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‘It Must Be Magic’: Teena Marie Hones Her Musical Vision

The album saw Teena embody a boundary-lessness of spirit that defied man-made notions of color, culture, and identity.

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Teena Marie It Must Be Magic album cover
Cover: Courtesy of Universal Music

With two releases in 1980, Teena Marie was on a roll, hitting her stride as one of Motown’s rising stars. She had two Top 10 R&B hits under her belt, a Top 10 R&B album, and street credibility unlike any white artist before her; credibility earned not just from Rick James’ endorsement, but the messaging in her music and poetry which made her alignment with Black culture and politics clear.

She spent the end of 1980 and the beginning of 1981 in the studio trading musical favors with James: she contributed vocals to his Street Songs album, and he contributed to her project that would become known to the world in May 1981 as It Must Be Magic.

Listen to Teena Marie’s It Must Be Magic now.

Musically, It Must Be Magic is a symphonic tsunami of sound with out-of-this-world string and horn arrangements, unforgettable bass lines, and intricate percussion. A fusion of players from Ozone, James’ Stone City Band, and Punk Funk Horns added their touch to Magic alongside top session players like Paulinho Da Costa, Gerald Albright, and Patrice Rushen.

The album’s first and biggest single, “Square Biz” is Teena’s declaration of her musical and cultural vision. In a rap – something she decided to do after hearing Blondie’s “Rapture” while working on Magic – Teena name drops everyone and everything that inspired her: gospel music, Nikki Giovanni, Sarah Vaughan, and her godmother’s collard greens. The song shot to #3 on the R&B chart, catapulted the album to the #2 position on the R&B Album chart, and earned her first gold record. The album pays homage to her roots, down to its back cover shot on Venice Beach with a rainbow coalition of children.

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While the album’s two subsequent singles, the title track and the sultry “Portuguese Love,” would stall at #30 and #54 on the R&B singles chart, respectively, “Portuguese Love,” “Where’s California” and the heart-wrenching “Yes Indeed” would all become enduring Quiet Storm classics.

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Teena utilized poetry in the album’s liner notes to contemplate the physical and psychic violence of racism. It Must Be Magic spoke to the problems of the past, present, and future. Mourning the murder of John Lennon, she scoffed at the accessibility of guns and the killing of progressive political figures in “Revolution,” dedicating the album – her last Motown effort – to Lennon, John and Robert Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In so doing, Teena embodied a boundary-lessness of spirit that defied man-made notions of color, culture, and identity.

Listen to Teena Marie’s It Must Be Magic now.

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