A Review of Fleetwood Mac’s Importance to Popular Music by Jake Robinson

Posted on May 10, 2011


Fleetwood Mac formed in the incredible cauldron of musical creativity that was London, 1967. Originally incarnated as a blues band under the leadership of guitarist Peter Green, their name was derived from those of its drummer, Mick Fleetwood, and bass player, John McVie. After a string of laid back blues hits in the UK in the late 60’s (including the UK#1 hit ‘Albatross’, ‘Black Magic Woman’ and ‘Need Your Love So Bad’), Green left the band and they drifted into relative obscurity. Over the next five years membership in the band was transient, though the constants were Fleetwood and McVie. During this period John McVie’s wife Christine started to fill in on keyboard and eventually joined as a fulltime member. In 1975 the band’s trajectory changed forever with the inclusion of the romantically involved Americans, guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and singer Stevie Nicks. This formation of the ‘classic’ Fleetwood Mac was driven by the complimentary song-writing skills of Christine McVie, Buckingham and Nicks. The 1975 album Fleetwood Mac brought them widespread commercial success on both sides of the Atlantic through hits such as ‘Over My Head’ and ‘Rhiannon’.

Fleetwood Mac

The next few years came to define Fleetwood Mac in the public consciousness. In the embryonic years of their seminal album Rumours, new found wealth, promiscuity and rampant substance abuse were poured into their songwriting exploits. The McVie’s marriage was in its death throes with the pair refusing to speak to each other, while Buckingham and Nicks’ relationship too had ended while Fletwood was in divorce proceedings. The group took full advantage of the open budget afforded by their record contract by decamping to the hippie influenced town of Sausalito, California and immerse themselves in a deluge of excesses. The studio owner commented that “The band would come in at 7 at night, have a big feast, party till 1 or 2 in the morning, and then when they were so whacked-out they couldn’t do anything, they’d start recording”. Nicks said that she never would have done cocaine if she knew she would end up with a hole in her nose the size of a ten cent coin.

A Fleetwood Mac Playlist:

Tusk (Buckingham), Tusk
Go Your Own Way (Buckingham), Rumours
Rhiannon(Nicks), Fleetwood Mac
Little Lies (McVie/Quintela), Tango in the Night
Don’t Stop (McVie), Rumours
Dreams (Nicks), Rumours
Everywhere (McVie), Tango in the Night
The Chain (Buckingham/Fleetwood/McVie/McVie/Nicks), Rumours
Songbird (McVie), Rumours
Sara (Nicks), Tusk
Big Love(Buckingham), Tango in the Night
Landslide (Nicks), Fleetwood Mac

Rumours is an incredible emotional roller-coaster of an album laying bare the wounds of their failed relationships. Buckingham’s ‘Go Your Own Way’ and ‘Never Going Back Again’ are painful and direct. Nicks’ ‘Dreams’ elegiac and sad for “dreams of loneliness, like a heartbeat drive you mad.” McVie’s ‘Don’t Stop’ an optimistic mantra, ‘Songbird’ her tearful goodbye. Rumours launched Fleetwood Mac into the stratosphere, going on to become the world’s ninth highest-selling album of all-time. The tone of the album has become synonymous with late 70’s soft rock. Most criticism of the band derives from this time and the sentiment that they were the safe commercial radio and tabloid magazine fodder. The late 70’s movements of Californian soft rock, singer-songwriters and grand prog-rock were seen as overblown and self indulgent compared to the cathartic release of musical energy of the punk movement. Rumours became the template for soft rock that has influenced groups such as Matchbox 20, Coldplay and Beach House. Recently the alternative music landscape has seen a great influence in 70’s era Californian rock. Bands such as Beach House, Best Coast, Fleet Foxes, Joanna Newsom and Midlake all list the Mac as primary influence.

The band's 1977 album, Rumours

The grandiose excesses increased with the production of what was then the most expensive album ever made, 1979’s Tusk.. While it surely is expansive over its 20 tracks, the most noticeable difference is the diverging song-writing interests of the three main protagonists. Tusk can be compared to albums such as The Beatles’ White Album and The Clash’s Sandinista! While perhaps not as coherent in structure or form as Rumours, Tusk is a beautiful, sprawling and at times incoherent mess. Buckingham resorted to a hermit-like state, locking himself away with swathes of drugs in LA and refusing to see anyone. The increasing paranoia and tension surrounding the band is encapsulated in the 3 minutes 26 seconds of the title song, driven along by the USC Trojan Marching Band and featuring vocals Buckingham recorded lying face down in a stupor in a bathroom. The album was considered a commercial failure, largely due to the fact the expansive double album was sold at the price of a single album. It is also claimed that Tusk was one of the first victims of music piracy. Many radio stations played it in its entirety on release, allowing for a proliferation of home-taped copies.

Mick Fleetwood powering the drums.

During the following years the band grew further apart, releasing a multitude of solo albums and an underwhelming joint effort, Mirage. In1987 they regrouped for their last album to affect the music zeitgeist. Influenced by the synthesized production effects of the 80’s, Tango in the Night gained wide commercial success of the back of the hits ‘Little Lies’ and ‘Everywhere’ (penned by McVie). In later years, the band sporadically reformed for new albums and tours, yet their most influential days had passed.

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