Friday, March 02, 2012

#296: In The Navy

What?  They faked it?  Both in the beginning and up to the present day?  Say it ain’t so, Joe!!!  According to former Village People lead singer, Victor Willis, the whole thing was one big fraud, from start to finish. None of the other Village People ever sang on an album, let alone sang live - none of them could carry a tune!  Hell hath no fury like a musician wanting royalties and revenge, and hell definitely hath no fury like a woman scorned, especially when she's a lawyer.

Before we get into the who’s and what’s, let hear from Victor himself, via recently filed court documents.  “I am the original lead singer of Village People, and writer of such hits as "Y.M.C.A," Macho Man," "In the Navy," and "Go West.",” writes Willis.  “In 1977 I was recruited by Can't Stop Productions (Henri Belolo) to record an album for a non-existent recording group called Village People.  Henri Belolo told me that if the album failed to be a success, no group would ever be assembled. The album was recorded by me at the behest of the Henri Belolo as a financial experiment on how to record an album under a name while tricking the public into believing in a group and product that simply did not exist.  At that time Village People was simply a concept group idea and Henri Belolo knew this it to be true because I had personally discussed this concern with Henri Belolo Henri Belolo.  It was only after the success of the second album recorded by me that Henri Belolo was forced to assemble a group lest the fraud be exposed.”

Now them’s be fighting words, to say the least.  It’s well known in the music industry that the Village People were originally a studio based band, built around the strong voice of Victor Willis, who’d spent years singing back-up for others, uncredited sessions and the odd commercial.  Belolo and his more talented offsider, producer Jaques Morali, needed someone to bring their own, high energy, high camp and ultra gay, vision to life.  For Willis it was just another chance to make some quick cash singing throwaway tunes that most people would never hear, but then everyone underestimated the power of Morali’s gift for writing very, very catchy melodies.  The issue that Morali had was the fact that English was a second language, hence the need for someone like Willis to translate what he wanted to say.  Depending on who you believe, Willis either did a literal translation of Morali’s French lyrics or Willis wrote the words himself.  Either way Willis got the credit and recently won a lawsuit for unpaid royalties, so he can’t overly complain.  Personally I find it very unbelievable that a straight man, such as Willis, could write such overtly homosexual lyrics as those found in songs such as Go West, Y.M.C.A and Macho Man.  You can sing them, tongue in cheek, but I’m sure that Morali had something else in mind to be in his cheek when he penned them.

Now THAT'S a cockduster
But the first album was uncredited session singers – we all know that.  “All of my Village People recording, which was each and every hit album,” continues Willis, “were recorded by me with use of background singers who were not part the Village People group.”  Now that’s EVERY song that Willis recorded.  That’s the classic material, the Y.M.C.A, IN The Navy, Macho Man, Magic Night, Milkshake, San Francisco, plus a handful of songs for other related acts, Patrick Juvet’s I Love America for example.  It was ludicrous and lucrative, all at the same time.  However history would have us believe that, after the success of the first album, an act was rapidly assembled, bringing the world the original Village People – Victor Willis, Randy Jones, Glenn Hughes, Alex Briley, Filipe Rose and David Hodo.  Over the years Jones would come and go, being replaced by Jeff Olsen, Hughes, God love him,  would sadly pass away from cancer; he was replaced by a former Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle named Eric Anzalone (who, as good as he might be, never could grow a cockduster as impressive as Hughes) and, most famously, Willis would leave and be replaced by Ray Simpson, brother of Valerie, who was, as we all know, one half of Ashford & Simpson.  And here's some trivia for you - as a session singer Ray Simpson also sang vocals on the Kiss song Tomorrow And Tonight, which appeared on the Love Gun album (this, kiddies, is the reason why I rule at Trivial Pursuit).  Willis would lose his band, his solo career and his wife (Patricia Rasheed – who went on to fame as Bill Cosby’s wife Mrs. Huxtable in that awful patronising ‘80s TV show) and ultimately his sanity for a period of time.  But he’s back, healthy and he wants the name, the Village People, and, to that end, he’s lifting the lid off some very dirty laundry.

The first step is to denigrate the remaining members of the act.  At the time of writing there’s still three original Village People touring – Rose, Briley and Hodo.  Do they have a claim?  Well, no, not according to Willis.  For, you see, they never sang a note in the first place.  “The Village People never sung as a vocal group or musical because none of the members could hold a tune as a group, i.e., they could not harmonize as a group in the studio or for live performances,” says Willis these days.  “So background singers were placed behind the curtains at every concert as the other Village People members simply lip synced. In fact, I was the only person to ever sing live at a Village People concert. Moreover, since my solo performance as Village People for the first two albums had solidified my Village People sound, to add the new members would have disturbed or drastically changed the sound. So Henri Belolo decided not to use the new members for recording purposes either. Therefore, I continued to record alone as Village People with use of non Village People member background singers.”

If that wasn’t bad enough, there’s this comment to consider from lawyer Karen Willis.  “I first discovered the group Village People lip-syncing to pre-recorded music during their live performances in 2007 as I personally witnessed this.  Since that time I have witnessed numerous appearances where they continue not to sing as a group but simply lip syncs to pre-recorded music.”  Now Karen has a vested interest, you see not only does she represent Victor in his legal stoushes, she also cooks him dinner – she’s his wife.  Read into that what you wish to.  As if the lip-synching wasn’t bad enough, according to Willis (Victor), the whole Village People thing was just one big rip-off, designed from the start to gouge money from an unsuspecting public who clearly didn’t know their credited harmonies from their uncredited.

