"Y.M.C.A." is a 1978 song by the Village People which became a hit in January 1979. The song reached #2 on the U.S. charts in early 1979 and reached No.1 in the UK around the same time, becoming the group's biggest hit ever. Taking the song at face value, its lyrics extol the virtues of the Young Men's Christian Association. In the gay culture from which the group sprang, the song was understood as celebrating the YMCA's reputation as a popular cruising and hookup spot, particularly for the younger gay men to whom it was addressed.
The song has continued to remain popular due to its status as a disco classic and gay anthem, even among listeners who are otherwise uninvolved in disco or gay culture. A popular dance in which the arms are used to spell out the four letters of the song's title may have much to do with this. It is frequently played during breaks in the action at sporting events with crowds using the dance as an opportunity to stretch, similar to the later "Macarena".
"Y.M.C.A." is number 7 on VH1's list of The 100 Greatest Dance Songs of the 20th Century.
The song, played in the key
of F-sharp major
, begins with a brass
riff, backed by the constant pulse that typified disco. Many different instruments are used throughout for an overall orchestral feel, another disco convention, but it is brass that stands out.
"Y.M.C.A."'s other distinctive element is its vocal line, with its repeated "Young man!" ecphonesis, sung by all band members, while lead singer Victor Willis handles the rest of the line alone. The last line of every verse, however, is sung by the group, leading into five sudden bursts of sound followed by the "It's fun to stay at the YMCA" chorus.
Producer Henri Belolo recalls that he saw the YMCA sign while walking down the street with composer Jacques Morali, who seemed to know the institution fairly well: "Henri, let me tell you something. This is a place where a lot of people go when they are in town. And they get good friends and they go out." And Henri got the idea: "Why don't we write a song about it?"
The song became a number one hit in many places (notably not in the United States where it lost to Rod Stewart's "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?"). It has remained popular at parties, events, and functions ever since.
Origin of hand movement and dance
"YMCA" is also the name of a group dance with cheerleader Y-M-C-A choreography invented to fit the song. One of the phases involves moving arms to form the letters Y-M-C-A as they are sung in the chorus:
- Y - Arms outstretched and raised
- M - Made by bending the elbows from the 'Y' pose so the fingertips meet over the chest
- C - Arms extended to the left
- A - Hands held together above head
Dick Clark takes credit for his show American Bandstand being where the YMCA dance was originated. During the January 6, 1979 episode which featured the Village People as the guests throughout the hour, the dance is seen being done by audience members during the performance of YMCA and lead singer Victor Willis is seen practicing the dance himself at the beginning of the standard interview sequence.
At Yankee Stadium, after the fifth inning, the grounds crew traditionally takes a break from grooming the infield to lead the crowd in the dance. Similarly at Sapporo Dome, during Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters baseball games, YMCA is enthusiastically enjoyed by the crowd and ground staff during the fifth inning stretch. At Wrigley Field, the song will be played and the fans do the dance as the visiting team takes out their pitcher in the middle of an inning.
Spinoffs and parodies
has been parodically rewritten many times, substituting different words (either acronyms or not) for the title and changing the connotations. Some examples include:
- Adam and the Ants recorded a promo-only parody in 1981 called "A.N.T.S.", enclosed with a copy of the magazine Flexi-Pop (issue no.4). It's lyrics praise the virtues of the Ants' music, and encourage the listener to attend Adam and the Ants' shows and "dance the Zerox Machine" (a reference to one of the earliest Ants singles).
- Cover version sung in Japanese entitled "Young Man", was recorded by a Japanese singer Hideki Saijo and released in spring 1979. It marked the #1 on the Japanese official singles chart Oricon for 5 weeks, and finally sold more than 800,000 copies and became the most commercially successful cover version of the song. Like original version performed by the Village People, Saijo's cover have produced numerous parodies for the popular culture exclusively in Japan. In 2006. the Japanese comedian Razor Ramon HG, well-known for his camp gay comedy act, recorded the song with additional lyrics.
- In 1978 the British DIY punk band Galactic Symposium released a ramshackle cover version of the song. The track was a favourite of cult DJ John Peel who stated that 'you won't find a more joyous record'.
- OJLA by The Village Ito, about the O.J. Simpson criminal murder trial in 1995 where the singers/dancers were all dressed up as Judge Lance Ito.
- KFUM is the Danish equivalent of YMCA. It was a big hit in Denmark in 1980 by the show-group Østjysk Musikforsyning with Danish lyrics by Karlo Staunskjær.
- YODA by Steven Cavanagh, about the Star Wars character Yoda. An unrelated version was also produced by The Great Luke Ski.
- LMAA by Günter Willumeit (in German), about the everyday life of a married couple. ("LMAA" is the acronym for "Leck mich am Arsch", the German equivalent of "Kiss My Ass"; the song is about a somewhat henpecked husband who maintains his sanity (and his marriage) by smiling sweetly and saying "Of course, you're right, my darling" ("Du hast ja recht, mein Liebling") every time his wife nags him, while silently blowing off steam by thinking the sentiment expressed by the title.)
