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THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL

Review by Mark Wiechman

Stars:  Fleetwood Mac, Linda Ronstadt, Earth Wind & Fire, The Bee Gees, Tom petty, Chic, Aerosmith, and others
Director:   Various
Audio:  Stereo
Video:  Color Full Screen
Studio:  Time Life Entertainment
Features:  See Review
Length:  505 Minutes, 6 DVD’s
Release Date:  September 9, 2014

“Sing with me, sing for the year, sing for the laugh and sing for the tear. Sing with me, just for today.  Maybe tomorrow, the good Lord’ll take you away…”

Show ***1/2

It is hard to believe, but in the 1970’s TV went dark after midnight or one o’clock.  That was it.  If you missed a show, you had to wait until a possible summer re-run.  If you were up late at night, you read a book.  There were also very few places for rock performers to perform, unless their music was genteel enough for the variety shows of the era.  And even then, they almost always sang to a recording.  But Burt Sugarman changed all of that with The Midnight Special.  If you didn’t mind staying up late, you could see some of the best acts of the era in their live glory.  They were also allowed the freedom to do whatever they wanted, whether a brand-new single or an old favorite.   It was also integrated, including B.B. King, Ray Charles, The O’Jays, Chic, Earth Wind & Fire, and Marvin Gaye and white acts as diverse as Neil Sedaka, Aerosmith, Linda Ronstadt, and Ted Nugent.  

This set is valuable because it features the Pilot shown on 8/19/72 with John Denver, Cass Elliot, Harry Chapin, and Linda Ronstadt among the guests, some of the biggest stars of the time.   Then on later discs, we see much heavier acts like Aerosmith, AC/DC and Tom Petty.  How is that for a wide spectrum of pop music?

We see a rare live performance of the great “Hold Your Head Up” by Argent, then 70’s mainstays such as ELO performing “Can’t Get it Out of My Head,” “Evil Woman,” and “Strange Magic” with superior string bombast, then Minnie Riperton shines with “Loving You” surrounded by tropical plants and hitting high notes only dogs can hear many years before Mariah Carey.  Gary Wright does “Dream Weaver” and “Love is Alive” with strapped on keyboards, one of their first appearances.  We even see The Kinks do “You Really Got Me” even more up-tempo than the original.  

The original Fleetwood Mac does “Over My Head” and on the same disc a trio of Alice Cooper numbers as well as the Cars doing “Best Friend’s Girlfriend.”  Todd Rundgren plays the piano singing “Hello It’s Me” with what appear to be butterflies on his forehead and a parrot on his shoulder. 

And who could forget Rupert Holmes feel-good song about cheating, “The Pina Colada Song.”  America also performs a note-perfect rendition their slide-guitar harmony favorite “Sister Golden Hair.”  

This set features some similar acts than the previously released series of discs for this show.  They seem to have saved the top-rung acts for this set, such as a very funky Chaka Khan and Rufus asking us to “Tell Me Something Good,” a very young and lovely Olivia Newton-John singing “If You Love Me Let Me Know,” and the Bee Gees singing “To Love Somebody” with Helen Reddy, who also hosted several episodes.  

But of course, the penultimate segments are on Disc Three:  the original Village People rocking “YMCA” and Chic performing “Good Times” with the master of funk guitar, Nile Rogers.  Strangely, these are listed as “Bonus Material”.  

It is also a valuable record of many stars that are gone such as Barry White and Jim Croce.   We also see the late, great Bon Scott singing “Sin City” with a very young AC/DC, and of course Maurice and Robin Gibb as two-thirds of the Bee Gees.    

Audio ***

Only stereo but very clean, the only flaws being the occasional wrong note played or sung, but those are few and far between.  The performances are surprisingly fresh and tight considering how hard it is to get warmed up to only play one or two songs.  Sugarman solved this problem partly by having three stages.    The performances are well-mixed and sound very close to the recorded versions.   

Video ***

The full-screen video is much better than you might expect for a television show from the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. But it was on NBC after all, so production values were state of the art for the time or pretty close.  No artifacts or problems I can see.  While it might have been nice to see them on Blu-Ray, the quality here is excellent.  And it sure beats YouTube!!!

Features ***

This category is somewhat strange because several of the best performances are indexed as “Special Features,” so I recommend just selecting to play all performances and you won’t miss a good act.  But there is also a great interview with Alice Cooper talking about how special it was to be on the show, because there was no pretentiousness and hard rock was welcome.  Far more attitude and edginess was on this show, one of the first of its kind.  Thelma Houston and Kevin Cronin (REO Speedwagon) also sing the praises of the show.   Helen Reddy also discusses being asked to be a host for a whole year that she did not expect.  Many other stars praise her and emphasize how important it was for a woman (who did her hit “I’m a Woman” in this set).    

Summary:

On only six discs we can witness the diversity of popular music in an era usually stereotyped as nothing but disco and bellbottoms.  We also discover both the acts which defined the times and others that bridged into the 80’s New Wave movement and ‘Hair Bands’, so there is something for everyone.  Stay off of YouTube for a while and enjoy some crisp DVD concerts that you can play over and over again.

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