A Very Macho Videodrone Special

Nov 12th, 2008 // 8 Comments

One of the many things disco did to the pop mainstream was to help sharpen its body-consciousness. Take the above video clip for Miquel Brown’s “So Many Men, So Little Time,” a 1983 hit that, according to the voluminous notes provided by the song’s producer, Ian Levine (who has his own extensively curated YouTube hub), was “The first pioneering record of the whole High Energy scene.” The song was a huge European hit, but the video is striking for its glimpse into muscle-man culture. Not that this was altogether new in pop. Below, we present a selective history of bodybuilding in pop video from the period.

Let’s work backward from “So Many Men,” starting with Diana Ross’s “Muscles,” a Michael Jackson-penned hit from 1982. It’s a real curio–famously written about Jackson’s boa constrictor of the same name, the song strikes me now (as opposed to me when I was seven) as almost too deliberately camp, even though I have absolutely no question as to either Jackson’s or Ross’s sincerity in this particular endeavor. (Or any other.) Nevertheless, the video is ridiculous, especially when you factor in those odd quick cuts of vintage Buster Keaton footage.

“Muscles” reads, historically speaking, like a sequel–a slow, melodramatic sequel–to Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical,” No. 1 for months in 1981, and one of the most subversive of the early pop videos. (Sadly, it’s not embeddable, but it is on YouTube.) The video–which is approximately 800 times better than the song itself–is one of the most vivid mainstream icons of the period, but watching it now makes me wonder how it ever got on TV in that less permissive age. It’s not just the obviously sexy stuff (this came out at a time when Three’s Company had been on the air for several seasons), but the gay not-even-subtext, particularly at the end, when the muscle men walk out hand in hand. The video’s genius is that is plays everything as light comedy, which was ONJ’s real knack anyway, and which made everything here seem just ducky to Grandma and Grandpa America.

Of course, it’s impossible to discuss any of this without mention of the Village People’s “Macho Man,” from 1979. The song certainly is some kind of template, but what’s most unexpected if you’re unfamiliar with the video is how little actual muscle-flexing it has. Instead, the director seems to have put the camera down and gone out for lunch. Or maybe to hit the gym.


  1. Chris Molanphy

    Wow, good post. So much to say, don’t know where to start.

    Re: “So Many Men…” which was radio gold for Z100 New York back in the day (I recall they were still playing it in 1985 when my family moved out of NYC temporarily), as if the gay subtext wasn’t obvious enough, the station did a parody version sung in a lispy male voice. Clearly no one, even back then, was unaware of the homoerotic subtext.

    …which they weren’t, just a half-decade earlier, with the Village People. I mean, maybe this is just my memories of the late ’70s talking (when I was, y’know, seven), but in the Italian-American nabe where I grew up, straight men unironically wore “Macho Man” T-shirts. Throw that data point into the pile with everything else the VP pulled over the heads of the American people, alongside the perennial grandma popularity of “Y.M.C.A.”

    As for “Muscles,” I place that in the same category of post-Off the Wall, pre-Thriller hits that either Michael or Quincy Jones were involved in that sounded dated within a year or two — I’m thinking also of Donna Summer’s “Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger),” which has aged particularly badly. Honestly, these songs are so weak, it’s a wonder they made Thriller just months later.

  2. Maura Johnston

    “Clearly no one, even back then, was unaware of the homoerotic subtext.”

    the eight-year-old me, who heard this song a lot in her modern dance class, most certainly was.

  3. Christian John

    As a self-confessed Rossofile, I definitely agree that Miss Ross was most certainly sincere…witness her 10-minute long rendering of “Muscles” at her Central Park concert where she invited all guys in the audience to remove their shirts and flex.

    What a fun most Mr. Matos!

  4. AbundantChoice

    Of course, Rammstein releases what must be the freakin’ eschaton of musclemen videos a few years ago with Mann Gegen Mann.

    If you can put up with a naked Rammstein insterspersed in the footage, there is some CRAZY beefcake in this video:

    “Follow your dreams, you can reach your goals, i’m living proof. Beefcake. BEEFCAKE!”

  5. Chris Molanphy

    @Maura Johnston: I guess it’s an age thing. Maybe people in the ’70s got the joke on “Macho Man,” too, and I was just too young. (I still kind of doubt that.)

  6. jody

    here are some 1987 chippendale’s clips for ya.

    chippendale’s started in 1979, which is right in step with the village people/diana ross/ONJ muscle fetish.

  7. mackro

    Not as much muscles but macho, but on the other side of the pond, we can’t ignore some of those early DAF videos, like this one from 1981:

  8. mackro

    And and even more extreme example of Macho Uber Muskel.

    Laibach “Geburt Einer Nation” (the Queen cover)

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