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Friday Night, 1974, and there's nothing going on
September 4, 2009 3:34 PM   Subscribe

Here’s a cool concept. Top breakthrough bands of the day playing LIVE on TV late every Friday night. Such was The Midnight Special - from 1972 - 1981 (though the glory days were the early to mid 70s, that lost decade somewhere between the meltdown of the hippie dream and the coincident eruptions of PUNK + DISCO upon planet rock).

Burt Sugarman was the man behind it all. You name ‘em. They played it. From the sublime to the ridiculous ...

ABBA
Argent
Badfinger
Bee Gees (pre disco)
Earth Wind + Fire
Electric Light Orchestra (again)
Guess Who
Manfred Mann's Earth Band
Curtis Mayfield
The Steve Miller Band
Ted Nugent
Billy Preston
Todd Rundgren
T-Rex
Thin Lizzy
War
Gary Wright


All apologies for the hairstyles but, as some wise guys said, those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.
posted by philip-random (45 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
And now we have American Idol. How times have changed....
posted by Big_B at 3:49 PM on September 4, 2009


From wikipedia:
[Burt] Sugarman proposed the program as a way for NBC to take advantage of The Tonight Show's large audience. At the time, none of the Big Three television networks had programming on after 1:00 a.m., as common practice was to air a test pattern after sign-off. In spite of this lack of competition, NBC initially rejected the idea. The rejection led Sugarman to buy air time for the premiere on his own, convincing Chevrolet to become the show’s first sponsor. It premiered with ratings big enough that NBC changed its mind and bought the program.

The series was canceled by NBC at the request of Dick Ebersol as part of a deal for him to take over then-ailing Saturday Night Live. Two years later, after the conclusion of a run of the Canadian import SCTV Network, Midnight Special was eventually replaced by the music video show Friday Night Videos, also produced by Ebersol.
The current Wikipedia description for FNV follows: Friday Night Videos is a music video show broadcast on the American NBC television network from July 29, 1983 to May 24, 2002, and was considered network television’s answer to MTV.

I was wholly unaware of either of these shows. For clarification, FNV was changed to Friday Nights in January 1994, when it became less of a music video show and more of a general entertainment and variety program. On January 5, 2001, the show changed again, now named Late Friday, and was stand-up comedians doing their stage routines.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:52 PM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Did the people who liked ABBA then - back before it became semi-respectable - ever get an official opportunity to say "I told you so" ?
posted by Joe Beese at 3:56 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Staying up and watching The Midnight Special kept me from going stir-crazy when I was left alone on Friday nights as a kid. There will always be a special place in my heart for Wolfman Jack (RIP).
posted by amyms at 3:56 PM on September 4, 2009


That version of Magic Man is amazing.
posted by khaibit at 3:57 PM on September 4, 2009


Wow, it really has been a long time since I've heard "Cat Scratch Fever."

I remember staying up late for this show. It was wonderful, really the only chance to see these bands on TV.

Is that Richard Pryor introducing ELO?
posted by marxchivist at 4:07 PM on September 4, 2009


And: Damn, everybody had a Les Paul guitar back then.
posted by marxchivist at 4:09 PM on September 4, 2009


I used to stay up to watch this thing. Todd Rundgren's eyes! Ted Nugent's Ted Nugentness!

So... speaking of Wikipedia, I clicked the Badfinger link, was reminded that a couple of those guys later hanged themselves, and went to Wikipedia to find that "Stanley H. Polley (born Bronx, NY 1922), is a soulless bastard/retired entertainment manager" and so on. Life is brutal.
posted by pracowity at 4:11 PM on September 4, 2009


Is that Richard Pryor introducing ELO?

I wondered that myself. Again from the wiki page: Some notable guest stars and hosts included ... Ray Charles, James Brown, Bo Diddley, ... Steve Martin, ... Rick James, Aretha Franklin, David Bowie, Billy Crystal, Beach Boys, Diana Ross, The Jacksons, B.B King, Kiss, Gordon Lightfoot, Andy Kaufman, ... Richard Pryor, Cass Elliot, ... Dolly Parton ...

