Fleetwood Mac
Part 1

Fleetwood Mac drew its name from the drummer (Mick Fleetwood) and bassist (John McVie) who formed the band way back in 1967. They are the only members of the group who were there through (almost) all the multifarious incarnations and instrumentations that have carried the Fleetwood Mac name. Like that name, they seem to be a blank slate, but one that has been the medium for many strokes of near-genius over the long years.

The story, like so many in rock history, began with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. McVie was a charter member, starting in 1963. He was a member off and on through the Eric Clapton period, but he occasionally got fired and replaced by Jack Bruce.

Anyway, when Clapton left the Bluesbreakers in 1966 to form Cream with Bruce and Ginger Baker, he was replaced by a guitarist named Peter Green. Mick Fleetwood came along in 1967, and before the year was out, the three of them had left to form the first Fleetwood Mac. (Well, actually, the first Fleetwood Mac bassist was Bob Brunning, because McVie was still under contract with Mayall when Fleetwood Mac got their first gig).

They were soon joined by Jeremy Spencer, who played a fine and fluid slide guitar. Their first album was a pure British Blues outing, and though it was a big hit in the UK, nobody heard it in the US. The following year, they added yet another guitarist, Danny Kirwan, and headed to Chicago for another take on the blues, aided by the likes of Otis Spann and Willie Dixon. They scored a US recording contract with Warner Bros/Reprise, and Green began pushing their sound away from the blues, toward a more pop/rock sensibility. Their most enduring hit from that period is Green's Oh Well:

I can't help about the shape I'm in
I can't sing, I ain't pretty and my legs are thin
But don't ask me what I think of you
I might not give the answer that you want me to

Oh well

Now, when I talked to God I knew he'd understand
He said, "Stick by my side and I'll be your guiding hand
But don't ask me what I think of you
I might not give the answer that you want me to"

Oh well
In 1970, Green had an apparent psychotic break and left the band for good. Oh well. Jeremy Spencer stepped into the void, and gave the band its direction for 1970's Kiln House album. If this were a radio show, you'd be hearing Station Man right now, because that's the strongest song on that one, and it's strong indeed. Unfortunately, Spencer left the band without even a goodbye during that album's tour, to join the Children of God, a popular cult of the time.

Christine Perfect, who had sung and played keyboards for them before, joined the band and married John McVie, or vice-versa. That lineup made a mediocre album called Future Games before Bob Welch joined them for the exquisite Bare Trees.

After that, they fired Danny Kirwan, and went through a couple of other guitarists on Penguin and Mystery to Me. Mystery to Me is a fine CD, but it can only be truly appreciated as a vinyl album, because the cover folds out to a striking work of art, or cartoon.

In '74, there was an unfortunate episode involving an ersatz Fleetwood Mac tour, mounted by their manager, Clifford Davis. While suing the imposters, they managed to produce Heros are Hard to Find, the last of their pre Buckingham Nicks attempts.

End of Part One

Someone else will have to write the rest, because I stopped liking them at that time. I was a big fan of both Fleetwood Mac and Buckingham Nicks, but there was something disgusting about their alliance. Or maybe it was just my hip disdain for success.

Heavy credits to www.sing365.com and other Google gatherings. I didn't know half of this stuff.

In 1974, Fleetwood Mac stumbled into Los Angeles in disarray. Los Angeles is where rock and roll goes to die. Iggy Pop's talent was last seen in that same year, leaving New York, headed for the gutters of the Sunset Strip. The Sex Pistols crashed to their filthy knees at Winterland in San Francisco, but they got everything else wrong, too. They were aiming for L.A., trust me.

It's a strange thing for a band to go out there to be reborn, and Fleetwood Mac did it without meaning to. They hired the California duo Buckingham Nicks and Christine McVie settled into doing what she really wanted to do anyway: Writing pop songs. The story from there on out to the end of that grim decade should be not be seen as the revitalization of Fleetwood Mac. It was more like this: Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks hired one of the best rhythm sections on Earth and everybody got rich, laid, and miserable.

