Sunday, May 29, 2016
Track of the Week: The Cars "Magic"
It got well over 90 degrees here in Jersey today; summer has surely come. As the asphalt gets sticky and the sweat rolls off of my head, my thoughts often turn to summers past. One sure way to really spark those memories is with a "summer song." In the internet age it has now even become a regular things for folks to publicly discuss what they think will be "the song of the summer."
In 1984, one of those songs was "Magic" by The Cars, which my local hits station would play for many summers after 1984. While that station was very milquetoast in its playlists, the DJs were still allowed leeway to play songs they liked of an older vintage. Central Nebraska was thankfully late to the game of corporate radio. (Alas, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 would finally change that.) This song thus evokes summers growing up generally, and not just the summer of 1984.
"Magic" comes from the Cars' Heartbeat City album, which saw them shedding the angles and nerves of their New Wave-ish past in favor of a bright pop sound perfectly made for the airwaves of the Reagan era. (Mutt Lange was the producer, fer cryin' out loud.) It was of its time, but an example of that shimmery sound wedded to good songs and interesting ideas. (Prince managed to do this the best on Purple Rain.)
It's a song that announces its bid to be a summer song from the start, as the first word of the song is in fact "summer." Of course, it's not just, or even mostly the words that make this an ideal summer song. The guitars burst forth, more processed than a McDonald's value meal. The bass is slappy and up front. The drums are metronomic and gated like an Atlanta suburb. The synthesizers are bright and whistle on the catchy "uh oh it's magic" hook in a way that's to get out of my head.
Since I'm a teacher, summer is actually a pretty magical time. The first three weeks or so feel like being a World War I soldier on leave from the trenches, but gradually I start feeling relaxed and happy, even if I am knee deep in toddler toys and spend each afternoon praying they'll take a nap. Hearing this song reminds me of those glorious childhood summers, the ones before I turned 13 and started doing summer jobs in the corn fields. Those summers seemed endless, and were probably the least stressful days of my life. A busy day was one where I mowed the back yard for two bucks then walked down to the Walgreen's to buy five packs of baseball cards, which I would take home and dutifully organize. Little did I know then how good I had it.