Sunday, April 12, 2009

Fleetwood Mac



I am aware that this group has had a long and illustrious career. And while I have no intention of knocking what they have done over the past three decades, there was a time in the late 1960s when they were the most hip sound around. They were also responsible for something called the Green Manalishi becoming part of our everyday vocabulary, though no-one knew what it was.

And for us that ultra-cool sound was primarily to be found in the album, Mr Wonderful, featuring the brilliant blues guitar and vocals of Peter Green, who along with the likes of Eric Clapton and Mick Taylor, cut his blues teeth with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.

I was fortunate to be boxing above my weight in the late 1960s and early 1970s, generally mixing with my two older brothers and their mates. While we did, regrettably, smoke a fair amount of that “green machine”, we also seemed to devote our lives to listening to music. Music wasn’t just one of several options for us, like cellphones, DVDs, CDs, computer games, television, the Internet … Music was really the only game in town for kids growing up in isolated South Africa. And, while many were happy with the fare offered by the likes of Springbok Radio, for some reason the group we were hanging out with were exploring areas somewhat more refined. At the time I don’t recall any discussions about the fact that we were “into blues”, or “into whatever”. But of course what Peter Green was producing was blues rock at its finest, and it had a quality, an authenticity, about it which set it apart. The cover of Mr Wonderful was also one of the most memorable around – like a soft-porn magazine it opened out to reveal a naked Peter Green (at least I think it’s him, his “bits” suitably concealed behind a bunch of leaves), holding a doll and a toy dog, with a startled look on his face, under a black hat. This was not the sort of album your lovers of bubblegum music would welcome in their collections.

There were two other albums from this era, when Green was the driving force, which I was familiar with, but it was Mr Wonderful that was a regular visitor to our turntable in those pivotal early 1970s when we ingested so many, many sounds.

Another key piece of Fleetwood history is their lengthy seven-single, Oh Well, which, I believe, was the first to cover both sides of a single. This was a rather revolutionary song in the sense that it included brilliant passages of acoustic guitar, electric lead, and lyrics that would have shaken our Broederbond, pseudo-Calvinist leaders to the core. For instance, Green even tells about his discussions with God. The context alone, as part of a blues song, would have been deemed blasphemous.

But what became of Green? All I do know is that he was one of the greatest blues guitarists around, and suddenly he was gone, and Fleetwood had lost its raison de etre. It would become a soft blues-rock outfit that, with albums like Rumours, would for a while top the charts. But in its heyday, in the late 1960s, it was up alongside the likes of Cream, Jethro Tull and Hendrix, enjoying the icon status which is the due of genius.

That is my assessment of the group. Let’s see what Wikipedia has to say. They note that the band was “an influential and commercially successful rock band formed in 1967”. They had a high personnel turnover, with no line-up lasting more than two years up till 1974. They also enjoyed “varied levels of success”. I’d like to see how they define success, because the commercial success achieved by an album like Rumours in my book marked the complete selling out of the musical success of those early albums.

Mick Fleetwood

The band’s name is taken from drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie, although the latter only joined after they had released their first single. The two have, however, remained with the band throughout, with keyboardist Christine McVie appearing on all but two of their albums, either as a band member or a session musician.

Ah, success. Wikipedia says the “two most successful” periods for the band were in the late 1960s during the British Blues Boom under Green, and from 1975 till 1987, with the rock band comprising Fleetood, the two McVies, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham.

It is those early years I am most interested in – when Fleetwood Mac were part of a phenomenal outpouring of music which really shook the world.

Wikipedia says Fleetwood Mac was formed in London in 1967 after Green left John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. He had achieved critical acclaim for his work on A Hard Road. It was Green who had persuaded Mayall to replace Aynsley Dunbar with Fleetwood, a drummer with whom he had been in two bands previously. These were Peter B’s Looners and the subsequent Shotgun Express which, says Wikipedia, included a young vocalist named Rod Stewart.

At that point, the Bluesbreakers comprised virtually an entire Fleetwood Mac line-up, apart obviously from Mayall himself, namely Green, Fleetwood and McVie. Mayall, ever one to encourage young musicians, gave Green free recording time, during which he and the others recorded five songs, including an instrumental named after the trio’s rhythm section, Fleetwood Mac. Thus was the name born.

McVie’s drinking problems had seen him fired by Mayall several times, with Jack Bruce replacing him at one point, which led later to the formation of Cream. Fleetwood was also fired because of his drinking problems, and Green decided to quit as well, making way for future Rolling Stone Mick Taylor.

Green and Fleetwood then decided to form a new band, using Fleetwood Mac as its name, and also as an inducement to McVie to join them on bass. But, says Wikipedia, McVie was loath to give up his pay as a member of the Bluesbreakers. So Green and Fleetwood recruited slide player Jeremy Spencer and bassist Bob Brunning, on the understanding if McVie wanted to move, he would be out. They made their debut at the Windsor Jazz and Blues Festival on August 13, 1967, and shortly thereafter McVie decided to join, Wikipedia informs us.

Peter Green

Their first album, simply titled Fleetwood Mac, was a “no frills blues album” and was released in February 1968. I vaguely recall the album from my youth, with its cover featuring a photograph of rubbish bins in an alley. I recently picked up a CD, The Best of Fleetwood Mac, which is one of those deceptive titles meant to dupe people after their hit songs from the late 1970s. It is, thankfully, a compilation of their greatest blues numbers, and features just one song from this album, Shake Your Money Maker. Interestingly, Jeremy Spencer and Peter Green composed the bulk of the songs, and shared the vocals, with Spencer’s slide guitar complementing Green’s lead. The album was “hugely successful” in the UK, says Wikipedia, though with no singles. In order to get some singles mileage, the band cut two famous singles, Black Magic Woman (which later became a hit for Santana) and Need Your Love So Bad, a wonderful slow blues. Black Magic Woman, a Green composition, has become a virtual blues standard around the world.

Jeremy Spencer

Then, ah yes, then in August 1968 they released their second album, Mr Wonderful, which, while also an all-blues album, had a few “frills”, says Wikipedia. It was “produced to sound as if it were 20 years older than it really was”, and also included horns and featured a keyboard player, Christine Perfect, of Chicken Shack, another of those legendary blues-rock bands from the time.

I’ll return to this classic album later, but let’s first just continue with this potted history. It seems that soon after the album’s release, the band added a third guitarist, Danny Kirwan, who brought “a more easy-going, harmony-rich sound that was reminiscent of the sort of bands playing in Californnia at the time”. And it was with him that they released their first number one single in Europe, Albatross, which I remember well. An instrumental, it was a lovely evocation of a bird in flight, and the fact that a quasi-blues instrumental should do so well on the charts was itself phenomenal.

After releasing an album, English Rose which contained half of Mr Wonderful and a few new songs from Kirwan, the band went to the US for the first time in January 1969. Wikipedia says they recorded many songs at the soon to close Chess Records Studio, with musical legends of Chicago like Willie Dixon, Buddy Guy and Otis Spann. These would be their last true-blue blues recordings, because change was in the air. They were leaving the blues only label, Blue Horizon, for the Immediate label, with whom they released Man Of The World, a British and European hit single. But, with Immediate’s demise imminent, they moved to Warner Bros Records, a permanent shift. Their first album with Warners was Then Play On, from September 1969, another classic from the era, a rock album featuring songs by Kirwan and Green. Spencer, at the same time, recorded a solo album of 1950s-style rock and roll songs, backed by the rest of the band.

