"Magic Bus" is a song written by Pete Townshend during the time that My Generation was being recorded in 1965. However, it was not recorded by The Who until 1968 and released in the UK on 18 September 1968. It has become one of the band's most popular songs and has been a concert staple, although when released, the record only reached number 26 in the United Kingdom and number 25 in the United States.
The song's arrangement uses a Latin percussion instrument known as claves. These are pairs of small wooden sticks that make a distinctive high pitched clicking noise when struck together. The Who previously used this same instrument on the song "Disguises", which was recorded in 1966.
The song makes use of the Bo Diddley beat.
The song was not recorded by The Who at the time it was written, but the band's management and music publisher circulated a Townshend demo recording of the song in 1966. A version was released as a single in the UK in April 1967 by an obscure band called The Pudding, in the UK on Decca and in the US on London's Press label. It was not a hit.
The song is usually performed as a duet, where the "Rider", usually singer Roger Daltrey when live, is riding on the bus every day to see his girl. In the song he asks the "Driver", usually Townshend, if he can buy the bus from him, with the driver's initial answer being no. After haggling for a while, the driver finally lets him have it and he vows to drive it to his girlfriend's house every day.
The original LP and cassette of the Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy compilation album featured a 4:28 longer alternate vocal take of "Magic Bus" in fake stereo which was not included on the original compact disc version because the true stereo or mono source could not be found for the long version of the song. However, on 25 July 2007, Universal Japan re-released the album in a mini-LP sleeve that includes the long alternate version of "Magic Bus" in fake stereo, as on the original album. This longer mix features an alternate vocal track, an extended middle section, and does not fade out at the end. (The original single length version did appear in true stereo only on the US "Magic Bus" LP.)
The song appeared in the band's 1979 film The Kids Are Alright taken from the 1968 single performance. It was subsequently released on The Kids Are Alright film soundtrack. That version is the mono single version, but slowed down, resulting in the song being a semi-tone lower in pitch and slightly longer at 3:21. The Polydor CD Remaster of "The Kids Are Alright", issued in 2000, mistakenly states "Remixed stereo version", and should state "Remixed mono version". The 2014 compilation The Who Hits 50! features the alternate vocal long version at 4:34 in mono.
"Magic Bus" was first performed during The Who's 1968 tour and was part of the regular set from 1971 to 1976 (it was performed frequently in early-mid 1969 and less often in 1970). It was played less frequently after Keith Moon's death in 1978, but it was frequently used as the closing song on the 2015-2016 The Who Hits 50! tour. When played live, the song typically featured a lengthy instrumental jam, with some performances lasting over 15 minutes.
A notable performance can be heard on the album Live at Leeds. This version stretches out to nearly eight minutes, with Roger Daltrey joining the jam playing harmonica. This recording was used during the musical montage sequence in the final act of Martin Scorsese's film Goodfellas as well as the opening sequence of Cameron Crowe's Jerry Maguire. Another notable performance of the song took place at The Vegas Job concert in 1999. The rhythm and beat of the song was significantly altered to a slower groove, and Townshend and Daltrey ad libbed a few verses. The harmonica jam returned again, and the song stretched out to nearly ten minutes.
On the Thirty Years of Maximum R&B Live DVD, John Entwistle cited "Magic Bus" as his least favorite song to play, as most of its bass part consisted of a single note played ad nauseam.
It was stated on several occasions during their 2009 tour of Australia and Japan that they were unable to play the song, with Townshend stating, "We can't play Magic Bus right now.... But if you shout loud enough... We definitely won't play it."
In 1985, Alvin and the Chipmunks covered the song for their TV series episode "The Prize Isn't Right".
Swervedriver made a cover of the song, which is featured on the Forces of Nature soundtrack.
The song was featured on "Driver Ed", an episode of the television series Veronica Mars.
Simon LeBon of Duran Duran recorded a cover version of the song. The track was released on the Japanese-only compilation album Nescafe Excella: Sounds of Summer in 1996.
The song was written by Pete Townshend during the time that My Generation was being recorded in 1965. However, it was not recorded by The Who until July 1968. In April 1967, "Magic Bus" was initially recorded by The Pudding.