The Midnight Special

 

Electric Light Orchestra on The Midnight Special

An in-depth look at the USA TV program performances


Comments and Observations

Running from August 19, 1972 to March 27, 1981 and producing 352 episodes, The Midnight Special was a USA produced weekly musical television series that broadcast on late Friday nights on the NBC network. The show was created and produced by Hollywood producer, Burt Sugarman. Each episode featured a celebrity host to introduce the various musical and comedy acts. The Electric Light Orchestra made many appearances on the show, hosting it twice (1975 and 1977), and were the subject of several special tributes.

DVDsAlthough ELO made several appearances on the program, a very limited number of shows are currently available, bootleg or otherwise. There was a series of compilations released on DVD in 2006, under the slight re-title of Burt Sugarman's The Midnight Special (as it was sometimes referred to on the show itself), but none of these compilations include the ELO performances. In October of 2014, TimeLife (under the StarVista label) released several DVD compilations that were "best of" types of compilations featuring select performances from several show and this released did contain several ELO performances. There were several different compilations, all incorporating much of the same material. The 6-DVD, 7-DVD, 11-DVD and 20-DVD collections all contain the March 5, 1976 performances of Evil Woman and Strange Magic on DVD2 and the January 9, 1976 performances of Eldorado Overture and Can't Get It Out Of My Head on DVD3. The performance of Telephone Line from the February 17, 1978 broadcast was only released on DVD7 of the 7-DVD set as it was considered a bonus disc to the 6-DVD set. No other ELO performances were in this release, however it's noted that Jeff Lynne's non-The Midnight Special performances of Handle With Care and While My Guitar Gently Weeps from the 2004 Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame concert were included on DVD12 of the 20-DVD collection.

The Midnight Special was noted for using actual live, stage performances at each broadcast. However, things weren't always as "live" as they were reported to be. It is known that ELO's performance of Roll Over Beethoven actually used a tape backing, with live lead vocals. A performance of Showdown was completely lip-synched. But many other performances were actual live shows, including a mini-version of ELO's live concert set, promoting their latest album. In the last few years of The Midnight Special, when promo videos were becoming more common and production costs for the show were reduced, the show often aired promo videos for ELO, rather than actual live performances. This is particularly true for the songs from the Discovery album, for which ELO did not tour and no live promotion was done. Many of the shows simply reused footage from earlier episodes, with ELO's Telephone Line from a 1977 performance getting the most reuse.

Due to copyright issues, I cannot provide full versions of any of the videos on this site. However, I have provided YouTube and other links to online content for these performances (under the "Broadcasts" section). As this site and anyone associated with it do not maintain these videos, no guarantee of working, complete or accurate videos or links is made.

Original performances used in the show are as follows:

ELO performing Roll Over Beethoven on 
The Midnight Special
Roll Over Beethoven

Kuiama
Performance Recording Date: May 29, 1973
Original Broadcast Date: June 29, 1973
These songs are assumed to have first aired on June 29, 1973 because the August 17, 1973 performance (a month and a half later) of Roll Over Beethoven survives on the bootleg market, which is believed to be a re-packaged broadcast of the earlier performance. The performance of Roll Over Beethoven uses a tape backing, with live vocals by Jeff Lynne and the rest of the band miming. It is assumed that the performance of Kuiama uses the same tape backing/live vocals technique.

Showdown

Ma-Ma-Ma Belle

Bluebird Is Dead
Performance Recording Date: November 20, 1973
Original Broadcast Date: November 23, 1973 and February 8, 1974
There is a great deal of uncertainty about these performances as only the song Showdown has been available for review. This performance of Showdown, which is introduced by The Spinners, is taken from a September 17, 1976 broadcast hosted by Wolfman Jack. It was broadcast in 1976 because the song was re-released in 1976 to promote the Olé ELO album. Clearly the performance is from a pre-1975 recording as it features Mike deAlbuquerque on bass and Mike Edwards on cello, both of which had left the band by 1976. It appears that the November 23, 1974 broadcast only Showdown and Ma-Ma-Ma Belle, excluding a performance of Bluebird Is Dead. Just two and a half months later, on February 8, 1974, the same performance of Showdown and the previously unaired Bluebird Is Dead were broadcast. From examining ELO's tour schedule, it appears that the date of the actual performance was Wednesday, November 20th as that is the only California date that ELO were not scheduled to perform. In fact, the night of November 23rd in which this performance aired on The Midnight Special, ELO were performing at Winterland in San Francisco. During the February 8, 1974 broadcast, ELO were on tour in the UK, so clearly there was no way they played live in California for this broadcast.