Wikipedia says Fleetwood Mac were “arguably the most popular band in Europe at the time”, but Peter Green was not in good health. “He had been spiked with LSD in Munich, which began the onset of his schizophrenia,” says Wikipedia. It was here, in Munich, that he wrote his last Fleetwood Mac hit, The Green Manalishi (With The Two-Pronged Crown). This single became a great hit with the counter-culture around the world. It seems Green became so unhinged he “wanted to give all of the band’s money to charity”. Naturally the band disagreed, but few could probably fault with such altruistic sentiments. Green’s last show with the band was on May 20, 1970. His departure saw the “media-savvy Fleetwood” take over as business manager of the band. It was clear raking in the bucks was now uppermost in his mind. And why not? Obviously, these people wanted to earn a decent living, and this they would do – and we even followed them for a few years in their new guise. But as the songs became increasingly commercial, they became just another pop band playing catchy, chart-topping stuff which, while no doubt technically great, somehow lacked the heart and soul with Green had provided.

Christine Perfect (McVie)

I’ll not bore you with the minutiae of the band’s “transitional era” from 1970 till 1975 – my high school years – but it has to be recorded that some of those albums were more than pleasant, and were very much still part of our upbringing. Bizarrely, even the Wikipedia insert changes its tone at this point. Now we are on first name terms, with “Danny” (Kirwan) and “Jeremy” (Spencer), we are told, being “left with the task of having to fill up Peter’s space in their shows and on their recordings”. As if that were possible! Their next album, from September 1970, was Kiln House, which we had and enjoyed at the time, though as I’ve said, it was just a soft rock album not meant to ruffle any feathers. With Christine Perfect (now McVie, after marrying John McVie) playing keyboards, singing backup vocals and drawing the picture for the album cover, she was invited to join the band. Then in February 1971, while on tour, Spencer said he was going out to “get a magazine”, and never returned. After days of searching, he was found – having joined a religious group, the Children of God. Green was SOS-d, and he brought a friend, Nigel Watson, who played congas. The two would, 25 years later, form the Peter Green Splinter Group. This show, says Wikipedia, included “90-minute instrumental improvisations of Black Magic Woman”, which must have been something else.

Anyway, Green wasn’t back for good, and the band secured a new guitarist, Bob Welch, in the summer of 1971. Their September 1971 album, Future Games, was “radically different” to their earlier stuff, says Wikipedia, and attracted new fans in the US. In 1972, they released the “well received album Bare Trees”, which we also had and enjoyed considerably during our dope-smoking high school days. Welch would re-record Sentimental Lady five years later, backed by many of the Fleetwood team, and secure a big hit with it. Spare Me A Little Of Your Love, a Chrisine McVie tune, became, says Wikipedia, a staple of the band’s live act in the early- to mid-1970s. But the booze-afflicted Kirwan, who fell out with the McVies and Welch, was eventually fired after he smashed his Les Paul Custom guitar and refused to go on stage one night. Would the band survive? It seems the line-ups changed continually on their next albums, Penguin and Mystery To Me. There were, says, Wikipedia, strains in the McVies’ marriage, there was an affair, there was more alcohol abuse. All the normal stresses and strains of a pop band battling with that taxing lifestyle, I guess. There was even a bizarre period when a “Fake Mac” band was being touted as the original following a dispute over ownership of the name, Fleetwood Mac, which Fleetwood and McVie had evidently signed away while in “altered states”.

The band decided to relocate to Los Angeles, with the wrangle over their name being addressed by lawyers while they were freed to use it again. They released the album, Heroes Are Hard to Find in September 1974 which, like the previous two albums, I did not even hear about. As I said, this is not gripping stuff. Welch, I see, was the next casualty of infighting, leaving at a time when the band was, however, well set to pursue its future.

Stevie Nicks

Wikipedia calls the period from 1975 till 1987 Fleetwood Mac’s “mainstream success” era, and the term is fitting, because they became part of the mainstream, though they were, like the reincarnated Bee Gees, to enjoy a brief moment of incredible global fame. It was in finding a replacement for Welch that the band got its US connection – in the form of guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and his girlfriend, Stephanie “Stevie” Nicks. This line-up in 1975 released the self-titled Fleetwood Mac which, Wikipedia says, has also become known as the White Album due to its cover, which features a tall dude (Fleetwood?) and a shortie in a doorway. This album was huge, reaching No 1 in the US, and featuring singles such as Christine NcVie’s Over My Head and Say You Love Me and Nicks’s Rhiannon and Landslide. But as success reigned, the McVies’ marriage failed, as did the Buckingham-Nicks relationship. And, for good measure, Fleetwood was busy divorcing his wife Jenny. While the tensions soared along with their fame, so did the booze and drug consumption, just as they were required to release a winning follow-up album. The rumours must have been flying around, and Rumours (released in 1977) “laid bare the emotional turmoil experienced at the time”, says Wikipedia. The album became the best selling album of the year, spending six months on top of the US chart, and becoming the recipient of the Grammy for Album of the Year for 1977. This was about the time when disco was making its impact and we were spending mindless evenings listening to dance dross in the hopes of attaching ourselves to eligible young ladies. One of those ever-so-popular songs was Go Your Own Way. Other hit singles off their album include Dreams, Don’t Stop (“thinking about tomorrow”, another massively popular song in South Africa) and You Make Loving Fun. By 2003, says Wikipedia, the album had sold over 19 million copies in the US alone, and a total of 30 million worldwide, “making it one of the biggest selling albums of all time”.

As I said earlier: what is success? They found a popular formula and made their fortunes, but the real great music was almost forgotten in the dust of history by then. I’ll return to it later, to pay homage to the fleeting few years when Fleetwood Mac were the powerhouse blues band of the world.

But let’s dwell a little more on the rumour-mill that this album, which again had that elongated figure in black on a white, or cream cover, but this time alongside a beautiful woman. Some of the trivia relating to it revealed by Wikipedia includes that The Chain was used by the BBC for its Grand Prix programme title sequence since its inception in 1978 till 1997. Don’t Stop was a campaign theme-song for US president Bill Clinton.

Their next album, Tusk, released in 1979, was a more experimental affair, with Buckingham hoping to capitalise on the New Wave boom. While the singles Tusk, Think About Me and Sara were deemed hits, one interesting track seems to be Brown Eyes, which evidently features Peter Green, though he is not credited on the album. While selling four million copies, the double album was deemed a failure after Rumours’s huge success. The band then did a global tour which led to the Fleetwood Mac Live album from 1980. This was followed by Mirage (1982), which made the Top 10 in the UK, but which again passed me by. It was later certified double platinum in the US. The band then did some solo albums, with Nicks the most successful. Fleetwood, despite all that success, filed for bankruptcy, Nicks got help for addiction problems and John McVie suffered an addiction-related seizure, says Wikipedia – all the product of the rigours and excesses of their pop star lifestyles.

