As hard as it's been accepting the fact that some of the classic rock I grew up rebelling against in the 80's is actually some brilliant stuff, I've always had an ear for those big Heart singles from the 70s, particularly "Magic Man."
I've always been fascinated and I'll even go so far as to say mesmerised as a kid, by the cool production of the big singles for Heart in the 70's. What rock guitar player can't appreciate the riff and great flanger sound in "Barracuda?" I probably could write this same article about "Crazy on You," with it's incredible song arrangement and leftfield bridge/solo that would be cool if it was a new song unto itself.
So, Magic Man.... I had no idea about the making of those records, so like anyone would do, I Googled and found out about Mike Flicker, who produced the whole era of "cool" Heart records (in my opinion, of course). I don't know anything else about him other than what was on his website.
For those who aren't familiar with "Magic Man," it's one of those songs that had a great impact on me as a kid. I wanted to know why it sounded like it did and that's kind of what led me into being an engineer/producer today.
It starts with an interesting lead guitar riff. You hear it and say "yeah, that's a backward guitar. Cool." The thing that struck me most when listening to it recently was that it doesn't start out backward. It has a strong attack at the head of the song, and suddenly it's all bendy and backward. Whether it was crossfaded somehow or it is all backward and they just ended the lick the right way to sound like a forward attack....it's an ingeneous way to start out a rock record.
The way that the song separates the verse parts from the A and B parts is also brilliant. The minimal chug of the A part with Ann Wilson's simple but very effective eastern-tinged vocal melody against the drop into the B part with the introduction of a guitar chord rung out like a harp with some phasor on it, adding some flutey synth climb to get back to the A part again.
The build into the chorus adds a simple and smart tom fill that sits between the chugs. Very effective. It eventually takes you to a good ole' fashioned rock chorus that you can sing along to in your bitchin' camaro.
Okay. That's all cool. But the real cool stuff that blew my mind as a kid was the solos. There's the first solo with a kind of traditional lead guitar with the same clear and distorted tone as the one in the backward intro lick. It bridges between two choruses, after which the real fun begins.
"He's a ma--------gic man...........ooooooooh, he's got magic hands" sings Ann in two overdubs over each other, so the "ooooh" comes out from under the "man...." (This effect is also used on the vocal in "Barracuda"). A guitar-like synth note switching in and out of vibrato takes you to the next guitar solo. This is the opposite of your typical blues-based rock solo, with it's inventive skips and bends across the fingerboard. It too follows the mysterious and slightly middle-eastern vibe that the verse vocal sets up. Then it goes into a weird and disorienting bit with these sustaining guitars in the background bending up and down over one note. On top of that is a sort of out of tune phased clean stratty solo line that just hangs over these evil bending notes in the background. They come out of the background for a turnaround riff before the phased strat comes back for another repeat and the next thing you know....a Jimmy Page-like burning riff turns into a sustained guitar note the bends simultaneously up and down from the same note.
How cute was Nancy Wilson?
That's the stuff that makes a 10 year old budding guitar player say "holy shit!" and get their agape mouth washed out with soap.
At least I thought "holy shit" in my head. How did they do that? Of course now it's a no-brainer.... two overdubs. Line it up in Pro Tools, hit the right pitch at the right beat, blah blah blah, but when I first heard that, I thought it was the coolest thing since seeing Gene Simmmons breath fire. Cooler, in fact. Then the solo wraps up in a nice tight bundle, and the song is over.
Nope. Sneaks back in with another bend and into a totally different double-stop style riff for two measures, into the ubiquitous and awesome two-track duophonic Minimoog solo with dark and angelic choir vocals in the background. (It's hard to imagine in our times of unlimited polyphony with virtual synths, but if you hear two notes of a synth playing together back in the mid-70s, chances are that it was done on two tracks.) The song wraps up again with a final chorus that climbs and climbs for a dramatic ending that ends on an exclamation point.
I know I wrote a similar piece about why I love the guitar solos in Jimi Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower" and it's maybe only coincidence that I'm professing my love for both of these songs. Maybe "Watchtower" was an inspiration for "Magic Man." I don't know. In any case, I was just feeling the love for the "Magic Man" and I wanted to give Mike Flicker, and of course, Heart, some credit. I hope to find out more about Flicker and his records from the 70s.
copyright 2007 Roger LavalleeHeart