In that order.

The end of the 1970s killed them like it killed the Who, Led Zeppelin, and Steely Dan, just like the end of the 1960s killed Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, and the Doors. They didn't break up right away, they just died on their feet and kept marching. What else do you do?

While it lived, the Nicks/Buckingham/Mac hit machine had two sides: McVie and Buckingham wrote fun, light pop songs. Nicks wrote real songs, sad, windswept, and painful. It must be understood that Ms. Nicks is a flake of monstrous proportions, packed to the gills with dippy new age nonsense and what some people call "spirituality". Nevertheless, the woman's also got a dark streak in her and it was that bitter edge that made these guys worth remembering. Historically speaking, "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" didn't get them any farther than the Raspberries ever got.

During this period in the life of the band, there are three albums to be considered:

Fleetwood Mac (1975)
Rumours (1977)
Tusk (1979)

It's not a vast body of work, but the sun never set on them during those years: NASA scientists have calculated that between 1975 and 1980, there was a total of only five minutes and fourteen seconds when one Fleetwood Mac hit or another wasn't playing on one radio station or another, somewhere in the United States. Sophisticated software, provided with contemporary playlists, has mapped thousands of paths a motorist could take from coast to coast on any given day in 1978 without ever passing out of reach of a radio station playing a Fleetwood Mac song.

What's special about those three albums is songs like "Rhiannon", "The Chain", "Gold Dust Woman", and half a dozen others. The sound is "laid back", but it's not Bread. It's beautiful stuff when you listen to it with headphones, even a lousy pair. Like Steely Dan (whose name scans identically in American English), they specialized in meticulous, detailed, thoughtful recording and arrangements. Their rhythm section had more personality than 'Dan's because, well... They had one. They weren't all cool and cerebral like Fagen and Becker. When Buckingham left Nicks for Christine McVie, Nicks wrote: "Rock on ancient queen... black widow... pale shadow of a woman... black widow..." She sang it like she had her claws in that evil bitch's throat. I'd give a lot to have been in that rehearsal room, and I'll bet most of the band would've given a lot to be somewhere else.

Nicks had -- and has -- a fine and very distinctive voice, badly roughened by a "throat nodule" of some kind, suffered before she was famous. In the studio she could get right to the edge and stay in control. Control is the thing. Fleetwood Mac in those days all about control and restraint. The band stands stone-faced and works its way through mathematically perfect chord changes, every note demanding the next, while Nicks grits her lovely teeth and stays. In. Control. But only just. At her best she's always playing chicken with the edge. The band ticks like a clock while the pretty lady goes haywire.

Everybody's tone is perfect, every detail is on target: Listen to the little razor-thin, glistening backing sighs that slide in and out on the way into the chorus in "Dreams". The tempo is just a hair slower than most bands would dare try for fear of killing the groove. Mick Fleetwood leaned on the toms a lot. He would play a simple four, bar after bar after bar, perfectly and even soulfully. Every time you expect a fill, there's no fill. He'll flip it over into the chorus with a tight little fill, sometimes just lifting his left foot halfway up on the hi-hat pedal. The expectation draws you in. Little gestures feel big by contrast. The bass is muscular and deep in the pocket. He doesn't show off, but he's good and loud in the mix. This band had a fat low end. On top of that, there will be guitars, several guitars, and keyboards (restrained, restrained), and usually at least two singers. There's a lot going on, but the sound is spacious. You can hear everything at once. That doesn't come cheap: The engineer has to find a home for each instrument and each voice somewhere between 40 and 20,000 Hz. He has to give each one enough room to breathe while leaving room for the others. It takes a good engineer. It's no wonder these records took a year or two to make. They're the kind of records where you hear new things in the mix long after you thought you knew it cold.

This is rock and roll for grownups. The kids bought it too, millions of units worth.

Until the early 1990s, the band continued to exist in varying forms and with the odd hiatus. They were never a hit machine again.

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