Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler...Former teacher... Scientist... Published author... Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published March 16th 2020
Maybe wishing will make it better
Yeah, look, I know things in the world at the moment are not looking particularly good. We have a pandemic, country leaders who seem to not care, a lot of Internet trolling coming to the fore again… things just aren't looking real pleasant right now. Wouldn't it be good if some-one could cast some sort of magic á la Harry Potter and make everything right and good in the world? Wouldn't it?
Yes, the desire to have magic solve our problems is a staple of fantasy fiction. It is a part of that escapism, where "normal" people (term used advisedly) feel powerless to do anything to change the negative things they have in their world and use the fantasy concept as a catharsis and have their own dreams of "what if". It's very deep, sure, but it also makes sense. We want so much to believe that something magical will come and set things to rights, and fantasy gives us that.
And that brings us to music. Because even this aspect of pop culture is not immune to wanting magic to help people achieve their dreams. Normally those dreams are about winning love from someone, but there is still magic involved. It is almost a cry of desperation, but it is still in that fantasy genre of narrative. Some of these songs are a bit of fun, some are a little darker, but I have decided not to include Satanic and demonic (and I have more than a few of those in my collection). We have enough darkness in the world at the moment without me adding to it, and the idea of this is some escapism.
Now… why 20 and not my usual 10? Two reasons. First, it was hard enough to cut this list down to 20, let alone going even further! Second, I realise a lot of people are stuck in their homes and this gives them a little bit more to watch and (hopefully) enjoy. So… I hope you enjoy!
The list (in chronological order… as usual)!
'Witch Doctor' by David Seville (1958)
This bit of nonsense – what used to be called a "novelty song" – is about a guy who uses the powers of the titular witch doctor in order to get the girl he loves. Perfect example of that standard I mentioned in the introduction – wish-fulfilment through fantasy. And, seriously, who could ever forget "Ooh-Ee-Ooh-Ah-Ah-Ting-Tang-Walla-Walla-Bing-Bang"? For his part, David Seville (or Ross Bagdasarian, his real name) went on to create Alvin and the Chipmunks. Now, this song has been recorded by many other acts over the years, but I am going to throw another one here because it just tickles my funny bone: The Cartoons (1998).
'Voodoo Man' by The Del Vikings (1958)
This is a song I am guessing 95% of readers will never have heard of before, but I own it on 45 (those small vinyl records with one song a side… I am old). I inherited it after my father passed away, and that was cool because I have loved this song since I was a little kid. It just sounded so weird. I do not know the story behind it, but it was like it was trying to jump onto the 'Witch Doctor' bandwagon. I don't care. I love this song.
'Love Potion No.9' by The Clovers (1959)
While the Searchers' version from the 1960s is probably better known, there is very little difference from the original, and I quite like the original, so here it is. Again, a guy wants his girl to love him, so he gets a magic potion from a witch, and tries it out. But it backfires when he starts to kiss everyone, including a "cop down on Thirty-Fourth and Vine…". Another novelty song, another fun song, and one that is not given enough love.
'Puff, The Magic Dragon' by Peter, Paul and Mary (1963)
Contrary to popular belief, this song is not about drugs. That is an urban myth. Written in 1963, before the drug culture really took off, it was written by Peter Yarrow who was, at the time, quite unaware of the culture. It was, in fact, based on a 1959 poem, based further on an older Ogden Nash poem. So it is about a fantasy creature and about the magic of youth, as Jackie Paper grows up and no longer needs the magic of an imaginary friend. It is actually one of the most depressing songs ever written. Sorry.
'Do You Believe In Magic?' by The Lovin' Spoonful (1965)
The magic is that which comes from music and infects everyone, saying that music (particularly rock and roll) puts a spell on people and that believing in it makes everything wonderful. Yes, another fantasy, but considering the time it was written and recorded – coming up to the Summer of Love – it was actually a genuine belief that music could change the world. That belief has persisted, and I would like to believe it was so, but the truth is… I don't think it has. Still, listen to this song and just go with the whole "what if" scenario…
'I Put A Spell On You' by the Alan Price Set (1966)
The original of this song was done by the singularly unique Screamin' Jay Hawkins in 1956, but I really do prefer this cover version from ten years later. I think the singing is better even while the sentiment and emotion are still there. About a guy who puts a spell on his girl to ensure she stops cheating on him… but it is also creepy because "I don't care if you don't want me…" Yeah… not real good, but the song is still quite awesome.
'Magic Carpet Ride' by Steppenwolf (1968)
A song more about wishing dreams would come true – "Fantasy will set you free…" – than actual magic, per se, this song is still wonderful, including allusions to Aladdin and candles. But, really, who wouldn't want to go on a magic carpet ride with their partner and escape reality into a world of dreams? A trippy, psychedelic song that would be a hit if it was released today, I am sure.
