This remarkable band has had two significant phases. In the late 60s, Fleetwood Mac was a bluesy British jam band, drenched in rootsy influences and aswirl with psychedelia. By the late 70s, it was the epitome of breezy California pop rock: its look, sound, spirit, and very name the virtual embodiment of the era. Through the entire incredible metamorphosis, the two constants of the band were its namesakes, drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie. Gamely, these two rhythm men kept the sails trimmed as a succession of front men and women steered the group in various intriguing directions.
Fleetwood Mac began in 1967 as a three-man offshoot of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, the same band that had helped launch Eric Clapton. Quickly, Fleetwood, McVie, and guitarist Peter Green began to attract creative, blues oriented rockers. Such artists as Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan came aboard. Their debut album stayed atop the British charts for more than a year. By 1970 they had four records, and were getting noticed in the U.S. Then Green wiped out on hallucinogens, and not too long after, Spencer left to join the comet-worshipping Children of God cult.
These losses were compensated by the addition of a piano playing singer named Christine Perfect, who not only joined the band, but shortly joined with John McVie in wedlock. Guitarist Bob Welch also joined up, but did not marry anyone. Likewise Bob Weston and Dave Walker, who replaced the pink-slipped Kirwan. This varied line-up produced three varied (but fascinating) albums, and then their fortune began to wane. After successfully suing a former manager for mounting a tour with a bogus Fleetwood Mac, they released one more album, Heroes Are Hard To Find. Then, perhaps hoping to find some heroes, they loaded up a plane and they moved to L.A. California, that is. Mellow rock. Harmonies.
The aforementioned heroes were not long in showing up. While auditioning engineers, Fleetwood and McVie heard an album by a duo composed of Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. Impressed by their smooth sound and their smart songcrafting, the band signed them up. It was possibly the smartest move they had made to date. Reintroducing the band by name, their album Fleetwood Mac became a number one seller in the states, generating three hit singles, Over
My Head, Say You Love Me, and the haunting Rhiannon. That album’s sales eventually exceeded five million copies in the U.S. alone.
Following that, however, was a bad news/good news bit come to life. The two intra-group relationships, the McVies and Buckingham-Nicks, soured and crumbled. Many groups would take this as a cue to disband. Not so the new Fleetwood Mac. Instead, they took all of their bitterness and heartbreak and channeled it into one of the finest, tightest pop albums ever recorded. Rumours not only spawned the top ten Go Your Own Way, Don’t Stop, You Make Loving Fun, and Dreams, but also contained such AOR classics as Second Hand News, Never Going Back Again, Gold Dust Woman, and the song that was the essence of the group’s philosophy, The Chain. This amazing assembly of pop rock gems became the second-biggest seller of all time. But how could they top this?
Wisely deciding to avoid delivering a Rumours II, and in an effort to appease the restless Buckingham, who was looking to push the envelope, the band turned the reins over to him (and co-producers Richard Dashut and Ken Caillat), and everyone pushed together. The result was the rough and highly experimental double album Tusk. Received with mixed reactions from both fans and critics, Tusk nevertheless went double-platinum, and brought forth two hit singles, Sara, and the oddly catchy title cut, which featured guest musicians the USC Trojan Marching Band. As the All-Music Guide rightly says, “this is as strange as mainstream pop gets.”
A double live album followed, and then a return to form, the polished, mannered Mirage, with which they established themselves in the 80s by means of the colorful and imaginative videos for Gypsy and Hold Me, which both got heavy airplay on the fledgling MTV cable network. Their popularity was once again waning, though, with their individual solo material getting a better reception than their group efforts. After three more live albums (indeed, this group began
popping out live albums as if they were litters of puppies), the band made one last “classic” Fleetwood Mac album, Tango in the Night, containing such beauties as Big Love and Little Lies, as well as some very nice songs in other sizes.
After that, the key players began leaving the fold by ones and twos, Buckingham first, then Nicks and Christine McVie, and their replacements, who included Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett’s daughter Bekka and 70s classic rocker Dave Mason, simply were not up to the high standard that the classic line-up had set for the band. The audience decided they would accept no substitutes, and so the new albums faltered and fizzled.
Ten years after Tango, the classic band reassembled for an MTV Unplugged concert and an accompanying live album and tour, but it was not until 2003 that the essential band members went back into the studio together (minus Christine McVie), resulting in the album SayYou Will. Whether they can continue producing polished pop rock in the new millennium is still uncertain, but their rich musical legacy is unquestionable.