With the holidays rapidly coming upon us, many friends, paramours, and mishpacha of DVD collectors are looking for the perfect Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa gifts. If that person in question is a music lover (and who ISN’T?), look no further. Time-Life, that company always at the forefront of mammoth collectable mini-libraries, has come up with a (solid) goldmine: THE SOUL OF THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, now available in a mind-boggling 10-platter set, housed in a retro slipcover.
In case there are a few out there unfamiliar with THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, it was an extremely popular late night rock TV series that ran from 1972-1981. Produced by Burt Sugarman, this slicker grandchild of Hullabaloo and Shindig was, in effect, the whistle stop made by Soul Train. And, indeed, there was a lot to whistle about. While an amazing amount of eclectic rock was presented on the SPECIAL, it was the extraordinary soul talent that music aficionados remember. And with good reason.
But don’t trust me (although that would be nice); let the discs do their own talking (or rather singing). Ensconced within these DVDs, presented in two parts, 1, from 1973-1975, and 2, 1977-1980 are 130 live, uncut numbers, plus some nice supplements.
Alfred Hitchcock once termed movies (and all entertainment drama) as “life with the dull bits cut out.” Producer Sugarman apparently took that advice when he culled his archives. The two parts (572 and 428 minutes, respectively) are 100% pure full-length performance art. And the roster is Hall of Fame-plus. The collection presents now-legendary songs (and artists) as you’ve never seen or heard them (bootlegs have been circulating since the 1980s, with smeary colors and undistinguished flat audio). While the shows were never filmed on celluloid, they did render a respectable enough visual presence to have the series get several Emmy nominations during its nine-year-run. To reiterate (with benefits), they look and sound better here than they did in their original broadcast.
With brief intros by guest hosts like Lou Rawls and Don Cornelius , THE SOUL OF THE MIDNIGHT SPECIALS features iconic appearances by James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Issac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Billy Preston, Diana Ross, Chuck Berry, Natalie Cole, Teddy Pendergrass, Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, Chaka Khan, Sly and the Family Stone, Earth, Wind and Fire, The Commodores, Billy Preston, The Spinners, Barry White, Bill Withers, Sister Sledge, The Staple Singers, Chic, The Stylistics, Kool and the Gang, Al Green, The O’Jays and tons more music heavyweights.
I’m not going to list all the songs, but, for me, the most memorable sweet segments of my past include “Could it be I’m Falling in Love,” “I’ll be Around,” “Love Train,” “Georgia on my Mind,” “What’d I Say?,” “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” “Freddie’s Dead,” “In the Midnight Hour,” “Midnight Train to Georgia,” “Stand!,” “Superfly,” “Thank You for Letting me be Myself,” “Show and Tell,” “You Make me Feel Brand New,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lean on Me,” “Everybody Plays the Fool,” “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything,” “Lady Marmalade,” “Lovin’ You [just to be clear, Minnie Riperton, not Elvis],” “Respect Yourself,” “Sex Machine,” “Cold Sweat/Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” “You Sexy Thing,” “Love Hangover,” “Nothing from Nothing,” “Le Freak,” “We are Family,” “I Will Survive,” and “What’s Goin’ On?” to name but a few.
But there’s even more.
Each DVD contains special interviews with such luminaries as Gladys Knight, Bobby Womack, Patti LaBelle, George Benson, James Brown, Thelma Houston. Teddy Pendergrass, and Quincy Jones. PLUS, Disc 10 is a complete 1974 Midnight Special Special: Marvin Gaye, Live from the Atlanta Stadium, August 5, 1974. Furthermore, there’s a 40-page full-color illustrated booklet that offers some historical background, and, natch, the complete chronological roster of artists and songs.
In a perfect world, I might have included maybe one complete Midnight Special, just for the experience/comparison. Or, at the very least, a collage of TV commercials that accompanied the actual broadcasts. But, as I often bitch, that’s just me. The world, after all, is NOT perfect. Although for soul addicts, this set comes about as close as one could wish.
THE SOUL OF THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL. Color. Full frame [1.33:1]; Mono audio. Time-Life Video/Burt Sugarman Productions. CAT # 33571-X. SRP: $119.95.