At some point in your life (especially if you’ve ever been in the Navy), you’ve heard Village People’s 1979 disco classic, “In The Navy.” Whatever you know about the group and this song, know these two things: First, their characters are supposed to be the ultimate, macho, American men. Second, the Navy asked the band to use this song as the Navy’s official recruiting song.
Following up on the success of the band’s previous hit, “YMCA,” the United States Navy approached the band’s management to get permission to use it in a recruiting campaign. The song was written well before the Navy asked about it and, in the service’s defense, it seems like a pretty innocuous song, praising the life of a sailor.
“… Search the world for treasure ,
Learn science technology.
Where can you begin to make your dreams all come true ,
On the land or on the sea.
Where can you learn to fly…”
A deal was struck. The Navy could use the song for free in a commercial so as long as the Village People could film the music video for the song aboard a real U.S. Navy ship. The Village People performed the song aboard the frigate USS Reasoner at Naval Base San Diego. The song peaked at #3 on the US Billboard Hot 100 charts.
But seeing as the band was, for the most part, an openly gay band in the late 1970s, upon closer inspection, the lyrics seemed to be filled with double entendre. To the Navy, it began to be seen as an anthem for promoting homosexual intercourse while underway.
Everywhere the Navy looked in the song, there was some sort of implicit reference.
“… If you like adventure,
Don’t you wait to enter,
The recruiting office fast.
Don’t you hesitate,
There is no need to wait,
They’re signing up new seamen fast…”
According to the band, however, that’s not true at all. The principle writer of the songs, frontman (and faux-policeman) Victor Willis has said there are no intended homosexual references in any of the songs, not “In The Navy” or “YMCA.” The Navy (and general public) was applying those meanings on their own.
In fact, Victor Willis isn’t even a gay man. The lyrics are just a play intended to make people think there’s more to the background than there really is. In the end, it’s just supposed to be a fun pop song.
Still, the Navy decided to stick with its old “Anchors Aweigh” for recruiting purposes. In the long run, it was probably for the best. The Navy kept its tradition intact and both the Village People and the Navy benefited from the song’s enduring popularity, especially in terms of pop-culture homage.