With the original Rumours line-up triumphantly returning to UK shores for the first time since 1980, Getintothis’ resident Mac obsessive Martin Waters selects his top 10 Fleetwood Mac songs.
‘I know there’s nothing to say, someone has taken my place’ sang Lindsey Buckingham to Stevie Nicks in their 1977 bitter break-up classic, and that’s just what we, along with 21,000 other fans expecting to see Fleetwood Mac in Manchester the other week felt when their tour date was pulled.
After a gig earlier in the week was postponed until next month, fans felt let down to have their show written off completely; that’s not rearranged just cancelled, with no real explanation bar ‘illness’ only for the Mac to appear triumphant at the Isle of Wight Festival just two days later. As the title of the tour says it’s ‘on with the show’ except in Manchester obviously.
While illness (as mysterious as it was given that there’s not actually been any explanation for either cancellation) can’t be helped, the whole thing did smack a little of sacrificing two dates to make sure the Isle of Wight lived up to expectations. And by all accounts it did. But you would have expected no less from this incarnation of Fleetwood Mac.
That’s Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, and despite numerous incarnations, to many this is the Fleetwood Mac. Not the Christine-lite version that toured in 2013, nor the numerous tribute-esque versions that have existed since 1987, but the version that brought us the sublime Rumours some 38 years ago. The Mac are, clearly occasionally, back.
Given their ages (65-71) and health issues that have marred parts of this tour, the question may very well be how long the Mac are really back for. A band nearly 50 years old, with 16 former members, numerous broken marriages, in-band affairs, one ‘fake’ incarnation, a couple of bankruptcies and one of the most dysfunctional relationships in music, you may well ask if this is a last hurrah and a simple Stones-esque milking of a pretty impressive back catalogue. Quite frankly, who cares.
With a new album mooted to be almost complete it’s exciting times for fans of this British-American alliance. The question is, will any of the new material match up to the Getintothis’ Fleetwood Mac top 10?
First, the ground rules. The top 10 is only taken from the output of the Rumours line-up, so there’s no place, unfortunately, for any of Peter Green’s masterful contributions. On the plus side, it also means that there’s nothing from the disastrous 1987-97 period which saw Buckingham, Nicks and Christine McVie all walk away and for replacements to contribute to the forgettable Time. This was to be their first album to fail to make the US charts and only succeeded in briefly bothering the top 50 in the UK. Pretty understandable given it is the only time everyone’s favourite giant drummer Mick Fleetwood took lead vocal duties. No really he did, on the rather bizarre 7 minute These Strange Times. Strange times indeed.
Despite this, the Mac have a worthy back catalogue to choose from, even when you whittle down their 17 albums, not including live work, to a workable 6. But let’s face it, 2003’s Say You Will doesn’t offer much competition and even if we did throw in 1990’s Behind the Mask there’d still be no room for any of the mediocre output Rick Vito and Billy Burnette contributed. So no, we’re sticking with the classic line-up, a decision, the Mac appear to agree with given that their current tour playlist includes 8 songs from Rumours, 4 a piece from Fleetwood Mac and Tusk, 3 from Tango and a measly 1 from Mirage, with the previously homeless Silver Springs rounding off their encore.
If you’re one of the lucky ones who managed to get tickets to this summer’s shows, an impressive 9 of our top 10 should be appearing barring any last minute changes (Mick Fleetwood took ill mid-show during the States leg of the tour and sets were changed to accommodate a session drummer.) The only one missing starts our countdown at number 10.
10. Over and Over from Tusk (1979)
You can imagine the record executives sitting down to listen to Tusk for the first time and being met with Christine McVie’s beautifully soothing ballad questioning her then paramour Beach Boy Dennis Wilson as to whether he really did love her even a little, and thinking that they had another Rumours on their hands. What they were completely unprepared for was the punk/new wave inspired insanity that was to follow, along with massively reduced record sales.
Could there be a more heart rending opening than McVie’s ‘Could you ever need me, and would you know how? Don’t waste our time, tell me now.’ A pleading declaration to know if she’s loved. Along with Songbird, this is McVie’s most powerful contribution to the Mac catalogue, it’s simplicity making it one of the only songs that initially escaped the mauling Tusk received.
9. Gypsy from Mirage (1982)
Nicks’ nostalgic look back at her pre-fame days and lost youth when she and Buckingham ‘lived like gypsies’ the lyrics referencing many of the events in her life, including the death of a close friend. From a musical standpoint it is the best example of the work Buckingham puts into Nicks’ songs, taking the framework to produce a brilliantly arranged piece. Accompanied by a slick 80s video that, at the time, was the most expensive ever made, the song remains Nicks’ most personal.
8. Landslide from Mirage (1982)
A song Nicks bought with her to Fleetwood Mac having written it in her early 20s when she thought she’d have to give up on her dream as she and Buckingham had been dropped by their label. Looking back on her past and towards events stretching out before her, the song has become more poignant and relevant as the years have gone by. This is a song more suited to the 66 year old Nicks than it was to the 25 year old full of flowing scarves, boots and that signature twirl. ‘I’m getting older too’ Nicks sings, but that unique voice still holds strong even now. Covered with varying degrees of success by the Dixie Chicks, Tori Amos and Smashing Pumpkins.
