Reconsidering The Seventies: Fleetwood Mac

In the seventies, back before Michael Jackson, Prince and Bruce Springsteen completely rebooted the sales charts, Rumours by Fleetwood Mac was the ultimate, inescapable soundtrack of the last half of the decade.

And as such, being the hipper-than-thou, too-literally-cool-for-school wanna-be rock’nroll animal, I hated it.

Hated the nasal yawping of Stevie Nicks.  Hated Christine McVie’s banal cooing, and Mick Fleetwood’s shaggy dissipation and calculated (or coke-ulated) English off-beatness.  Hated especially Lindsay Buckingham’s “Look at how avant-garde I am, while selling 13 million copies!”, and John McVie’s…well, no.  I always liked John McVie.

It was a few years later – when Nicks basically adopted the Heartbreakers as her backup band for her first couple of solo albums – that I started to think maybe they deserved a chance.  But it was just a start.  And I didn’t follow up on it…

…until about 2009.  When I saw a Fleetwood Mac concert on TV.  And they were…pretty good musicians.  And they did a…

…well, pretty fair live show.

And I did a little digging.

Less Than The Sum Of History:   Fleetwood Mac’s history, for those who pay attention, reads a little like Spinal Tap:  the band has actually gone through four major line-ups, and innumerable minor changes to boot.    And while I knew about all of them when I was an obnoxious teenager, I never really paid much attention until recently.

Fleetwood and McVie started in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers – the band that also launched Eric Clapton, former Rolling Stone Mick Taylor, “Cream” bassist Jack Bruce and original Journey drummer Aynsley Dunbar, among dozens of others – during the British blues craze of the mid-sixties, when a generation of young Brits looted and pillaged the American blues tradition.  Also starting with Mayall were guitarists Jeremy Spencer and Peter Green.  Spencer, Green, McVie and Fleetwood started “Fleetwood Mac” in 1967 (McVie’s girlfriend, keyboardist Christine Perfect, left blues-rock band “Chickenshack” and joined the band after an album or so, and married McVie in 1969).

I did say blues, right?

That’s Spencer, an over-emoting Kirwan and Green, from about 1969.

Green and Spencer then went on to have a couple of classic seventies-style drug-induced meltdowns, leading the band to reform with a dizzying array of other musicians – including this line-up with singer-guitarist Bob Weston and American singer-guitarist Bob Welch, which yielded some progressive-y blues…:

…and some scandal (Weston banged Mick Fleetwood’s wife Patti Boyd, who would also be the fulcrum of the long feud between George Harrison and Eric Clapton)…

…leading Fleetwood to fire Weston, Welch to leave for a brief solo career, and the rapidly-divorcing McVies and Fleetwood to settle on a new front line, the American duo (and also-splitting-up couple) of Nicks and Buckingham.

Which was the band’s definitive line-up, the one that gave us Fleetwood Mac and Rumours and superstardom and excess…

…but we’ll come back to that. Here’s one of their big singles, “Go Your Own Way”

…and “Second Hand News”…

…and the big kahuna, “Don’t Stop”…:

On the “con” side, it was the ultimate manifestation of ’70′s California pop music; the first cousin of everything the Eagles, Jackson Browne and all the other west-coast pop artists I trained myself to detest were doing.

On the “pro” side? They were very good at it. Fastidious musicianship (even from a band that built sand castles out of cocaine); a style that got more unique over and music done as a craft rather than a nihilistic “art” form…

…that I had pretty much adopted as my thing at the time.

The song that started me thinking that there was something worth listening to? “The Chain”:

Suddenly, the notion that I’d grown up with – that Fleetwood Mac was a soulless, bloodless, hits-in-their-sleep Brill Building pop corporation – was self-serving, short-sighted, solipsistic and just plain dumb; it’s a great song.

So I’ve actually listened to some Fleetwood Mac over the past few years. Not gonna shell out $200 for the concert…

UPDATE:  as you can see from the comments, the “stub” version of this article – and the entire series – has been floating around my drafts folder, and occasional accidental publications, for four and a half years. 

But I’m finally getting it written!

20 thoughts on “Reconsidering The Seventies: Fleetwood Mac

  1. I agree with Kermit … sort of like denim jeans … always there …pick an era …

    I’m waiting for Grand Funk Railroad …

  2. Brill Building pop corporation

    I recommend this book, which tells the tale of the Brill Building well. Even you look askance at the music that the songwriting teams who were denizens of the Brill Building produced, it’s a good look at the music business and how things were done in an earlier era.

