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GROW BIGGER EARS #13: The "Audio Autopsy" Prestidigitation Playlist💥POOF!✨Cover Songs About Magic✨
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Our “Audio Autopsy” (with mini-deep dives into songs and artists) Prestidigitation Playlist is neither a ranking nor a top sales chart of any sort. Just a hand-picked bag-o’-cover-tunes chosen for their inclusion here, in the hopes you’ll hear something (or someone) new!
The MacDonald Brothers, “Magic,” 2007, Syco/Sony Records
Two Scots, Brian and Craig MacDonald (aka The Macs), cover fellow Scots, Pilot, and their 1975 worldwide hit, “Magic.” Written by Pilot’s David Paton and Billy Lyall (both early Bay City Rollers), “Magic” charted most successfully in Canada, where it topped their national singles chart in July 1975 and certified gold. It climbed as far as #11 on the UK Singles Chart and reached #5 during the summer of 1975 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.
The Macs first rose to prominence in the third UK series of The X Factor TV talent show in 2006 (with the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry Baby” as their opening audition song to advance), and have since gone on to release five studio albums. Their debut, self-titled album (from whence “Magic” emerged) was released in April 2007 to positive reviews. The album went on to top the charts in their native Scotland and also performed well on the UK Albums Chart, peaking at #18.
The brothers are currently signed to Evolution Music Group (Evosound)/Hong Kong under their new name “The Macs,” but remain living in Scotland.
As well as singing, both Craig and Brian play a range of instruments, including the violin, accordion, guitar and piano. Their fifth studio album, and first album under their new stage name The Macs, Strumming To Your Beat, was released in late 2013.
Randy Vanwarmer, “Do You Believe in Magic,” 1983, Bearsville Records
John Sebastian’s “Do You Believe in Magic” was a Top Ten summer 1965 hit for his Lovin’ Spoonful, and here is given a rousing, updated make-over by the supremely overlooked and gifted Randy Vanwarmer.
Before his untimely passing (at 48 from leukemia) in 2004, Randy wrote hit songs for others (Oak Ridge Boys, Alabama, Dolly Parton) from his eventual Nashville home. The native Coloradan moved with his mom to England as a teen, then to New York, where his recording career began in 1978 after Bob Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman, signed the 23-year-old Randy to his (Warner Bros.-distributed) Bearsville Records, joining label-mates Foghat and Todd Rundgren, among others.
He saw success early, with his own “Just When I Needed You Most” ballad climbing to #4 on the U.S. pop charts in 1979 (#8 in the UK). Randy wrote it when he was eighteen and still in England. It’s been described as “a ballad of heartbreak from a man’s point of view.” His Sebastian cover can be found on his 1983 The Things That You Dream album.
The 5th Dimension, “The Magic Garden,” 1967, Soul City/Liberty Records
Technically, the original recording of this typically magical Jimmy Webb composition (produced by Bones Howe, Webb conducted and arranged in 1967), it’s likely Webb recorded a demo, of some sort, for the Dimension members to hear prior to recording at L.A.’s United/Western Studios with the Wrecking Crew solidly present.
“The Magic Garden” was the title track of the 5th Dimension’s concept album, with every song composed by Webb (save for The Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride,” which closed out Side 1). The album and single were the follow-ups to the group’s 1967 smash hit, “Up, Up and Away,” another Jimmy Webb aural masterpiece.
The Pudding, “Magic Bus,” 1967, Decca/UK (Press/London Records/U.S.)
An amazing “chain of custody” was uncovered surrounding this Pudding “cover” that’s, in reality, the original recording of The Who’s eventual “Magic Bus” classic. Guitarist Pete Townshend, of course, wrote the song, and recorded a solo demo in 1966.
As is customary (for others to discover your song for possible recording…because publishing), The Who’s management and publisher circulated the Townshend demo to label A&R departments and publishing firms. The Pudding trio found it, and (with John Stewart producing) recorded it a full 15 months before it showed up on The Who’s studio docket, and subsequently released as a single July 27, 1968!
When released, the Who’s record only reached #26 in the UK and #25 in the United States. The song was included on their 1968 album, Magic Bus: The Who on Tour.
Townshend released his original demo recording in 1983, 17 years after he originally recorded it.
The Pudding was never heard from again, apparently having….well, desserted their audience.
5. Kris Delmhorst, “Magic,” 2011
Not Olivia’s, and not Pilot’s song of the same name, this is The Cars’ Ric Ocasek’s composition, with his band making the song appear on the charts in 1984, the second of an eventual six singles birthed by its mother album, Heartbeat City (cover artwork shown below).
