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Song of the Day for January 13: YMCA by the Village People

Ray Simpson, Alexander Briley, Eric Anzalone, David Hodo, Felipe Rose, Jeff Olson
Gus Ruelas/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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FR157633 AP
The Village People, from top left, Ray Simpson, Alexander Briley, Eric Anzalone, and from bottom left, David Hodo, Felipe Rose and Jeff Olson celebrate their 30th anniversary with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles, Friday, Sept. 12, 2008. (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)

Leaders of the Young Men’s Christian Association, or YMCA, weren’t happy when the Village People released their song “YMCA” in 1978. They filed a lawsuit on January 13, 1979, saying the group used their trademarked name without permission and that the song defamed their name.

YMCAs began popping up in U.S. cities in the 1880s. The idea was to give rural men a cheap, clean place to stay when they moved to the city.

The Village People, a pop and disco group, were working on their third album when their French producer, Jacques Morali, asked what YMCAs were. When he heard the explanation, he knew he had the final song to fill the album.

It took him 20 minutes to write it. Morali then passed it on to the group’s lyricist, Victor Willis, to finish. It was the only single from the Village People album “Cruisin.”

The song, YMCA, reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed on the chart for 26 weeks. It did even better around the rest of the world.

At the time, YMCAs had a reputation as a place where gay men would hook up. The Village People said the song wasn’t about that. The group and the Y worked on a settlement. But when it saw how popular the song was, The YMCA dropped the suit

What does the YMCA organization think of the song today? Media relations manager Leah Pouw told Spin: "We at the YMCA celebrate the song. It's a positive statement about the YMCA and what we offer to people all around the world.”

The song became controversial again during the 2020 presidential election. Lyricist Viktor Willis gave Donald Trump permission to use “YMCA,” “Macho Man” and other songs at campaign rallies. He later changed his mind, but the songs stayed. Trump left Washington by helicopter on January 20, 2021 to “YMCA” blaring through loudspeakers.