In The Hall Of The Mountain King

Great Balls Of Fire
ELO performing Eldorado Overture on The 
Midnight Special
Eldorado Overture
ELO performing Can't Get It Out Of 
My Head on The Midnight Special
Can't Get It Out Of My Head

Mik's Violin Solo/Orange Blossom Special
ELO performing Laredo Tornado on The 
Midnight Special
Laredo Tornado

Hugh's Cello Solo/Flight Of The Bumblebee

Roll Over Beethoven
Performance Recording Date: November 26, 1974
Original Broadcast Date: January 17, 1975
This is nearly a full concert performance from a time when ELO hosted the show. It is completely live. Unfortunately, only bootleg recordings of Eldorado Overture, Can't Get It Out Of My Head and Laredo Tornado taken from rebroadcasts and/or foreign markets, are available for review. If the setlist of the broadcast is to be believed, then it is the only known officially recorded performance of Mik Kaminski's violin solo and Hugh McDowell's cello solo.
ELO performing Evil Woman on The Midnight 
Special
Evil Woman
ELO performing Nightrider on The Midnight 
Special
Nightrider
ELO performing Strange Magic on The 
Midnight Special
Strange Magic
Performance Recording Date: Some time between February 8 and February 11, 1976
Original Broadcast Date: March 5, 1976
These are live concert performances. Select songs from this performance were reused in April and June, later in 1976. The repeat performances from June 25, 1976 (with Natalie Cole introducing the band) survive on the bootleg market, which is a repeat performance of Strange Magic and Evil Woman only. A performance of Nightrider from the original airing on March 5 or the repeat from April 23, 1976 also survives in poor picture quality.
ELO performing Livin' Thing on The Midnight 
Special
Livin' Thing
ELO performing Do Ya on The Midnight Special
Do Ya
ELO performing Telephone Line on The 
Midnight Special
Telephone Line
ELO performing Rockaria! on The Midnight 
Special
Rockaria!
ELO performing Livin' Thing on The 
Midnight Special
Livin' Thing Reprise
Performance Recording Date: January 29, February 1 or February 2, 1977
Original Broadcast Date: February 18, 1977
This was another episode hosted by the Electric Light Orchestra. All performances by the band are 100% live. Livin' Thing opens the show, then Bev comes on stage to say hello and introduce Jeff, following with Jeff introducing the show, mentioning that Santana will be coming on the show later, and getting the audience excited for the "laser beam show" that will be shown during their set. This is then followed by live performances of Do Ya, Telephone Line and Rockaria!. At the end of the show, Bev comes back on stage to thank the audience and other live acts, followed by another performance of Livin' Thing over the show's closing credits. Because this is over the closing credits, it is incomplete, cutting off after beginning of the second verse ("Makin' believe this is what you conceive..."). This was ELO's final original performance on the show. Footage from this show would be repeated many times on later The Midnight Special episodes, with the performance of Telephone Line being used in at least five later episodes, including a much later episode in May of 1980.
The source of information for the above details and the table of broadcast information below is taken from available bootleg material, the TV.com website, and recollections from fans. This detail is only as good as the sources and every effort was made to be accurate. There are likely a few errors.

Broadcasts

The table below is all of ELO's known performances on the show, including the particular songs performed at each show. Although there is reasonable confidence that the broadcast dates, hosts and songs performed are accurate, because of limited resources, actual details about the performances (e.g. repeats, lip-synchs, etc.) are sometimes surmised from the known facts. Performances marked with an asterisk (*) have been available for review and are 100% verified or are known airings of promo videos.

Songs marked in RED are original, live performances on the show. Songs marked in BRIGHT BLUE are original, lip-synched performances on the show. All others are either promo videos or repeats of earlier performances.

