Magic Man and Other Tales

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(Pictured: Nancy and Ann Wilson on stage with Heart in 2019).

Here a story I didn’t have room for last month when I was writing about Charles Manson’s musical connections, and his attempts to ingratiate himself with various players on the Laurel Canyon scene. In his book Creepy Crawling, author Jeffrey Melnick deals with the rumor that Heart’s 1976 hit “Magic Man” is about Manson, and that any money the song earned was turned over to him. It’s easy to understand how people might leap to that conclusion, considering that the song is about a charismatic man with seemingly hypnotic power attempting to win over a young woman whose mother prefers that she come home.

The “Magic Man” tale isn’t true (and the rumor was persistent enough that Ann and Nancy Wilson debunked it in their 2013 memoir Kicking and Dreaming), but 1976 provided fertile soil for Manson-related rumors. Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s 1974 account of the Tate-La Bianca case, Helter Skelter, had just been turned into a highly rated TV miniseries. Manson’s renewed presence in popular culture made him especially potent as what Melnick calls a “culture-generator.”

Manson wasn’t the only culture-generator in the middle of the 1970s. Melnick mentions that a lot of people believe that Hall and Oates’ “Rich Girl” is about Patty Hearst.

Since there’s space left today, here’s some recent recommended reading from the last couple of weeks:

—I wonder how many radio stations that don’t normally do news outside of morning drive bothered to update listeners on the coup attempt at the Capitol last week, and how many just ignored it until the next morning. ‘Twas not always thus. In the 70s, even progressive and “underground” stations prioritized informational programming, and some got it via News Blimps, highly produced three-minute features that weren’t newscasts but were informative nevertheless. The producers of News Blimps have launched an archive that’s very cool.

—At least two generations of Americans know Burl Ives only as the voice of Sam the Snowman on the animated Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, first seen in 1964. But by then, he had already enjoyed a colorful decades-long career as one of the nation’s top folk singers, a radio star, and movie actor, and he got caught up in the blacklist of the 50s. Here’s a profile.

The Guardian profiled Carolyn Franklin, Aretha’s sister, and a gifted artist in her own right.

—If you have not already seen the latest installment of Gone in Threes, Jeff Ash’s annual roundup of those we have lost, go there now. Fittingly, it blows my mind in three ways: the number of irreplaceables we lose each year, Jeff’s thoroughness in finding all of them, and the clever ways he groups them. Insert standing ovation here.

—The Musical Divide is a country-music site I’ve been reading for a while, but you don’t have to know or like country music to appreciate this essay, in which Zackary Kephart writes about how his grandparents made him a country-music fan.

—I have written several times over the years about Jack Blanchard and Misty Morgan, who were once described as Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood on acid, and whose “Tennessee Birdwalk” was the biggest of several uniquely bent country-pop records they made at the turn of the 70s. I exchanged a bit of e-mail with them several years ago, and I am sorry to hear of Misty’s death on New Year’s Day at age 76.

—Also on New Year’s Day, we passed a milestone: 50 years since cigarette advertising was banned on American TV. Cigarette maker Philip Morris spent over a million dollars on ads running on network late-night talk shows on January 1, 1971, and the final ad, airing just before midnight Eastern time, featured a young model named Veronica Hamel. Here’s an ABC News report from that night about the end of the era.

—Bandleader Guy Lombardo was a fixture on New Year’s Eve, starting on radio in 1929, and then on television starting in 1959, until his death in 1977. Here’s a piece of his final broadcast, from December 31, 1976. It also features the final New Year’s Eve appearance by Ben Grauer in Times Square. Grauer, who also died in 1977, covered practically every major news event from the 30s to the 60s, although he is best remembered for his New Year’s Eve broadcasts. As he waits for the ball to drop, Grauer says that 1977 will be “a year of expectancy, of curiosity, and hope…a year that’s another adventure in the hearts of mankind.”

I don’t know about you, but I kinda felt the same way about 2021 until I got a look at it.

12 thoughts on “Magic Man and Other Tales

    1. mikehagerty

      Alvaro: The FCC gradually loosened its requirements on radio news, believing most markets had enough stations that not all of them needed to provide a traditional newscast and that audience demand would cause a handful to still provide them. That’s pretty much how it’s worked out—with music stations having someone in the morning to dispense information that, with a straight (ish) face, the station can justify as “news”.

      1. Maybe this is a topic for a future post, but I found it remarkable after 9/11 how many stations rediscovered a news obligation, whether it was dumping regular programming on 9/11 itself to carry news programming, or to run more frequent updates in the days and weeks that followed. These stations eventually went back to what they’d been doing before. The attack on the Capitol was the biggest breaking news story since 9/11, but it wasn’t covered the same way. Stations that didn’t ignore it maybe referred listeners to the station in their group that still carries news or talk programming, if there is one, or referred them to TV “news partners.” Which is fine, I guess, but you’re sitting right there with a microphone and with CNN open on your internet browser—so maybe tell the people a little about what’s happening?

  1. Wesley

    I don’t know what’s more shocking about that ABC News report–that it showed so many cigarette commercials, or that it ran four minutes. My God, the variety, the volume and often high production value of ads for a carcinogen on TV for more than two decades was mind-boggling. Even though I haven’t seen many of them, a lot are familiar because of me collecting Mad magazines as a child, and they constantly spoofed the ads. I also heard a bloopers record from Kermit Schafer doing an off-color version of the Chesterfield theme about going to Fire Island and seeing gay men, although they used a pejorative term. And seeing Lee Marvin for Pall Mall made me wonder if he was that much a smoker in real life (he died of a heart attack at age 63 in 1987).

      1. Wesley

        Mike, that’s hysterical! Great find. RIP Lee Marvin, Tom Snyder and Don Rickles, all sorely missed, at least by me.

  2. porky

    Your mention of the cigarette advertising ban brought to mind “little cigars,” the industry’s attempt to bypass the ban. I don’t remember the brand but one of them re-wrote Santana’s “Evil Ways” for their jingle.

    Recently watched a documentary from the late 90’s on The Band and in every interview Levon Helm had a cigarette going. Knowing how it ended for him, it made me a little mad/sad.

      1. mikehagerty

        Tijuana Smalls, too. They advertised heavily on KHJ in ’71. Here’s the TV spot. Same jingle (and maybe voiceover) as the radio ads:

  3. Pingback: Work Ethic of a Hobo – The Hits Just Keep On Comin'

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