It was a far different time in music and television. There were only four TV networks, and they all signed off at 1:00 a.m. Most musical performances on TV were lip-synced. (The old saw about how “things were better back then” does not always hold true.)
Producer Burt Sugarman pitched NBC on a Friday night musical variety show that would follow the high-rated The Tonight Show at 1 a.m. and retain some of its audience. The network didn’t bite. So he bought the airtime, found a sponsor (Chevrolet) and on August 19, 1972, premiered the 90-minute program, on which the acts played live, as a special. The Midnight Special drew enough viewers for NBC to pick it up. The series ran 450 episodes from February 2, 1973, until May 1, 1981.
The pilot episode featured former border radio DJ Wolfman Jack as its announcer. Born Robert Weston Smith on January 21, 1938, the “Wolfman” had come to national prominence in George Lucas’ 1973 film American Graffiti.
That jam-packed pilot episode featured Argent, War, The Everly Brothers, The Isley Brothers, Linda Ronstadt, Helen Reddy, John Denver, David Clayton-Thomas, Cass Elliot and Harry Chapin.
During its run some of the classic rock acts that appeared included AC/DC, Aerosmith, The Beach Boys, Blondie, David Bowie, Cheap Trick, Jim Croce, The Doobie Brothers, Electric Light Orchestra, Fleetwood Mac, Peter Frampton, Genesis, Billy Joel, Elton John, Journey, Kiss, Van Morrison, Randy Newman, New York Dolls, REO Speedwagon, T. Rex, Todd Rundgren, Steely Dan, Rod Stewart, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Thin Lizzy and Tina Turner. An 11-DVD set is available here.
ABC soon followed suit and debuted In Concert on Friday late night. In September 1973 the syndicated Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert bowed with The Rolling Stones as guests. Throughout the decade it was where many of us first heard and saw what would become our favorite bands.
See more of Best Classic Bands’ posts on your Facebook feed! Simply click on the three little dots and then “Edit Preferences,” and you’re almost there!
Watch Argent perform their #5 smash “Hold Your Head Up”…
And here’s Wild Cherry with the bare-chest and silver jacket look playing “Play That Funky Music”…
Never miss a post! Sign up for Best Classic Bands‘ Newsletter; form is on every page.