Paul Fitzpatrick: London, April 2022
Some songs are ubiquitous… you’re not even sure where or when you first heard them. They seem to drop out of the ether and once heard you just can’t get them out of your head.
So it is with Maria Muldaur’s sublime ‘Midnight at the Oasis’
I didn’t know much about Muldaur in 1974 apart from the fact that she was a latin beauty, with a distinctive voice and had recorded one of the best singles of the year.
Born in New York as Maria D’Amato, Muldaur was part of the Greenwich Village scene alongside Dylan before her self-titled, debut album was released in 1973 featuring ‘Midnight at the Oasis’
Set in a desert trapping, the song centres on a romantic but playful encounter, where the female protagonist takes the lead….
“I’ll be your belly dancer, prancer. And you can be my sheik“
Sensual and evocative, Muldaur’s song, alongside those by Barry White, Donna Summer and Marvin Gaye, is (anecdotally) credited as being one of those songs that a lot of 70’s babies were ‘conceived to’.
Beautifully crafted, the musicianship on the track is superb as would be expected from some of the best session musicians of the day, with drummer Jim Gordon, who is credited by Muldaur with coming up with the songs groove, probably being the most heralded.
Gordon’s impressive canon of work includes, Layla with Derek & The Dominoes, My Sweet Lord with George Harrison and Steely Dan’s – Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.
Tragically, the drummer is currently in prison, sentenced in 1984 for killing his mother with a hammer and a butchers knife.
Unbeknown at the time, Gordon suffered with acute schizophrenia which wasn’t diagnosed until after his arrest.
Midnight At The Oasis was a top 10 hit in the US for Muldaur in 1974. It also did well in Canada and Australia but only scraped into the top 30 in the UK and would be her only UK hit.
It was one of those classic radio songs that was popular across all formats and crossed over all musical tastes.
Muldaur who went on to release nearly 40 albums also collaborated with The Doobie Brothers, Linda Ronstadt and Elvin Bishop whilst touring extensively with the Grateful Dead, as both a support act and a backing vocalist.
Her last album, released in 2021, was a jazz/ragtime album.
There have been several covers of Midnight At The Oasis over the years, the most prominent being the 1994 remake by acid-jazz aficionados Brand New Heavies, which became a bigger hit in the UK than the original.
Reflecting on her breakthrough hit, Muldaur reminisced that Midnight At The Oasis was a last minute addition to her debut album as the producer required ‘one more track’ to complete the session.
So in an ironic twist of fate a track that was basically an afterthought and an ‘album filler’ went on to become Muldaur’s signature tune.
Muldaur now 78, still performs the song live at every show and takes great pride in the fact that no two performances of the song are ever the same.