The Meaning Behind “You Can Do Magic” by America and the Songwriter-for-Hire Who Composed It

Many bands left behind by the music scene struggle to ever again find their earlier footing. Give credit then to America for how they came back from a commercial slump and bucked the prevailing trends to score a big hit in 1982 with “You Can Do Magic,” a song that allowed the soft-rockers to outperform some of the biggest MTV acts of the day.

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What is “You Can Do Magic” about? What top songwriter-for-hire wrote it? And why did the band need a boost after their success in the early ‘70s? Let’s find out all the de-de-de-de details of this surprising smash.

Then There Were Two

From 1972 to 1975, America reigned supreme in the soft-rock world. During that stretch, the trio managed four Top 10 albums (including a No. 1 with their self-titled debut in ’72) and six Top Ten singles. A greatest hits album released at the end of 1975 was like a victory lap, as that also went multi-Platinum.

Unfortunately, that compilation also signaled an end to their most successful period. Changing musical tastes left many artists who peddled mostly acoustic, confessional material scrambling in the second half of the decade, and America was no different.

To make matters words, Dan Peek, the band’s bassist who also shared songwriting and vocalist duties with Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley, and who took the lead on the massive 1974 hit “Lonely People,” decided to leave the band in 1977. Peek cited some disagreements with the other two about a tour as a reason for his leaving, but he also wanted to shift to Christian music.

Relying on Russ

The years following Peek’s departure found America struggling to regain their commercial status, even as the quality of their work remained high. Bunnell and Beckley had been writing all the material, but they made the decision to go a little outside the box for their 1982 album View from the Ground.

To that end, they decided to hire Russ Ballard to write and produce a few songs on the album. Ballard began his career as a singer for Rod Argent’s post-Zombies project Argent. But he had moved into the songwriter-for-hire game, with hits for Rainbow and Santana under his belt when he was contacted by America. As Gerry Beckley told Songfacts, Ballard did an outstanding job tailoring the material to the band:

“I think we made a couple of chord changes, but basically took it as he wrote it. And it was very successful—it fit right into our body of work. It was a huge hit and a turning point for us, because it was a hit for Dewey and I, after Danny departed. It was our first hit as a duo.”

What is the Meaning of “You Can Do Magic”?

With a lead vocal from Beckley, “You Can Do Magic” tells a story of a skeptic when it comes to the supernatural powers of love. Once he meets a special woman, he finds that he has suddenly become a believer. He begins by looking back to his former ways: I never believed in things I couldn’t see / I said if I can’t feel it how can it be?

This girl has dominion over everything, from the weather to his insomnia: When I can’t sleep you come to me / I hold you tight, the rain disappears. The chorus extends in a nifty manner to explain her mystical might: You know darn well when you cast your spell / You will get your way / When you hypnotize with your eyes / A heart of stone turns into clay.

And then of course there was the de-de-de refrain, which allowed Beckley and Bunnell to take us back to their heyday with those sweet harmonies. “You Can Do Magic” was an apropos title, as Russ Ballard’s songwriting expertise helped America’s chart struggles to vanish into thin air.

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Photo by Jack Kay/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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