Writer(s): Jacques Morali/Victor Willis/Henri Belolo (see lyrics here)
First Charted: October 21, 1978
Peak: 2 US, 3 CB, 2 HR, 6 RR, 32 RB, 13 UK, 12 CN, 15 AU (Click for codes to singles charts.)
Sales (in millions): 2.0 US, 1.56 UK, 12.0 world (includes US + UK)
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 8.2 video, 247.83 streaming
Click on award for more details.
About the Song:
Henri Belolo and Jacques Morali were two French songwriters and producers who worked with Casablanca Records, “the home of mainstream disco in the mid-‘70s.” TC They decided to market music to the gay community, initially with Victor Willis singing lead and backup vocals. WK When the formula succeeded, a group of actors and singers were assembled and “dolled up in costumes that camped on masculine archetypes” TO such as a cop, Indian, and construction worker.
After the group hit with “Macho Man,” they turned to the YMCA for inspiration for the second song. The YMCA provided low-income, single-room occupancies as well as workout facilities. In gay culture, it became “a coded celebration of cruising hot guys at a public gym.” TO
There are differing accounts as to how the song came about. Randy Jones, who played the cowboy in the group, said he joined the YMCA on 23rd Street in New York and took Morali there a few times and that planted the idea for the song. SF Another account suggests Belolo was inspired when he and Morali passed that same Y and Morali explained the center’s reputation. TC Willis contends he wrote the song in celebration of where he played basketball with his friends growing up. SF He says Morali asked him about the YMCA and that Belolo had nothing to do with the song. SF
Regardless of the song’s origins, it became a gay anthem which did the seemingly impossible. It became “an all-purpose massive crowd celebratory singalong.” LA “Whether it's a break at a sports event or a peak moment of a wedding reception,” LA you can see “school children and adults in all walks of life” TC “raising their arms to spell out the letters Y-M-C-A as they join the group’s chorus.” LA
The famous movements came out of a performance of the song on TV’s American Bandstand on January 6, 1979. The Village People formed the letter “Y” when they got to the chorus, but it was the audience who added gestures for the remaining letters. Its unknown if the crowd truly made it up on the spot or choreographed it beforehand. Dick Clark, the show’s host, asked Willis if he thought the group could work the gestures into their routine. Willis replied, “I think we’re going to have to.” SF
First posted 4/21/2020; last updated 4/16/2022.