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 and Elton John.

Tell ’em, Wolfman…

Here’s Journey…

Others included 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.

Watch the Commodores perform “Brick House”

Watch singer Mickey Thomas sing lead vocals on Elvin Bishop’s 1976 hit, “Fooled Around and Fell in Love”

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

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”…

Watch Blondie perform “Heart of Glass.” Hey, Debbie, what’s with that outfit?


It’s not from The Midnight Special, but let’s clap for the Wolfman!

The Wolfman died on July 1, 1995.

Related: Read Part 2 of our series – Rock Edition and Part 3 – Solo Artists edition

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9 Comments so far

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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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  2. mpasqua
    #2 mpasqua 20 November, 2017, 14:08

    While there were many noteworthy acts on the Midnight Special, I always thought ABC “In Concert” had the cooler bands performing. Everything from the Allman Brothers to Poco. A shame that you can’t get those performances on dvd or blu ray

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    • Jack
      Jack 23 January, 2018, 01:45

      I agree with you. I used to watch both shows, but it was “In Concert” that definitely had the bands that had an “edge” to them. I remember they did a multi-show series on “The California Jam”, when I 13yrs old. It was a monumental exposure to live R&R in the span of 4-5 weeks. That was where I was first introduced to Rare Earth, The Eagles, Black Oak Arkansas, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and a band that I would go on to be a gigantic fan of to this day, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.

      Midnight Special was a little more “pop”, however, I do thank them for an introduction to David Bowie, Steely Dan, Doobie Brothers, and especially, Fleetwood Mac. Both shows did provide good musical entertainment to an age group that had very, very, few options for exposure to R&R.

      It’s too bad there are not shows like that on now. Austin City Limits is pretty good, but it’s not “In Concert”.

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      • Ed Sullivan
        Ed Sullivan 16 October, 2018, 16:09

        You are correct. The first “In Concert” with Alice Cooper was monumental! I might still have a tape recording I made of it.

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      • Moogly
        Moogly 14 December, 2019, 13:13

        I really hope all these shows have existing tapes. They can all be released on DVD eventually.

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  3. DUKE
    #3 DUKE 2 July, 2019, 00:34


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  4. Jaz
    #4 Jaz 2 July, 2019, 13:02

    So many times, l have to wonder whether the Moody Blues performed on these programs and then, I found out, yes they were.
    They never lowered their standards, or changed their vision to fit what was the flavour of the month and I respect them for that.

    It’s also what gave them staying power, because they drew a faithful audience that felt the same.

    I love going to the Concerts. I look at the audience filling the venue and I feel like I’ve come home.

    The people who come to their shows are three generations now each as excited as the other.

    I’ve seen 1st time Concert goers at the shows and l know exactly what they’re feeling, because I felt it too the 1st time.
    It’s hard to put into words all of the emotions that they fill you with, but you’ll find out when you start relating their songs to your life.

    They are so much more than one song, “Nights in White Satin”, so make “Question” your anthem and you’ll have a GREAT RIDE!


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  5. SteveM
    #5 SteveM 23 January, 2020, 16:06

    Great acts.TERRIBLE hosts

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  6. Joe Coffee
    #6 Joe Coffee 5 July, 2020, 20:50

    Occasionally, some respected acts who never had a hit would materialize. I recall seeing Paul Butterfield’s Better Days and Weather Report (possibly on the same show), as well as Ry Cooder performing ‘Diddy Wah Ditty’ solo. The Little Feat-hosted episode is floating around the internets, but I’d like to like to see the aforementioned surface as well.

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