Mr Wonderful

Before dealing with the group’s later years, it is perhaps fitting to revisit that Mr Wonderful album from 1968, which I have just listened to again, on vinyl. It must be said that, while the album is supposedly less “raw” than their debut LP, it certainly does not have the range of textures which John Mayall achieved about the same time. However, I do recall at the time, though for us probably a few years after its initial release, really getting into this album, especially the slower songs. This was up there with the latest Traffic albums, Blind Faith, Canned Heat and The Doors. Three tracks from the album are among the dozen on that greatest hits compilation. I see Wikipedia classifies it as “blues rock”, but there are areas of pure, raw blues with no frills. The key to this album’s success is the wonderful interplay between the wind instruments, especially the saxophones, and the lead guitar of Green and Spencer’s slide. Among three sax players on the album is Johnny Almond, who played with John Mayall on that seminal album, The Turning Point. Christine Perfect also plays keyboards, piano and sings some vocals.

You have to be in the right mood to enjoy the blues. But there can be no messing around because the first track, Stop Messin’ Round, plunges you straight into the genre, with that guitar/sax combination immediately eliciting cries of Yeah! From the band as the song leads up to the opening vocals: “Baby please stop messin’ round, you’re messing around all of the time.” This is an Adams/Green composition and it follows the same format as many of Mayall’s blues tracks, with the opening line repeated. The next song, I’ve Lost My Baby, is a lovely slow blues, with Spencer’s brilliant slide guitar offset by the tinkling of Perfect’s piano and that haunting sax on this Spencer composition. Again, the first line is repeated: “I’m waiting this morning, I waiting for my baby to come back home.” It continues: “You know she left me this morning and I don’t know where she gone.” There is a bit of confusion on this album, because the cover somehow has mixed up this track and track five on the other side, Coming Home. The actual record label, however, has it right. Having listened again to the song just to ensure I have my ducks in a row, I was struck by the realisation that I’ve perhaps over-credited Green and not fully considered the impact that Jeremy Spencer had on this album. Because this song, with its slide guitar, is for me one of the highlights of Mr Wonderful.

The next track, Rollin’ Man, another Adams/Green composition, is a fast blues rock where again that guitar-sax combination starts the assault. This is another humdinger: “Oh baby, don’t you want a man like me?” This line, which is repeated in true blues style, is an iconic bit of early Fleetwood Mac. This is real let’s-get-to-the point blues. “Oh baby, make some love tonight / Oh baby, got to make some love tonight…” The title comes from the next line: “I’m your rollin’ man, got all the love you need / I’ve got so much love, more than you’ll ever need.”

Dust My Broom has been done to death, but when we heard it here, it was probably for the first time. That famous opening sequence on the guitar probably has a special term among blues fundis. It occurs on several songs on this album. The slow, mournful blues on Love That Burns shows Green again in his prime. While the saxophones provide the melody, Green is freed to improvise extravagantly before settling into those lyrics borne of the pain of love. “Will you love me tomorrow, like you say you love me now?” Naturally, the question is repeated, with even more feeling. Further on, he sings: “Give me your mind and your heart, but please don’t leave me with a love that burns / Don’t use me as your fool, ’cos my heart can’t stand another lie.” There are great guitar solos here, along with some lovely blues piano, while the saxes continue to work their steadying magic.

Doctor Brown is a quicker blues rock, again with guitar and saxes complementing each other. “Oh they call me Doctor Brown, they call me that lovely man.” Or should that be “name”? Anyway, after the line is repeated, it goes: “If you’ve got some trouble, come around as soon as you can.” The next line, “You don’t need no prescription, you don’t have to take no pills”, is repeated, before the real motives of this “doctor” are revealed: “Oh ask any woman in my neighbourhood / If Doctor Brown can’t cure you nobody can do you no good.” It is a vintage blues song, performed by some of the genre’s top musicians, and is a fitting tribute to the black bluesmen of the US South who started things decades earlier.

Jeremy Spencer is to the fore again on the opening track of Side 2, Need Your Love Tonight, which he wrote. It has a lovely, curt opening lyric: “Oh baby, I buy you diamond ring. / Oh baby, I buy you a diamond ring. / If you let me love you darling, / I’ll buy you almost anything.” This is a far cry from the Beatles’ Can’t Buy Me Love, both in terms of belief systems and music style, with the Beatles number na├»ve and superficial by comparison. It is only when you are prepared to “buy your love” that you can appreciate the impulses which drive the blues. Spencer puts it bluntly, so to speak, further on: “Oh baby, I need your love tonight / I want to make love to you darling, while the moon is shining bright.” It’s not romantic, but it speaks to the basic thrust, as it were, of a man’s sexual drive, something which down the centuries has driven many a man to distraction, suicide, murder, even to giving women huge bunches of flowers, diamond rings, cars, houses and so on – and then regretting it a little later, when that love grows cold.

Green keeps to the same theme on If You Be My Baby, a slow blues with that piercing lead and sax backed by the affirming Yeah!s of the band. “If you be my baby, I’ll tell you what I’ll do. / Give you so much loving, you just gotta love me too…” Again, the piano adds a tinkling touch.

The next song is the only instrumental on the album. Evenin’ Boogie is a jazzy, funky number written by Spencer. It is the only track on the album which features a sax solo, with the boogie-woogie slide guitar keeping it lilting along. Another Green/Adams number, Lazy Poker blues, is iconic, with Green’s guitar working fast and furious. The opening line, “Me and my baby don’t do nothing but lay around all day long …”, naturally is repeated, as another superb song is constructed.

Coming Home is a classic slow blues, ahead of the superb final track, Trying So Hard To Forget, another Green/Adams composition, which recalls the best Mayall slow blues numbers. Featuring guest artist Duster Bennett on harmonica, this song creeps right into the tortured soul of a heart-broken, forlorn lover. “You know life can be so sad. / Sometimes you just sit right down and cry. / You know life can be so sad, / Sometimes you just sit right down, and you cry. / Sometimes life can get so bad, / Maybe you would be better of if you should die.” Whether lead guitar or slide, this song’s mournful sentiments are encased in those tortured notes. Again, comparisons to George Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps are instructive. With all due respect to the late Beatle, his guitar barely sobs in comparison.

Then Play On

As I said earlier, for us this was the real Fleetwood Mac, but there was much else of great merit to come, including two delightful seven-singles which were as eagerly listened to at the time: Oh Well and The Green Manalishi. Just where they fitted in, album wise, I hope to discover.

With Danny Kirwan in the band, Then Play On, their fourth album, released in 1969 would gain a new, fresh dimension, but Green was still there to ensure the blues were not forgotten. I well recall the album’s cover, seen again for the first time in more than 30 years on Wikipeida. It has a medieval-type picture of a naked man riding a white horse through colourful countryside.

Wikipedia tells how later copies of Then Play On in various forms, especially CD, have elicited consumer complaints about the poor quality, as well as the jumbling up of the track sequence. Then Play On reached 109 in the US pop albums chart in 1970, with Oh Well Part 1 reaching 55 on the Billboard singles chart that year.

This was another Fleetwood blues rock classic, with Wikipedia saying it is “often considered the best album by the Peter Green lineup”. It was to be Kirwan’s first with the group, and Green’s last. Spencer, it seems, did not feature at all, apart from “a couple of piano things”, according to Mick Fleetwood, quoted in Q magazine in 1990. The only song off the album on that “best of” compilation is Green’s Rattle Snake Shake, another classic blues number. Looking at the track list, I can’t remember many of these songs, though I’d certainly like to hear them again. Clearly, looking at the list, it is evident that Kirwan’s star was rising. He has seven compositions on the album to Green’s five. Fleetwood and McVie also finally feature on the song-writing credits. What Wikipedia does reveal is that after Oh Well (parts 1 and 2), which was released in November 1969, became a hit single, it was added to the US lineup of this album, and other songs were deleted or moved to Side 2. Finally Oh Well, at nearly 9 minutes, was on LP format, not just on two sides of a single, which had to be flipped, as we did so many times, to enjoy the final, full effect. Fortunately, it is on that Best Of album in its entirety, and listening to it afresh I was again astounded at its profoundly powerful impact.

