Disco drew fans from all walks of soci­ety but if there is a sin­gle group that qual­i­fies as the keep­er of the flame for this gen­re, it’s def­i­nite­ly disco’s gay audi­ence.  Long after the “dis­co sucks” move­ment scared off the dilet­tan­tes, they remained faith­ful to this sound and nur­tured it as it trans­formed into new­er vari­ants like Hi-NRG, house, etc.  In the process, they became the most catered-to seg­ment of the dis­co audi­ence and this led to a lot of amaz­ing, some­times exper­i­men­tal and always flam­boy­ant music aimed at them.

Harmless Records’ excel­lent Disco Discharge com­pi­la­tion series has paid trib­ute to gay dis­co many times with vol­umes like Pink Pounders and Hi-NRG & Gay Disco.  Series mas­ter­mind Mr. Pink has done it once again with Midnight Shift, an entry in the Disco Discharge reper­toire that shows off the many col­or­ful styles that fall under the gay dis­co umbrel­la.

The first disc hits the dance­floor run­ning with Bette Midler’s “Knight In Black Leather,” a breath­less­ly campy leather-bar romance tale with a killer sing-along cho­rus pumped up by dou­ble-time hand­claps.  The melo­dra­ma-with-a-wink tone is main­tained by the swoop­ing, string-laden roman­ti­cism of Patrick Juvet’s “Lady Night” as well as the boom­ing ket­tle­drums of the Flirtations’ syn­th-dancer “Earthquake.”  Elsewhere, “The Power Of Love” by Astaire off­sets its relent­less, pro­grammed elec­tro-beats with a down­right oper­at­ic cho­rus and erst­while pop-rock­er Kim Carnes deliv­ers a moody cruis­ing tune in “Voyeur,” a song whose musi­cal aes­thet­ic falls some­where between an ear­ly ‘80s porn sound­track and a sus­pense cue from an elec­tron­ic film score of the same era.

That said, the killer one-two punch of disc one arrives in the mid­dle with Lipstique’s epic “At The Discothèque” and the Love Twins’ sim­i­lar­ly expan­sive “Miami Heatwave.”  The Lipstique cut is dri­ven by a killer arrange­ment from German pro­duc­er Jurgen Kordulesch that piles on the horns, skit­ter­ing strings and tym­pa­ni as it deliv­ers a sym­phon­ic state­ment in dis­co form.  Look out for the killer bridge that pops up late in the tune as one of the singers coos “Our song of love has ended/But I’m still danc­in’, baby.” Few state­ments cap­ture the mix of melo­dra­ma and hedo­nism that define gay dis­co that well.  “Miami Heatwave” is just as impres­sive, offer­ing a punchier take on the dis­co epic that makes killer use of per­cus­sive rhythm gui­tar and hyper­ac­tive cow­bell.  It also boasts an ele­gant, relaxed vocal wor­thy of a Chic song.

Disc two of Midnight Shift favors the 1980’s more and thus has a more elec­tron­ic style.  That said, don’t expect a string of samey-sound­ing syn­th dit­ties.  The pro­duc­ers behind the tracks on this disc coax a lot of dif­fer­ent tex­tures and moods out of their elec­tron­ic gear.  For exam­ple, “Candy Love” by Lili & Sussie and “Burning With Fire” by Tapps would both qual­i­fy as syn­th dis­co but their takes on the gen­re are rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent: “Candy Love” goes for a mid-paced approach where the odd­ly sooth­ing vocals and minor-key melody give it a spa­cious, haunt­ed feel while “Burning With Fire” is a Hi-NRG affair where the synths per­co­late like pop­corn pop­pers as they spew out one stac­ca­to hook after anoth­er and a fran­tic, diva-style vocal rais­es the inten­si­ty even high­er.

Other high­lights on this disc include Lime’s new wave-ish “Wake Dream,” where the rum­pled lead vocal lends a humane qual­i­ty to the dri­ving elec­tron­ics, and “Deliverance” by People Like Us, which boasts a cho­rus that simul­ta­ne­ous­ly achieves both oper­at­ic and sing-along qual­i­ties.  That said, the killer track of disc two is “Dance Trance Medley” by San Francisco out­fit Boys Town Gang.  It uti­lizes a clas­sic “dis­co med­ley” for­mat that pits pogo-ing elec­tron­ics again­st tra­di­tion­al string swoops and horn stabs as it trav­els through a vari­ety of melodies and moods, all sung with pas­sion.  It runs near­ly fif­teen min­utes but nev­er gets dull for an even a sec­ond, final­ly reach­ing a smooth slow-dance coda that neat­ly caps its feats of dis­co gym­nas­tics.

Simply put, Midnight Shift offers yet anoth­er fine tes­ta­ment to the campy, col­or­ful joys of the gay dis­co scene. Even if this isn’t your cho­sen style of dis­co, it’s hard not to appre­ci­ate the blend of melody and show­man­ship it offers.