Steve Miller Band’s “Abracadabra” is the hit song that almost wasn’t. Steve Miller had been working on the song for years prior to its release in 1982 and was struggling to get the song to the point where he was ready to release it. But it wasn’t until he encountered another music legend that the song went from a road block to a massive hit. Below, we look at the story behind “Abracadabra.”
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Meaning Behind the Song
Miller wrote “Abracadabra” solo and co-produced with his bandmate, Gary Mallaber. Miller had been playing around with the music and lyrics for three years, but couldn’t get them to match up.
“Oddly enough, ‘Abracadabra’ was a piece of music I had been fooling around with for a long time,” Miller recalls to Vulture, adding that he was going to put it on an album, but decided to pull the song at the last minute in order to improve it. “It started as an instrumental, gypsy-blues kind of tune. I wrote this really bad set of lyrics and recorded it. … For several more years, I thought about it and I just couldn’t get the bad lyrics out of my head. They rhymed terribly and they were just engraved in my brain.”
In the process of writing it, Miller happened to see Diana Ross while on vacation in the resort town of Sun Valley, Idaho. The experience brought to mind the time he performed on the popular musical variety show, Hullabaloo, in 1965, the same night as Ross and her group, the Supremes. It turns out that the Ross sighting was the creative inspiration he needed to complete “Abracadabra.”
“I was thinking about Diana when I went home for lunch, and I just thought about what the Supremes would do with this song,” he describes to Guitar Player. “After that, I wrote the lyrics to ‘Abracadabra’ in 15 minutes. I just sat down and I could see them saying, I want to reach out and grab ya.
“I’ve never had a chance to see Diana since then. I’d tell her that they were very inspiring when I was a kid and I saw them play on Hullabaloo,” Miller adds in the Vulture interview. “They were magical. I loved Motown, of course. I could see the Supremes doing ‘Abracadabra’ very easily.”
Steve Miller Band’s record label, Capitol Records, didn’t have faith in the song at first. “I put it together and took it to Capitol, and they hated it. They said it was awful and that I was finished,” he continues. “I canceled my tour in the States and I went to Europe, and when I got to London to start the tour, the record was No. 1 all over the world–except in Japan and the United States, which were the two markets that Capitol controlled. Phonogram had my world rights everywhere else, and when I got back to the States, it was No. 1 here too. It turned out to be my biggest hit.”
Miller’s hard work and diligence paid off, as “Abracadabra” became a hit around the globe and is one of the band’s signature hits to date. The song hit No. 1 in nine countries, including the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. The song made it to vast corners of the world, charting as far as Australia to Spain. American Dad, Sing 2 and the Steve Carell-led film The Incredible Burt Wonderstone are some of the films and TV shows that the song has appeared in.
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