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!