  3. Well, I have always liked the Eagles (Get Over It is quite a libertarian song for a bunch of liberals), but I have ALWAYS despised Jackson Browne’s music…and given that he resorted to slapping Darryl Hannah around a bit makes him kinda contemptable as a person too.

  4. At least FM was making music that was impossible to dance to during the disco era. Can’t say that about the Sex Pistols.

  5. I had an almost identical reaction to FM; hated the early stuff, like “The Chain” and listened a little more closely after that. Never felt like seeing them in concert, though. I liked the Buckingham-Nicks album cover with the topless Stevie a lot; the music not so much. I liked what they added to John Stewart’s “Bombs Away Dream Babies” album which helped Stewart be “popular” for a little while, which was well-deserved even though he reportedly hated the album himself.

    As for the Eagles, Jackson Browne and the “California Sound” of the era (which includes Linda Ronstadt, don’t forget – I liked early Eagles, up through Desperado, hated the “Tequila Sunrise” era then got interested in them again when Joe Walsh became more involved right around “Hotel California” and thereafter. (LOVED “Get Over It”). Jackson Browne was kind of hit or miss for me; I really liked “The Pretender” album and many of the songs off of “Running on Empty” but his other stuff was kind of “meh”.

    On a related note, I originally blew my knee out in ’78 at an all day concert in Kansas City where my friends and I spent the day in the sun, drinking beer and seeing Dan Fogelberg, Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles, who brought Browne out as a special guest for their encore set. Leaving Arrowhead Stadium my friends and I figured it would be faster to climb over the seats rather than trying to use the jammed up steps. Couldn’t quite figure out why my knee hurt the next day – and thereafter.

  6. Fleetwood Mac is certainly a band which gives the listener options; again, pick an iteration that suits you.

    Greene’s faded 1959 ‘bust Les Paul was supposed to be legendary in it’s own right due to its pick-up winding. I could never discern anything special about it and never appreciated his stint with the group. Some claim it was the band’s best work.

    Speaking of SoCal 70′s rock, I am confounded by Linda Ronstadt’s inclusion last night in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Not sure what I think; her early stuff was OK. I might be tainted by the anti-Bush rant that got her kicked off a Las Vegas stage, but I just don’t see it … or do I?

  7. My friends and I . . . figured it would be faster to climb over the seats rather than trying to use the jammed up stepstook part in a drug and alcohol fueled frenzy.

    Concision, Night Writer, concision!

  8. “California pop” is much like California itself: it’s a nice place to visit, but God forbid you should live there. There’s tons of good stuff there, but there’s even more rubbish.

    Proudly ex-California now for two decades. Still love going back, though — it’s absolutely great, the hiking and scenery is terrific, and after 3 days there I remember why I’d never, ever consider living there again.

  9. Joe-
    Years ago, when I was a wee lad, I sat in on a basement session with a mpls band that was well known at the time. The replacements or husker du, something like that. I honestly can’t remember. I was only there because my sister went out with their guitar tech. It was a loud session, and the female lead singer matched the volume of the amplified guitar and bass, without a mic. Perfectly. They played soft, her voice was soft. They played loud, her voice was loud. And nothing else about her voice, other than the volume, changed. I was floored. It was like watching a magic trick that was real. I didn’t know people could have voices like that. It’s hard to describe. That woman had talent that I did not know it was possible to have.
    I think Linda Ronstadt is like that. Who cares about her politics.
    Here’s “Ooh Ooh baby”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmTddmYmwEo
    And an early version of Long, Long time: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0qm8nq8RcA

  10. Mitch, as much as you poo-poo the 70′s

    Of course, one of the points of this series is me realizing that poo-pooing was, in many (but far from all) cases wrong, and/or overly broad, and/or part of suffocating adolescent pretension.

    , are you that averse to prog rock?

    Some I have come to appreciate. Some I have come to like less than I did. :-0

    And as I’ve written on other musical subjects, I tend to appreciate music two different ways; emotionally (does it grab me viscerally on an emotional level?) and technically, as a musician (does the musicianship make me go “wow”?). What used to be “prog rock” usually left me cold on the former, but frequently (even at my insufferable worst) made me go “yow, those cats could play”.

    That’ll be the subject of at least several upcoming posts in the series.

  11. That’ll be the subject of at least several upcoming posts in the series.

    Looking forward to it, especially your take down of King Crimson ;-)

  12. Yeah, all roads in prog rock seem to lead to King Crimson!

    Robert Fripp is everywhere.

  13. Pingback: Rethinking The Seventies: Boston | Shot in the Dark

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