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‘We were lucky to get out alive,’ Mick Fleetwood told Mojo regarding the nightmare experience of recording their 1977 classic Rumours. It is a statement that seems the most apt when discussing Fleetwood Mac, arguably one of the most diverse, talented and resilient rock groups of the last forty years, yet also one plagued by numerous breakdowns, line-up changes, drug issues and internal conflicts.
It goes without saying that any band to still be together after over four decades are going to have a few bad stories to tell, yet few would have as many as Fleetwood Mac. Formed after guitarist Peter Green and drummer Mick Fleetwood parted ways with legendary blues outfit John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers and soon joined by bassist John McVie, Fleetwood Mac helped to establish a British brand of blues rock in the late 1960s, recording three classic albums before Green withdrew from the public eye. Undergoing numerous personnel changes, the band struggled through a personality crisis throughout the first half of the 1970s, desperate to leave behind their trademark blues yet reluctant to embrace the mainstream.
This all changed, however, with the arrival of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, a duo who had recorded an album together before being recruited by Fleetwood to front the band. Following a phenomenal comeback with a second self-titled record, Fleetwood Mac became an overnight sensation with their timeless classic Rumours. But despite the success the group began to fall apart and each pursued different projects, unsure on how they could live up to the expectations of their recent success.
At a cost of approximately $1.5 million and taking ten months to record, Tusk would fail to impress critics in much the same way as Rumours, yet what most reviews failed to comment on was how the band had refused to simply recycle their former glory and instead challenged themselves to create something unique and unpredictable. The commercial disappointment of Tusk would convince the band to produce something more commercial and formulaic, the result being 1982′s Mirage.
While 1987′s Tango in the Night would be Fleetwood Mac‘s most well-received album in a decade, its success would be followed by the departure of Buckingham, who told Rolling Stone a few years later, ‘If you want to talk about me and Stevie specifically, I would have to say that by the time of Tango in the Night, I didn’t recognise her at all. She wasn’t the person I had known and had moved to Los Angeles with. I have also gotten through my own issues, some of which I really could not resolve until I left the band.’
While Buckingham pursued a solo career, Fleetwood Mac continued regardless, producing two disappointing albums during the 1990s before teaming up again with Buckingham for the live record The Dance. This would mark the final appearance of long-time keyboardist Christine McVie, who chose to retire from the music industry. The remaining four members returned to the studio in 2003 to record a new album of original material, Say You Will, while their most recent offering was a four-track EP called Extended Play, released earlier this year.
Please note: no tracks from 1975′s Fleetwood Mac or 1977′s Rumours are included on this list as both albums have enjoyed considerable success and acclaim. The songs on this list are ones that have often been overlooked and underplayed.
NEED YOUR LOVE SO BAD (1968; single)
‘I always considered him a very powerful soloist,’ former collaborator John Mayall told Classic Rock’s Blues Magazine last year, while looking back on his time with guitarist Peter Green in the Bluesbreakers. Green’s early influence on Fleetwood Mac were based around emotionally-driven love songs, and nowhere was this best achieved than on their cover of Little Willie John’s 1955 classic Need Your Love So Bad. In different formats, the song would range from a running time of under four minutes (as on the 1992 compilation The Chain – 25 Years) to almost seven (the version included on 1969’s The Pious Bird Of Good Omen).
OOH BABY (1969; Blues Jam in Chicago vol. 1)
Following the success of the instrumental single Albatross, Fleetwood Mac made their second attempt to conquer the United States with a tour that would last two months, starting shortly before Christmas 1968. While opening for Muddy Waters in Chicago, Fleetwood Mac’s producers learnt that the iconic Chess Ter-Mar Studios were about to close their doors and secured the band two days of recording. The sessions would include contributions from the likes of Otis Spann and Willie Dixon, while perhaps the most upbeat number to emerge from these recordings was a faithful rendition of Howlin’ Wolf’s Ooh Baby. As the liner notes to the 2004 release indicated, ‘the Chicago sessions were in their own way a landmark, for they represent the last occasion that Fleetwood Mac would record any straight ahead blues material.’
Recovering from the unexpected departure of guitarist and singer Jeremy Spencer, who had disappeared shortly before the band were due to perform in Los Angeles to join a religious cult, Fleetwood Mac had sought to reinvent themselves with the arrival of American frontman Bob Welch. The result was 1971’s Future Games, an album that marked a new chapter in the group’s history, finally leaving behind their blues roots and flirting with psychedelic and acoustic melodies that would taken them close to Pink Floyd territory, most evident with the opening track Women of 1,000 Years, which had been written by guitarist and co-singer Danny Kirwan.
