by Tony Attwood
Many of the songs I’ve been looking at, of late, exist just as ideas – short sequences which turn into jam sessions, but are clearly not yet worked out. And some of these are very good indeed.
This song is different however for it was worked through and almost made it onto Shot of Love album – it was only removed at the last.
And indeed this is a bit of an oddity for it retains the frothiness of some of the incomplete songs recorded around this time but which were not completed, but doesn’t have any of the solidity and bite of other songs that Dylan composed immediately after.
But Dylan was serious about “Magic” – it was recorded three times in two different sessions in April 1981 and we do have a recording of the first of these takes – the one that was considered for the album. The picture given with the video is irrelevant – it is a full band performance, and well rehearsed.
Heylin notes that the song was not copyrighted until much later, and he suggests that could be because of the problem of transcribing the lyrics – which I guess means no one had the nerve to go up to Bob and ask him what he was singing. It’s another one where I certainly would not want to guess.
It is also interesting that here we really in the era of the recording and mixing Caribbean Wind, and yet this song is so light and frothy – it hardly seems to come from the same songwriter. It is as if Bob wants to prove that he can work in all genres at once.
Certainly musically Bob is moving a long way away from the three and four chord pieces which go around and around, as he had been playing with on the proto-tracks recorded as he worked on the album.
The two introductory instrumental bars (the guitar melody and the triple drum beat at the end) are very much standard pop concepts, which make me feel that maybe Bob really was saying, I can do some basic pop as well as the religious stuff and the heavy duty meaningful lyrics, and the blues and…
And yes he can, but whether it is a song worthy of the album, I think not – at least not at this stage. It certainly doesn’t qualify (for me at least) as anything like a “lost gem”.
I think to make this point more solidly one might also consider that also in these sessions Bob was trying out Dead Man Dead Man which has so much more power and force – contrasting these two songs which must have been written within a few days of each other, one would hardly believe that the same person could have written them. It’s not that I’m not aware of how many different formats Dylan can write it, it is just the speed at which he can jump from one to another that continues to take me by surprise.
“Dead Man” is musically much, much simpler than “Magic” and yet somehow it seems to say much more.
But “Magic” was most seriously considered for the album and seemingly was only dropped right at the last.
Think there’s something missing or wrong with this review?
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