Jan 032012

At a recent holiday party I found myself having to defend one of my favorite mid-’70s light-rock nuggets, Pilot‘s “Magic.” Yes, it’s carefully constructed. Yes, it’s kinda schlocky. But so were a good amount of studio-churned hits during this time. I argue that this song is one of the best—that stands toe to toe with the Archies, Sweet, The Marmalade and yes — Jigsaw’s great “Sky High.”

I think this has a glam feel and the guitar solo is great.

Why, oh why does this song get shit on in the Hall? There is craft here. Critical upgrade I say!!!


  44 Responses to “Guilty as Charged”

  1. BigSteve

    I see where you’re coming from. I’d like to hear that track with a male lead vocalist who’s not singing in the soprano range. The background vocals are too chipmunk as well. That was very common in the 70s, and it’s an automatic turnoff for me.

  2. At first my NYear’s Weekend-addled brain registered this as “You Can Do Magic” and I nearly resumed retching, but no. I’m with ya on this. This’ll work on occasion, definitely along with Jigsaw and even a dose of the Raspberries “Go All the Way.”


  3. I got no beef with this. Never have.

  4. While it’s not the most timeless thing ever written, I find “Magic” charming and listenable in a 10cc-lite sort of way. But then I’ve always liked 10cc.

  5. ladymisskirroyale

    It’s that Scottish accent that heightens the thrill. A bit Bay City Rollers (in a good way). Plus I believe we owned this as a 45 as a kid.

  6. cliff sovinsanity

    In the hands of the Raspberries I think it would have been a better song. Maybe with a punchier guitar in the verses and smoother Eric Carmen type voice in the chorus.
    On the whole I find this too polished. Also, drummers should never wear scarves under any circumstance.

  7. In the 6-second excerpt of the chorus used in K-tel ads it was perfect. As a whole song i find it cloying and oppressive.

  8. Gotta think KMoon would take issue with your Scarves Law.

    Oh, wait, you probably meant *outside* the bedroom. Right

    As to your musical evaluation, can’t you sort of hear Cheap Trick pulling a chop-shop on this one?


  9. Happiness Stan

    Didn’t mind it when it came out, don’t mind it now, the lad next door had the album and it kept us entertained on rainy afternoons.

  10. Happiness Stan

    Which “You Can Do Magic”, America or Limmie and the Family Cooking? Surely the latter is one of the great pop gems of its era?

  11. As I said NYE – The song deserves a critical downgrade in my opinion. Is there more than 1 verse of lyrics (repeated 3 times)? Lame.

    I’m not saying it is a horiible song but it just doesn’t deserve any critical viewpoint at all. I’m not a fan of Sweet either. I would much rather hear “Reflections of My Life” or “Sugar Sugar” anyday. They are much better songs on many levels.

  12. Oh – and “Sky High” reminds me of a theme song to a 2nd rate “Charlie’s Angel” knockoff.

  13. diskojoe

    I remember this song fondly during my American Top 40 listening days. Also, I read a bunch of copies of Rock Marketplace (Alan Betrock’s zine, I think) & there were frequent & positive mentions of Pilot.

  14. 2000 Man

    Yuck. I have to lump this in with Paper Lace and Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods.



    I’d like to give this a critical downgrade, but I don’t think I can dislike it any more than I already do. I’ll try, but I don’t think it’s possible.

  15. pudman13

    I always liked this song, and the same album’s “Just A Smile” is even better. I really get off the bus with their ridiculously smoothly produced second album, though, which is everything that I despise about the power pop mafia’s inability to distinguish between something that even remotely rocks and something that’s pure schlock.

  16. misterioso

    “Magic” walks a fine line between annoying-annoying and catchy-annoying but I have always liked it. My son likes it now, too, and he’s about the same age I was when it came out. Whatever that means.

    “Skyhigh” is several notches higher in the overall scheme of things. andyr is right on the mark about it’s sounding like a theme to some second-rate Charlie’s Angels knockoff, of course. I say yes, but in a good way. In fact, he’s pretty close to the mark: it was used in the movie The Man from Hong Kong, though the label to my 45 informs me it is from the motion picture The Dragon Flies. (Perhaps it had a different title in the U.S.?) Wikipedia informs me that this was “the first Australian martial arts film” and starred George Lazenby, so you know it must be a classic. I’ve never seen it, but here are the opening credits http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-bDBFwURuu0

    Very exciting for Jigsaw completists, since it appears to be a different version used. Anyone have Jigsaw’s Ultra Rare Trax?

    Were these popular concurrently or are they side by side on a K-tel collection or something? Because I link them in my memory.

  17. cliff sovinsanity

    It’s that “indistinguishable” line that’s created the warring factions in the power pop mafia. It usually boils down to those who want to include pure pop bands like Bread Klaatu,etc into the fold. Are there any others you would like to toss into the “pure schlock” bin.