That's a diverse cast of characters. But it was a major network show, so they had money and fame behind them.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:17 PM on September 4, 2009


Rick James, bitch: You and I -- Mary Jane.
Also, Richard Pryor's standup
posted by msalt at 4:33 PM on September 4, 2009


Is that Richard Pryor introducing ELO?

Yes.
posted by pracowity at 4:33 PM on September 4, 2009


Did the people who liked ABBA then - back before it became semi-respectable - ever get an official opportunity to say "I told you so" ?

I'm pretty sure that my introduction ABBA was this particular performance of S.O.S. And I liked it (gotta love those keyboard runs) ... but no way was I going to brag about it at school on Monday. Then, maybe three years later, I'm at a serious North Van punk rock party when some ABBA comes on the party tape. The crowd went delightfully mental. Could "respectability" be that far away?

Also worth noting, they totally dug the Village People at that party. But everything else was straight ahead punk+power-pop (Ramones, Clash, Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, Stiff Little Fingers etc)
posted by philip-random at 4:42 PM on September 4, 2009


The Guess Who

Holy shit, the 1970s must have been an amazing time if guys who looked like that could make it, simply because THEY FUCKING ROCKED.

Excellent post. Hell, that solo alone would have made a good post.

(as a sidenote, I heard that the American Woman referenced in that song is actually supposed to be the Statue of Liberty...... any independent confirmation to back that up?)
posted by Afroblanco at 5:43 PM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Clicking through the links sequentially....

Steely Dan, no.
ELO, no.
Heart, no.
AC/DC, okay now we're getting somewhere.
posted by sleevener at 5:58 PM on September 4, 2009


.... and some more commentary that nobody asked for.....

T-Rex

Oh my god, I had no idea he was that awesomely over the top. He's like the living embodiment of Spinal Tap or something. Also, I love how he's all up there showboating around in his cape (?) and boa ... and yet the highpoint of the whole thing is the two black girls who actually know how to sing.

.... now that I think about it, is it too late to get the Stones to cover this song? This would have been perfect for them back in their Sticky Fingers-era heyday.
posted by Afroblanco at 6:09 PM on September 4, 2009


I used to watch this with my older brother. Lots of good memories here, thanks for posting.
posted by Sailormom at 6:54 PM on September 4, 2009


I didn't watch Midnight Special very often when it was on, but I do think I remember seeing the clear plastic electric violin solo* and thinking it was the coolest thing ever.

*"Out of the Blue", by Roxy Music
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 7:26 PM on September 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yeah, that T-Rex clip was a hoot. One of Brian De Palma's inspirations for Beef, no doubt.
posted by Bron at 7:37 PM on September 4, 2009


Holy shit, the 1970s must have been an amazing time if guys who looked like that could make it, simply because THEY FUCKING ROCKED.

Kids, did I ever tell you about the seventies?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:09 PM on September 4, 2009


Clicking through the links sequentially....
Steely Dan, no.

Steely Dan, yes! (good quality)
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 9:03 PM on September 4, 2009




Great post, philip-random. I LOVED this show when I was a little kid (also had an older brother who turned me on to it). I tried to fight sleep to stay up till the end, but I rarely made it.

I lost touch with the Midnight Special around 1980 - they were playing a lot of 'Urban Cowboy' stuff by then. Shortly after that, music videos took off and that probably helped seal its fate.
posted by Dirjy at 9:50 PM on September 4, 2009


Debbie Harry singing and bopping with those lazy dance moves in that blue bubble dress with the dyed-to-match headband and pumps; that's soul.
posted by longsleeves at 10:06 PM on September 4, 2009


Did the people who liked ABBA then - back before it became semi-respectable - ever get an official opportunity to say "I told you so" ?

Some part of me is still waiting for that opportunity. Second only to The Beatles in popularity and songwriting quality. ABBA may have a renaissance thanks to that stage show and movie, but it will forever be the actual studio work they did which lives in my heart.

(Well, that, and the young Benny Andersson who was making my young, clueless queer self go ping long before I had any idea what was happening.)

