Behind the Song: Heart’s Ann Wilson Looks Back on “Magic Man”

With the news of the forthcoming Carrie Brownstein-written Heart biopic on the way, it’s as good a time as ever to dive back into the music of the chart-topping, ground-breaking anthemic rock ‘n’ roll band. Born in the Pacific Northwest, Heart’s music has inspired musicians of all kinds, from the Hall of Famer Robert Plant to the garage band next door. And it’s all because of two things: singer Ann Wilson’s sweeping, sky-scraping vocals and sister Nancy’s guitar shredding, riff rocking prowess. The band, which formed in 1970, is essential to American music history. 

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To celebrate the transcendent group, we caught up with front woman and vocalist Ann to ask her about one of Heart’s first hit singles, “Magic Man.” The track, which was released in July 1975, was one of the first songs from the group’s debut LP, Dreamboat Annie. The track, which includes a belted chorus, is all about falling in love and acting on those feelings. It peaked at number-9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and has gone on to inspire chest-pounding romance ever since. “Magic Man,” which is about the spell of a lover, simply wails. 

American Songwriter: When did you write “Magic Man” and was it about your boyfriend and manager, Michael Fisher, as the story goes?

Ann Wilson: It’s absolutely my leaving home song. My mother wasn’t all too sure that the best thing for me was to—even though I was already 21, she wasn’t sure that I should be jumping into this full-time sexual cohabitational relationship with somebody in a whole other country [Ann moved from Seattle, Washington, to Vancouver, B.C. with Fisher]. And she was calling me, going, ‘What are you up to? C’mon, I don’t know if you should be going this. Come on back! Be careful, give it some thought!’ And I was just like, ‘Nope, nope, I’m gone! I’m in!’ And it was love at first sight that lasted for about eight years! But “Magic Man” was definitely written about the spell that I was under and my conversations with my mother about it at the time. 

AS: Is there a line or idea that you appreciated most as you wrote the song?

AW: I like the first part when it talks about, all of a sudden you’re played inside the months of moon, and everything. Just the poetry and describing the actual love relationship. That’s my favorite stuff. 

AS: Did you ever hear it on the radio randomly?

AW: We had a hard time getting it played on the radio because it was long. I can’t remember what the original length of the unedited version was. It was released, but it was too long for the AM radio. And if you couldn’t get on AM back in those days, you weren’t going to have big huge massive crossover success. You were going to be thought of as an FM band, like an album rock band. So, it wasn’t until ‘Magic Man’ got enough groundswell as an FM song that somebody agreed at the record company to go in and do an edit that was the acceptable length, which I think in those days was three-minutes and twenty-five seconds. Once we did that, then all of a sudden it was all over. 

AS: The song was on Heart’s debut album. What was it like putting that record together?

AW: It felt great! I felt really excellent about it. Because we—Mike Flicker, the producer, and me and the members of the band and Mushroom Records, the little indie label that signed us —we all kind of went together and we all had these big meetings and decided, especially us and Flicker, what the album track list was going to be and why. Because Dreamboat Annie is kind of a concept album where you’ve got the main theme coming in three times on the record and tying it together. But yeah, that was a lot of fun. Of course, back in those days, it was a big deal to have an album listening release party where you took the studio, hired a bunch of people and drank champagne and played the record. So, yeah, those were heady days. 

AS: What do you love most about “Magic Man” today when you hear it or find yourself humming it?

AW: I like the groove. The groove that we arrived at in the studio is way cooler than the one that I had on the demo. When I presented the demo to Mike Flicker, it was just like a straight little chugging groove that didn’t do anything, really. Then we arrived at this cool kind of percussion groove that really took it up a bunch of levels. 

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