On their first big hit, the disco troupe The Village People celebrate the stereotypical beefcake characteristics of the all-American "Macho Man." A paragon of masculinity, he should be easy to spot: "You can tell a macho, he has a funky walk, His western shirts and leather, always look so boss."
Aside from peaking at #25 on the Hot 100, this also reached #14 on the Disco Singles chart.
The Villagers were singing from personal experience: A year earlier, they all answered an ad placed by producers Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo seeking "macho" men with mustaches. Morali had been studying the gay scene in New York City's Greenwich Village, where it was popular to dress up as characters for a night of dancing at the disco. Hoping to cater to that audience, he chose six archetypal American figures and hired attractive entertainers to portray them: the cowboy (Randy Jones), the Indian (Felipe Rose), the construction worker (David Hodo), the soldier (Alex Briley), the leather-man biker (Glenn Hughes) and the policeman (Victor Willis).
Although "San Francisco (You've Got Me)
" was the first single credited to The Village People, "Macho Man" is the first release with the group's official lineup. Before the ink was dry on their contracts, Morali had them in the studio. Randy Jones recalled on the group's E! True Hollywood Story
bio: "The Monday after Thanksgiving (1977), we signed contracts and the Tuesday after, we were in studio recording 'Macho Man,' with Victor Willis' handwritten lyrics that were written in the morning with egg stains and coffee rings on it. Everything was happening that quickly."
The lusty lyrics worship the muscled physique of the ideal macho man, but according to Jones, the song is really about self confidence. "There's a new revival of narcissism in American at the moment," he told Sounds in 1979. "We placed emphasis on the individual. You get all kinds of things thrown at you by the television and magazines over here but they can't carry on dictating how you feel. We just pointed out that you shouldn't worry about what other people think of you. Being yourself is the most important thing you can be."
While the term "macho" had been around for decades in America, having first shown up in print in 1928, the term skyrocketed in the late '70s with the popularity of The Village People's song. Glenn Hughes told Sounds: "We redefined that word. The epitome of that phrase is a hot Latin lover who keeps his wife in the kitchen and lays her once a night. We changed it to mean a strength of character, the strength to feel you can survive on your own."
The word gained further cultural significance in the '80s when it was adopted by Puerto Rican boxer Hector "Macho" Camacho, and pro wrestler Randy "Macho Man" Savage.
According to Willis, the group's lead singer and co-lyricist until he quit in 1983, he was the only straight member of the band and resented assumptions they were a gay group for a gay audience. Despite the obvious overtones in this and their most well-known hit "Y.M.C.A.
" (a place where "you can hang out with all the boys"), Willis insisted he was writing from a straight perspective. Willis shares credit on the tune with Morali, Belolo, and songwriter Peter Whitehead.
After the first recording session, David Hodo hated the song until he understood what it was all about. "I went back to my roommates that night and said, 'Well there goes my recording career. I just recorded the worst song you've ever heard,'" he told Pop Matters
. "I sang it for them and they agreed with me. Jacques was sucking up to the gay community because he wanted to be a star in the gay community, but I listened to 'Macho Man' and thought, 'This is a parody
of what's going on.' I decided that the only way I could do this was to cover my eyes up. I discovered it in my bedroom one night. I was rehearsing the dance steps and I just didn't believe myself. I had reflective sunglasses. When I put them on, it was like putting on a mask."
The group performed this on The Merv Griffin Show, which helped propel the single up the charts. When Pop Matters asked Hodo about the sexually charged performance, the "construction worker" replied: "Well, they were pulling the old Elvis thing on us. There was one special we did, Steve Allen, and they were saying, 'If you don't stop moving like that, we're only going to film you from the waist up.' Don't you know at that point, Felipe's g-string broke and his junk was swinging around like a yo-yo! We had to stop everything and put him back together. We were always having costume malfunctions. My pants would split out. I can remember having to run offstage in the middle of a song because there was no crotch left in my pants. There were so many bizarre situations."
Charlie Sheen and Kristy Swanson sing along with the chorus in the 1994 movie The Chase. Sheen's character says he always liked the cowboy best.
It was also used in these movies:
Think Like A Man Too (2014)
Love And Other Disasters (2006)
Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines (2003)
In & Out (1997)
The Nutty Professor (1996)
Addams Family Values (1993)
This was prominently featured in the Friends episode "The One Where Ross Finds Out" (1995). It plays while Monica and Chandler are exercising.
It was also used in these TV series:
Jane The Virgin ("Chapter Thirty-Nine" – 2016)
Scrubs ("My New Suit" – 2006)
3rd Rock From The Sun ("Frankie Goes To Rutherford" – 2000)
Ally McBeal ("Blue Christmas" – 1999)
The Simpsons ("Homer Loves Flanders" – 1994) – sung by Homer as "Nacho Man"
Buffy The Vampire Slayer ("Witch" – 1997)
Starsky and Hutch ("Discomania" – 1978)
In 1995, the Tex-Mex food chain Old El Paso used this in one of their commercials, changing the lyrics to, "Nacho, nacho man."
A group of plush pigs in leather, augmented by a chorus of chickens, in a 1978 episode of The Muppet Show.
The 1979 Disney album Mickey Mouse Disco features a parody by Donald Duck entitled "Macho Duck."
In 2013, a race horse Mucho Macho Man, named after the song, won the Breeders' Cup Classic. He also came in third place at the 2011 Kentucky Derby.