Remembering ‘The Midnight Special’

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midnight-special-main_thumbIt 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.

Wolfman Jack

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.

Related: Our story of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s performance of “Blinded By the Light” on The Midnight Special

Watch host Helen Reddy tell how Fleetwood Mac “‘day-booed’ their new album”…

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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”…

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The BCB team brings you the latest Breaking News, Contests, On This Day rock history stories, Classic Videos, retro-Charts and more.
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  1. headoffog72
    #1 headoffog72 19 August, 2016, 18:38

    Any band of the 70’s was on it. Sweet,Starz,Black Oak Arkansas,Foghat ( they got a “Killer” new release “Under the Influence” Its Smokin’ hot !! Knock it Off sounds like Bon Scott AC/DC era song, Hot Mama like a Stone Blue era song,a burnin’ Heard it Through the Grapevine !! )

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