Disco Meets Its Macho

While the Village People played dress-up on the outskirts of cultural mores, their music resonated with the mainstream

The rest of the guys on this first draft are nameless out-of-work actors who aren't invited back to finish out their 15 minutes when their strange characterizations (Tuxedo Man, Italian Guy Fresh Outta the Closet and Shirtless Boat Refugee) fail to catch on with the kids in Kansas.

Macho Man (1978)
All six members are listed by their full name, age and astrological sign on the back cover. Willis, the undisputed star, is entrusted with writing lyrics for every track except the "Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody" medley that predates David Lee Roth's by seven years.

Rumors abound that Willis is straighter than an arrow, so he infuses the group's most overt gay anthem, "I Am What I Am," with unrelenting urgency. ("I did not choose the way I am/To love is not a sin.") However, he sounds a tad judgmental on "Sodom and Gomorrah," the ultimate disco inferno ("Because of all their lust/The Lord said destruction was a must!").

The Village People embarked on their first tour in support of Macho Man. Realizing you need an actual band to do live shows, Morali lays the groundwork for Milli Vanilli and Menudo by forcing five of his People to lip-synch (only Willis gets a live mike).

Macho Man also offers the first sighting of Village People merchandising in the album's pullout catalogue. Aimed directly at hetero America, it features a he-and-she duo who look like they were rerouted from the methadone clinic to model ugly tee shirts (regular and French cut). Their glad rags bear the legends "Macho Man," "Macho Woman," "Mucho Macho," "Village People" and, of course, the ghastly, glittery "Disco '78." The next year, when militant rock deejays mount their jingoistic "Disco Sucks" campaign, anyone caught wearing any of these tees in public might as well have on "Beat Me Senseless" sportswear.

Cruisin' (1978)
The highbrow concept for this album's cover art--putting each Villager on a vehicle appropriate to his purported occupation--requires Willis and Alexander Briley to settle on a career, and fast!

After floundering around with an effeminate teacher's aide look, Briley chooses the militia while Willis becomes a law enforcer. His move conveniently ties in with the single "Hot Cop," on which Victor boasts about being the funkiest patrolman on his decidedly disco beat. "YMCA" is the group's all-time biggest hit--the song's accompanying semaphore-signal dance rivals "The Hokey Pokey" for top honors with the wedding/bar mitzvah circuit.

Cruisin' ends on a down note (down for the Village People, that is) with the goofy, pill-popping confessional "Ups and Downs." Success has overworked these male mirth makers (three albums in 1978 alone!). Is it any wonder Victor and the boys rely on pharmaceuticals to help them concentrate on their dance steps, fall fast asleep and keep their personas straight (ha, ha)? Imagine gobbling a fistful of Percodan and suddenly realizing, "Oh, yeah, I'm Leather Man."

Go West (1978)
What's long and hard and full of seamen? If you answered "a submarine," chances are you're one of the millions who fell for "In the Navy" hook, line and sinker.

The U.S. Navy itself was so touched by this plea for a few good men that it actuallyconsidered adopting the song for a recruitment jingle. Good thing someone woke up and smelled the FabergŽ. "Don't ask, don't tell," indeed!

Go West is replete with 11-by-11, suitable-for-framing portraits of each member--Leather Man brilliantly accessorizing his usual bondage duds with a "Have a Nice Day" button.

The Pet Shop Boys had a fat hit with this record's title track in 1993--the only notable cover of a Village People song ever (unless you count Madison Avenue bastardizing "Macho Man" for nacho commercials).

Live and Sleazy! (1979)
Given this album's sleazy context, you'd half expect the fellas to turn in an ode about the joys of incarceration. Disappointingly, they don't--but the album is a turning point of sorts. Note the gang's tough fighting stance on the sleeve, sort of like gay bashing in reverse. Why so defensive? With the disco boom about to bottom out, the macho men are looking to diversify. But desperately declaring "Rock 'n' Roll Is Back Again"?

Contrary to claims the group makes on its last hit, the Village People are not quite "Ready for the Eighties," especially since Victor Willis left to pursue life as a civilian. Because he has co-writing credits on several tunes on the horrid flick Can't Stop the Music (see below), but none here, it's a safe bet Willis saw that Hindenburgian movie vehicle hurtling his way and decided to haul ass out of the public eye. His replacement is Raymond Simpson, brother of Valerie Simpson, the tougher half of lovey-dovey singing duo Ashford and Simpson. You can call him Ray or you can call him Gay Ray, but he still can't hold a nightstick to Willis.

Can't Stop the Music (1980)
Oh, it can be stopped, all right. Just team the Village People with champion thespians Bruce Jenner, Valerie Perrine and Steve Guttenberg. Then get Bounty commercial heroine Nancy Walker ("the quicker picker-upper" lunch-counter queen) to direct this eyesore. One of thefilm's biggest production numbers, "Milkshake," has Perrine kerplopped in an oversize champagne glass filled with milk while the Villagers try to suck out her calcium deposits with giant straws. The "YMCA" water ballet number has our gal Val naked in a hot tub with the lads oohing and aahing behind her--hell, she couldn't be safer with Allstate.

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