Olivia Newton-John – Magic

First Hit #1: August 2, 1980

I find Magic to be extremely disorienting. It’s because you have expectations of how a song goes, especially disco ballads on the soundtrack to an Olivia Newton-John vehicle. But Magic is constantly subverting them in slightly unsettling ways. You expect her to go high, she goes low. You expect a song to build, it diminishes. This is one of those cases where I wish I knew more about music theory, because there are some very deliberate choices with the notes being played that I can feel but am unable to describe completely. It keeps hitting those eerie notes and continues on a slightly off kilter and unpleasant direction.

It’s a daring choice for a pop song, and I applaud it for being almost uncompromising in that respect, but it is also not the most appealing song in the world either.

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One Response to Olivia Newton-John – Magic

  1. RBerman says:

    The unsettling musical element you’re noting is modal shifting. The scale drifts restlessly between minor and major, so that when you hear the third or seventh degree of the scale coming, you can’t predict whether it’s going to be a whole step or a half step removed from the previous note. This ambiguity generates a sense of unease and tension at odds with the fairly standard “Hey, baby” come-on lyric promising secret pleasures.

    Olivia Newton-John was the Taylor Swift of her generation, a bouncy blonde teen sensation who slummed in country music as the path of least resistance to chart dominance but never really fit there and left for the broader pastures of pop as soon as circumstances permitted.

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