The Who

Magic Bus

Song Review by

Rarely does a live recording of a song eclipse an already excellent original version so thoroughly as does the Live at Leeds (1970) recording of "Magic Bus." But this is the Who we are talking about, after all -- one of the most powerful live acts in pop music history. Beginning with clave woodblock percussion and the unmatched guitar tone of Pete Townshend strumming and playing off the echo of his own licks from the hall's back wall, he soon settles into the Bo Diddley beat of the song, joined soon by the equally heavy bass guitar thumps of John Entwistle. Entwistle needs only to hit the bass quietly to allow the audience to hear the instrument's potential force, held in muted check for the first three minutes and 20 seconds of the song. Townshend lowers the volume of his heavily amplified electric until it sounds so clean as he strums it that it almost sounds like an acoustic. The volatile wild man of the drums, Keith Moon, remains remarkably restrained for the whole time, though tension continues to build until Townshend drags the pick down the strings and Moon drops the claves and looses a fill to drive the band into a climax. The band brings it back down for another verse, Roger Daltry coolly singing off of the call-and-response background vocals of Townshend and Moon. Finally they release the tension again into the final maelstrom, every instrumentalist egging on the other, including the sensual vocal and harmonica improvisations of Roger Daltry. Townshend lets out a lead guitar part that demonstrates why this legendary master of the rhythm guitar was also an excellent soloist. A false ending launches into a seemingly improvised riff before finally landing on some blistering, very pre-Van Halen hammer-ons to put the song to bed. The original version is a highly percussive recording along the lines of Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson" -- released the same year -- both of which take the Everly Brothers' acoustic guitar attack as inspiration. The Everly's had taken the beat that Bo Diddley made famous on an electric guitar and translated it to a heavily strummed acoustic guitar. Here, the explosive Keith Moon is held to multi-layered woodblocks, creating a grooving and trippy rhythm until the end of the song, when he unleashes a torrential series of snare rolls. Recorded in the summer of 1968 by the band's longtime manager and producer, Kit Lambert, the propulsive track went to number 25 on the U.S. pop chart, one notch higher, ironically, than the 26 that it reached on the U.K. chart. The lyric of "Magic Bus" deals mostly in the type of teenage blues the early Who liked to cover on songs such as Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues" and Mose Allison's "Young Man's Blues: "Every day I get in the queue (Too much, Magic Bus)/To get on the bus that takes me to you (Too much, Magic Bus)/I'm so nervous, I just sit and smile (Too much, Magic Bus)/Your house is only another mile (Too much, Magic Bus)." Townshend also peppers the song with vague sexual innuendo: "I said, now I've got my Magic Bus (Too much, Magic Bus)/I drive my baby every way (Too much, Magic Bus)/Each time I go a different way (Too much, Magic Bus)." The excellent '90s English rock band Swervedriver did a faithful but powerful cover of "Magic Bus" for the 1999 Forces of Nature soundtrack.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Magic Bus 1968 MCA 3:21
Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy 1971 MCA 3:21
No Image 1974 MCA
No Image 1976
The Kids Are Alright [Video] 1979 Sanctuary
No Image 1980 MCA
Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy/Who by Numbers 1982 MCA
The Who 1985 Grupo Laser Disc
No Image 1986
Various Artists
Vestron
Who's Better, Who's Best 1988 MCA 3:19
No Image 1991
Thirty Years of Maximum R&B 1994 MCA 3:16
My Generation: The Very Best of the Who 1996 MCA 3:15
Jerry Maguire 1996
Original Soundtrack
Epic Soundtrax / Sony Music Distribution 7:34
From the Earth to the Moon [Original TV Soundtrack] 1998
Original TV Soundtrack
Playtone Records / Sony Music Distribution 3:18
20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of The Who 1999 MCA 3:17
The Ultimate Collection 2002 Universal Distribution 3:22
The Singles 2003 Polydor 3:17
20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: 60's Rock 2003
Various Artists
Universal International 3:17
Let It Rock, Vol. 2 [DVD] 2004
Various Artists
Classic Pictures
Then and Now: 1964-2004 2004 UMVD 3:20
The Early Collection: Magic Bus/Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy/Who's Missing 2004 Griffin 3:21
Greatest Hits 2009 Geffen 3:16
Greatest Hits & More 2010 Polydor 7:33
Icon 2011 Geffen 3:17
Icon 2 2011 Geffen 3:17
The Who Hits 50! 2014 Geffen 4:36
Maximum A's & B's 2017 MCA / Polydor 3:20
Top Gear 'Full Throttle'
Various Artists
Universal Music 3:21