#ThrowUpThursday: Steve Miller Band's 'Abracadbra'!


Though they may not be a complete musical match, Steve Miller and Bob Seger have a lot in common; They both had a very respectable early periods in the late '60s/early '70s that saw them putting out AT LEAST an album a year and touring the hell out of it. Both had built large followings in the U.S. and Canada through constant recording and touring, but it wasn't until 1976 that the entire country woke up to their respective greatness.

For Seger, it was the one-two punch of Live Bullet and Night Moves, released six months apart, that finally put him over the top. The radio was hitting us hard with the song "Night Moves", as well as "Mainstreet" and "Rock & Roll Never Forgets".

Meanwhile, fighting for that same coveted heavy rotation slot was Steve Miller's Fly Like An Eagle album, spawning one stone-cold radio smash with legs after another. "Take The Money & Run", "Rock'n Me", and, of course, the song for which the album was named.



And thus began a run of five Top 20 singles, just as many platinum albums, and hundreds of sold-out shows everywhere they went.

At some point, something had to give, right? That something was "The Eighties". Even before MTV changed the landscape a few years later, 1980 had seen an onslaught of highly visual post-punk and new wave bands begin to flirt with mainstream success. The Steve Miller Band were not a visual band by any stretch. Cyndi Lauper may get recognized everywhere she goes, Steve Miller, not so much.

No doubt crushed by the fact that Circle of Love had failed to hit the Top 20 (poor guys), the band went into emergency mode and Steve Miller wrote the song that both saved and killed his career, "Abracadabra".

Released on the 1982 album of the same name, "Abracadabra" was a kitschy blues number adorned in just enough synths and vocoders of the day to not sound too out of place next to A Flock of Seagulls and Duran Duran. The only problem was that it didn't sound anything like the chugging guitar of "Rock'n Me".

This was the sort of lightweight pop with vague blues sensibilities and zero edge that Huey Lewis would build a career upon, but for a band that was still very much beloved by the album-oriented rock crowd, it was a shocking about-face.

From a production standpoint, it's as if recording engineer David Cole threw every bell and whistle he could find on the song, transforming an otherwise modest blues rocker into a collection of now-dated sound f/x. Thing is, it had zero in common with the rest of the album.

Sure, the song went to #1, the album to #3, but Steve Miller's name would never grace the Top 40 charts ever again. In fact, the next album, Italian X-Rays, couldn't even break the Top 100. Two more sub-par chart performances would lead them to part ways with longtime label Capitol Records.

There are those that will defend the song but, for all of its initial meteoric success,  this writer contends that "Abracadabra" did as much long-term damage to the Steve Miller Band's "brand" as "We Built This City" did for Starship or that cheesy "Rock Me Tonite" video did for Billy Squier.

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