Burt Sugarman’s The Midnight Special: Live on Stage collection is a brilliant blast from the past. With each disc containing 65 minutes of nonstop live performances from such musicians as The Doobie Brothers, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Steely Dan, Marvin Gaye, Aerosmith, Ray Charles, Elton John, and Fleetwood Mac viewers can’t help but be awed by the musical legends captured on this iconic television program, now being released on DVD (in Canada only).

In 1972, producer Burt Sugarman convinced NBC to let him produce a show that was to run on Friday nights after “The Tonight Show.” At that time, programming ended at 1 am. As Sugarman recalls, “I really truly wanted to see television stay on twenty-four hours a day.” They put together the show in six weeks and right from the first airing it was a huge hit; the ratings, incredibly, improved upon those of its lead-in, “The Tonight Show.” Originally hosted by Wolfman Jack and Helen Reddy, “Midnight Special” was the first television show to feature live performances, the first to mix musical genres and the first to feature both music and comedy. Before “Saturday Night Live,” there was “Midnight Special.”

Burt Sugarman's Midnight Special - Legendary Performances 19731973: Each of the 15 performances included on this disc are moving and inspiring in their own way. It’s clear from this very first year of the show that the audience is in for a treat. From watching Billy Preston energetically belting out his #1 hit Will It Go Round in Circles to Jim Croce mellowly crooning Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, it’s non-stop entertainment. The crowning performance on this DVD though, is Edgar Winter’s Frankenstein. With psychedelic lighting, and an almost-manic stage presence Johnny Winter delivers a multi-instrumental riff of 70’s rock for almost 10 straight minutes. With introductions from The Bee Gees, John Denver, and a mustachioed Bill Cosby, it’s clear that the producers had a tough choice deciding what to include on this disc, and the only problem with this DVD is that it doesn’t include more performances.

Included on the DVD also, are two live stand-up bits: one from Robert Klein that involves his famous handshake bit, and another from a young George Carlin, who kills with a bit of physical comedy mixed in with his now classic sense of humor.

Burt Sugarman's the Midnight Special Live On Stage In 19741974: More heavily influenced by R & B and soul music, these 15 performances explode onto the screen with Tina Turner’s titillating dancing, James Brown’s incendiary energy, Barry White’s confident crooning, and Marvin Gaye’s sexy rendition of “Let’s Get It On.” Aerosmith’s performance of “The Train Kept A Rollin’” is a bit of a disappointment but the rest of the performances are so solid that it’s forgivable. Bill Withers manages to steal the show with his subtly melancholy and passionate performance of “Ain’t No Sunshine”.

The two stand-up routines included on this disc are classic and hilarious. Freddie Prinze delivers such classic comedy bits of racial humor that several times during his performance he has to pause while the audience applauds and cheers. David Brenner is equally funny comparing New Yorkers and Los Angelans.

Burt Sugarman's the Midnight Special: Live on Stage 1975 [DVD] (2006) WOLFMAN1975: Full of brilliantly glittering outfits and equally brilliant performances, these 15 performances are characterized more by the emotional ballads of the 70s. With Barry Manilow letting go with an intensely heart-rending “Could It Be Magic”, Olivia Newton-John demurely soothing the audience with “Have You Never Been Mellow”, and Natalie Cole and Helen Reddy emotionally belting “This Will Be” and “I Am Woman”, these performances are more quietly moving than the earlier discs. But with KC & The Sunshine Band throwing in “That’s the Way I Like It” and the Ohio Players getting down with the “Love Rollercoaster” (with several trippy triple-split screen shots and a funky dance number), there’s still the high energy performances from previous discs to look forward to. Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin’s incredible duet of “Two To Tango” alone is worth the cost of the entire disc. And Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” mixes it up with a country twang. Of course Kiss wraps up this disc with a killer performance of “Black Diamond”.

The stand-up includes a hilarious bit by Canadian David Steinberg with a giant right hand, a conversation with God, and discussion on sexual awakening. Jack Burns and Avery Schreiber follow it up with a bit of a sketch comedy/stand-up bit including a questionable friar named “Friar Timothy”.

Burt Sugarman's the Midnight Special 1976 Dvd!

1976: This disc kicks off fast with Paul Anka introducing Elton John intensely and sweetly singing his tender ballad “Your Song”. Without losing any steam, David Brenner introduces Fleetwood Mac delivering the goods with “Over My Head”. Wild Cherry steps it up here with his high-powered version of their hugely popular #1 hit “Play That Funky Music.” When Diana Ross comes out with her breathy “Love Hangover” and glittering gold dress, the 70’s are truly brought back to life. Eric Carmen breaks some hearts with “All By Myself”, George Benson shows off his musical prowess with “This Masquerade”, and Tom Jones charms everyone in sight with his belted “Delilah”. Singer/songwriter Janis Ian has the deepest performance on all four of the discs with her thoughtful and well-written “At Seventeen”. Hot Chocolate’s performance of “You Sexy Thing” steals the whole show just because it’s such a catchy tune and the performance is top of the line, but Donna Summer’s sexual performance of “Love To Love You Baby”, with scantily clad dancers and moaning lyrics comes in a close second.

Gabe Kaplan does a pretty funny impersonation of a drunk Ed McMahon, though it’s the weakest bit of all the performances recorded here. Franklyn Ajaye comes back with some clever bits about New York and performing comedy.

Each disc also contains a photo gallery slideshow which is kind of interesting, but a bit repetitive once you’ve watched the performances themselves. There is also a menu that allows the viewer to choose which performance to play and even a “play shuffle” option, that plays the performances in random order in the same way a cd shuffle option would.

All of these legendary bands are represented in their own classic and brilliant performances. Audiences should rejoice for the chance to own all of these explosive, exclusive performances from a legendary late night show. If you can find these discs anywhere, you won’t regret purchasing them. The best part about them is that they’re equally enjoyable to sit and watch or to put on as background music during a party, if you want to party like it’s 1975, that is.

Five more “Midnight Special” DVDs are expected later in the year, covering such artists as David Bowie, REO Speedwagon, Marvin Gaye, Van Morrison, Tom Petty, Blondie, The Beach Boys and Dolly Parton. The featured comedians will include Andy Kaufman, Billy Crystal, Richard Pryor, Lily Tomlin and Steve Martin. The only bad part about these DVDs is that they’re only being released in Canada.

For more information, and to purchase the Midnight Special DVD’s, visit the Midnight Special homepage
For information and complete track listings, visit Wikipedia

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