Episode
Number
Broadcast
Date
Show Host ELO Songs Performed Comments
23 June 29, 1973 Paul Williams Roll Over Beethoven
Kuiama
It is assumed that this performance of Kuiama is an actual live vocal performance, like Roll Over Beethoven. Roll Over Beethoven uses a tape backing, with live vocals only by Jeff.
30 August 17, 1973 Richard Pryor * Roll Over Beethoven The performance from this episode has been bootlegged. It is assumed to be a repeat of the June 29, 1973 performance. A YouTube video of this performance can be seen HERE.
44 November 23, 1973 Peter Noone Showdown
Ma-Ma-Ma Belle
Showdown is completely lip-synched, but it is unclear if Ma-Ma-Ma Belle was lip-synched. A performance of Bluebird Is Dead was also recorded but not broadcast until February 8, 1974.
55 February 8, 1974 Ike and Tina Turner Showdown
Bluebird Is Dead
This is a rebroadcast of Showdown from November 23, 1973 and although Bluebird Is Dead was recorded at the earlier performance along with Showdown, this is the first broadcast of that performance.
72 June 7, 1974 The Kinks Showdown
Bluebird Is Dead
100 January 17, 1975 Electric Light Orchestra In The Hall Of The Mountain King
Great Balls Of Fire
* Eldorado Overture
* Can't Get It Out Of My Head
Mik's Violin Solo/Orange Blossom Special
* Laredo Tornado
Hugh's Cello Solo/Flight Of The Bumblebee
Roll Over Beethoven
This performance is completely live. Select performances have been bootlegged, available from foreign rebroadcasts only. A YouTube video of this performance can be seen at the following links: Eldorado Overture + Can't Get It Out Of My Head and Laredo Tornado
110 March 28, 1975 Wolfman Jack Can't Get It Out Of My Head
Great Balls Of Fire
This episode was billed as an "International Acts" episode.
146 January 9, 1976 Helen Reddy, Joan Baez and Electric Light Orchestra Can't Get It Out Of My Head
Laredo Tornado
153 March 5, 1976 Helen Reddy Evil Woman
* Nightrider
Strange Magic
158 April 23, 1976 Janis Ian Strange Magic
Nightrider
Evil Woman
YouTube videos of Evil Woman and Nightrider from this performance can be seen HERE and HERE and .
164 June 25, 1976 Natalie Cole * Strange Magic
* Evil Woman
The performance from this episode has been bootlegged. A YouTube video of this performance of Evil Woman can be seen HERE.
175 September 17, 1976 The Spinners * Showdown The performance from this episode has been bootlegged. A YouTube video of this performance can be seen HERE.
193 February 18, 1977 Electric Light Orchestra * Livin' Thing
* Do Ya
* Telephone Line
* Rockaria!
* Livin' Thing repeat
The performance from this episode has been bootlegged. ELO opened the show with four songs and closed with a repeat of Livin' Thing over the closing credits. Theoretically the band members introduced the other acts in the show, but those parts are not available for review or confirmation. Rumors exist that the band acted "like school children" backstage and guest Mary MacGregor claimed she was uncomfortable with the band's behavior. A YouTube video of this performance can be seen at the following links: Livin' Thing, Do Ya and Telephone Line
198 April 1, 1977 George Carlin Do Ya
201 April 29, 1977 Wolfman Jack Do Ya
Rockaria!
Telephone Line
212 August 12, 1977 The Bay City Rollers Telephone Line
218 October 21, 1977 Elvin Bishop Telephone Line
Rockaria!
219 October 28, 1977 David Soul Unknown This episode is described as a "Midnight Special Salute to Electric Light Orchestra" special.
225 December 16, 1977 Lou Rawls Unknown This episode is described as a "Midnight Special Salute to Electric Light Orchestra" special.
233 February 17, 1978 Wolfman Jack Telephone Line This episode is billed as a "Million Sellers of 1977" special.
238 March 24, 1978 Tom Jones Unknown This episode is described as a "Midnight Special Salute to Electric Light Orchestra" special.
291 September 14, 1979 Bob Welch * Don't Bring Me Down This is a broadcast of the promo video only.
291 February 22, 1980 Bonnie Pointer * Last Train To London This is a broadcast of the promo video only.
309 May 30, 1980 The Temptations Telephone Line

Although many performances have been bootlegged, there are several that have not. These include Kuiama (presumably live vocals over tape backing), Ma-Ma-Ma Belle (presumably lip-synched), Bluebird Is Dead (presumably lip-synched), In The Hall Of The Mountain King, Great Balls Of Fire, Mik's Violin Solo/Orange Blossom Special, Hugh's Cello Solo/Flight Of The Bumblebee and Roll Over Beethoven (second performance). All are completely live performances unless otherwise stated.


This page is intended to be a complete record of information on the Electric Light Orchestra's The Midnight Special performances. If you notice any errors or omissions (which there are many), please contact me at jefflynnesongs@gmail.com and let me know. I strive for accuracy.

Robert Porter
November 2017