Say the words “Fleetwood Mac” and most people will think to themselves: Rumours. The album is synonymous with the band. It bears such outstanding tracks as Christine McVie’s delicate “Songbird,” the spirited “Go Your Own Way,” and the funk guitar of “You Make Loving Fun,” not to mention the groove of Stevie Nicks’ “Dreams,” with her voice purring lyrics like “Thunder only happens when it’s raining.”
I’ll be honest, it’s an amazing album. Once you’ve heard it, you can’t forget it — it leaves an indelible mark. It’s mystical and magical, just like the band wanted it to be. But before Rumours there was Fleetwood Mac, the band’s breakthrough album and precursor to their legendary hitmaker. Also widely acclaimed, their self-titled album marked the appearance of Lyndsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, who joined the Mac’s longtime members Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and Christine McVie after a chance meeting in a West Coast recording studio.
Fleetwood Mac is an unforgettable album beginning with Buckingham’s upbeat “Monday Morning.” Tasteful, hooky and impossible to get out of your head once it’s there, it promises easy-to-love songs and then, surprisingly enough, it delivers. Recall such prominent hits as “Over My Head,” “Rhiannon,” and “Say You Love Me.” I know what you’re thinking, but no, these songs didn’t make their debut on Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits.
We all know the hits. But perhaps the best part of discovering an old band is the rest of the album. A child of the ’80s like myself has the pleasure of rummaging through back catalogues. The pleasure in this comes from unearthing a relatively old record and then listening to the whole thing, straight through. A `hits’ record generally has no breathers. It’s like every song was recorded at “11,” without pauses in between, without space to recuperate before you’re bludgeoned with that thing that makes a hit a hit. Fleetwood Mac is heavy with these catchy little gems, but also features several lesser-known compositions of Californian Stevie Nicks and Briton Christine McVie, who both flexed their songwriting skills and dominated the album to great affect.
In need of a compilation filler? Looking for the perfect piece to sandwich between Damien Rice’s “The Blower’s Daughter” and The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights”? Christine McVie’s “Warm Ways” is your song. Something of a period piece, “Warm Ways” has that straightforwardness you could only find in the 70s, when love songs were a simple affair, unlike convoluted modern songs that seem to be searching for a new way to say something very old. But love isn’t monotonous, and saying “I love you,” seems easy and beautiful when it’s coming from the lips of Christine McVie. Structured around sweet keyboards and a backbone of unlikely drum beats, McVie’s delicate voice narrates a lover’s inability to sleep by the side of her partner. The song achieves an amazingly epic feeling while somehow remaining subdued, an ability McVie would perfect later, in Rumours‘ overlooked (though oft covered) pearl, “Songbird.”
Though not a hit either, Fleetwood Mac boasts Nicks’ brilliant ballad about aging and change, “Landslide,” a song that might have gone unrecognized had it not been for The Smashing Pumpkins including it on their B-side and rarity release, Pisces Iscariot. But as good as Billy Corgan is, as close to the original his finger-picking is and as emotional as his whining is, he can’t touch the timeless solemnity that Nicks achieves. The dark dimensions of Stevie Nicks’ voice wrap around the lyrics, contemplating fear of loss and aging with a poignancy that an angst ridden twenty-something boy could never capture—Nicks sings with the desperate honesty of the poet who penned the words.
Call it pop, call it enigmatic gypsy music or sunny California rock with Beach Boys’ harmonies (all accurate monikers, by the way), Fleetwood Mac draws on a vast spectrum of talent and channels it into an album unlike anything that could be released today and still be considered mainstream pop. Virtually unheard of is the radio-friendly band who writes its own music. Only by digging deep into the cache of ’60s and ’70s rock does one find songs like “Over My Head” with Buckingham’s roughly articulated, blues flavored lead guitar—a chart topper—and the bass-groove-led gypsy anthem “Rhiannon,”—also a chart topper. These days, radio-listeners are lucky if they hear something not reminiscent of mass-manufactured, prefabricated kitsch. God bless the ’70s.
Similar Albums/Albums Influenced:
Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Steely Dan – Pretzel Logic
Rod Stewart – Every Picture Tells a Story