Reviewed on this page:
Village People - Macho Man - Go West - Live And Sleazy - Renaissance
Strange as it may seen, this disco quintet recruited and produced by Jacques Morali may have done more than anyone else to raise awareness of gay culture among the US general public. The song titles - "San Francisco"; "Fire Island"; "Key West"; "I Am What I Am" - and the band members' costumes are like a bullet-pointed PowerPoint presentation on 70s gaydom, and the group's trio of pop crossover hits - "Macho Man," "In The Navy" and "Y.M.C.A." - still stand as icons of disco and the era in general.
Musically speaking, I prefer Morali's other project, the Ritchie Family: the Villagers' songs are too long and the arrangements are not very interesting. But the hits sure are catchy.
Victor Willis, The Cop; Randy Jones, The Cowboy; David Hodo, The Construction Worker; Felipe Rose, The Indian; Glen Hughes, The Leatherman; Alexander Briley, The Soldier.
Willis was fired in 1979, replaced by Ray Simpson. Jones left 1980, replaced by G. Jeff Olson. Willis returned, 1981. Willis and Simpson left, 1982, replaced by Miles Jay Davis. Hodo left 1982, replaced by Mark Lee. Davis left, 1985, replaced by Ray Stephens. Stephens died in 1990, replaced by Simpson. Hughes left 1995, replaced by Eric Anzalone.
Village People (1977)
Morali composed all the music; the lyrics are from Henri Belolo, Peter Whitehead and Phil Hurtt.
Just two tunes per side, and at this point they're nothing special: "San Francisco (You've Got Me)" sounds like a preliminary study for "Macho Man," with the same percussion and bass sounds and virtually the same verse melody. (In fact, three songs here, like "Macho," are based on a vamp using the minor seventh, tonic and minor third.) "Village People" is a "Fly Robin Fly" knockoff, and "In Hollywood (Everybody Is A Star)" has nothing but its chanted chorus, so the one worthwhile tune is "Fire Island" with the memorable "don't go in the bushes" refrain. The record's equally skimpy from the quantity standpoint: each side is just eleven minutes long.
Though the first Ritchie Family albums were recorded in Philadelphia's Sigma Sound, the Village Peeps were New Yorkers from the start.
The backing rhythm section - Jimmy Lee and Rodger Lee, guitars; Alfonso Carey, bass; Russell Dabney, drums - would remain in place through Go West.
Macho Man (1978)
At this point, lead singer Victor Willis began writing the lyrics (with Belolo and Whitehead), which helped a lot: his clever double entendres struck just the right tongue-in-cheek note.
Side One is short - just two five-minute tracks - but sweet: the medley of the boisterous title track into the slightly defensive "I Am What I Am" is brilliant, with Willis's passionate delivery bringing real emotion to what could have been just silly clowning.
The flip side ventures a bit too far into cornball territory, though, with a medley of the standards "Just A Gigolo" and "I Ain't Got Nobody" (originally paired by Louis Prima, and later covered by David Lee Roth) and a curiously flat morality tale, "Sodom And Gomorrah."
Probably the group's high point. The source of the group's best known hit, "Y.M.C.A.," as well as the memorable "Hot Cop."
Go West (1979)
The hit "In The Navy" catches your attention from the opening handclaps, and doesn't let up. The rest of the disc follows the usual blueprint, but lacks inspiration: "Go West" is another winking celebration of a travel destination, "I Wanna Shake Your Hand" is another "save the world" plea for understanding, and so on. But the tunes aren't memorable (the atrocious "Get Away Holiday"), the brotherhood stuff sounds forced ("Citizens Of The World"), and the delivery lacks conviction (the off-message "Manhattan Woman," which does open with some unusual synth washes).
Live And Sleazy (1979)
A double album: two sides live - recorded in L.A., backed by their touring band - showcase all their hits from "San Francisco" to "In The Navy." The energy level is high, and they touch all the bases, so it's entertaining though unilluminating.
The two sides of new studio recordings introduce new lead vocalist
Ray Simpson (Valerie's brother), backed by a new batch of musicians.
The disco beat is the same, but there's more emphasis on guitar ("Sleazy," not the Margie Adam song; the 50s cornball "Rock & Roll Is Back Again"). Unfortunately, the tunes are duller and less melodic than on Go West
("Ready For The 80's"), so brief as it is, the disc is way too long.
Can't Stop The Music (1980)
The soundtrack to the film of the same name; the title track was the group's last notable hit.
Their New Wave album, and it's a dreadful collection of misfired dance ("Jungle City") and love songs ("(Do You Wanna) Spend The Night"). "Action Man," for example, rips off the drumbeat and guitar riff from Devo's "Whip It," and tops it off with the vocal melody from The Kinks' "You Really Got Me."
Worse than the songs themselves, though, is the colossal irrelevance of the enterprise: the whole point of the Village People is that they sound like the Village People... there's no fun when they just sound like any crummy early 80s band ("Food Fight," which has the same self-mocking quality as the Time's "Onedayi'mgonnabesombody").
The one worthwhile track, then, is "Big Mac," which still has VP elements like double entendre lyrics and shouted group vocals under the New Wave trappings.
The completely different sound is provided by a completely different band - Mark Maierhoffer (guitar), Howard Epstein (bass), Dan Schmidt (keys) and James Hunter (drums) - which also co-wrote the tunes.
Fox On The Box (1982)
Willis was back for this release, and he shared lead vocal responsibilities with Simpson.
Released a year later as In The Street. (DBW)
Sex Over The Phone (1985)
The Bruce Vilanch-penned title tune - perhaps the first dancefloor call to "safer sex" - was released as a single, but the full LP wasn't released in the States until the late 90s.
Give me a break.