’s not an extra disc or two in the boxset for the remixes and rarities included on the ‘Gold’ collection, but this is still a discotastic trawl through Village People’s legacy as surely the campest of pop groups ever.
The Album Collection 1977-1985 is out now on Edsel