The Green Manalishi, Oh Well

While on the subject of seven singles, I have just given a fresh listen to The Green Manalishi off that Best Of album, and it brought back memories of those days when this, Oh Well, Albatross and Man Of The World were among the best things around. Even more than the standard blues songs on Mr Wonderful, these songs showcased Fleetwood Mac at their most inventive. Oh Well features some wonderful acoustic finger-style guitar, along with awesome electric bass and guitar. It starts energetically, with Green singing those immortal first words, after a seering introduction: “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 give the answer that you want me to ... / Oh well…” Da ra-ra raa ra-ra raa ra-ra ra-ra raa, goes the acoustic guitar, then there is a moment of silence and some knocking of drum sticks, before another fiendish lead guitar solo. “Now when I talk to God, I knew he’d understand / He said, stick by my side and Ill 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”. This song, since it was on two sides of a single, has two parts. The second is almost orchestral, with some lovely double bass and/or cello alongside the acoustic guitar parts played in almost classical style.

Spencer’s piano is also superb. Changes in tempo and mood, from mellow to hard rock, and back again, leave one stunned at the inventiveness of this work, not to mention the skill with which it is executed.

The Green Manalishi (With The Two-Pronged Crown) was another Green masterpiece, which we lapped up after its May, 1970, release. It starts with a thumping rhythm section before quietening, before those, again, immortal opening lines. Wikipedia says the song was written during Green’s last months with the band “when he was struggling with LSD. Failing to get the band to give away all their money, he wrote this haunting song which “seems to document his struggle to stop his descent into madness”. While some have said the Green Manalishi referred to a mysterious LSD-type drug, Green, says Wikipeidia, says it refers to money, “as represented by the devil”. It was written following a drug-induced dream about a green dog. But let’s see what those lyrics said: “Now, when the day goes to sleep and the full moon looks / The night is so black that the darkness cooks / Don’t you come creepin’ around - / askin’ me to do things I don’t want to.” As I listened to it, I got the feeling it was another blues song about a love. It is certainly a hauntingly beautiful creation. The next verse goes: “Can’t believe that you need my love so bad / Come sneakin’ around tryin’ to drive me mad / Bustin’ in on my dreams - making me see things I don’t wanna see …” That seems to accord with this dream visit of a green dog. After a break marked by some superb lead guitar work, the final verse: “ ’Cause you’re da Green Manalishi with the two-pronged crown / All my tryin’ is up - all your bringin’ is down / Just taking my love then slippin’ away / Leavin’ me here just tryin’ to keep from following you”. A love of money seemed to be troubling him at that time, but certainly there also seem to be typical blues hangups about a woman in this song.

Albatross

Another great single from the time, Albatross, is a classic Green composition in which slide and bottle-neck guitars combine to create the distant calls of these great sea-birds, while gentle brushed cymbals create the swirling sounds of the sea itself. This is like a progressive version of a Shadows song, again expertly executed.

Man Of The World

The final single on that compilation album that we also soaked up at the time was Man Of The World, yet another Green classic. It is such an iconic song it defies description, but retains elements of the blues which was Green’s hallmark. It was part of my upbringing, but only now do I see the lyrics for the first time, thanks to the Internet. “Shall I tell you about my life / They say I’m a man of the world / I’ve flown across every tide / And I’ve seen lots of pretty girls.” Why was Green so introspective? He seemed to have everything. “I guess I’ve got everything I need / I wouldn’t ask for more / And there’s no one I’d rather be / But I just wish that I’d never been born.” It’s a startling admission, and one I personally never really registered at the time. While this song is mellow, there are some areas of loud, angry rage, before the central verse, which perhaps gets to a Freudian basis for his neurosis: “And I need a good woman / To make me feel like a good man should / I don’t say I’m a good man / Oh, but I would be if I could.” After this outpouring, he returns to his contemplation of the reality: “I could tell you about my life / And keep you amused I’m sure / About all the times I’ve cried / And how I don’t want to be sad anymore / And how I wish I was in love.”

What became of Peter Green? I recently went in search of a video clip of Oh Well on YouTube. And there he was. Peter Green. It was the first time I had seen him in action. I didn’t even know how he looked, really. I thought he was the short one, but I think now that was Jeremy Spencer. No, Green seems to have been the tall dark and handsome guy with great on-stage charisma, who led the band in this 1968, I think it was, BBC session. Anyway, he seemed young and dynamic, as you would expect from someone who had so much influence on modern music. But we know from what’s come before that he suffered from psychological problems, and the above song seems to endorse that view. Fast forward some 30 years and I got my actual first view of Green, but this time as an old “toppie”, grey-haired with a smock on his head, looking a lot like the aged Rembrandt. He was performing in 2003 with a band called the Peter Green Splinter Group, which was formed in 1996. It was a live DVD I picked up relatively cheaply at a supermarket. It is certainly a pleasant album, with enough “covers” of his early classics to please those hankering for a bit of nostalgia. But how sad to see the ravages of time on one human being. Full credit to Green for brazening it out on stage again after a life which was clearly turbulent after that initial spate of successes in the 1960s. A quick glance at Wikipedia should tell us what became of him in those intervening years.

He was born Peter Allen Greenbaum on October 29, 1946, in Bethnal Green, London. Wikipedia quotes BB King as saying “he has the sweetest tone I ever heard; he was the only one who gave me the cold sweats”. Green played a 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard guitar, his playing “marked with a distinctive keen vibrato and economy of style”. As mentioned, he paid his dues with Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, then formed Fleetwood Mac, where his success was legend. According to this insert, at the height of their fame, after that gig in Munich, he went on a three-day LSD-fuelled binge and, in his own words, “went on a trip, and never came back”. His personality evidently “changed drastically … he began wearing a robe, grew a beard, and wore a crucifix on his chest. His use of LSD may have been a contributing factor to his mental illness, schizophrenia”.

After declaring money evil, in 1970 he quit Fleetwood Mac, then recorded an experimental and “extremely uncommercial” album, The End Of The Game, before he “faded into obscurity, taking on a succession of menial jobs”. He even sold his guitar to Irish guitarist Gary Moore. As mentioned earlier, he did have a couple of fleeting, sorry, reunions with the band over the next few years, but essentially he disappeared. Why?

Having been “institutionalised in the past with psychological problems”, says Wikipedia, in the mid-1970s he underwent “electroconvulsive therapy”. It quotes sources as attesting to his “lethargic, trancelike state” during this period. After being arrested for allegedly threatening his accountant with a rifle in 1977, he was sent to a psychiatric institution in London. He did a brief stint with PVK Records in the late 1970s and early 1980s, recording a series of albums which, says Wikipedia, “contained glimmers of Green’s unique blues styling and signature sound”. He assisted Fleetwood Mac on a couple of albums, but only made a real comeback with the Splinter Group in the 1990s. The group released nine albums from 1997 till 2003. He was then briefly involved with The British Blues All Stars, but a 2005 tour was cancelled. So, from being one of the brightest stars in the firmament when it was ablaze with light, he gradually faded. Yet his name and reputation will live on forever. Today, judging by that 2003 live album, he is like a real old African American bluesman. He even sings like one, and blows the harmonica like the best of them. But the fire, the spark, which made him such a star, is now burning cold.

