“Magic Bus” – The Who

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A 50th Anniversary

 

The autumn of 2018 represents two 50th anniversaries for The Who.  Firstly,  the band released their “Magic Bus” single in the UK.  Different sources give the release date as either 18th September or 11th October 1968 [1].  It was a year when the band appeared to be in decline as far as singles were concerned. Prior to 1968, all (8) of their authorised single releases of original songs had made the top 10 in the UK. They had risen to new heights with the driving guitar, psychedelic flavour and sophisticated (for the time) overdubs of their autumn 1967 release, “I Can See for Miles” and fans had high expectations of more to come. That song had been written earlier in 1966 and held back by Townshend who believed it had the quality to be the Who’s first number one single.

 

Miles Poster

1967 poster – “I Can See For Miles” [2]

 

The follow up single was “Dogs”, released June 1968. Although it was the Who’s first use of an 8-track studio, “Dogs” was a frivolous and presumably tongue-in-cheek song involving a romance set in the world of greyhound racing. With the verse and spoken vocals delivered in a sometimes comedic London accents, the style has been described as ‘bizarre and campy’. ‘Uncut’ magazine described the track as “mockney music hall”. The track was compared to the Small Faces “Lazy Sunday” and both Daltrey and Entwistle later stated that it would have been better for all concerned if Townshend had just given the track to Ronnie Lane to record in the first place. “Dogs” only reached 25 in the UK singles chart.

 

Dogs

Music press advertisement – “Dogs”

 

“Magic Bus” was the band’s only other single release in 1968. Despite the appeal of the Bo Diddley rhythm, the track features predominantly acoustic guitar and did not represent the direction that “I Can See for Miles” had suggested. The rhythm is emphasised with the use of of shakers and claves. I remember that the UK pop press, always eager to play up anything ‘different’, plumbed new depths of condescension in explaining to their teenage readership that claves were a Latin percussion instrument comprising pairs of wooden sticks. It was reminiscent of the earlier hype about the ocarina solo on the Troggs’ “Wild Thing”. Although Keith Moon apparently enjoyed tapping on a wooden block for TV appearances when promoting the single, the claves were actually played by the band’s sound engineer, Bob Pridden, who also supplied backing vocals along with Jess Roden of the Alan Bown Set. The song was recorded in sessions that began May 29th 1968 [3].

 

HQ Version of Original Single

 

Various publicity gimmicks were used to promote the single including a French bus with streamers, female models and circus acts being driven around London. A special edition Corgi toy of a London Transport Routemaster (number 10) bus with “The Magic Bus is getting bigger” as the advertising banner on its side was produced and I obtained one of these from The Who Fan Club. Even so, the single only reached 26 in the UK chart. But then the singles market was already declining in favour of the album market and it is perhaps significant that “Dogs” had been recorded in mono because it was not intended for inclusion in any album release.

 

London “Magic Bus” Promotion – Photo: The Who 1968 © Chris Walter

 

For “Magic Bus”, Townshend had once again delved into the archive having written the song and recorded a demo in 1965 when working on “My Generation”. The date of the first recording is consistent with Townshend’s refutation of suggestions that LSD was involved in the writing of “Magic Bus” and he has revealed that his first acid trip was in 1967. As with 1967, The Who’s success in the states meant that they were extensively touring the USA (as well as the UK, Australia and New Zealand) in 1968 and contractual obligations may have played a part in the 1968 single releases as with the 1967 “The Who Sell out” album. On occasions, the expression ‘Magic Bus’ was used when referring to the band’s US tour bus.

 

Magic Bus

Music press advertisement – “Magic Bus”

 

Of course, Townshend would also have been busy working on what would be a far more successful project because it was exactly 50 years ago today that The Who went into IBC studios in London to begin recording “Tommy” (September 19th 1968).

 

Despite the relative lack of success of “Magic Bus” at the time, it has become one of the most enduringly popular Who tracks. It was included in their live set mainly as an encore piece because of the opportunity it provided for lengthy, rock improvisations as a climax to the show. But as the Who toured “Tommy” and tired of the constraints of reproducing tracks from the studio album, “Magic Bus” became an integral part of their live set and versions lasting up to 15 minutes were not uncommon. The 8 minute track from “Live at Leeds” (1970) is usually cited by fans as the favourite and definitive version.

