BLUE MAGIC-MYSTIC DRAGONS.

BLUE MAGIC-MYSTIC DRAGONS.

The story of Blue Magic, is far from unique. Their eponymous debut album Blue Magic, released in January 1974, reached number forty-five in the US Billboard 200 and number four in the US R&B Charts. This resulted in Blue Magic being certified gold. Blue Magic featured the million-selling Philly Soul classic Sideshow, written by Vinnie Barrett and Bobby “Electronic” Eli. Sadly, after their debut album, Blue Magic failed to replicate the success of Blue Magic.

The Magic of The Blue, released in December 1974, reached number seventy-one in the US Billboard 200 and number fourteen in the US R&B Charts. Even when the Vinnie Barrett and Bobby “Electronic” Eli, penned Three Ring Circus was released as a single, it stalled at number thirty-eight in the US Billboard 100 and number five in the US R&B Charts. Blue Magic’s fortunes improve during 1975.

1975 saw Blue Magic embark on their first world tour. It lasted sixteen grueling and exhausting weeks. However, their luck was about to improve. Blue Magic won an Ebony Award for the best new group. Then in September 1975, their third album, Thirteen Blue Magic Lane reached number fifty in the US Billboard 200 and number nine in the US R&B Charts. With Blue Magic’s fortunes improving, work began on their third album Mystic Dragons. For Mystic Dragons, there would be some changes.

Unlike Blue Magic’s first three albums, Norman Harris wasn’t producing Mystic Dragons. Neither would Norman provide any of the songs on Mystic Dragons. Given Norman had co-written eleven songs on Blue Magic’s three previous albums this would be a huge void. Another void was the loss of the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section. They’re didn’t provide Mystic Dragon’s heartbeat. Only Norman Harris would play on Mystic Dragons. For Mystic Dragons, Bobby “Electronic” Eli would produce and cowrote six of the nine tracks.

Mystic Dragons featured nine tracks, with Bobby “Electronic” Eli contributing six tracks. With Vinnie Barrett, Bobby “Electronic” Eli penned To Get Love (You Must Give Love). Bobby cowrote Freak-N-Steln, Mother Funk, Summer Snow and Making Love To A Memory with Len Barry. They then penned Rock ‘N’ Roll Revival with Keith Barrow, who wrote It’s Something About Love. Blue Magic’s lead singer wrote Spark of Love and cowrote See The Bedroom with Keith Beaton. These nine tracks became Mystic Dragons, which was recorded at Philly’s Sigma Sound Studios.

Blue Magic returned to Philly’s Sigma Sound Studios for the recording of Mystic Dragons. They were accompanied by some of Philly’s best musicians. The rhythm section included bassists Larry LaBes and Michael “Sugarbear” Forman, drummers Jerry James and Larry James plus guitarists Bobby “Electronic” Eli, Norman Harris, T.J. Tindall and Ted Cohen. Vince Montana Jr, played vibes, Larry Washington congas and percussion and Evette Benton tambourine. Carlton “Cotton” Kent, Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey and Erskine Mills played keyboards, while Dexter Wansell and Travers Huff played synths. Alto saxophonist Jack Faith and violinist Don Renaldo were part of the woodwind, string and horn section that featured on Mystic Dragons. Add backing vocals were The Sweethearts of Sigma, Carla Benson, Evette Benton and Barbara Ingram. Once Blue Magic had finished recording Mystic Dragons, it was released in 1976.

On the release of Mystic Dragons in 1976, it was the least successful album of Blue Magic’s career. It stalled at number 170 in the US Billboard 200 and number forty-four in the US R&B Charts. Three singles were released from Mystic Dragons during 1976. Freak-N-Steln only reached number seventy-three in the US R&B Charts. It’s Something About Love then reached number forty-eight in the US R&B Charts. Summer Snow proved to be the most successful single, reaching number forty in the US R&B Charts. This must have been hugely disappointing for Blue Magic. This was a long way from their million-selling album Blue Magic and single SIdeshow. So, why wasn’t Mystic Dragons a commercial success? That’s what I’ll tell you, after I’ve told you about the music on Mystic Dragons.

