Twilley Don’t Mind, the Dwight Twilley Band’s second album arrived with a thud in 1977, only managing to rise to #70 in the Billboard Charts. A single, “Looking for the Magic,” was not a radio hit, despite an earworm of a pop hook. In the nascent days of music television, the song’s accompanying video got a lot of play – Twilley and his band mate, the late Phil Seymour, were very pretty boys – but that was about the extent of it. But now “Looking for the Magic” is back in a most peculiar place as a recurring theme in Adam Wingard’s wicked new horror thriller You’re Next.
The idea of a song that keeps repeating was written into Simon Barrett’s script, a story about a family that finds itself under siege in an isolated country home when masked intruders attack in the middle of dinner.
“We knew it had to be something that is going to hold up for an entire movie,” says director Adam Wingard. “I knew it had to be a classic rock song, but the problem was our budget wouldn’t allow us to pick something that was – most classic rock songs that are good have already been done in a movie and they already know that they can charge a lot of money for them. It was kind of a challenge trying to find a song that would have that classic rock feel, but it’s something that you haven’t heard before and had sort of a slightly dark atmosphere to it.”
Wingard and Barrett hunted for a song that would fit and when nothing clicked, the director turned to You’re Next‘s composer Kyle McKinnon, a man with an encyclopedic knowledge of rock music, and asked him to send 20 songs. “Looking for the Magic” was among the first McKinnon sent.
“I remember that I played it and I was at Simon’s apartment – I think I was sleeping on the couch at the time, because I was totally broke – and Simon was in the other room doing something,” Wingard says. “I listened to the song once and then I called him in. ‘Hey, listen to this.’ Immediately, when I played it for Simon, we were both like, ‘This is it. This is it.’ We just kind of went for it from that point. Me and my DP we would listen to it every day before going on set.
“There’s a weird darkness to that song, I feel like,” he adds. “There’s the way the vocals are recorded with that weird, slap-back, kind of like suicide-style reverb. It’s a little unsettling, but at the same time, it’s such a poppy song. There’s an underlying darkness. That’s why I feel that it works, because it’s not just totally ironic. It’s not totally out of place. There’s something weird there about that song.”
The song became the theme not just of the movie, but of the You’re Next set. Cast and crew had it on their iPhones. Between scenes, someone or other would be playing it.
“It became ingrained not just with the atmosphere of the movie, but even also the way that we structured all those scenes around that piece of music,” says Wingard. “It’s a very specific build. It has that little interlude to the way it starts and then it just jumps right into it. All those scenes are kind of built around that kind of structure. It kind of became impossible to find another song after that, even if we’d wanted to.”
Getting so attached to the song was a gamble and as scary for the filmmakers as anything in the movie. Wingard and Barrett, who is a producer on You’re Next as well as its writer, were committed to using the song, but licensing it was an issue. They didn’t know if they could afford it; Universal owns it and the filmmakers feared that corporate suits would not necessarily be willing to give a price break on the license to a low-budget, independent production.
“I actually reached out directly to Dwight Twilley and his wife Jan,” says Barrett. “They would call me at two in the morning to play me music while we were shooting, so I was exhausted. They were playing other songs for me and at one point, I was like, ‘We really want ‘Looking for the Magic.’ If you can talk to Universal and get us a lower price.’
“At one point, she shouted at me, “You want ‘Looking for the Magic,’ but you can’t afford the fuckin’ magic!’ That felt like the real theme of our shoot, because when you’re making a low-budget film and things are going wrong every day on set, it’s so stressful.”
Ultimately, the rights issue was worked out and a song integral to the foreboding ambiance that pervades You’re Next took its place within the film’s soundscape.
“That might have been one of the happiest moments in making this film, when we found out that a deal had been reached and we could actually afford “The Magic,’” says Barrett. “Then we we were like, ‘Oh, yeah, the movie’s going to be great.’
“We were trying to make a film that stands the test of time,” he adds.
“That’s the whole reason we wanted a classic rock song in the film,” says Wingard. “It’s something that has already proven itself to stand up. If a song is still good after 20 years, then you know it’s going to be good in another 20 years.” –Pam Grady