- YHWH by the parody group Apologetix retells the biblical story of Moses encountering the burning bush.
- In 1997, Pepsi launched a Super Bowl ad where five bears danced an alternate version with "P-E-P-S-I" instead of the usual "Y-M-C-A". The ad was tied to a later craze as well: the resident townspeople are alarmed by the bears; at the end, one turns to another and says "We're sunk if they ever learn the Macarena".
- The Italian parody rock band Gem Boy have produced a version named "F-I-G-A" (Italian for "C-U-N-T").
- On British charity appeal Children in Need (which is essentially a televised variety show) the team of Changing Rooms, a British interior design show performed "YMDF", MDF being a building material used on the show.
- Several artists, including the Capitol Steps, spoofed the dire predictions of the effects of the year 2000 bug with songs titled "Y-2-K".
- In Britain, Caroline Buckley infamously sang "YMCA" on Pop Idol, but was cruelly rejected by Simon Cowell. She was later hired by Pizza Hut to market their Quad Pizza by singing "Q-U-A-D" to the judges of Pop Idol. She became known as "YMCA Girl" and appeared in pantomime in Essex, 2003.
- There's a toy of Sesame Street character Elmo that dances and sings "E-L-M-O". In season 36 of the show, Oscar sang the parody "Worm Workout Song", while Slimey and his worm friends stretch and wiggle.
- The webcomic User Friendly spoofed the song when Dust Puppy and Erwin sang an altered version which included the lyrics "It's fun to violate the DMCA.
- In 2002, Diet Dr Pepper spoofed this in a commercial about the Retirement Village People written by They Might Be Giants.
- Starting in 2005 and continuing in 2006, Deutsche Telekom advertised their directory assistance by "Wenn du nicht weiterweißt: 11-8-3-3" (in German, "11" is a one syllable word: "Elf-Acht-Drei-Drei".)
- In the Wayans Bros television show, Shawn and Marlon had to perform the song as an embarrassment for hanging out with Ted. In doing so they were forced to dress up in flamboyant attire.
- A commercial for Post Alpha-Bits had the characters singing a version of the song with "YMAB" as the lyrics.
- A night comedy sketch on Portuguese cable channel SIC Radical in Cabaret da Coxa, where a group "Rapazes da Aldeia" (Portuguese for "Village Boys") are the actual influence for Village People.
- A Malaysian Idol commercial featured security personnel performing their parody in front of an unauthorised visitor. The lyrics sounded like: "You need to get the visitor pass | I say you get the visitor pass, yeah | You can park anywhere, go wherever you want | There'll be no one clamping your car."
- The 1996 PC interactive storybook software Just Me and My Mom (featuring Little Critter) had a part with four mice, dressed like the Village People, climb on top of a taxi cab and perform a short parody of the song with the lyrics as "TAXI."
- On July 2, 2004, Colin Powell, then the U.S. Secretary of State, performed a modified version of "YMCA" for his fellow foreign government officials at the ASEAN security meeting in Jakarta. His lyrics includes the lines:
President Bush, he said to me: 'Colin, I need you to run the Department of State. We are between a rock and a hard place.' The BBC's Tim Willcox was quoted as saying of the performance, "In any league table of politician's most embarrassing moments, it must rank pretty high."
- Fans in the Yankee Stadium bleachers, nicknamed the Bleacher Creatures, have a crude version of the song that includes the lyrics "Why are you gay? I saw you sucking that D-I-C-K. They have all different size, for your mouth to enjoy, you can hang out with all the boys." and "Gay Man" directed at other teams' fans, mostly Red Sox and Mets fans.
- In 2006: SAPU, a radio jingle by a Mongolian company of that name.
- The Histeria! episode "Presidential People" featured a song by the Kid Chorus titled "You'll Be President of the United States", sung to the tune of YMCA.
- A parody of "Y.M.C.A." is sung in the Pinky, Elmyra & the Brain episode "Elmyra's Music Video".
- A parody of "Y.M.C.A." is sung by the "Small Town Binomes" (a wordplay on Village People) in the ReBoot episode "Talent Night". Their song "BSnP" was a jab at the network's Broadcast Standards and Practices organization, which frequently edited content from the show which they deemed not suitable for its younger viewers (lyrics included "Oh, it's fun to play in a non-violent way.")
- Some colleges with four-letter abbreviations (ex. UCLA) replace "Y-M-C-A" with the abbreviation.
- In a 1981 University of New South Wales law students' revue called The Legal Has Landed, the song It's Fun to be in the USSR was sung to the tune of YMCA with appropriate arm movements.