Opening Mystic Dragons is Freak-N-Steln, penned by Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Len Barry. Straight away, you hear a very different sound to Blue Magic. It’s a tougher, funkier sound, but still soulful. Searing guitars, stabs of keyboards and a funk-laden rhythm section combine, before a powerful, almost dramatic vocal enters. Sweeping harmonies provide the soulful side of the track. Growling horns add to the tough, funky side, while soaring synths from Dexter Wansell provide another new side to Blue Magic. Although a long way from the dreamy, wistful sound of Sideshow and Three Ring Circus, it’s almost as Blue Magic are trying to reinvent themselves. While it’s still a quality track, maybe the new sound alienated Philly Soul lovers?

To Get Love (You Must Give Love) has a much more Blue Magic sound. Written by Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Vinnie Barrett, the track has a dreamy, melancholy sound. It features Ted Mills’ first lead vocal. The tempo slows, keyboards, a wandering bass and Vince Montana Jr’s bass combining. Then comes Ted’s tender, heartfelt vocal. Accompanying him, are harmonies from The Sweethearts of Sigma and the rest of Blue Magic. A piano and bass play a crucial role in the arrangement, while the drums reflect the drama and emotion in Ted’s vocal. Synths are deployed, and thankfully, don’t detract from the arrangement. Norman Harris’ chiming guitar makes an appearance, on this beautiful ballad, that quite simply, is one of the highlights of Mystic Dragons.

See The Bedroom sees another change in style. There’s everything from rock, funk and soul combining. Sometimes, there’s even a psychedelic era Beatles sound in the mix. The rhythm section, searing guitars and blazing horns combine with vocal, before the track heads in a dramatic and soulful direction. It’s the vocal that provides the soulfulness, while the rhythm section, horns and synths that add the drama. Cascading harmonies and searing guitars accompany Ted’s vocal, as Blue Magic combine elements of Philly Soul, psychedelia and funk. Drama and soulfulness are combined, as Blue Magic continue to reinvent themselves with this experimental track. Ironically, the previous track, which had Blue Magic’s name written all over it, is what they do best. 

Given the title Mother Funk, it’s no surprise the track has a heavy-duty funky sound. It’s like Blue Magic trying to reinvent themselves as Funkadelic. From the get go, riffing guitars, blazing horns and a pounding, funky rhythm section accompany the vocal. It’s edgy, tough and sassy. Cascading, soulful harmonies and percussion join an arrangement where, a driving rhythm section, growling horns and riffing guitars combine. Then Don Renaldo unleashes a violin solo. Country and folk are his reference points. Somehow, Blue Magic have managed to pull off the impossible, by combining elements of Philly Soul, funk and Southern Rock. By then, Blue Magic’s mystical, heady brew of musical genres suddenly all makes sense. This seems a fitting way to close Side One of Mystic Dragons.

Summer Snow opens Side Two of Mystic Dragons, with a much more Blue Magic sounding track. They return to their Philly Soul sound. Just a combination of the rhythm section, piano, Vince Montana Jr’s vibes and chiming guitars accompany Ted’s tender vocal. Suddenly all is well with the world, as Blue Magic do what they do so well. I can even forgive the use of the synths. When the vocal changes hands, Blue Magic showcase their combined vocal prowess. Similarly, their harmonies are tight, heartfelt and soulful, as they do what they do best, deliver soulful, beautiful music. 

As Rock ‘N’ Roll Revival unfolds, it’s as if Blue Magic are in church, testifying. Then having given thanks, the arrangement explodes. Searing guitars and a driving rhythm section accompany the powerful, joyous vocal. Funk, rock and soul combine. Slide guitar and piano play leading roles, complete with handclaps and gospel harmonies from Blue Magic and The Sweethearts of Sigma. The result is an infectiously catchy, genre-sprawling track, hook-laden track.

Just an understated arrangement opens It’s Something About Love. Synths, a subtle rhythm section and flute combine, before Ted’s vocal enters. The only problem is the synths, which jar.  This means Ted’s vocal is forced to compete with the synths. His vocal is a mixture of hope and happiness, but tinged with confusion.  Subtle sweeping, cooing harmonies, piano and rasping horns combine, as the vocal changes hands. From there, Ted’s vocal grows in power, passion and joy, complete with some delicious harmonies. Apart from the synths, which seem out of place and jar somewhat, this is a gorgeous Philly Soul ballad, which demonstrates that even by 1976, Blue Magic had neither lost any of their soulfulness, nor magic.