Kris Delmhorst recorded her self-produced cover in 2011, as it parked iself on her 2011 album, CARS. From her website: “Summer 1984: Thirteen-year-old Brooklyn girl takes babysitting money uptown to Tower Records, finds Heartbeat City on cassette.
“Drawn in by slightly racy cover art, unnerved but fascinated by lead singer’s (Ocasek) punchy warble, she finds herself defenseless against intricate layers of pop hooks. Bounces album from Walkman to boombox and back until tape is destroyed while dubbing for best friend. More babysitting follows.”
Now living in western Massachusetts, Kris is an active member of the Boston folk scene, and has released a dozen albums since 1998, with her latest being Long Day in the Milky Way, released in 2020.
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Lee Ritenour feat. Michael McDonald, “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic,” 2002, GRP Records
Sting’s Police siren, “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic,” made its debut in 1981 on the British trio’s Ghost in the Machine album, their fourth. Here, celebrated jazz/rock guitarist, Lee Ritenour (who also produced), enlists the services of veteran vocalist, Michael McDonald (lead and background vocals, pictured below), on this 2002 buried treasure from Lee’s Rit’s House album, which reached #4 on the Billboard jazz albums chart.
Russ Ballard, “You Can Do Magic,” 2020
The songwriter took nearly 4 decades to record the song he wrote specifically for America in 1982. The former Argent singer/guitarist wrote the song (and one other) just for America (now a duo) at the behest of then-Capitol Records A&R Veep, Rupert Perry.
America spent 1971 through ‘77 as a trio on Warner Bros. Records for seven albums, all with titles beginning with the letter “H”. After Dan Peek left the band to pursue a career in the contemporary Christian music lane, Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell continued as a duo, and signed with Capitol for their 1979 debut album with the label (Silent Letter, as a wink to the now-silent “H” beginning their album titles).
Ballard also produced the tracks on America’s View From the Ground album (their third for Capitol), marking a return to record production after a four-year hiatus; although Ballard had earlier hits as a songwriter, “You Can Do Magic” was his first major hit credit as a producer.
Lowland Hum, “Strange Magic,” 2020
Lowland Hum is a husband and wife duo, made up of songwriter/producer/performer, Daniel Levi Goans and his wife, Lauren. They’re based in Charlottesville, VA, and have been described as a multi-sensory artistic collaboration of Daniel and Lauren.
What began as North Carolina folk music evolved into an entirely new live music experience featuring visual art, print, and even smells. Lowland Hum music tries to evoke the serenity and splendor of their rural home by weaving their appealing high-tenor and soprano voices into intricate harmonies over simple string-band arrangements.
Here, they offer their unique talents on their ethereal 2020 cover of Jeff Lynne’s “Strange Magic,” a #14 hit for his ELO in 1976 from the band’s Face the Music album on United Artists Records in the US. It peaked at #38 in the UK.
The Moon Loungers, “A Kind of Magic,” 2021
Stout Fellows Wrestle Queen
The only known recorded cover of Queen’s “A Kind of Magic” not listed on SecondHandSongs is this 2021 sublime acoustic effort by The Moon Loungers, a pair of related musicians/singers who proudly profess to be a “wedding band”!
While that may have been true, after a couple of rough 2020 and ‘21 shutdown years (and many gig cancellations), cousins Chris and Steve have announced they’ve retired from live performances, and will instead focus on studio work, and will continue their vibrant online presence on many platforms.
With a 2006 jump-start as original recording artists, they finally decided that life as a UK-based covers band might not be so bad after all!
“A Kind of Magic” was written by Queen’s Roger Taylor in 1985 (and released on their like-titled album in 1986). According to Georg Purvis in Queen Complete Works, “Taylor has admitted writing down some lyrics, which proved to be the basis for both ‘One Vision’ and ‘A Kind of Magic,’ something made obvious by the demo of the song appearing for the first time on Queen’s 2011 Universal bonus EP, which mixes some lyrics.
“Later on, unbeknownst to Taylor, who was off to the US for a few days, lead singer Freddie Mercury took it over, ‘polished’ the lyrics, added the bassline, some connectors and re-arranged the structure. Regardless, the new, more pop-oriented version was still credited to Taylor.”
Stimulator, “Magic,” 2010
Stimulator are L.A.-based alt rockers. They were founded in 2002 by singer/songwriter Susan Hyatt and guitarist Geoff Tyson. Stimulator has toured the US supporting Duran Duran, The Go-Go’s, and were once featured performers on the Van’s Warped Tour.
From 2010 to 2011, their cover of Olivia Newton-John’s “Magic” (written by John Farrar) was featured in Macy’s nationwide TV and radio “Find Your Magic”-themed ad campaign.
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