This was the first single for the Village People; with its big group chorus, it formed a template for their later hits "Macho Man" and "Y.M.C.A."
The group was created by the French producers Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo, who developed the concept after coming to America and producing the Philadelphia act The Ritchie Family, who had a hit in 1976 with "The Best Disco In Town." The Village People were conceived as a gay Disco group that would dress in outlandish costumes and sing tunes with gay interest by mainstream appeal. Looking for such a song, Morali and Belolo ordered up a song called "San Francisco," which is a very popular city in the gay community. Their associate Peter Whitehead wrote the lyrics, but they were too gay, so they asked Phil Hurtt, who worked with them on The Ritchie Family project, to clean them up. "They were full of sexual innuendo and a gay concept," Hurtt says about the original lyric. After coming up with something less offensive and more ambiguous, Hurtt turned the new lyric over to Morali and Belolo, who put the track together.
The group did not exist when this song was recorded. This was not uncommon: producers would put songs together using studio musicians, then figure it out later if they needed a group to perform the songs. Casting for the lead singer was basically done at this session, and the job was offered to Phil Hurtt, who co-wrote the song and sang backup. In our interview with Hurtt, he told us the story:
"When I got there, there was myself and three other background singers. I had put down my own vocal as a lead to put the background parts on, so my own reference vocal was on. I got on the microphone with the background guys and I taught them the background parts, taught them the song, gave them the harmony parts - the whole thing, the arrangement.
When the tracks were all done, Jacques (Morali) says to me, 'Okay, darling, you're the singer for the Village People.' I said, 'No, I'm not.' There was no group, by the way. There was no group at all.
I had some other engagements and was on my way out of town, but he says, 'Well, I need you to do that.' I said, 'I can't do that, but there's a guy in the background who has a heavier voice, like a husky voice.' I said, 'He probably could do it for you.' I'm trying to get out of there.
He says, 'Okay, I'm going to lunch. You try him and let me hear what he sounds like.' So I took this kid in the other studio in New York, and taught him the song 'San Francisco,' and wrote 'Hollywood' while I was in the studio. Taught it to him. Brought him back out, put him on the microphone. And when they came back and heard him, they said, 'Oh, he sounds fine.' That was Victor Willis."
The musicians on this track were a group called Gypsy Lane, who also backed The Ritchie Family when The Village People's producers had worked with them.