 

Live at Leeds, 1970 version

 

 

Image Source:

“Magic Bus” 1968 promotion photograph – © Chris Walter, Photofeatures International

 

Additional Video:

Pete Townshend – Magic Bus (Live 1996)

 

Additional Sources:

1. Magic Bus at Wikipedia
2. Magic Bus at Hypertext Who

 

Footnotes:

[1] Magic Bus Release date –

 

Two different dates are given for the UK release of “Magic Bus”. The Who’s official website (thewho.com) gives the date as 11th October 1968. This is a relatively modern website that serves primarily as an outlet for Who merchandise and does not provide the detailed history provided by other sources. The official website is cited as the source for the Wikipedia article about the song and so this and other sites also give the October release date.

 

My source for the 18th September 1968 release date was the Who discography at the ‘Hypertext Who’ website (thewho.net). I was looking for confirmation of the date given in a social media post about the track before interrupting another Who-related article that I was working on, to write this one (on the basis that it was the 50th anniversary of the release). ‘Hypertext Who’ cites the liner notes that accompanied the “Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy” album, a 1971 compilation of Who singles from 1964 to 1970. The notes were written by Brian Cady (an acknowledged authority on The Who in this period) and provide details about the recording of the single (including information given by engineer Damon Lyon-Shaw) not found in other sources.

 

The notes give the release date thus –

 

“Released first in the U.S. as Decca 32362 on July 27, 1968 with the B-side “Someone’s Coming”, it reached #25 in the Billboard charts but went all the way to #10 in the Cash Box charts.
The U.K. release, on Track 604024 with B-side “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” followed on 18 September 1968 and went to #26.”

 

Cady specifies that this is the date of the UK single release.  The detail provided suggests that he has not confused the date with that of US release of the “Magic Bus – The Who on Tour” compilation album (September 1968).   The similarly detailed “Live at Leeds” (1970) liner notes written by music journalist Chris Charlesworth (with additions by Brian Cady) also give the release date of “Magic Bus” as 18th September.

 

The accounts in the liner notes of the 1970 and 1971 albums are more or less contemporaneous with the single’s release and so could be considered more reliable than more recent sources. The precise release date is omitted from various books and websites that provided a history of the band in diary format. It is possible that there were special circumstances surrounding the single’s release. “Magic Bus” entered the UK Top 50 at number 49 in the week of 23rd October and spent 5 weeks in the top 40.

 

[2] “I Can See For Miles” poster –

 

This poster was designed by Michael English and Nigel Waymouth in 1967. As ‘Hapshash and the Coloured Coat’ they created psychedelic posters for many English bands of the time, for concerts held at the UFO club and Saville Theatre and for underground magazine Oz. They also decorated and advertised Nigel Waymouth’s King’s Road boutique, ‘Granny Takes a Trip’. A copy of this poster is held in the Victoria and Albert Museum (London) collection.

 

As a member of The Who Fan Club, I was able to purchase an original, full-size poster in 1967. It then took pride of place amongst other Who and Hendrix posters on my bedroom wall. Later it would adorn the wall of my student accommodation and various rented flats when I was working. As such it remained on display for a period of at least 10 years.

 

[3] The recording of Magic Bus –

 

Whilst there is agreement on the May 29th date, there are two different accounts of the recording process. According to the Official Who website (thewho.com), the single was recorded at Advision Studios in London on May 29th and mixed at Gold Star Studios, Los Angeles sometime between 30 June and 7 July 1968. However, according to the sleeve liners of “Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy” (1971) and “Live at Leeds” (1970) at Hypertext Who (thewho.net discography) the single was recorded at IBC studios, London. According to engineer Damon Lyon-Shaw, the recording was then taken by Kit Lambert and never returned. Their previous single “Dogs” had been recorded at Advision but by September 1968 they were recording “Tommy” at IBC.
[See footnote [1] for details of sources]

 

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