Kiln House

We were still enamoured with Fleetwood Mac when Kiln House came out in 1970, despite Peter Green’s absence. It’s cover, a drawing of two children in an idyllic rural setting, by Christine McVie, was indicative of the new, gentler direction the band would take. But I do recall enjoying this album immensely. For the first time, however, it is classified by Wikipedia as rock, not blues rock. It would be the last album featuring Jeremy Spencer who’s “retro 50s homages and parodies dominate the album”, says Wikipedia, though Kirwan’s “more sincere songs are almost equally prominent”. Sadly, looking at the track listing, I can honestly say I can’t recall any of the songs, though I would certainly do so were I to lay hands on it again.

Future Games

The next album, Future Games, from 1971, passed us by completely. It had, I see on Wikipedia, a photograph of two children, one a little girl with a bathing tube, on the cover. It was guitarist Bob Welch’s first Fleetwood album and also the first with Christine McVie as a full member. And, notes Wikipedia, with Spencer gone, the band moved even further from blues and “closer to the melodic pop sound that would finally break them into America five years later”.

Bare Trees

Bare Trees (1972) was another album that saw me through high school. It featured a low-key, misty photograph of bare trees on the cover, and this sort of summed up the subdued sound of the band at this stage. It was as if they weren’t sure where they were headed. It was, for me, the only real time I got into Danny Kirwan’s music, because he was fired during the tour supporting the album. Having just again listened to Bare Trees, I realise that throughout high school I was escaping into these music worlds. Even this album, which today seems fairly innocuous, I seem to have ingested like it was something my soul depended on. It seems odd, now, but at the time I lived these songs, uncritically, really. And the album is enjoyable, light listening, clearly with an eye to the sort of chart-topping commercial stuff that was to come. The opening track, a Kirwan number, is quick-fire country-rock. “Little child of mine / You’ll be lovin’ like your little mother did / Heard it somewhere before / I won’t leave you no not like my father did.” It’s a catchy tune with a catchy chorus: “Heavy country blues keep a rockin / K-k-k-keep that soulbeat a-sockin’ / Heavy country blues keep a rockin’ / K-k-k-keep that soulbeat a-sockin’.”

The Ghost, a Welch number, has a more bluesy feel, with some lovely flute and Jack Bruce-type bass. I don’t really know the lyrics of this song, and have no real desire to discover them, but there is a line that has stayed with me down the decades: “And then the wind starts to blow and the fire comes scorching down …” Again, the vocals are great. I am not disappointed that I listened to this album so much. Homeward Bound shares a title with the Paul Simon song, but is altogether different. A Christine McVie composition, it starts with gentle piano and drums and some solid electric guitar, and seems to bemoan the life of the pop star: “I want to sit at home in my rocking chair / I don’t want to travel the world,” she sings. The chorus is a cry for a way out: “Buy me a ticket homeward bound, homeward bound.” There is an interesting little acoustic guitar section at the end before it fades. The last track on the side is a Kirwan instrumental, Sunny Side Of Heaven, which has echoes of the Shadows. But it will never be another Albatross, which was one bird I’m sure Peter Green didn’t mind around his neck.

Side 2 starts with the title track, a fairly bland, quick-paced rock number. “Bare trees, grey light, oh yeah it was a cold night.” The band’s strong rhythm section continues to make itself felt, making this and indeed the whole album very listenable.

Sentimental Lady is a Welch composition which again is laid back fare, with a few lines which have stayed with me down the age: “’Cos we live in a time, when meaning falls in splinters from our lives” and: “’Cos we live in a time, when paintings have no colour, words don’t rhyme.”

Danny’s Chant, another Kirwan song, starts with some explosive wah-wah lead guitar, complete with feedback, before launching into a melodious chant of “nah-nah nah nah”, with the song containing definite echoes of the title track. Christine McVie’s Spare Me A Little Of Your Love is one of the strongest songs on the album, with her voice clearly a huge asset. “Why not lie here in my arms, and listen to the night / You must know that you have certain charms/ and I feel that the time is right / so spare me a little, spare me little, spare me a little of your love”. The album ends with Dust, another Kirwan song which for me recalls Steve Stills. “When we are dust, when we are dust…” goes the rather forlorn chorus. It is, however, looking at the lyrics for the first time, a rather beautiful, if melancholy, poem. “When the white flame in us is gone / And we that lost the world’s delight / Stiffen in darkness / Left alone / to crumble in our separate light / When you swift hair is quiet in death / And through the lips corruption thrust to / still the labour of my breath.” Ah, but I then read on and Wikipedia tells me that these lyrics were taken from a poem by Rupert Brooke. Well, at least Kirwan was reading good poetry!

Oh, and I forgot the last track, Thoughts On A Grey Day, a poem read by an old lady named Mrs Scarrott, who lived near the band’s communal home in Hampshire, southern England. Even this, would you believe, I listened to intently, with the following line staying with me: “God bless air perfect, perfect grey day, with trees so bare, so bare, but oh so beautiful…”

For many, the next few years are seen as the “rise” of Fleetwood Mac to become the chart-topping band they later were, but I see it as a steady decline to pop/rock stardom, a selling out of their blues roots. But who can blame people for wanting to make a quick buck? The Fleetwood of the late 1960s and early 1970s was soon forgotten, as other priorities and tastes dictated matters.

Penguin, Mystery to Me, Heroes are Hard to Find

Without dwelling on the “rise” to stardom too long, it suffices to say that the next album, Penguin, was released in 1973 and was still deemed “blues rock” by Wikipedia. It was the first to feature Bob Weston – who he? – and the last to feature Dave Walker – who he? Mystery to Me followed the same year. It has, I see on the website, a weird ape on the cover eating ice cream. The genre is now deemed “rock”, though Wikipedia still calls it a “British/American blues rock band”. It was to be Weston’s swansong with the band, with most of the songs by Welch or Christine McVie. It sold moderately, with Hypnotized evidently enjoying good radio exposure. Next up was Heroes Are Hard to Find, from 1974, my last year of high school, by which stage Fleetwood were not high on my list of musical priorities. Now Wikipedia call them simply a “rock band”, and notes that this was Welch’s last album with them. He was replaced by Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, evidently setting the scene for the “big” things to come. Apparently this was the group’s first album to be certified Gold, in March 1975. It reached No 34 on the US Billboard charts in 1974.

Fleetwood Mac

The dumbing down had been completed and the stage was set for the group to tap into that worldwide clamour for catchy pop tunes. The cover of their next album, the eponymous Fleetwood Mac (1975), would prove a propitious choice, because the subsequent album, Rumours, would use the same design, and we all know how popular it was. This cover features a tall man – Fleetwood? – beside a short one in a stage-set type doorway. He is sipping from a wine glass, with the album’s title in ornate lettering above. It was essentially black on white, giving the album the title, the White Album, which is a bit of an insult to the real White Album by the Beatles.

