There’s a bitter irony in the Village People releasing a song entitled “Ready For The ’80s” as one of their singles. Though they would soldier on via singles and albums into the ‘mid-80s, the dawn of that decade saw the end of disco as an international commercial phenomenon.
1980 would also see the release of Can’t Stop The Music, a costly Village People musical that bombed at the box office. It’s primarily remembered a cinematic white elephant that symbolized the quick banishment of disco from the U.S. commercial marketplace that happened that year. However, it’s worth noting that the film’s soundtrack is much more entertaining than the film itself, offering a better vehicle for the talents of producers/writers Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo.
Can’t Stop The Music serves up a string of lushly-orchestrated pop disco numbers that highlight a trio of Morali/Belolo-produced acts. The centerpiece, of course, is a sextet of songs from The Village People. The title track is one of their all-time best, a sort of disco variation of the Beach Boys’ “Add Some Music To Your Day” that offers a tribute to the life-affirming omnipresence of music in our lives and also acting as a stealth defense of disco itself. As usual, arranger Horace Ott is the secret weapon on this song, adding cinemascope orchestrations with some great loop-de-loops from the string section on the chorus.
The other Village People songs offers a campily entertaining mix of the tuneful and the weird. “Liberation” is the closest they ever came to an unambiguous gay-pride anthem, with a dramatic sing-along chorus, and “Magic Night” is endearing in its relentless frothiness. On the weirder side, “Milkshake” marries the most bubblegummy of choruses to the most brain-damaged of lyrics, a glorified ad jingle that suggests you should drink the title beverage all day long. There’s also a throwaway remix of “Y.M.C.A.” that replaces the original Victor Willis lead vocal with those of new Village People “cop” Ray Simpson.
However, the most tuneful and weird of the bunch is “I Love You To Death.” The “Busby Berkeley meets Dario Argento” setpiece using in it the film is one of its highlights and the song provides an equal amount of oddball fun: swirling vortexes of strings and a pounding, rock guitar-layered groove provide a rare vehicle for the group’s Construction Worker, David Hodo, who promises endless lust in this world and the next(!). It plays kind of like a rough-trade answer song to Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff.”
Elsewhere on the album, you get two numbers by one David London… who is actually journeyman vocalist Dennis “Fergie” Fredericksen. He was a rock singer known to AOR fans for his stints in cult fave acts Trillion and Le Roux as well as being a one-album-only lead singer for Toto.
His songs here show the Morali/Belolo team trying to move into AOR territory: “Samantha” is an amusing airheaded number with goofy lyrics and a stuttering chorus hook while “The Sound Of The City” is a lite-rock tribute to NYC that offers little bursts of what sounds like a marching band quickly mixed in and out as a counterpoint to Fredericksen’s vocal. It accompanies the film’s opening titles scene, giving a tuneful backdrop to Steve Guttenburg spastically roller-boogieing down the streets of New York.
Rounding out the soundtrack are a pair of tunes by the Ritchie Family, a female singing trio and veteran Morali/Belolo act that actually predates the Village People. Critically speaking, these are the two best songs on the album, boasting strong vocals and songs that balance poppy melodic hooks with a strong groove and sophisticated Horace Ott orchestrations. “Give Me A Break” is an impressive feminist anthem with a rousing chorus and “Sophistication” boasts attention-getting diva vocals over a slick, syncopated groove. Disco fans will want to seek these out.
Can’t Stop The Music represents the end of an era – this was the last classically styled Village People outing before the group was retooled in a more new wave/electronic fashion – and it provides a lot of giddy fun for those of us wired towards enjoying the glittery/silly side of disco. If you can enjoy dancefloor fodder with a hefty helping of kitsch, it provides the same kind of sugar rush as the milkshakes the Village People sing about.
To read Schlockmania’s film review for Can’t Stop The Music, click here.