  18. It is truly a fine line — I like the Rasberries and late period Hollies, while I would never go out of my way to listen to Magic or Sky High.

    For some reason, Magic is linked in my mind with Barry Manilow’s “It’s A Miracle” — performed here on The Midnight Special

  19. Interesting. I hadn’t ever considered it as a Raspberries style tune and I could see how they could have really improved it. I’ve never hated it but never liked it nearly as much as other 70s AM classics like Brandy or Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes or Me and You and a Dog Named Boo. It just sounds like they had a decent idea but never took the time to flesh it out.

    I think the thing that really throws me off is the over enunciation of the word “light” at the the end of every verse. Man is that annoying.

  20. BTW, at the holiday party machinery refers to and to which this week’s All-Star Jam also makes reference there was some bad stuff said about your Raspberries. Hurtful stuff! That’s not what fueled my attempt at prompting controversy in the All-Star Jam, though. The person who said these dismissive things about the band and the people who readily agreed with him have been known to consider all but two Raspberries songs unworthy of their attention.

  21. tonyola

    Pilot seemed to be part of a quirky-chirpy pop trend that swept Britain in the 1970s. We in the US were exposed to Sweet and 10cc (in their milder moments) but we were spared mildly-interesting concoctions like Stackridge and Sailor. Perhaps Happiness Stan can give us some more perspective.

  22. I want names! I will challenge each and every one of them to a fistfight.

  23. The former tripe. Now I’m getting the dry heaves again.


  24. The thing about Pilot is that they were back there toward the beginning of a Scottish Pop Rock tradition that has produced Bay City Rollers (check the late-70s “The Rollers” albums with Duncan Faure. A++), Teenage Fanclub, Belle & Sebastian and a coterie of groups over the past few decades sharing a kind of hi-fi bounciness. The 70s Pilot albums are all great!

    And truth be told, I did (re-)discover them due to wanting to track down a song used for a radio spot in my youth, but you takes them where you finds them.

  25. I like my 70’s cheeze but right up to this moment I had this song mixed up with Olivia Newton John’s “Magic” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8sXLkKflnis&feature=related) which has just been killed-to-death by those Macy’s commercials.

    This Pilot is OK with me, along with “Sky High”, “My Baby Loves Love” and all those shag carpet goodies.

  26. pudman13

    I’m OK with legitimate soft rock bands. My problem is stuff that’s completely nondescript and/or totally derivative. An example of one that really sent me over the edge was Chris Rainbow…pure schlock. Also, there was Parthenon Huxley’s solo album, which was produced like the worst 80s mainstream rock, but which power pop fans praised as if it sounded good. I felt really burned when I bought that one. I’d much rather listen to a genuinely wussy band like the Carpenters than a pop band who write meaningless love lyrics, sing smooth harmonies with no jagged ends, and never rock out. A few others that are popular among power pop fans and come to mind: Chris Von Sneidern, whose voice has not one bit of edge at all; Adam Schmitt, who sounds completely balnd to me; The Rubinoos (who actually wrote a song entitled “I Don’t Wanna Break Up”); Candy’s “Whatever Happened to Fun,” which is the big hair AOR variation on power pop…

  27. ladymisskirroyale

    “Shag carpet goodies” – could we please add that phrase to the official RTH dictionary?

  28. cliff sovinsanity

    Can I add Kyle Vincent to the list. I don’t mind The Rubinoos and Adam Schmitt, but I know the waters you’re surfing.

  29. mockcarr

    I got no beef with this song. I could see Roy Wood doing a great job with it too.

  30. misterioso

    A well-turned phrase, indeed!

  31. Happiness Stan

    Yep, pretty much… I saw a clip of Sailor on a best of 1976 Top of the Pops the other night, I thought they were pretty cheesy at the time, but it was a very jolly clip of them doing Glass of Champagne, and came as light relief from Jimmy Savile gurning and making odd noises as he introduced horrid disco bands and Showaddywaddy (whose name when called upon to announce it he always managed to drag out for half the length of the record and pronounce “Show… a… wo.. a.. ddy.. a… wah.. a.. ddy”, but at least it gave one fair warning to get to the telly or radio and switch it off for two and a half minutes).

    Sweet were great fun, particularly Hellraiser, which Brian Connolly would end by breaking the mike stand over his thigh – that, along with Blockbuster, Ballroom Blitz and Teenage Rampage was equal to just about anyone of that era’s run of classic singles, and coming as they did at the same time as classic runs by T Rex, Slade, Bowie and Gary Glitter (whose music I loved at the time but now find impossible to separate from his indiscretions), it was a happy time to be a teeny music fan.

    Stackridge played down the road from us recently and when I saw the listing I realised that I’d never heard any of their records, listening now to that song is the first time I’ve ever heard them, and I like it well enough, thanks for posting it. They were very, very underground here, but are now held in huge affection by musos, even by those who don’t like or even have any familiarity with their records, rather like Caravan, Gong and Soft Machine. It sounds like Genesis would have been at that time if they made any effort to be poppy and accessible while Gabriel was with them, which is intended to be a compliment.