This album peaked at No 1 on the Billboard charts, albeit only for one week, but, says Wikipedia, it “set a record for most weeks on the chart before reaching the top position”, which to me signifies a bit of ambivalence. It did, however, sell 5 million copies – up from their normally modest quarter million – and launched three Top 20 singles, Over My Head, Rhiannon and Say You Love Me, none of which spring readily to memory. The album, says Wikipedia, “helped launch them as musical superstars with an almost constant radio presence (which would be continued with Rumours). In 2003 it was ranked No 183 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Perhaps I need to give it a listen and abandon my prejudices…

What I do see from the track-listing is that Buckingham, McVie and Nicks were the creative force behind most of the songs.

Rumours

But what of that next album, Rumours, which was released in February 1977, my second year at art school, at a time when South Africa was still in upheaval following the June 1976 Soweto uprising, which basically spread across the country, and was followed in September 1977 with the death in detention of Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko at the age of 30. He was from a township, Ginsberg, near King William’s Town, about 60km from where I lived in East London. It was the editor of the Daily Dispatch, Donald Woods, who had given Biko and his comrades much editorial space in his paper to promote their views. He was banned by the state in a massive clampdown on the media in what became known as Black October, that year. He later fled into exile in the UK.

Despite all this, there was no escaping Rumours, the cover of which, as noted too often already, features that same tall dude alongside a pretty woman on a chair, in the same style as the previous album. And it was probably the release of the single, Go Your Own Way, in December of 1976 which really turned the album into a best-seller. Certainly it was hugely popular as disco and dance fever took hold in the mid to late 1970s. I have a personal recollection of this song being very much favoured by a young blonde woman who rather took my fancy at the time. The album was huge, with Wikipedia noting that not only had it sold 30 million copies by 2007, it is also 13th on the list of the best-selling albums of all time. I picked up a tape of it at a second hand store a couple of years ago, for old time’s sake. I am about to give it a fresh listen, but let’s first see what sparked the rumours.

Wikipedia tells us that in the previous two years Mick Fleetwood had separated from his wife, Buckingham and Nicks – who were in a relationship when they joined the group – had split up, and so too had the McVies. Remarkably, all still remained in the band. A case of divided we stand, united we fall. Having endured something of love’s poisoned arrows, I can only imagine how hard it must have been to work under such circumstances. Indeed, Christine McVie, says Wikipedia, later said they were all “writing about each other, hence the title of the album”. And if anything could make them cheer up, then surely it was the sound of cash rolling in from this album.

Ironically, Go Your Own Way, a Buckingham composition, was, according to her ex, Stevie Nicks, a gloomy reference to their break-up. But Dreams was her attempt to be more optimistic. And You Make Loving Fun apparently referred to an affair between Christine McVie and the group’s lighting director. Ah, how sordid it all gets! Gold Dust Woman was evidently a reference to cocaine, and Don’t Stop (another mega-hit in SA at the time), was written by Christine McVie, says Wikipedia, after she and John got divorced, and “provided an optimistic outlook on their newly separated lives”. Oh Daddy, also by Christine, was “almost certainly a reference to Mick Fleetwood, the spiritual father of the group who largely held it together, and the only member who was a parent at the time”. Songbird, another Christine song, was “a little anthem … for all of us”. The Chain was, says Wikipedia, an oddity, with the last minute and a quarter written first. The first part had been written separately by Nicks, who “gave it to them”. All band members are credited with the final product.

Having just given the album a close listen, I have to confess it is a good ’un. You can understand why it was so popular – and the rise of women as equals in the pop industry and the record-buying population must have played a key role. The blues, as I have noted earlier, was very much a male thing, with an unashamed objectification of women, not due to a sense of superiority, but due to that very strong masculine drive which cannot avoid seeing beauty objectively. She may not be a very nice person, but heck is she a stunner. Of course this led to many a mismatch, but what the heck, sex, to young red-blooded men, was far more important than such issues as deeper relationships based on matters of compatibility. The Fleetwood Mac blues band was dead. Instead, it was women who increasingly ruled the roost, and I suspect it was largely women who bought this album. Certainly in our set those two great hits from this album were sung by women and loved by them. We just tagged along, because by failing to do so you wrote yourself out of their equations.

Side 1 is the side that has the great hits, Don’t Stop and Go Your Own Way. But most of the songs have “catchy” bits which made the album so popular, including the “baum baum baum-baum, baum baum baum-baum” section on the opening track, Second Hand News. And as Wikipedia notes, these songs are very much about love and relationships, and all those things which get women watching Dr Phil and reading women’s magazines. But the residual good musicianship of the band ensures these are beautifully packaged, with that famous rhythm section not letting the side down. It would be interesting to see what precisely they were singing, so let’s try and track down Lindsey Buckingham’s lyrics. And, oh yeah, it was bad news. Dirty linen, all that stuff, in the opening track: “I know there’s nothing to say / Someone has taken my place / When times go bad / When times go rough / Won’t you lay me down in tall grass / And let me do my stuff.” Not sure what “stuff” that is but who cares, he’s in a forgiving mood. “I know I got nothin on you / I know there’s nothing to do / When times go bad / And you can’t get enough / Won’t you lay me down in the tall grass / And let me do my stuff.” But he’ll get the boot in anyway: “One thing I think you should know / I ain’t gonna miss you when you go / Been down so long / I’ve been tossed around enough / Couldn’t you just / Let me go down and do my stuff.” There is another similar verse, but no mention of that baum-baum bit. The song concludes with the sad realisation that “I’m just second hand news / I’m just second hand news”.

Dreams, as mentioned earlier, is also all about breaking up. Fortunately, when we listened to these songs while attempting desperately to “score”, the lyrics did not play on our minds that much. It was all sort of incidental, background stuff. This has a big bass-driven beat, with Stevie Nicks providing almost country-style vocals. It is instantly recognisable: “Now here you go again / You say you want your freedom / Well who am I to keep you down / Its only right that you should / Play the way you feel it / But listen carefully to the sound / Of your loneliness / Like a heartbeat ... drives you mad / In the stillness of remembering what you had / And what you lost ... / And what you had ... / And what you lost.” Phew, it’s intense stuff. But what of the chorus? “Thunder only happens when its raining / Players only love you when they’re playing / Say ... women ... they will come and they will go / When the rain washes you clean ... you’ll know.” That was catchy, and so was the next bit: “Now here I go again, I see the crystal visions / I keep my visions to myself / It’s only me / Who wants to wrap around your dreams and ... / Have you any dreams you’d like to sell? / Dreams of loneliness ... / Like a heartbeat ... drives you mad ... / In the stillness of remembering what you had ... / And what you lost ... / And what you had ... / And what you lost.”

It is only when you’ve loved and lost that you can understand this sort of passion. And women are far more adept, generally, in verbalising their emotions, hence, in my humble opinion, the success of this album.

There is a Bee Gees quality to the lilting, acoustic-guitar-based Never Going Back Again, a Buckingham composition. Again, the vocals are superb. But is it, too, all about fractious relationships? It’s hard to tell, because the lyrics are so thin, but certainly there is angst here – and a chorus that is instantly recognisable. “She broke down and let me in / Made me see where I’ve been …. Been down one time / Been down two times / I’m never going back again.” The next verse is again just two lines: “You don’t know what it means to win / Come down and see me again.” Then the chorus again, which goes to show a good song doesn’t need much substance to be a success, so long as the musicianship, arrangement and execution is top rate.

