Midnight Special…Those Were the Days

16 May

Where have all the flowers gone?

Seriously. Where is the great music that we used to be privy to on that glorious 70s musical showcase, The Midnight Special?

Shrew and I were talking the other day about how groovy The Midnight Special performances were. Okay, we didn’t actually say groovy, but you get the point.

The Burt Sugarman produced variety show featured over 1,200 musical performances during it’s 10 year run. I spent many a Friday night waiting for Johnny Carson to wrap up to watch my favorites perform on my TV. Now, we only had three channels and NBC was spotty at best, but most late Friday nights it came in clear as a bell.

The Midnight Special debuted on August 19, 1972 with John Denver and the great Mama Cass Elliott, a couple of years before her death.

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Another great performance from ’72, was the late, great Harry Chapin:


The Midnight Special wasn’t restricted only to folk music, but offered a cross-section of music of the day. A prime example, Cisco Kid by War:

Sugarman provided the mega famous:

Respect, Aretha Franklin

and the little known, yet fabulous:

No Matter What, Badfinger

From the oldies,

Runaway, Del Shannon

Maybelline, Chuck Berry

to cutting edge rock:

Time, 1980 Floor Show – Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie)

Frankenstein, Edgar Winter Group

Some landmark performances:

Dancin’ Queen, ABBA

Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’, Journey

To Love Somebody, The Bee Gees

Reelin’ in the Years, Steely Dan

Rubberband Man, The Spinners

You & Me, Rick James

Train Kept a Rollin’, Aerosmith, with an introduction from Little Richard

Point is The Midnight Special was all about music and exposing people to music. The mediums in those days were narrow. It was totally radio, a few concerts here and there and sporadic performances on Ed Sullivan, or a variety show. The scarceness of live performances caused built-in “demand”.

But you could always count on The Midnight Special to provide THE acts of the day each week. And while the ’70s had its challenges, the music was original, inspired and captivating. There was a real anticipation as to what the next Friday would bring.

The Midnight Special brought those live performances right into our living room on those Friday nights, long before the World Wide Web, 400 Cable Channels, MTV or iTunes. Back when life was a lot more simple and the music much more compelling.

Funny, but it seems that as technology has increased, the quality of popular music has decreased. Maybe it’s why I still get wistful on Friday nights…

To own a piece of music greatness, click here.


Posted by on May 16, 2008 in classic rock, Music History


11 responses to “Midnight Special…Those Were the Days

  1. shrewspeaks

    May 16, 2008 at 8:20 am

    I LOVED Midnight Special….Don’t forget Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert Too.

  2. huckleberryfriend

    May 16, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    MM – I would think someone would use the web to make a current Midnight Special. I think the technology is there to make it happen.

    I think it would be cool if someone, like YsabellaBrave, would release a new song on Youtube at a specific date/time for her fans to listen to and then participate in a moderated discussion.

  3. music maven

    May 16, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    Now, see, Huck, that’s a brilliant idea. Why don’t artist use live webcasts more often. A couple of years ago John Mayer broadcast his NYC concert live via AT&T Blue Room. They also do Jazz Fest.

    Maybe Somebody can weigh in here, but is it a matter of band width or is the industry in effect, boycotting the net? Are they concerned that the vid is captured by watchers/listeners?

    Perhaps Grace Potter & The Nocturnals should do a super dooper Webcast. I know that I would pay $25 for access. Depending on the artist, I might pay a bundle. With the advent of WebTV, it seems inevitable and if I was an up and coming artist, I’d be doin’ it.

  4. jenfera

    May 16, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    I have never heard of this show. Was it syndicated? How long was it on? Maybe it just ended before I was old enough to stay up that late. But shrewbie and I are about the same age, so what gives??

    I do remember Friday Night Videos and Night Flight on USA. But that’s more about the beginning of the end of the music, isnt’ it.

  5. music maven

    May 16, 2008 at 8:46 pm

    As mentioned in the post, it was on for 10 years and came on every Friday night after Johnny Carson on NBC, usually about midnight…hence, the name.

    Started in ’72, ended in ’81.

  6. shrewspeaks

    May 17, 2008 at 11:51 am

    Jenfera my parents had a very liberal approach to bedtime, especially on weekend. THANK GOD too….I reme,ber seeing Chuck Berry on Midnight Special

  7. shrewspeaks

    May 18, 2008 at 8:33 am

    Channels…cable tv…too many outlets

    Some could say Video indeed Killed the radio star…I say too much choice killed it.

    Midnight Special was a venue for rock…plain and simple…country rock, rock n roll, folk rock, acid rock, jazz rock….as long as it was rock. The moment rock stopped being just plain rock and had to be classified and demographics applied to it…that my friend was the day the music died. I would be interested in what Sugarman was basing his casting decisions on.

  8. music maven

    May 18, 2008 at 10:16 am

    Exactly, Shrew. Back in the ’70s there were very few outlets to actually see artists performing. Particularly in smaller towns and cities, there were very few acts who performed concerts and if they did, they were VERY few and far between.

    We didn’t have 500 cable channels and acts pimping themselves on every available outlet. Sugarman supplied the demand. Now, saturation has created less demand. Perhaps that’s why I’m attracted to the indie-type underdogs.

  9. jenfera

    May 18, 2008 at 6:49 pm

    Sorry, missed the 10 year mention in the post. Yeah – I would have been only 9 or 10 when it went off the air, so I guess that explains that! Shrewbie, even if my parents had been that liberal about bedtime, I don’t think I would have made it! I’ve always liked my sleep.

    I think the earliest music program I remember watching was Solid Gold with Dionne Warwick, later Marilyn McCoo. Loved those Solid Gold dancers! I was a slave to the musical countdown as a kid. I loved watching Solid Gold and listening to Casey Kasem.

    MM, you are so right about over saturation these days. I think we are all suffering with some degree of over stimulation.

  10. shrewspeaks

    May 18, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    Jenfera, I also had older siblings leading the way. So Midnight Special, Saturday Night Live (which was also an amazing array of unique musical acts in those first five years) and Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert were staples in our home.

  11. thedingoateyobaby

    May 20, 2008 at 8:41 am

    Ohhhhhhhhhh, that was freaking awesome and I so enjoyed it. You know, every generation thinks they had the best music but really, the whole Shindig, Hullabaloo era along with Midnight Special were really the golden age of music for me. I can remember carrying around a hand held transistor radio with me at ALL times and songs like “Summer In The City” would come on and I would crank it up (sorta like a boom box today) and scream when Paperback Writer was played and then the dawning of the FM stations and man, the memories are still crystal clear and every important event in my life can be attached to a song that was popular back when.

    Thanks for this blog and though I dont post much, I swing by and am treated to a gem like the Midnight Special piece. Thank you.


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