  32. tonyola

    I have several albums in digital form by Sailor, Stackridge, and the Sweet, and I find them to be charming and slightly goofball fun. I’ve always liked Sparks, too – I know they’re American but they had their biggest success in England, and albums like Kimono My House and Propoganda are pretty great.

  33. Happiness Stan

    Now you’re talking – those two Sparks albums are awesome, particularly Kimono My House. I feel a thread about “Acts who appeared on Top of the Pops who freaked my late Grandma out” coming on…

  34. BigSteve

    Those two albums used to be the kings of the cutout bin. It’s not that they were ahead of their time, because they’re quite similar to Queen who were their contemporaries. I guess they were too clever by half.

  35. Sparks were somewhat ahead of their time in that they specialized in power-pop right from the start – a style which didn’t become popular in the US until later in the 1970s. They weren’t very much like Queen – Sparks were rather less bombastic, less guitar flash, and their songs were almost all humorous vignettes.


  36. BigSteve

    I don’t know anything about later Sparks, but I would never call these two albums power pop. The arrangements are much too complex. I think the overall sound is similar to early Queen, not the lyrics.

  37. Happiness Stan

    Like Queen? Really? Maybe it’s because I’ve never been able to stand Queen, (except for Seven Seas of Rye, which was a great debut single – chartwise anyway – and allowed me from there on to grudgingly accept some increasingly long-lost point to their existence), but I can’t see the similarity.

    Sparks quirky, clever, poppy, good, Queen, hairy, twiddly, great big codpieces, bad.

    I’m now nervous about listening to Kimono My House again just in case I hear anything which reminds me of the interminable horror that is Bohemian Rhapsody, which has a similar effect on me to what The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald does to Mr Mod.

  38. “Sparks’ songs had too many unnecessary changes.”

    I can only respond with this…

  39. tonyola

    Cheap Trick had some surprisingly complex arrangements, too – listen to “ELO Kiddies”. Nobody disputes their power pop credentials, despite the fact that the group were unabashed fans of Roy Wood and The Move.


  40. Happiness Stan

    That’s a fun thread, I agree with little that was said but I can understand why one might think about them like that.

    Over here Sparks and Queen had their first hits simultaneously, with Amateur Hour and Seven Seas of Rye respectively, and as far as I can remember, This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us was a hit before Killer Queen, so in terms of weirdness and Great Pop Thing-ness Sparks were already way ahead while Queen were still in normal land. I see from Wikipedia that Sparks didn’t have any hit singles in the US, but over here they were a consistently successful singles band from 1974 until 1979 (and far more consistent than Queen), which gave us youngsters the added thrill of our parents and grandparents being infuriated by someone who looked as much like Hitler as that being allowed to appear regularly on Top of the Pops.

    I found the “can anyone explain Wizzard?” thread earlier as well, which I wouldn’t mind having a crack at resurrecting and having a good go at one of these days, preferably when half of my family aren’t being violently ill all over the place…

  41. tonyola

    I wasn’t here yet for the Wizzard thread, so I couldn’t chime in. My opinion: Wizzard Brew is an ambitious mess. It could have been great but it ended up being noisy, unfocused, gimmicky, and over-compressed. The Phil-Spectorish singles (like “Angel Fingers” and “See My Baby Jive”) and Eddy and the Falcons are much, much better.

  42. Happiness Stan

    Roy Wood is pretty well my ultimate all-time rock hero – I’ve hung my signed photo of him in full Wizzard regalia in pride of place on our stairs and own practically everything he’s released, but even as an obsessive fan of his singles think that it would be quite hard to make the case that he’s ever made an album which comes even close to being consistent enough to merit more than three stars out of five. Add Ball Park Incident and I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday to the ones you’ve mentioned and that’s one side of what could have been one of the greatest albums ever, but you just know that he would have sabotaged it by putting the b sides on side 2.

  43. tonyola

    A long time ago I picked up a CD called The Roy Wood Story 1971-1973: You Can Dance the Rock’n’Roll. I’m sure the CD is long out of print but it’s a gem for those who want to dip their toes into Roy’s music – 18 of his tracks from the late Move, early ELO, Wizzard, and his solo efforts.

    1 Ball Park Incident
    2 Until You’re Mama’s Gone
    3 Dear Elaine
    4 Ella James
    5 First Movement (Jumping Biz)
    6 California Man
    7 Whisper In The Night
    8 Chinatown
    9 You Can Dance The Rock ‘n’ Roll
    10 Forever
    11 Angel Fingers
    12 Look At Me Now
    13 Tonight
    14 See My Baby Jive
    15 Wake Up
    16 It Wasn’t My Idea To Dance
    17 Nancy, Sing Me A Song
    18 Songs Of Praise

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