Don’t Stop. Thinking about tomorrow, I mean. Well that was Christine McVie’s heartbroken advice in that great hit song sung in a very low, almost husky, woman’s voice. It is a piano-based song with all the catchy melodies and harmonies of a guaranteed hit. But what was she really saying? It seems it’s all about getting over present problems and facing the future: “If you wake up and don’t want to smile, / If it takes just a little while, / Open your eyes and look at the day, / You’ll see things in a different way.” Then that timeless chorus: “Don’t stop, thinking about tomorrow, / Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here, / It’ll be, better than before, / Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone.” The next verses go: “Why not think about times to come, / And not about the things that you’ve done, / If your life was bad to you, / Just think what tomorrow will do.” 3. “All I want is to see you smile, / If it takes just a little while, / I know you don’t believe that its true, / I never meant any harm to you.” After the final chorus they sing the lines: “Don’t you look back, / Don’t you look back.”

Again, lyrically no masterpiece, but this song had all the ingredients of a mega-hit, as did the next song on the album, Go Your Own Way. Quickfire keyboard work gets this song off to a cracking start, and again, as the title suggests, Lindsey Buckingham was also bent on breaking up. But isn’t this one of the most recognisable introductions to any pop song, ever? “Loving you / Isn’t the right thing to do / How can I ever change things / That I feel.” Then: “If I could / Maybe I’d give you my world / How can I / When you won’t take it from me.” And the most popular chorus of all time? “You can go your own way / Go your own way / You can call it / Another lonely day / You can go your own way / Go your own way.” For the record, the next verse runs: “Tell me why / Everything turned around / Packing up / Shacking up is all you wanna do.” And the next: “If I could / Baby I’d give you my world / Open up / Everything’s waiting for you.” And then the final chorus. What’s interesting here is that the song is totally unreflective of the sort of artificial lifestyle these people were living. They were pop stars continually touring and being mobbed by fans. So it must have been hard to write songs that spoke of “normal” things like “shacking up”. I recall how popular this song was on the Springbok hit parade, or whatever it was that David Gresham would produce, I think it was, on a Saturday evening. I think it was a Top 20 or even Top 40, through which we’d listen while discussing such arcane matters as astrology, with many of the young women at the time into their stars, for some reason. Oh and we drank a bit, too.

But not all the songs were this commercial. Songbird, a slow Christine McVie folk song ends side one, and it is probably the best on the album. It starts again with piano and some mournful vocals, with acoustic guitar too. A peaceful song with a lovely melody in the best English folk tradition, it starts: “For you, there’ll be no more crying, / For you, the sun will be shining, /And I feel that when I’m with you, / It’s alright, I know its right.” Then: “To you, I’ll give the world / To you, I’ll never be cold / cause I feel that when I’m with you, / It’s alright, I know its right.” If the song is not yet recognisable, the chorus should do the trick. Remember that McVie voice and how she made it cover several notes on a word like “singing”: “And the songbirds are singing, / Like they know the score, / And I love you, I love you, I love you, / Like never before.” This is a real benediction: “And I wish you all the love in the world, / But most of all, I wish it from myself.”

Side 2 is far less commercial. There are even signs here of interesting experimentation. As noted earlier, The Chain was just that, a series of links between the various songwriters in the band. A thumping drum and banjo (is it?) start the ball rolling, slowly, before an electric guitar adds a heavier dimension befitting the lyrics: “Listen to the wind blow / Watch the sun rise / Run in the shadows / Damn your love / Damn your lies.” The chorus is characteristically catchy, and another key reason why this album was so popular. There were no weak songs. Like most of the Beatles albums, each song had particular unique merits. It was a far cry from the blues of before, but new courses required new horses, and this album remains a major landmark in the topography of popular music. So here, you should remember it, is that chorus: “And if / You don’t love me now / You will never love me again / I can still hear you saying / You would never break the chain.” A feature of this album is the harmonising by the two female vocalists, something not common among pop groups. There are great changes in tempo in this tightly arranged work, as they return to the more haunting verses: “Listen to the wind blow / Down comes the night / Run in the shadows / Damn your love / Damn your lies.” Then: “Break the silence / Damn the dark / Damn the light” before that chorus again.

You Make Loving Fun is another classic McVie song, with a strong folk flavour, sung in her hauntingly low voice, which is all the more feminine for that. “Sweet wonderful you, / You make me happy with the things you do, / Oh, can it be so, / This feeling follows me wherever I go.” That chorus: “I never did believe in miracles, / But I’ve a feeling it’s time to try. / I never did believe in the ways of magic, / But I’m beginning to wonder why.” Then: “Don’t, don’t break the spell, / It would be different and you know it will, / You, you make loving fun, / And I don’t have to tell you you’re the only one. / You make loving fun. / You make loving fun.”

Is that a misprint, or is it a play on a famous fashion designer’s name? I Don’t Qant To Know is another McVie composition, again relying on beautiful acoustic guitar as the anchor instrument. As to be expected on a flop-free album, the melody is very catchy – Paul McCartney would have approved – and there is again some requisite lead guitar near the end to give it gravitas. The first verse goes: “I don’t want to know the reasons why / Love keeps right on walking down the line / I don’t want to stand between you and love / Honey, I just want you to feel fine.” It is another relationship song, at a time when, as a 21-year-old, I had not yet experienced to full import and impact of that situation. Oh, and it seems the label on my tape was wrong. The Q is right next to the W on the keyboard, so I guess that explains matters. It’s no excuse for shoddy editing though.

Oh Daddy, yet another McVie song, is supposed to have been about the big daddy of the band, tall Cornishman Mick Fleetwood. Acoustic guitar and organ introduce this quiet, laid-back song, on which McVie again evinces the English folk tradition. A gentle love song, there is also a lovely passage of acoustic guitar lead. What was it about? Was it a tribute to founding father Mick Fleetwood, or just another love song? Or both? “Oh Daddy, / You know you make me cry, / How can you love me, / I don’t understand why.” Then the chorus: “ Oh Daddy, / If I can make you see, / If there’s been a fool around, / It’s got to be me.” She really is the “little girl” in this scenario: “Oh Daddy, / You soothe me with your smile, / You’re letting me know, / You’re the best thing in my life.” Her apparent kowtowing continues in the last verse: “Why are you right when I’m so wrong, / I’m so weak but you’re so strong, / Everything you do is just alright, / And I can’t walk away from you, baby / If I tried.” It was, of course, these sorts of somewhat sentimental, well, sentiments, which probably made this album the hit it was among the ladies.

Stevie Nicks wraps up the album with her composition, Gold Dust Woman, a slow, bassy, country song featuring acoustic rhythm and lead guitar. There is almost a bluesy feel to the song as a slide guitar is introduced, alongside male/female vocal harmonies out of the top drawer. Indeed, the song becomes increasingly progressive, with Nicks’s vocals taking on an almost Grace Slick timber – a far cry from the commercialism of Don’t Stop and Go Your Own Way. It is a rather ruthless assault on a perceived gold digger: “Rock on – gold dust woman / Take your silver spoon / And dig your grave.”

Certainly, as Wikipedia observes, the album was panned by the critics for “perceived pandering to mainstream tastes”. It won a Grammy in 1978 for Album of the Year for 1977 and spent 31 weeks at the top of the Billboard music charts. As noted earlier, by 2003 it had sold more than 19 million copies in the US alone. One interesting fact is that the song, Silver Springs, which was the B side on Go Your Own Way, was not included on the album due to its length, and replaced by Nicks’s shorter song, I Don’t Want To Know. On later CD releases it is included.