You thought they were all straight??
“I knew Village People was a sham on the public for financial benefit,” says Villis, “and Henri Belolo knew this to be a fact too because I personally discussed my concerns with Belolo when I was asked to perform on American Bandstand but couldn't because there was not musical and vocal group.  As a result, Henri Belolo decided to quickly assemble random phantom group members to fool the public into believing Village People was real when it fact, it was simply a sham and Belolo knew it. After our appearance on American Bandstand, all the temporary group members were let go.”  Well, Victor, not quite all of the temporary group members were let go, for, you see, Alex Briley and Filipe Rose were retained from that original line-up, but let's not split hairs.  In fact, at last count, I think there's been at least fifteen, if not more, Village People.

All you saps who bought into it, well suffer, you Village Idiots!  More fool you.  When the act broke apart in the mid ‘80s all of the members were set for life, other than, apparently, Victor Willis.  However being qualified for doing nothing meant that they’d eventually continue touring, and this they did.  Simpson, Hughes and co formed a company called Sixuvus, which licensed the name, Village People, from Belolo and off they went.  Surely they sing?  Well, again, in the words of Willis, who has no real connection with the group, the answer is a big, fat nope.  “I have personal knowledge that the Village People to this day is simply a concept group,” Willis claims.  “Henri Belolo's sham and fraud continues to be perpetrated to this day through its licensee to the Sixuvus Village People are causing consumer confusion by claiming that they are the same Village People who recorded and performed the original hits I wrote and sung like "Y.M.C.A." "Macho Man" and "In the Navy." In 2007, I asked Henri Belolo to stop the fraud by at least allowing me to perform once again as Village People. Henri Belolo refused the request and stated that as the owner of the Village People who he says it is, regardless of whether it’s publicly correct and is misleading to the public.”

And now we get to the crux of the issue.  Or so it might seem.  “Since its inception,” states Henri Belolo, “the Village People group performs high energy "club" or "disco" songs while dressed in their specific, distinctive costumes. Performances by the Village People group include both instrumental and vocal renditions of music.  The Village People group immediately achieved a high degree of success, and has gained worldwide fame in connection with musical performances and musical recordings. Among their many hit songs are "Y.M.C.A", "Macho Man", "In the Navy", and "Go West". Today, some 30 years after its inception, the Village People group continues to tour and maintain its status as a unique musical act. As a testament to the continued fame of the Village People, the Village People was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in September 2008.

“Mr. Willis' services were first terminated by Can't Stop in 1979,” continues Henri Belolo.  “Mr. Willis permanently ceased to be a member of the Village People group in 1982 and has not had any further affiliation with Can't Stop for over twenty-five years. Mr. Willis has not performed with the Village People group owned by Can't Stop since 1982, and has no authorization to do so.”  Not for any want of trying though. 

In 2007 lawyer Karen Huff contacted Belolo, via his own lawyer and asked if Willis could tour as the Village People.  The letter stated that Willis had been contacted by “at least two original Village People members” with the view of a tour.  And yes, considering that Willis claims that, by virtue, he is the only Village People (Person?), then surely the two others are him and his reflection?  No, it’d be Rose and Briley.  The overall aim, for Huff, was to get the last remaining members back into the fold, that being Hodo and Jones, and then you’d have five out of six.  Or something like that.  Belolo passed on the offer, much to the anger of Huff, who promptly married, you got it, Victor Willis, and then began to file suit, much to the chagrin of Belolo.

“Can't Stop refused to grant a license to Petitioner or Mr. Willis,” Belolo says, “Willis then threatened to harass Can't Stop and its licensee through lawsuits and other unfounded legal actions. Upon information and belief, the present cancellation proceeding is an element of Petitioner's carrying through on her promise. She has also filed petitions to cancel two registrations for the VILLAGE PEOPLE owned by Can't Stop.”  Somehow I think this means that you’re going to see the original Beatles back together, complete with Pete Best and Stu Sutcliffe, before you’ll be seeing the remaining Village People singing away, or, well, Willis singing and the rest miming to singers behind curtains, allegedly. 

When they came out of the closet the music went downhill
And that’s sad.  Now it matters not if you like or hate the Village People.  You can be a punk all your life and spit on them, but, like any popular music, a lot of people will disagree with you.  Those are the ones who continue to pay money to see them when they tour and those people sing, dance and carry on like idiots.  And good on them – if they’re having fun and not hurting anyone, why deny them?  But if Willis is right, and the Village People have been miming, in live performances, since day one, well then that makes them no better than Milli Vanilli.  Or Madonna.  Or Justin Beiber.  Or Britney Spears.  Or any number of acts that rely on backing vocal tapes these days, and who charge three figures for cheap seat tickets, and any number of acts in the past, to get their message across and to entertain.  And that’s what it all comes down to, entertainment.  The Village People have never been promoted as great singers, ala the Three Tenors, but then nobody ever expected Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras to be leading their audience in a high spirited dance to Y.M.C.A. either.  Ying and yang, quid-pro-quo, call it what you want, but it’s either music or entertainment.  Sometimes it can be both, but, more often than not, these days it’s one or the other.  

Oh, and apparently Willis had no problem with being part of the 'fraud' back in the day.  Read into that what you will.

More line-up changes just confused the issue

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