What is the result of a musical formula that incorporates the
following personnel, hailing from both sides of the Atlantic:
passionate and innovative guitar players, rich and compelling male
and female vocals, behind-the-scenes romantic drama, and a steady
dose of the same drummer over a four decade span of time? The
answer would be Fleetwood Mac.
Originating as a quartet in London, in the late 1960s, Fleetwood
Mac was so-named for its rock-solid rhythm section, drummer Mick
Fleetwood and bassist John McVie. The early Mac was essentially a
vehicle for the group's first lead guitarist, the uber-bluesy Peter
Green. The axman dominated the band's first three albums
(Fleetwood Mac and Mr. Wonderful
(1968), and Then Play On (1969)) -- all of which
were Top Ten releases in England, but barely registered in the US.
A lone charting single, the distinctive and herky-jerky "Oh Well",
was Fleetwood Mac's sole American achievement of note during the
Peter Green era.
After suffering a bad acid trip in Germany in late 1969, Green's
state of mind fast deteriorated and resulted in his leaving the
group in 1970. Rhythm guitarist Jeremy Spencer also left the band
during that same year. Almost overnight, Fleetwood Mac went from
being one of the most popular bands in the UK and Europe to being
virtually invisible. The lone remaining guitarist, Danny Kirwan,
was unable to sustain the group's momentum, and in 1971 he gave way
to American frontman Bob Welch. Mac disappeared from the UK charts
during the early 1970s, but managed to maintain a fledgling
following in the US. Amid this transition, the band brought in
McVie's wife, Christine, on keyboards -- a move that would
ultimately pay large dividends down the road.
The band endured legal battles, record label turbulence and
internal conflict throughout Welch's tenure. Again, no hit singles
emerged, although the breathy "Hypnotized" (pulled from 1974's
Mystery To Me) was an appropriately mysterious,
popular rock radio track. By the end of 1974, Welch had left
Fleetwood Mac and the group had decamped to Los Angeles, where it
added a pair of Californians: guitarist/vocalist Lindsey Buckingham
and his girlfriend, vocalist Stevie Nicks.
In 1975 -- armed with two solid female vocalists and a fresh new
male tenor vocalist -- Fleetwood Mac unleashed its second eponymous
LP upon the world, and the world gobbled up this incarnation of the
band to the tune of millions of albums and singles sold. The
middling success of Christine McVie's bucolic, mild "Over My Head"
was soon eclipsed by the haunting strains of newcomer Nicks's
"Rhiannon". Christine headlined the last prominent single on the
album, the up-tempo "Say You Love Me." Over time, Nicks's ballad
"Landslide" would become a fan favorite as well. The band's new
lineup was an immediate attention-grabber on multiple American
radio formats, and its chemistry would be perfected on the group's
1977 follow-up effort.
Throughout 1976, as Fleetwood Mac's singles
were dancing up and down the US pop charts, Fleetwood Mac were busy
recording their eleventh album, whilst simultaneously driving each
other nuts and breaking each other's hearts behind the scenes. This
stressful dynamic was quintessentially expressed in what became the
highest-selling pop album of 1977. Cryptically dubbed
Rumours, nearly every song on the record would
become a classic...
"The Chain" and "Gold Dust Woman" -- both brooding album tracks
-- proved credible fodder for AOR radio. "Songbird", "Second Hand
News" and "Never Going Back Again" were almost shockingly raw
statements of relationships gone awry, and each could have been 7"
releases in their own right. Among the singles, Nicks's mid-tempo
"Riders On The Storm"-styled "Dreams" became the watershed, scoring
the only chart-topping mark of the band's career. Buckingham's
driving "Go Your Own Way" paralleled the role of
HotelCalifornia's "Life In The Fast Lane"
(charting at the same peak position, no less!), while Christine's
grinning and positive "Don't Stop" would peak in popularity decades
later as a campaign anthem for a certain presidential dress-soiler.
Christine also contributed an optimistic statement on her love life
in "You Make Loving Fun". Add it all up, and
Rumours went on to become one of the
highest-selling recordings in the history of music, selling over
forty million copies worldwide to date.
Few bands have equalled such a monumental achievement with a
subsequent release, and Fleetwood Mac proved subject to that rule.
1979's Tusk produced an odd, drum-laden hit in
"Tusk", and yet another Top Ten Nicks offering in the very MOR
"Sara", but only sold modestly compared to its predecessor. 1982's
Mirage fared a bit better, yielding a
Buckingham/Christine McVie Top Five pop hit in "Hold Me" as well as
another madrigal Nicks track, "Gypsy." By this point in the 1980s,
Nicks's solo career had taken flight, and the other band members
had each produced solo efforts that enjoyed varying degrees of
success as well.
This most successful roster of the group produced one more album
together -- Tango In The Night (1987). The very
80s-sounding production meant that Christine's keyboards dominated
throughout the record, which included the female-friendly Top
Twenty hits "Big Love", "Little Lies", "Seven Wonders" and
"Everywhere." All of the songs suffered from a similarity complex,
but the album sold well nonetheless...
Tango marked the end of Fleetwood Mac's golden
era. Nicks continued to enjoy success with her solo career into the
early 1990s, and the band itself evolved into an
easy-listening-friendly operation and away from its 'essence',
resulting in rapidly declining sales during the 1990s. By 1997, the
Rumours lineup had reunited for one last run with
Christine McVie, who ultimately departed the band for good in 1998.
The remaining A-listers have remained on ever since, producing the
requisite legacy-band tours and live show DVDs common to most classic rock icons
that survived into the new century.
Fleetwood Mac like Foreigner managed to straddle both sides of
the Atlantic with its considerable influence on pop music during
its heyday, adapting to changing tastes during the better part of
two decades by leaning upon the strength of its vocal versatilities
and the bedrock of its long-time bottom consisting of John McVie
and founder Mick Fleetwood. Who ever said drummers don't know what
they're doing has apparently never read the story of this band!
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