Steppenwolf had a habit of capturing the zeitgeist. Their second single, the ever robust ‘Born To Be Wild,’ became an anthem for a generation thanks to its prominent use in the groundbreaking countercultural movie Easy Rider, which, released in 1969, single-handedly sent the film industry in a new direction in the coming decade. Yet, despite the song’s ubiquitous use as the go-to theme tune for youthful rebellion the world over, a subsequent Steppenwolf single has, arguably, had more longevity.
Issued in September 1968, just three months after ‘Born To Be Wild’, ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ entered the US Hot 100 on 5 October; eventually flying to No. 3 in the US charts, it became the group’s second (and last) top five entry in the US, and their longest-charting single, staying on the Hot 100 for 16 weeks. It was the product of a particularly fertile period for the group, appearing on their second album of that year, The Second, and also finding its way onto the soundtrack of the little-known Marlon Brando sexcapade, Candy, in December 1968.
Built around a bass riff conjured by Steppenwolf bassist Rushton Moreve, and with lyrics inspired by the stereo system that frontman John Kay had bought with the royalties from the band’s self-titled debut album (“I like to dream/Yes, yes/Right between my sound machine” allegedly came to Kay after he took a demo of the song home to listen to), ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ has since risen above its inauspicious first celluloid outing to appear in a number of hip films – either as a shortcut to conjuring up a bygone era, or, in one particular case, recontextualised against the backdrop of a gritty indie gangster flick.
Released in 1999, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, the second in the arch spoof franchise, featured ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ during an evocative retro nightclub scene, while 2001 hipster comedy Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back knowingly relied on the song’s countercultural reference points for its own playful homage.
For serious movie buffs, however, it’ll be the version that appeared in Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino’s controversial hit of 1992, that remains the most potent. A cover recorded by Nashville-based group Bedlam, the song’s appearance in the film means that Steppenwolf can lay claim to having played an important part in two game-changing indie hits that went on to shape generations of movie-makers. Whether that was their wish or not, it certainly testifies to a level of – ahem – genie-us in the song.
‘Magic Carpet Ride’ is on The Second, which can be bought here.
Follow the This Is Steppenwolf playlist.