This Issue's Song to Remember: "Magnet and Steel"
by Amelie Frank
"For you are a magnet, and I . . . am a refrigerator"
--Bill Murray guest starring as a substitute teacher on "Square Pegs"
"For you are a maggot and I am veal,"
--an eight-year-old Walter Egan fan, mishearing the lyrics
Ex-Kingsman John Stewart (My Edit: John Stewart was a member of The Kingston Trio, not The Kingsmen. tsk. tsk.) produced a hit single titled "Gold" about the '70s music scene in Southern California. Sharp-eared listeners may recall Stevie Nicks singing backup on "Gold," which included the plight of "my buddy Jim Bass/ he's a workin' pumpin' gas/ makes $2.50 for an hour." In the mid-1970s, the California sound enjoyed a significant market share of the airwaves, thanks to such sunkissed deities as the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt (who was then dating California's Governor Moonbeam, Jerry Brown), Toto, Bob Welch, Nicolette Larson, Andrew Gold, Jackson Browne, and Fleetwood Mac (but, alas, not Jim Bass). This month's "Bringing Out the Dead" puts the spotlight on one song from that era that wove its charms tightly and forever around my heart: Walter Egan's enchanting ballad "Magnet & Steel."
It was Egan's only hit, but it has recently resurfaced on a number of soundtracks (movie and TV), sounding as fresh and lovestruck as the day it was minted in 1977. It's a simple love song, a gently arranged number that opens with a trio of female voices swooning "Oooooooooooh. Oooooh. Ahhhhh." There's an earnest declaration of love from Egan, who doesn't think he has a shot at anything lasting with his objet d'amour, a tender guitar solo with a bit of rockabilly quiver, and something like sweet little chimes in the chorus. It's a great number for a slow dance. And yet, in researching the song, I have learned that there's quite a bit more to it than I ever imagined.
First of all, I had no idea that Fleetwood Mac was tied up in the genesis of this song. That's Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham on the backing vocals (okay, so it's two female voices and one dude swooning "Oooooooooooh. Oooooh. Ahhhhh."), along with Buckingham on guitar and Mick Fleetwood on drums. The vocals are so beautifully blended and I've been so besotted with their texture for 23 years that it hasn't ever occurred to me to identify the voices until now. In seeking to identify them, I've unearthed the following history.
Born in 1948 in Jamaica, New York, Egan spent the early part of his music career zigzagging up and down the East Coast in a surf band called The Malibooz and a folk group called Sageworth & Drums. He hooked up with Emmylou Harris when she recorded Egan's "Hearts on Fire" with Gram Parsons on the "Grievous Angel" album. Following Harris to Los Angeles, Walter Egan became noteworthy on the L.A. scene after being offered Andrew Gold's berth on Linda Rondstadt's band and jamming with the likes of John Belushi at Hoot Night at the Troubadour. What Egan hankered for, though, was a solo career, which he found when he was introduced to Lindsay Buckingham (My Edit: For the record, and this really irks me, his name is LindsEy Buckingham, not LindsAy Buckingham. grrr.) and Stevie Nicks in 1976.
On the threshold of their own superstardom with Fleetwood Mac, Buckingham and Nicks co-produced Egan's first album, "Fundamental Roll." Nicks, Buckingham, and Mick Fleetwood subsequently worked on Egan's second album, "Not Shy." Nicks, who was experiencing some turbulence with Buckingham at the time-- contributed several other tunes to "Not Shy," but when Egan wanted to record her song "Sisters of the Moon," Buckingham balked. Egan was trying to maintain his personal and professional equilibrium with Buckingham and Nicks, but found himself falling for Nicks: "You may or may not know that, for a short time at the end of 1976, Stevie and I were, how you say, together, and the story of 'Magnet & Steel' is somewhat contained therein."
Looking back on the lyrics, it makes so much sense that the song is about Nicks: "I can't hope that I'll hold you for long / You're a woman who's lost in your song." Considering the dance of attraction evoked between the masculine figure of "steel" and the female allure of "magnet," it seems likely that "Magnet & Steel" might have inspired Nicks' 1981 hit duet with Don Henley, "Leather and Lace." Egan has said, "She seemed very pleased when I told her that "Magnet & Steel" was about her."He may not have gotten the girl in the end, but he did nab a top ten hit, notching at Billboard position #8 in 1978.
In 1981, as California mellow gave way to New Wave, Egan reunited with The Malibooz in Los Angeles, and they were voted Best Surf Vocal Group in 1997 by the readers of Surf Music USA magazine. After dabbling with acting, appearing on a number of game shows, and even filling in as a Veejay on MTV in 1984, Egan married and lives now with his wife and kids just outside of Nashville, Tennessee, where he's still making a go of music with three (three!) bands: Walternative, the Malibooz, and the country-rock flavored Brooklyn Cowboys. He lost a portion of his recorded work in a studio fire, but his instruments were spared. He also sculpts and works as a multimedia artist (linocut, collage, silkscreen, and woodcut), and exhibited in Soho in New York City in 1996. That's his woodcut print on Lindsey Buckingham's 1992 "Out of the Cradle" CD sleeve. "Magnet & Steel" has recently appeared on soundtracks for DEUCE BIGALOW, MALE GIGOLO, OVERNIGHT DELIVERY, BOOGIE NIGHTS, and THE NIGHT WE NEVER MET (as covered by Jeffrey Gaines). Other covers include reggae artist Dean Frasier, Egan again for a strange karaoke compilation, and Matthew Sweet on the soundtrack for the series SABRINA THE TEENAGED WITCH (with Lindsey Buckingham on guitar and backing vocals).
Egan's mighty lonesome guitar solo in the break of the song is delivered on a "nice, fat, old, black Les Paul" as a tribute to Duane Eddy-style doo-wop. The charming baby "chimes" sprinkled throughout the chorus were actually produced on a toy piano, which Egan credits as Lindsey Buckingham's bright idea. Here are the rest of the known particulars.
"Magnet & Steel"
Written by Walter Egan
From the album "Not Shy"
Guitar: Walter Egan and Lindsey Buckingham Drums: Mick Fleetwood
Backup singers: Lindsey Buckingham (low), Annie McLoone (middle), Steve Nicks (high); the CD lists John Selk instead of Buckingham, but Egan, and McLoone insist it is Buckingham, not Selk singing
SchoenHut toy piano: Steven Hague
Producers: Walter Egan, Lindsay (grrr.) Buckingham, Richard Dashut
Engineered by Lindsey Buckingham
To read an extensive fan Q&A with Walter Egan, I suggest this wonderful Fleetwood Mac site, which gave me a lot of background info on Egan and "Magnet & Steel" at THE FLEETWOOD MAC SITE