MY BABY’S SWEET (1969; Shrine ’69)
When Peter Green decided to leave the band after the release of Then Play On, the task of steering Fleetwood Mac to further success fell to both Kirwan and Spencer, who shared vocal duties on their next album, each offering a different perspective on what their sound should be. One of Spencer’s finest moments, however, would not be captured on any of the group’s albums but instead found its way onto various live albums and bootlegs recorded during the late 1960s. My Baby’s Sweet, a reworking of a song by Homesick James, allowed Spencer to demonstrate his skills with slide guitar, the best performance of the song being recorded in Paris in 1968.
OVER & OVER (1979; Tusk)
The success of Rumours had taken the band by surprise and soon they found themselves under pressure to produce a worthy follow-up. Instead of focusing on the commercial aspect of the album by creating a generic copy of the record, the band instead decided to experiment, with Lindsey Buckingham’s newfound love of punk giving Tusk an often schizophrenic feel. Yet the opening track, Over & Over, carried over the sound that Christie McVie had flaunted on Rumours, creating a beautiful and sombre ballad that lulled the listener into a false sense of security, leaving them unprepared for the insantity that was to follow.
SAD ANGEL (2013; Extended Play)
Their first release of original material in a decade, the last being 2003’s Say You Will, Extended Play was the band’s debut EP, which was released in April 2013 to positive reviews. A collection of four tracks, the most infectious was Sad Angel, which saw Buckingham finally creating music that captured the pop sensibilities of their late ’70s offerings. Written for bandmate and former partner Stevie Nicks, who performs backing vocals on the song, Buckingham told Rolling Stone, ‘She always had to fight for everything. She was coming off a solo album and was in the process of reintegrating herself mentally in the band, and we’re all warriors with a sword in one sort or another.’
LOVE THAT BURNS (1968; Mr. Wonderful)
Recorded just a few months after their eponymous debut, 1968’s Mr. Wonderful saw Fleetwood Mac once again working with producer Mike Vernon at CBS Studios in London. With the single Need Your Love So Bad having recently been released, the band followed it up with their second album’s standout moment, another emotional ballad called Love That Burns. Among the performers on the song was Christine McVie, who, despite being credited under her maiden name, Christine Perfect, would marry bassist John McVie soon afterwards. The two had first met when Perfect’s band, Chicken Shack, had appeared on the bill of the Windsor Jazz and Blues Festival alongside Fleetwood Mac, and she would perform piano on several of the album’s tracks, before becoming a full-time member on 1969’s Then Play On.
THE WORLD KEEP ON TURNING (1968; Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac)
Signed to Vernon’s Blur Horizon label, Fleetwood Mac recorded their debut album throughout November and December 1967, even as their debut single, a rendition of the Elmore James classic I Believe My Time Ain’t Long, was issued. While Fleetwood Mac had already gained a reputation on the local circuit as a strong blues act, their album’s most profound moment came with The World Keep on Turning, an acoustic number written and performed by Green on 22nd November. Vernon, in the liner notes for the re-release, expressed disappointment with the quality of the album, stating that it lacked continuity due to a rushed recording schedule, ‘The group’s heavy work schedule did not allow them much time to be in the studio and the demand for an album release by their ever-growing legion of fans dictated to a degree our plans as a record label.’
BRIGHT FIRE (1973; Penguin)
At the insistence of their manager, Clifford Davis, the recording of their seventh album, 1973’s Penguin, would mark the arrival of a new frontman, Dave Walker. Having performed with his band Savoy Brown during a short-lived The British Are Coming tour the previous year, they decided to hire him shortly after dismissing Kirwan, whose erratic behaviour had become a problem while on the road. “I felt like the new boy at school,” Weston once said of his brief time with the band. Welch and McVie still continued to share vocal duties alongside Weston, with Welch contributing the hypnotic ballad Bright Fire.
By 2003, it had been sixteen years since Buckingham had appeared on a Fleetwood Mac album, not including 1997’s live release The Dance. In the years since then, the band had vocalists Billy Burnette and Rick Vito contributing to two disappointing records. While Nicks had enjoyed acclaim for her latest solo album, Trouble in Shangri-La, Buckingham had begun work on a record of his own, but some of this material would make its way to Fleetwood Mac‘s comeback album, Say You Will. Despite the departure of Christine McVie, she would make an appearance on two tracks for Buckingham, providing keyboard and piano on Steal Your Heart Away. While the album would receive acclaim from fans and critics, it would be another decade until the band followed it up with a four-track EP.