Over the past few years I've developed a real interest in the music of Fleetwood Mac, which is awfully surprising to me, given that I always saw them as the antithesis of the hard-edged punk rock that I worshiped in my young adulthood. Yeah, they do have a bit of that annoying odor of rich hippie narcissism about them, but the songs, musicianship, and production on their trio of late seventies records (Fleetwood Mac, Rumours, and Tusk) are unimpeachable. They are also only part of the band's long history, stretching back to its origins in the late-sixties British blues boom. It's prophetic, then, that the band at that time took it's name from the rhythm section of drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie, since they are the only members to last through all the various permutations. Here's a playlist to highlight their evolution, which I hope you enjoy.
"My Heart Beat Like a Hammer"
Fleetwood Mac started out playing Chicago-style blues, and this track shows off the amazing talents of original guitarist and singer Peter Green. As far as British guitarists of the era go, I will take his exuberance over Eric Clapton's virtuosic mannerly style any time.
"Black Magic Woman"
Santana's version is better known, but this is the bluesier original, and perhaps a prophecy of Stevie Nick's later membership in the band.
In the later stages of the Peter Green era, the band shifted out of straight blues into a more hard rock direction. This song still blows me away with its contrast between the first half's start-stop roller coaster ride and the second-half's melancholy Ennio Morricone vibe. It displays the vitality of hard rock circa 1969 before it got turned into dunderheaded headbanging mush in the course of the next decade.
Green left the band before 1970's Kiln House, after which guitarist Jeremy Spencer departed to join a cult (no joke.) This album was the first with Christine Perfect, later to be Christine McVie. I know the least about the music from this transitional period, but I do dig this song.
Soon Bob Welch joined the band, becoming the dominant songwriting influence in Fleetwood Mac's 1971-1974 period. (In case you didn't know, he sadly took his life this June.) He would later have a hit with this track in his solo career, but I must say I like the original best. It's like a hipper, vibe-ier version of a Seals and Crofts song.
Perhaps the best Welch tune, "Hypnotized" sounds like it got a lot of play at seventies singles bars full of ferns and exposed chest hair.
Fleetwood Mac had gone through a lot of iterations but didn't find permanent success until Californians Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined up in the mid-seventies after Welch's departure. Thus began the classic lineup we know today, and a huge string of hits. This is among my favorites on their self-titled record, mostly because John McVie's melodic bass, Stevie Nicks' smokey voice and Christine McVie's electric piano help evoke an epically spooky vibe.
While Nicks brought her witchy ways, Buckingham liked to rave it up a bit. It's the first track on their 1975 self-titled album, and a kind of declaration of newfound vitality.
"Gold Dust Woman"
The story of how the members of Fleetwood Mac endured painful break-ups with each other while recording Rumours is pretty well known, and the emotional fall-out is easy to hear in the vinyl grooves. This song is less about the pains of failed romance than the perils of chemical coping mechanisms. It doesn't get any more late-70s than cocaine references and snaky grooves.
This is the sound of 3AM after a bottle of wine and not being able to escape painful thoughts about your ex lover.
The emotional devastation is laid out pretty well here, but it's also a showcase for the band's chops. I never get tired of John McVie's bass introduction to the break at the end.
Fleetwood Mac responded to their runaway success by putting out a meticulously-constructed double LP (Tusk) much beloved today by rock snobs, but less appreciated in its time. It was much less accessible and much more experimental than their prior two efforts, and pristine copies can be found today in just about every used record store I patronize. Perhaps since I'm a bit of a rock snob myself, I like Tusk the best. The title track is evidence of Lindsey Buckingham's white powder-fueled mad genius at the time, containing an implicit dick joke and the USC marching band.
"That's All For Everyone"
There are plenty of poppier tunes like "Sara" on Tusk, but they are interspersed with some punk and New Wave-inflected songs by Buckingham. This is one I like to play as a kind of lullaby for myself after a long night.
California music studio magic just doesn't get any better than this, or grooves any tighter.
Coming of age as I did in the 1980s, I didn't know much about Fleetwood Mac apart from this song, which is the aural equivalent of hair-sprayed bangs, and proof positive that it was all downhill after Tusk.