Tusk

I recall the album, Tusk, but a bit like Thick As A Brick by Jethro Tull and The Wall by Pink Floyd, I never got into what I see was deemed a “more experimental” double album influenced by New Wave music. Wikipedia describes Tusk, released in 1979, about when I was conscripted for two years into the apartheid army, as “quirky”, though it saw three songs become hits: the title track by Buckingham which features a marching band and made the Top 10 in the US and UK, McVie’s Think About Me, and Nicks’s seven-minute Sara. I’d like to hear this album, which even features some Peter Green guitar on McVie’s Brown Eyes, though it is not credited on the album. Despite its experimental nature, it sold four million copies worldwide, with this “failure” – after Rumours’s success – being laid at Buckingham’s door. The band launched an 18-month tour to support the album, travelling through the US, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and much of Europe and the UK. They used material from the tour for the 1980 Fleetwood Mac Live album.

The sleeve of Tusk had a small photograph of a dog on the otherwise plainish cover, while the album was among the first to use digital mixing – considered by some as a negative factor, I believe. It must have been a blow to the record label to find that the Rumours formula had not been repeated, but that is surely to the band’s credit. It is good to see it topped the UK album charts and reached No 4 in the US, which is no mean feat. This despite the entire album being played by a major US radio station prior to its release, which allowed for home taping. According to those positively disposed towards the album, it did afford each member of the quintet the space to express themselves. Ever wondered how the name arose? Wikipedia says it was inspired by a giant mammoth tusk in a museum in an Essex town called Saffron Walden. Tusk, says Wikipedia, is deemed by all but John McVie as the best (later) Fleetwood Mac album.

Mirage

The next album, Mirage, from 1982, was the band’s last before a lengthy hiatus. Trying to recapture the Rumours magic, it made the Top 10 in the UK and included several minor hits. It was also certified double platinum in the US. As each of the band members went solo, Fleetwood, bizarrely filed for bankruptcy, and John McVie suffered an addiction-related seizure. Nicks was in the Betty Ford Clinic for addiction problems for a while.

Tango In The Night

Their 1987 album, Tango In The Night, was initially a Buckingham solo effort, before the others got involved. It became their best-selling album since Rumours, hitting No 1 three times over the next year in the UK. It sold three million copies in the US and contained four hits, none of which I recall hearing at the time. The album, which features a front cover painting of a swamp and African animals in the Henri Rousseau mould, also has a black and white photograph on pale yellow of the band which harks back to the famous Rumours cover art of 10 years earlier. An intended tour to support the album never occurred, apparently after Buckingham refused and withdrew from the group. The band then went through the normal process of recruiting new musicians,

I picked up a copy of Tango In The Night on vinyl at a second-hand shop and gave it a spin – and was … pleasantly surprised. Firstly, my impression of the cover was correct. I see the painting by Brett Livingstone Strong is titled “Homage a Henri Rousseau”. Make not error about the music, though, it is commercial – but not in a schmaltzy sense. More in a Beatles sense, with each song usually well constructed and original. It is not boring, though there are obvious lapses in taste, such as the opening track, Big Love, a Buckingham composition. This is about “looking out for love in the night so still”. There’s also talk about a “house on the hill” which the members of Audience always sought to avoid. A great bit of acoustic and electric lead guitar work raises the song, but it is the overtly sexual alternating male and female uh’s and ah’s that are a trifle off-putting. It’s like listening to the soundtrack for a soft-porn movie. Seven Wonders is a Nicks/Stewart composition, with Nicks doing the vocals on a very commercial country-rock track. But she does have an interesting voice, and in places here sounds a bit like Buffy Saint-Marie.

McVie’s Everywhere is also catchily commercial, with some interesting keyboard work and steady rock rhythm. McVie’s vocals are also excellent, and there are some very listenable harmonies on this track. Buckingham’s Caroline has some nice acoustic guitar near the end, with Native American-sounding vocal chants. The title track, Tango In The Night, is another Buckingham composition, with an interesting harp-like instrument prominent. The song ranges from loud to gentle, with some Grace Slickish vocals at times. I even detected some African-sounding chanting and drums. The last track on the side, Mystified, a Buckingham/McVie product, is another well-crafted song with excellent harmonies that recall the best of the Beatles.

Side 2 starts with Little Lies, another sweetly commercial song written by McVie/Quintela. Again there are some lovely harmonies here. The Buckingham/Richard Dashut composition Family Man is another likeable bit of innocuous fun, with the line “I am what I am” repeated, and a low-voiced “A family man” sung in response. A feature here is a lengthy lead break on what sounds like a Spanish acoustic guitar. Stevie Nicks again takes on a Buffy-sounding voice for Welcome to The Room … Sara, another country-type song. Isn’t It Midnight (on the other side of the world?) is another pleasant song with sweetly sung lyrics and strong lead guitar work at the end. Nicks really explores her vocal range on her song, When I See You Again, a slow country-blues. “When I see you again, will it be the same? / When I see you again, will it be over?” It is the old love conundrum which afflicted the group and gave them Rumours all over again. Here Nicks sounds alternately like Buffy and even Bob Dylan! The album ends with a Buckingham/McVie song, You And I, Part II. Again it is pleasant, listenable stuff. It is hard to believe, though, that six of those songs were released as singles –Big Love, Everywhere, Little Lies, Seven Wonders, Family Man and Isn’t It Midnight. It seems, from Wikipedia, that Nicks was indeed a troubled soul at the time. As noted earlier, she spent some time in rehab during the recording of this album, while also working on her solo career. She was, however, allowed to add backing vocals to some of the songs, and to include those three songs. I see that Seven Wonders – written by Sandy Stewart with a few additional lyrics by Nicks – became a US Top 20 hit. Welcome To The Room … Sara was written while in the Betty Ford clinic. As noted earlier, the album hit No 1 three times in the UK in 1987 and 1988 and No 7 in the US, which is why I had to give it a listen. Nonetheless, Buckingham left soon after its release due to that row over touring. The line-up reconvened, however, in 1997 for a tour and live album, The Dance.

It is interesting to note that Strong’s painting used on the cover was actually hanging in Buckingham’s home. It is a tribute to 19th century French painter Henri Rousseau, who did such jungle scenes as The Snake Charmer and The Repast Of The Lion. And those many singles from the album also did well on the charts, making this a clear money-spinner for the band.

During the 1990s the band went through the inevitable gamut of break-ups and reunions, with the odd new album or compilation CD set released. Then in 1998 Fleetwood Mac – encompassing Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Christine McVie, Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan – was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The also performed at the Grammy Awards that year and were recipients of the Outstanding Contribution to Music award at the British Phonographic Industry Awards (Brits).

Incredibly, while I have lost all interest in the band, it seems even after Christine McVie left in 1998, the band continued with Buckingham and Nicks doing the vocals, and released an album in 2003, Say You Will, which debuted at No 3 on the Billboard 200 chart and at No 6 in the UK. There were chart hits – Peacekeeper and the title track – and a successful world arena tour in 2004. Wikipedia even quotes Buckingham as mooting possibly reunions.

What the past four decades have told me is that Fleetwood Mac adapted rather better than most bands to the demands of the market, and somehow kept their sound fresh and accessible. Their sound certainly became overtly commercial, but the underlying blues roots which started the band in the late 1960s have remained.

And it is those early blues rock albums, led by Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer, which will remain at the heart and soul of my affection for the band.

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