*puts on Super Trooper just for old times' sake, and sings along with every note*
posted by hippybear at 10:31 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


No lip synching. I love the old days of music shows...
posted by spacelux at 11:25 PM on September 4, 2009


No lip synching. I love the old days of music shows...

Actually, as I remember it, the 70s were plagued with lip-synching, which is one of the reasons I was so delighted to find the Midnight Special stuff had finally leaked online.
posted by philip-random at 11:47 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


So. Much. Hair.
posted by bardic at 11:55 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


No lip synching. I love the old days of music shows...

There was tons of lip-synching on TV in the 70s. And tons in the 60s too. It's nothing new.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:12 AM on September 5, 2009


(Excellent clip, at the height of their powers, 'cept it appears they have an extra bass player in the shadows backing up Killer Kane).
Well spotted - yeah, he looks really out of it and he definitely isn't playing what can be heard in the bass parts. I wonder if he even knew that there was a mystery backup player?

Jeez they were good though - it must have blown people's minds to see a band play with such abandon.
posted by awfurby at 12:56 AM on September 5, 2009


Did the people who liked ABBA then - back before it became semi-respectable - ever get an official opportunity to say "I told you so" ?

I'd been aware of them, but had mostly dismissed them until one afternoon, I was in Brian Epstein's old shop, Nems, which was where I'd go to buy Northern Soul 45's, and the girl who ran the place -- who was another knowledgeable soul girl that I knew from the clubs -- was playing Dancing Queen, just released that day, on continuous repeat.

She converted me.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:07 AM on September 5, 2009


I haven't even finished half of these, but the Steve Miller Band and Little Feat clips are really, really good!

The Edgar Winter/Rick Derringer clip is just...wow. It's soooo cheesy, in that 70's cheesy sort of way. I'd love to see this get the Beavis and Butthead treatment.
posted by mosk at 2:20 AM on September 5, 2009


Also:

Heart: Magic Man

Heart: Crazy on You
(Nancy kicking ass on the axe!)
posted by hecho de la basura at 8:01 AM on September 5, 2009


Thanks for all the clips.

I just want say Little Feat, Little Feat, Little Feat. Words cannot contain the musical goodness and genius of Lowell George. He was simply the funkiest white boy that ever lived.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 9:56 AM on September 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Abba: second only to The Beatles in popularity and songwriting quality.

Hey, Abba's fun and all, but let's not get all crazy here. I mean, Roger Whittaker sold more albums than the Beatles.
posted by msalt at 10:37 AM on September 5, 2009


Abba: second only to The Beatles in popularity and songwriting quality.

Popularity has always been pretty meaningless to me. I got over that in high school. As for songwriting quality, ABBA could definitely nail it every now and then, and then again and again and again. But where's their Yer Blues, their I Am The Walrus, their Tomorrow Never Knows ...?

And on it goes. Both groups are good, no question. But while one's a store bought layer cake, the other's my mom's deep dish apple pie.
posted by philip-random at 11:00 AM on September 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, comparing them as apples to apples *heh* is a bit difficult, but as the songwriting team of Ulvaeus/Andersson continues across the years, the depth and scope of their music did grow quite a bit. The branching out started with the Arrival album, where they began to tackle subjects of resolving difficulties in relationships ("Knowing Me, Knowing You") and songs which weren't even about typical pop subjects at all ("Money, Money, Money"). The exploration of the "California Sound" on The Album was a response to The Eagles' and The Beach Boys' popularity, and contained a "mini-musical" The Girl With The Golden Hair, about the quest for stardom and the psychic toll it takes on those who are successful. Likely, "I'm A Marionette" (from this song sequence) would be a good contender with some of the more psychedelic Beatles tracks.

As their career continued beyond this point, much of the lyrics was dominated by themes of disillusionment and divorce as the band started to have relationship problems. Nearly the entire Super Trooper album is a long examination of failing relationships, but it does contain "The Piper", which is a peculiar enough song that it could be compared with some of the later Beatles material, and "The Way Old Friends Do", which is as much a traditional folk song as any of Paul's granny music, as John liked to refer to tracks such as "When I'm Sixty-Four".