Making Love To A Memory is the last of the Len Barry and Bobby “Electronic” Eli songs. Just Vince Montana Jr’s vibes and keyboards combine, before a burst of drums signals the cooing, tender harmonies to sweep in. Blue Magic are joined by The Sweethearts of Sigma as the lead vocal is delivered with sadness and regret. Harmonies answer the vocal, sweeping in, as if sympathizing with the plight. Meanwhile, the arrangement allows the vocal and harmonies to take centre-stage. Just the rhythm section, keyboards and percussion accompany Blue Magic, as they roll back the years, delivering a vintage slice of Philly Soul.

Closing Mystic Dragons is Spark of Love, penned by Ted Mils. The rhythm section build the drama and emotion, before the lead vocal enters. It’s hurt-filled and emotive, with the synths providing an accompaniment. Sometimes, it seems out of place, competing with the vocal and harmonies. Here, it’s a case of the synths are overused. A little goes a long way. They should’ve been used sparingly. It’s a shame, as Blue Magic are at their soulful, dramatic and emotive best. The arrangement cascades along, like a merry-go-round. Just the rhythm section, piano provide the accompaniment to Blue Magic. For their part Blue Magic seem to drive each other to greater heights of emotion, drama and sheer soulfulness.

So, Blue Magic’s fourth album Mystic Dragons, produced by Bobby “Electronic” Eli saw a change in sound and style from one of Philly Soul’s giants. With Norman Harris no longer producing Blue Magic, their familiar Philly Soul sound changed. Gone were the lush strings of the three previous albums. Similarly, the horns were used much more sparingly. The Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section were also badly missed. So too, were the songwriting skills of Norman Harris and his various songwriting partners. Having said that, this doesn’t mean Mystic Dragons is a bad album. Quite the opposite. There’s much to commend Mystic Dragons

Producer Bobby “Electronic” Eli combined elements of funk, rock and even psychedelia with Philly Soul. Freak-N-Steln and the Funkadelic inspired are very different to Blue Magic’s previous music. Of the two tracks, Mother Funk works best. On See The Bedroom, Philly Soul, funk and Southern Rock are fused. Somehow this works, and works well. Rock ‘N’ Roll Revival is a hook-laden track where Blue Magic and The Sweethearts of Sigma testify their way through the track, fusing Funk, rock, soul and gospel. Ironically, although each of these tracks see producer Bobby “Electronic” Eli take Blue Magic out of their comfort zone, it was the Philly Soul tracks which stand out.

Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Vinnie Barrett, who penned Blue Magic’s biggest single Sideshow, cowote The To Get Love (You Must Give Love). This was the best track on Mystic Dragons. It had a lovely, dreamy, wishful sound, just like Sideshow and Three Ring Circus. Of the other four tracks, Summer Snow and Making Love To A Memory see Blue Magic back to their soulful best. Both are tracks quite beautiful slices of Philly Soul. So too are It’s Something About Love and Spark of Love, which could’ve been an even better tracks if the synths hadn’t been used during the track. Overall, the five Philly Soul tracks were what Blue Magic did so well. However, given the change in musical tastes, Blue Magic’s music had to change.

Disco was now the most popular musical genre. Funk was also a popular musical genre. Philly Soul was no longer as popular. So it made sense for Blue Magic to change direction. However, Mystic Dragons didn’t sell well. Indeed, Mystic Dragons was the least successful album of Blue Magic’s career. While Mystic Dragons is a good album, it doesn’t match the quality of their first three albums. For anyone looking to discover the music of Blue Magic, then Blue Magic, The Magic of The Blue and Thirteen Blue Magic Lane are the place to start. After that, Mystic Dragons is an album to explore and enjoy, as Blue Magic open the next chapter in their career. Standout Tracks: To Get Love (You Must Give Love), Summer Snow, It’s Something About Love and Making Love To A Memory.

BLUE MAGIC-MYSTIC DRAGONS.


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