The Village People, the iconic disco group known for their catchy songs and flamboyant costumes, had a close encounter with the U.S. Navy in 1979. The band shot the music video for their hit ‘In The Navy’ aboard an active warship, the USS Reasoner, with the full support of the Navy. However, the collaboration turned sour when the Navy realized the song and the band were not exactly what they had in mind.
The story behind the video is a fascinating tale of pop culture and military history. The Navy contacted the band to use the song as a recruiting tool, hoping to attract young people to join the naval force. They offered to let the band shoot the video on one of their ships, and even provided them with several aircraft and dozens of personnel. The band members were also made honorary members of the U.S. Navy with all the rights and privileges, but none of the duties or obligations.
“They picked the ship and they picked us, I don’t know why. I was just lucky to be one of ’em picked,” said Ronald Beck, a former sailor who appeared in the video.
The video shows the band members and sailors dancing and singing on board the USS Reasoner, a Knox-class frigate docked at Naval Base San Diego. The song’s lyrics celebrate the benefits of joining the Navy, such as traveling the world, learning new skills, and meeting new people.
However, not everyone was comfortable with the band’s presence on the ship. Some sailors were aware of the band’s appeal to gay disco audiences and avoided appearing in the video.
“I’m not against being gay, but I grew up in the Texas panhandle and had never seen or met an openly gay person until I joined the Navy,” Beck said.
The Navy eventually withdrew its support for the video after realizing the implications of the song’s lyrics and the band’s image. The song’s chorus, “In the Navy, yes, you can sail the seven seas / In the Navy, yes, you can put your mind at ease,” could be interpreted as a reference to homosexuality. The band’s costumes, which included a leather-clad biker, a Native American chief, and a cowboy, also clashed with the Navy’s conservative image.
The video was released in 1979 and became a huge hit, reaching number three on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The band went on to produce other popular songs, such as ‘Macho Man’ and ‘YMCA.’ The video remains a classic example of how pop culture and military history can collide in unexpected ways.
“We had a blast shooting it. It was an incredible experience. We got to go on board a real naval ship and film with real sailors. We had so much fun,” said Felipe Rose, one of the band members.
– How The Village People Shot ‘In The Navy’ On A Warship – Task & Purpose, Task & Purpose, Oct 23, 2019
– House hearing interrupted by Village People’s song in background – CNN, CNN Politics, May 3, 2021
– ‘In the Navy’ was almost an official Navy recruiting song, We Are The Mighty, Oct 30, 2020