In 1974, four teenage kids from the Chicago area formed the rock band Midnight. The boys, Dave Hill (organ, vocals), Frank Anastos (guitar), Scott Marquart (drums), and John Falstrom (bass), met while taking lessons at an area music store. Inspired by the rock titans of the day (including Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and Deep Purple), the group developed a raw, heavy sound. By 1975, they were performing at high schools and parties. Fast-forward a year, and they were gigging at colleges and clubs in and around Chicago, even though they were still in high school at the time. Mixed in with covers of tunes by their heroes, Midnight had started working original compositions into their live sets. In the fall of 1977, mere months after they graduated high school, they went in the studio to record the songs that would make up their lone LP.
Labor Day, 1976
While the songs on Into The Night show the influence of the groups they loved, the guys incorporated the styles of those bands in a way they could call their own—the heaviness of Sabbath, the metallic crunch and acoustic touches of Zeppelin, the organ rock of Deep Purple, and the swagger of Aerosmith. It’s all there, but woven into a sound that’s uniquely Midnight. Interestingly, there are moments when they bring to mind a more obscure outfit, Pentragram, one of the first American groups to show an obvious debt to Sabbath. I recently corresponded with bassist John Falstrom, and he told me that they didn’t know about Pentagram back in the day, so it’s just a case of heavy minds thinking alike.
Naturally, the songwriting has much to do with their distinctiveness, with Dave, Frank, and John all contributing. Lyrically, the ten tunes on Into The Night alternate between straightforward tales concerning girls and the band itself, and more out-there subject matter. John says that one his numbers, the brooding title track, is about “invisible vampires that would come and take you away with their claws and burn you at the stake to rid the world of all of its liars.” A song like Frank’s “Smoke My Cigarettes” may be more standard, lyrically, but rocks with a fire that can’t be extinguished. As for the arrangements, the band worked on them as a unit, cooking up tracks that were all about dynamics. The material is played on a pro level—one that belies their years—yet passionately executed. The actual recordings have a rough edge, resulting in an LP that sounds a whole lot more alive than the polished major label rock albums of the era.
Dave Hill’s choice of organ was another element that made Midnight distinctive. Dave used a Vox, once favored by ‘60s garage rock bands, but its thin sound was out of vogue by the time the ‘70s were in full swing (imagine if Deep Purple had hired the “96 Tears” organist). Dave also sang lead and the group recorded four of his tunes for Into The Night. His mysterious “Auto-Kinetic Illusion” is among those in which the text is difficult to penetrate. It’s also the most dynamic track on the album, with many shifts in mood and tempo. A microcosm of the entire LP in four minutes; as the band moves between their quiet and heavy sides, the lyrics are clear-cut, metaphoric, and indecipherable. John: “The song evolved out of Dave staring at the dark sky at night for hours and images (illusions) would appear.” At times, the words seem to allude to death. Dave’s father was in a state of decline around the time “Auto-Kinetic Illusion” was written, which John believes influenced the content. Dave did not respond to Facebook messages asking for his input with this article.
The group self-released Into the Night, pressing up 500 copies for an early 1978 release, though they didn’t bother to promote it much. This was largely due to the fact that they were evolving as a unit at a fast clip—so much so, that they rarely played the material in a live setting. To the band, the songs that made up Into The Night were already old news.
Midnight called it quits in 1980. Frank and John still play in a band together, and they both teach music lessons at the same store where the boys of Midnight met all those years ago. At some point, collectors became aware of the greatness of their 1977 LP, and in 2012 a copy of Into The Night sold for 200 bucks.
Thankfully, the good folks at Drag City (in conjunction with Galactic Zoo Disk) are re-releasing Into The Night at a much more affordable price on July 17th. In the meantime, check out audio clips and pre-order the LP.
Here’s “Auto-Kinetic Illusion”: