Continuing the chronological presentation of my 25 favorite songs…
‘Magic’ – Olivia Newton-John (1980)
We move into the 80s now, but starting with a song that has one foot firmly planted in the 70s. The 1980 film Xanadu, with its cheesy effects and kitschy “Greek muse on roller skates” vibe, was widely panned, brought down by the anti-disco movement (and the fact that it’s an awful movie).
But despite the movie’s failure, the Xanadu soundtrack was a critical and commercial hit, going multi-Platinum and earning praise for both Olivia Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra.
Though ‘Magic’ is featured in the movie, I’ve known it only through radio play (in fact, I watched Xanadu for the first time just last summer). This is another song, like ‘What a Fool Believes,’ that I had always enjoyed from afar before suddenly realizing it deserved some time in the spotlight.
Written by John Farrar, who penned just about every Newton-John hit, this song just gets better and better and better as it goes. I love a song that offers a new melodic twist in every line of the verses, building to a chorus that similarly gets more interesting as it goes. You’re halfway through ‘Magic’ before it has revealed all of those twists and turns.
And Newton-John delivers one of her trademark sexy-innocent vocal performances, her voice crisp and cool, drawing the listener back to a more innocent time.
‘This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)’ – Talking Heads (1983)
I’ve written about Talking Heads’ 1983 album Speaking in Tongues a few times in recent years, as it has climbed atop the list of my favorite albums by the New Wave band. The record features a blend of funk and the Heads’ distinctive brand of art-pop.
My favorite song on the album is the uplifting closer, which sounds unlike everything that comes before it. ‘This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)’ is one of the few straight-forward love songs David Byrne has ever written, and its music eschews the complicated rhythm tracks of the rest of the album in favor of a simple musical stroll the band jokingly labelled “naive.”
The result is transcendent, a glorious affirmation that never fails to stir my weary soul. This is happy-making music, no matter the time and place you hear it.
Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me ’round
I feel numb, born with a weak heart
I guess I must be having fun
The less we say about it, the better
We’ll make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground, head in the sky
It’s okay, I know nothing’s wrong, nothing
Hi-yeah, I got plenty of time
Hi-yeah, you got light in your eyes
And you’re standing here beside me
I love the passing of time
Never for money, always for love
Cover up and say goodnight, say goodnight
Home is where I want to be
But I guess I’m already there
I come home, she lifted up her wings
I guess that this must be the place
I can’t tell one from the other
Did I find you or you find me?
There was a time before we were born
If someone asks, this is where I’ll be, where I’ll be
Hi-yeah, we drift in and out
Hi-yeah, sing into my mouth
Out of all those kinds of people
You got a face with a view
I’m just an animal looking for a home and
Share the same space for a minute or two
And you love me ’til my heart stops
Love me ’til I’m dead
Eyes that light up, eyes look through you
Cover up the blank spots, hit me on the head, ah-ooh
Wow, I didn’t see “Magic” making your (or anyone’s) top 25 songs! Given your explanation/rationalization that the song gets “better and better” with each verse and reveals ongoing “twists and turns,” I gave it another listen, and have to say I don’t see any of that. You want to hear a song that actually does that? Try “Kiss From a Rose” by Seal, which will likely make Daniel’s list and may well make mine. Anyway, the heart (and ears) like what they like, and I’m not suggesting it’s a bad song. I kinda dig it too, but it would be nowhere near my top 25, 50 or likely 100.
Moving on…as for your Talking Heads selection, I can’t help but think this is an instance of wanting to have your favorite song from your favorite Talking Heads album represented on your list, even if there are other songs, either by the Talking Heads or other artists, that you might love better. I get it, though, that representation is important, and this is a perfectly fine, if not spectacular, song. My nod to the Talking Heads, if they make the cut, would probably go to something off Stop Making Sense like “Burning Down the House” or the exuberant “She Was.”
No, this is definitely my favorite Talking Heads song, and one of my favorite songs ever. While I do have many of my favorite artists on this list, I’m also missing some, so I didn’t go in with the idea of representing all of them.
Okay, well, as I said, it’s a good song, just not one of my favorites of theirs, let alone a contender for favorite songs ever. The rest of my family is similarly perplexed by both of these selections, but that’s why you have your list and we have ours.
Love that you have “Magic” on your list. So wonderfully random.
I didn’t think I knew that Magic song by Olivia Newton John, but the second I listened to it I instantly recognized it! Although, I grew up on the cover of this song by Stimulator on the Ella Enchanted soundtrack I’ve always a big fan of the groove. Hearing the original, I’m coming to appreciate the song in a new light even though it’s difficult to not crave some of the unique production moments of the Stimulator version. I could see why this song would be in your Top 25 though. The bassline is killer.
I’m yet to do a deep dive into Talking Heads’ discography, but this song like all of the ones I’ve heard has great production and intriguing lyrics. I can understand this choice as well!