DVD Review: The Midnight Special (6-Disc Set)

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The Midnight Special was a musical variety show that spawned 450 episodes between 1973 and 1981. Over the course of its lifespan, tons of first-rate artists performed on the show. Their performances weren’t merely by rote, lip-synced, phoned-in promotional appearances either. This stuff was played live. Time Life Entertainment has recently issued a six-disc set boasting 21 episodes and a variety of bonus features (for the truly committed, see the Time Life website for far more expensive collector’s sets). One’s mileage is naturally going to vary depending on personal musical tastes; a wide range of styles were spotlighted on Special. But the authenticity of the performances keeps everything consistently interesting.

Midnight Special Aerosmith (380x253).jpg
There appears to be no theme or pattern in the way the episodes are presented. They come from a variety of eras, kicking off with the August, 1972 pilot episode (it didn’t begin as a regular series until early ’73). A pair of 1979 episodes are the furthest into Special’s broadcast run that are included here. Along the way rock fans will surely be pleased to find performances by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (“American Girl,” “Listen to Her Heart”), Aerosmith (“Train Kept a Rollin’,” “Dream On”), The Edgar Winter Group (“Frankenstein”), Ted Nugent (“Cat Scratch Fever”), and AC/DC (“Sin City”). On the R&B side of things, we hear from Rufus featuring Chaka Khan (“Tell Me Something Good”), Billy Preston (“Will it Go Round in Circles”), Marvin Gaye (“Let’s Get It On,” “What’s Going On”), Gladys Knight & The Pips (“Midnight Train to Georgia”), and a duet between Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles (“Takes Two to Tango”).
 
Midnight Special Tom Petty (380x253).jpgIn other words, there’s a ton of variety on display (that doesn’t begin to cover everything found throughout the six discs). Pop fans will find plenty to dive into as well, with Fleetwood Mac, the Bee Gees, Linda Ronstadt, Olivia Newton-John and Daryl Hall & John Oates all making appearances. It’s a grab bag to be sure, but a great ‘70s time capsule. Special features include numerous bonus songs and several featurettes. “Wolfman at Midnight” centers on series announcer Wolfman Jack. “I Am Woman: Helen Reddy as Host” looks at the very brief period during which Reddy was the series’ regular host. Reddy pops up several times throughout the episodes, highlighted by a duet with the Bee Gees on “To Love Somebody.” Among the more interesting features is a short “History of The Midnight Special.”

Choose wisely before committing to a version of Time Life’s most recent The Midnight Special reissue. For the budget conscious, there’s a single disc version available. But serious fans may want to consider stepping up to either the 11-disc (16 hour) or massive 20-disc (36 hour) box sets, available exclusively on the official Time Life website.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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