- George Lam recorded a Cantonese remix, still entitled "YMCA". It seems that it was released on 2001 Music is Live - George Lam & Eason Chan Karaoke
- William Hung, an American Idol reject, released a cover on his first album
- "Disco Santa" is sung to the tune of the Y.M.C.A. and Macho Man
- A Finnish version was performed by a band called Gregorius under the title NMKY
- Catholic parodist Nick Alexander remakes the song into R.C.I.A., an invitation to join the Catholic Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
Use in film and television
- The 1980 film Can't Stop the Music, a musical pseudohistory of the Village People, features an elaborate production number to the song in the style of famous choreographer Busby Berkeley, with generous helpings of homoeroticism. Well-muscled young men box in slow motion and do synchronized dives into swimming pools.
- Late in the film Longtime Companion, at an AIDS benefit, a musical ensemble from Ithaca, New York calling itself the Finger Lakes Trio plays a version of the song arranged for strings.
- In the climax of the comedy film One Night at McCool's, as a sheriff, a regular looking man, and a man dressed in S&M gear all come to a woman's house to call on her. Another man arrives with a shotgun seeking revenge for his brother's death. The woman is not home (though she IS just outside it) and all the other men are being questioned by the shotgun wielder. After much frustration, taking note on their variety of dress, the man shouts "I'm gonna kill all you damn Village People!". Not long after, a shootout begins, with YMCA playing as background music.
- In the episode "Take My Wife, Please" of Married With Children, members of the Bundy family repeatedly perform the song YMCA (because Marcy only owns an album single with that song, which only allows the Bundys to lip synch that song) while impersonating the Village People at a party. Eventually when the real Village People arrive at the party they start performing the song which infuriates the crowd.
- This song is also played in the movie Wayne's World 2. Wayne and his buddies, after an unsuccessful attempt to spy on a conversation between Wayne's girlfriend and her manager leads to a chase sequence, accidentally make their way onto the stage of a gay bar. They are wearing outfits and costumes much like those of the Village People; the DJ puts the song on, and the group is forced into performing the dance routine.
- It is played in US comedy Friends season 2 "The one with the bullies", while Monica is dancing.
- It is also played in Red Corner.
- In Episode 2 of My Hero series 4, Mrs. Raven becomes a hypnotherapist, and at George's "funeral", she has hypnotised a small group of people to do one round of the YMCA chorus, complete with actions whenever they hear the number 4.
- In the Brazilian teen soap Malhação the men danced to the YMCA.
- It is played on the 72th episode of South Korean top-rating comic variety programme Muhan Dojeon(Season 3), with a comic dancing on the ice that performed by Yu Jae-seok, Park Myeong-su and Jeong Jun-ha.
- The song was featured in the episode In and Out of the American comedy series The War at Home. Once when Dave is talking with kenny as he admits being gay, and a second time when a "gay sperm" fuses with an egg turing it into a "guy egg" while the song was playing as Dave asserts that kenny was gay his whole life (even as a sperm).
- In the Halloween episode of Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends entitled "Nightmare on Wilson Way", Madame Foster (voiced by Candi Milo) sings the words "My, aren't you cute!" to the YMCA song to a group of imaginary friends dressed as the Village People.
- In a bonus feature for the film Shrek, Mister Hood sings the song.
- In the Family Guy episode Believe It Or Not, Joe's Walking On Air Herbert sings the part "YMCA It's fun to stay at the YMCA".
- In Blast from the Past, Brendan Fraser was dancing to the song when Dave Foley tries to teach him some stuff.
- In the Argentinian tv programm Supermatch (a recopilation of It's a knowckout australian show episodes) an adapted version of song was played, it replaced "Y M C A!" with "Su Supermatch"
Use in video games
- The song was featured on the U.S. home version of Dance Dance Revolution Extreme, but it was shorter and it was not by the original Village People. The opening brass hit is also somewhat lower and louder.
- In Fable: The Lost Chapters, the four expressions to communicate with the Oracle are stone tablets with runes that much resemble the letters Y, M, C, and A on them. When using one, the Hero makes the letter's shape with his arms.
- A cover version of the song is featured in the Nintendo DS game Elite Beat Agents. While playing the song on Breezin', Cruisin', or Sweatin' mode, the Agents will perform the YMCA dance at the respective lyrics.
- In Grand Theft Auto: Vice City there is a club the player can enter where there are characters dressed as a biker, a construction worker, an army soldier, and a police officer on stage dancing to a similar sounding disco tune.
- In EyeToy: Groove, YMCA was featured. However, the voices were not by the original Village People and were lower and louder.
- In Destroy All Humans! Big Willy Unleashed a mission is called "The Village Humans" where Orthopox orders Crypto to assemble a disco group aptly named "The Village Hu-mans" (a barb at the tendency of movies and video games to slightly change names so as to avoid licensing fees and copyright infringments). Crypto abducts a native, a pirate, a policeman and a sailor. At the end scene of the mission, the opening instrumentals of YMCA can be briefly heard.