'Black Magic Woman' by Santana (1970)
This song has become so associated with Santana that people often forget it is a cover of a 1968 song by Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac (who went on to become just plain Fleetwood Mac). The singer's woman is a practitioner of the dark magic arts and she has cast a spell on the singer to make him love her. Slightly creepy – the guy knows he's under a spell, but he does not care – but the way the song is played is just so awesome.
'The Witch Queen Of New Orleans' by Redbone (1971)
This song is literally about a self-styled voodoo queen who lived in New Orleans. Simple. Next! What? More? Okay – it is a really good song, with that chanted "Marie, Marie La, Voodoo, Veau…", which is the name of said Queen. There is a real sense of menace about the song, and I really enjoy it. Then there was the remake by Australia's Chantoozies of which the less said about, the better…
'Witchy Woman' by The Eagles (1972)
A woman who has bewitched the singer into bed, and her knows he has been bewitched, and he is now warning others. It's possibly a metaphor for a love gone bad, but the way the song is sung and played gives it a nice ethereal quality that really suits the lyrics. Although not my favourite Eagles track, it is still a fine song.
'Magic Man' by Heart (1975)
This is like the female version of 'Black Magic Woman', where a woman knows her man has cast a spell on her to love him but she does not really care. But with the Wilson sisters' voices, the driving guitars and the way the song is put together makes this a glorious song.
'Rhiannon' by Fleetwood Mac (1976)
This song is about Rhiannon, who was either a Welsh witch or a Welsh goddess or a member of the Welsh version of the Fae (mythology is like that). Any way you look at it, it is about a woman who uses magic to get what she wants. This song, though, is one of the very best in the Fleetwood Mac canon (and that covers a lot of singularly awesome songs, dating back to the Peter Green years). Stevie Nicks' voice is so smooth and the lyrics are otherworldly in and of themselves, and the song is superb.
'Magic' by Olivia Newton-John (1980)
I recently talked about how I was a huge fan of Olivia Newton-John's 1980s output, and this track is further evidence of how much that era was awesome. A song that basically says that when two people are together they are magic and great things happen – simple and yet fantastic, carried by Newton-John's magnificent voice. I really do think it is about time we re-evaluate this period of her recorded life. Meantime, this song is great.
'Abracadabra' by The Steve Miller Band (1982)
He thinks his girl has cast a spell on him, and it makes him want her all the more, using that stereotypical magic incantation (supposedly based on a healing spell in ancient Hebrew) and, like most others on this list, he does not care about it. Very 80s in its production and sound, who can forget that "Abra abracadabra/ I wanna reach out and grab ya…" rhyming couplet?
'You Can Do Magic' by America (1982)
Yet another song where the girl does magic in making the singer feel the way he does. That seems to be a recurring theme, doesn't it? But in this song, the singer even acknowledges "you can have anything that you desire…" and so is concerned that she could leave him at any time for some-one better. It is also a really good song, and some way from their country-rock roots ('Horse With No Name', anyone?).
'Magic' by Dragon (1984)
Appearing on the classic album Body And The Beat, this is one of the great forgotten songs in Australian (New Zealand?) music. This song is one of the simplest here – magic is a metaphor for love. More than that, the magic of love can make him do whatever he wants. And, better still, it is a truly great song.
'Magic' by The Cars (1984)
Man, how many songs are there simply called 'Magic'? The problem is, so many are actually good. Sorry, I digress. This track by the vastly underrated Cars is one of their very best. However, reading the lyrics, I'm not sure which person is the one with the spell on the other – the singer or his partner. Still, who cares? It is a really good song. "Oh-oh, it's magic…"
'A Kind Of Magic' by Queen (1986)
While not one of my favourite Queen songs, it is still a really good song. It is based on lines and concepts from the fantasy film Highlander, a story about magic immortal people. The whole song is about magic, as in real magic, not magic as a metaphor for love. It's a strange song lyrically that is still quite a good track.
'Magic Touch' by Mike Oldfield (1987)
Yes, the album this track comes from is my favourite album of 1987 and this is one of the key tracks from that album. The song is simple – there is a special, magic touch that is only shared between "true lovers". However, there is also an underlying theme that the love of God can lead to a special sort of magic to defeat the Devil. Magic all over, and a truly magnificent song. It seems such a shame that the only thing people remember Mike Oldfield for is Tubular Bells'…
'Black Magic' by Little Mix (2015)
I have already mentioned that I don't mind Little Mix and this song is such a catchy, poppy tune that I can't help but like it. Basically, it says that a girl's ability to get a guy is the equivalent of casting a spell on him. It is harmless and fun and I... I... My name is Steven and I like Little Mix.
And there you have it – 20 songs about magic and magic practitioners and spells and all things fantasy and wonderful. I hope this little bit of escapism has been something to bring at least a small smile to your face. And I know there are a heap of songs I've missed, so, please, feel free to drop me a comment! I try to respond to all of them.