Their final album, The Visitors, shows how deeply Benny & Bjorn had moved away from the nearly bubblegum beginnings of the band, and is one of the finest examples of pop song craftmanship I have encountered. Songs about paranoia, militarism, impending empty-nest syndrome... It's a far cry from Waterloo and Ring Ring, that's for sure.

Soon after the breakup of ABBA, Ulvaeus and Andersson created Chess, which may be a failed musical, but has one of the most widely lauded musical scores known in modern theater. It's more of an opera than traditional Broadway, and its reputation has only grown over the years.

As far as studio work goes, it's important to remember that ABBA only has two actual instrumentalists in the main band, and they were not being driven toward the same kind of expansion of studio technique nor striving to transcend the limitations of being a "four piece" as were The Beatles. They were quite innovative in their own right, with some of the scores for even their most simple songs requiring dozens of musicians to execute. Andersson, along with Stig Anderson, developed a double-tracking method to use with the female voices which involved just a tiny speed-up of the first track while recording the second, which is part of what helped create that in-your-face brassy tone which Anni-Frid and Agnetha became famous for. The meticulous use of traditional jazz scoring in a pop setting is also considered groundbreaking today, when viewed through the lens of history.

Is it fair to compare them directly? One band stopped touring to become studio wizards. The other band was touring throughout their career. One band released twelve albums and other material over the course of eight years, the other released eight albums over the course of ten years. One was on a quest toward mind expansion during one of the most tumultuous periods of global cultural and political history. The other was striving to explore the nature of pop music and its relationship to traditional northern European folk music.

It's hard to say, really, but I would put them on equal standing almost every day.
posted by hippybear at 11:51 AM on September 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


If the execs at MTV had the good sense God gave gravel, they would buy the rights to rerun all Midnight Special episodes
posted by magstheaxe at 12:09 PM on September 5, 2009


If the execs at MTV had the good sense God gave gravel...

...they would start showing music videos 24/7 again, Midnight Special episodes included.
posted by hippybear at 12:15 PM on September 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


The Midnight Special was a Friday night ritual for me from its debut. Of course, when it did debut I was a geeky junior high school kid who listened to nothing but CKLW-AM and the current Top 40. TMS opened my eyes to the "album rock" artists and groups that were only played on FM stations like WRIF and WWWW. I fell in love with glitter (as it was called at the time) and artists like Alice Cooper, David Bowie, Sweet and Marc Bolan. I bought the 45 of "Killer Queen" the summer it was released because I loved the melody and the unique harmonies, but later that year Queen was on The Midnight Special (although only on video tape - it was the video for "Bohemian Rhapsody," which had not yet been released as a single in the US). I remember that night like it was yesterday - I sat spellbound on the living room floor listening to the most amazing song I'd ever heard and the "promotional film" (they weren't yet referred to as "videos") was almost hypnotic. I didn't know what the band looked like until then, and Freddie Mercury's stage presence certainly lived up to his powerful vocals. TMS worked as a good marketing tool in my case - I went out and bought Queen II and Sheer Heart Attack the following Monday after school.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:22 PM on September 5, 2009


Kraftwerk
posted by smcdow at 1:48 PM on September 5, 2009


Thanks for this...

and...compared to the music today, we've pwned you noobs!
posted by HuronBob at 6:27 PM on September 5, 2009


Awesome post! Whoo hoo. Really enjoyed that, thanks.
posted by nickyskye at 7:49 PM on September 5, 2009


Don't forget Don Kirshner's Rock Concert.
posted by valkane at 4:03 AM on September 6, 2009


Also, Gary Mule Deer. I can remember waiting for his bits on both Midnight Special & Kirshner's Rock Concert.
posted by valkane at 4:13 AM on September 6, 2009


This show kicks so much American Ass (tm).

Love the vintage Aerosmith, Journey (Steve Perry can outsing everyone), and Fleetwood Mac. Sure, these bands are wobbly and tired now, but back then they were flat-out fucking awesome.

Love this post.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 9:55 PM on September 6, 2009


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