In today’s world most people are used to being able to look for their favorite band on the internet and find some live videos of them. Back in the earlier days this wasn’t the case. Most people now hear about the Beatles or Rolling Stones appearing on the Ed Sullivan show and people being able to see the bands live for the first time. But for people like me who were fans of 70’s era’s rock music finding bands on TV was nearly impossible. There weren’t a zillion cable stations and streaming options where you could find almost everything you were looking for. We had network TV (three stations at the time) and more localized stations on UHF channels. You might find a band you liked on a variety show, but they often played to a backing track that had a watered down arrangement of the original song. Then in 1972 live music came to late night TV. Burt Sugarman, an independent producer, felt there was a late night audience interested in seeing bands play live. ‘The Midnight Special’ was on NBC and came on at 1:00 AM Friday after the Tonight Show (this idea spawned two other late night shows ‘In Concert’ and ‘Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert’). My obsession with rock music started at an early age before I could go to live shows and I remember the anticipation of being able to stay up late and see the bands whose records I was buying live on TV. Imagine having to wait for a late night TV show to be able to see your favorite band.
Burt Sugarman is still around and he’s finally put together an official YouTube channel to release individual songs and episodes from ‘The Midnight Special’ (there have been some inferior pirated copies on line for a while as well as some authorized DVDs and clips loaned to other TV shows like VH1). Sugarman always thought people would want to see these shows in the future so he continually transferred the original tapes of the shows to the newest technology available. As a result the quality of the video is great. All the shows had the bands playing live on stage. Since there were several bands on each episode there were multiple stages set up so the show could transition from one band to another without having to change out equipment on a single stage. When the second season started the TV network lined up FM stations who would simulcast the sound in stereo which was pretty hi tech at the time. ‘The Midnight Special’ YouTube channel is the first authorized presentations of these great performances. There were 48 weekly episodes a year from 1972 through 1981. They’ll be releasing new videos of shows and songs over time, but I wanted to give you a bit of a sampling of what you’ll see below. I’ll be following the channel looking forward to seeing performances and bringing back memories from a great time in musical history. I will probably highlight some more songs I like as they are released.
David Bowie – ‘The Jean Genie’ – November 16, 1973
The Byrds – ‘So You Want To Be a Rock n’ Roll Star’ – February 2, 1973
King Crimson – ‘Lark’s Tongues In Aspic Part 2’ – October12, 1973
Status Quo – ‘Big Fat Mama’ – April 19, 1974