7. Rhiannon from Fleetwood Mac (1975)
Nicks’ song about a ‘Welsh Witch’ essentially gave her that mystical image she is most identified with and was the new incarnation’s first big hit. Fittingly for a song about a woman possessed, this more than any other song displays Nicks’ incredible vocal ability and, 40 years on, it still sounds fresh and raw as she pretty much shreds her voice reaching for that final crescendo. Sit back and enjoy the drug fuelled genius of the 1976 live performance, an example of a woman possessed by her own demons, and probably an awful lot of Columbian marching powder
6. Big Love from Tango in the Night (1987)
By the time Tango in the Night came out, the suspicion was that Buckingham and Nicks were saving their best material for their solo work – Edge of Seventeen, Stand Back and Talk to Me from Nicks’ solo catalogue alone would reinforce this view. In truth Nicks spent most of the recording of Tango in rehab and Big Love was indeed slated for a Buckingham solo release which probably explains why he pretty much performed the whole track himself – including the female love moans. Big Love was easily the standout song on the album. Included here for the live version which Buckingham performs solo on an acoustic guitar with an energy that belies his advancing age and it stands as a real showcasing of his extraordinary talent.
5. Tusk from Tusk (1979)
While songs such as Don’t Stop don’t really hold up these days, this drum-led experimentation with a repeated one word chorus certainly does, and the addition of the entire USC marching band adds an extra dimension. A mainstay of the group’s live set it remains the cornerstone of Buckingham’s megalomaniac production techniques that drove the group very nearly to the edge – described by Nicks as “like being a hostage in Iran and Lindsey was the Ayatollah”.
Best described as organised chaos it begins with an array of indiscernible voices, before moving to chanting and a Ghanaian drumbeat and it remains the most experimental track the band has ever produced. Although almost alien to the style of Rumours, the sentiment is the same, Fleetwood Mac airing their dirty laundry in public once more as Buckingham demands Nicks and Fleetwood admit to their ongoing affair – ‘Why don’t you tell me what’s going on? Why don’t you tell me who’s on the phone?’ So what was Tusk? Well that was how Fleetwood affectionately referred to his knob! The great Fleetwood Mac soap opera continued!
4. Second Hand News from Rumours (1977)
Described by some as ‘the most deadly self-pitying kiss off ever’ this classic piece of pop is the opening track to Rumours and sets the entire tone for the album. Second Hand News offers the listener an almost uplifting introduction combined with the bitterness of a failed relationship and tinged with Buckingham’s accusing sarcasm that he’s just old news now that ‘someone has taken my place’. The song benefits from Buckingham’s decision to layer on a number of audio tracks and to add a repetitive ‘Bam, Bam, Bam, Bam’ chorus after hearing the Bee Gees’ Jive Talkin’. The Fleetwood/McVie percussion draws you in with that almost hypnotic beat, culminating in that screaming guitar. A classic.
3. The Chain from Rumours (1977)
Never released as a single and forever to be known as the theme to the BBC’s coverage of Formula 1, the Chain is the only song on Rumours credited to the group as a whole. Originally starting life as a jam session, it was only when Nicks decided she had something that might work for lyrics and handed them over to Buckingham to work his magic that this classic came to life.
It’s fitting that, having been the most anonymous member of each Mac incarnation, John McVie takes centre stage with his booming bass riff, before Buckingham typically tears the song a new one with his screaming guitar. On the entire Rumours album this is the only instance of two instruments being recorded together when the drum and guitar solo collide, everything else being achieved by overdubbing, and can’t you just tell. Live, this still makes the hairs on the back of our neck stand up.
2. Silver Springs from The Dance (1997)
A song shamefully overlooked for inclusion on Rumours, a decision that in part led to Nicks ultimately walking away from the Mac years later when Fleetwood wouldn’t let her use it on a solo album, although it did originally appear as a b-side counterpoint to Buckingham’s bile filled Go Your Own Way. It was restored to its rightful place on the reissue of Rumours after an incredible performance as part of the Dance reunion (which also led to a Grammy nomination for best pop performance), and it now forms part of the regular Mac encore as Nicks takes delight in telling Buckingham he’ll never ‘get away from the sound of the woman that loved you.’
If you need any idea of just how intense the Nicks/Buckingham dynamic is watch the performance, then imagine being Lindsey Buckingham’s wife seeing that every night.
1. Go Your Own Way from Rumours (1977)
Buckingham’s devastating salvo in the break-up wars bristles with acrimony as his guitar counterpoint and lyrics convey a genuine anger as he tells Nicks exactly where to stick it. Arguably Buckingham’s finest hour despite almost never making it on to the album, as well as being a song that still gets under Nicks’ skin.
Buckingham is often underappreciated as a pure player and this song, his standout, demonstrates why he should be seen as one of the greats. And as for that Fleetwood rolling backbeat, well that was meant to be a nod to Charlie Watts on The Rolling Stones’ Street Fighting Man, but Fleetwood just couldn’t get to grips with what Buckingham wanted so did his own thing. The song is all the better for it.
Best listened to alongside Nicks’ Dreams as the perfect example of the same song written about the same relationship from the viewpoint of the two people involved. Brilliant.