The Midnight Special, the quintessential 1970s musical variety program that showcased live performances by current and classic acts each week on NBC, has been packaged by Time-Life into a deluxe 11-DVD set filled with the greatest highlights of the program and chocked with hours of bonus material. The set is now available and is a perfect item for the music lover in your family.
Not even Saturday Night Live had been showcasing the kind of sonically rousing cornucopia of bands, sounds, and genres like The Midnight Special was doing. Rock, Funk, Pop, Soul, R&B, even traces of hard rock/metal were common fare on the program. The program always had the vibe (as most of the 1970s did) as one big idyllic, relaxed laid back party, replete with audience members allowed to get loose and whoop it up and stomp their feet, as the band played live their latest hit or well-known album cut.
Unlike American Bandstand, where congenially Brylcreemed Dick Clark would also introduce America’s finest in the musical arena but did it in a manner where the amplifiers were woefully and mercilessly not plugged in as A-list after A-list of cream of the crop acts from all genres passed on through the lip sync hit parade, The Midnight Special had a sense of the immediacy of the acts and the performances. And while the show was recorded on tape, the performances were recorded live with what seemed to be very little overdubbing, if at all, and if there was it was probably more of the technical visual kind than the aural as most of the performances were done tight yet loose, retaining a sort of organic soul and groove to the freshness of each live urgency of them.
During the heyday of the program, which ran from 1973 to 1981 on NBC, one would be hard pressed to find a top shelf act that wasn’t or hadn’t been on the program: Led Zeppelin, Paul McCartney, and Pink Floyd were on a short shortlist of acts who had never made an appearance on The Midnight Special. Pretty much everyone else, and even in an international sense (Peter Frampton, The Bee Gees, etc), were all present on stage and the fact that the show ran for almost ten years to solid ratings each week in a time slot which had usually been relegated to old movies shows the power and charisma a program like The Midnight Special has and retains to this day, factors which solidify its place in TV history and remains a true staple of the 1970s.
A quick roster of talent included on the show (and included in this massive and well-thought out and selected deluxe package) would include the aforementioned Frampton and The Bee Gees, along with rockers Alice Cooper, Heart, Aerosmith, Tom Petty, and Steely Dan, to pop favorites like Earth, Wind & Fire, Electric Light Orchestra, Gordon Lightfoot, Jim Croce, Marvin Gaye, and pretty much all in between, 130 songs in all, with a big and expansive 32-page booklet which includes many great anecdotes and photos from the program and performances. With sound and picture re-mastered to create a sensory experience for the viewer and listener that will no doubt evoke a long gone era when popular music seemed to have more creativity and confidence and spanned multiple genres, the release of this deluxe package is certainly a cause for celebration of the highest order.
As a bonus, there’s also a large visual contingent of stand up comedy by some of not only the best comedians the 1970s had to offer, but the entire scope of the history of comedy as well. Late legends like George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and Freddie Prinze as well as living legends Billy Crystal and Steve Martin, among others, are showcased in hilarious and for many, curiously embryonic moments in their careers. Like a lot of the bands included here, there’s also a fun about seeing these artists in younger states, when some of them still might have retained a sense of being hungry as true superstardom might have only been around the corner at that point, The Midnight Special appearance in a way acting as a true catalyst and springboard for many of them to get them there.
Pretty much essential for any music fan, The Midnight Special will provide hours and hours of a musical zeitgeist which will draw the viewer in and keep them there, either reminding them just how incredibly entertaining it was for them way back when all those decades ago, or introduce new generations to music they may have heard before, but certainly may have never seen performed. The program, like the music, like any good music, bridges together generations and also keeps them there, something that indeed The Midnight Special has done and now will continue to do into the 21st Century.