Wednesday, 31 December 2003

The Mac Are Back!

With the release of their new album, "Say You Will", I thought I would take the opportunity to sit back and reflect on just why I've become such a big fan of Fleetwood Mac over the past few years.


If truth be known, I hadn't really paid much attention to them until around 1988. It was one weekday afternoon that my brother Michael, himself a big Mac fan, played a documentary about the band that had been broadcast on television late one night.

My only previous flirtations with the band came with a copy of the classic instrumental, Albatross, which came into my possession when I was quite young, and, in 1979, constantly nicking my sister's copy of the Tusk single.

I the documentary was broadcast around the time that their Tango In The Night album became quite successful. When the first single, Big Love, was released, I still didn't pay them much attention. This documentary changed all of that.

For some reason, the music, and the people who had made up the band over the years just seemed to grab hold of me. Excerpts of various songs from down the years were played, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. These were great songs.

The group's career can probably be split into two of three eras. A young Peter Green formed the first incarnation of Fleetwood Mac during the blues boom of the 1960's. He took the name, which was a mixture of the surnames of drummer Mick Fleetwood and bass player John McVie from a song he had recorded while a member of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers a couple of years before.

Peter Green is considered something of an enigma. At a time when great guitar players like Hendrix, Beck and Clapton came to the fore, Peter Green was right up there with them. His talents as a songwriter were also second to none.

This incarnation of the band was inspired by the great blues artists such as Little Willie John. Their three guitar combo of Green, Spencer and Kirwan was a great team, and it was this line-up that gave us such great songs. Albatross, Need Your Love So Bad, I Loved Another Woman, The Green Manalishi, and many more.

Two songs stand out above all of those in this era, both of them penned by Green. Black Magic Woman is probably better known as one of Santana's greatest hits in the 70's. Some people tend to forget that if it wasn't for Green and Fleetwood Mac, this song would never have come about.

And then there was Oh Well, a classic late 60's rock/blues song. With it's relatively simple lyrics, it's become something of a classic, having been covered by countless bands in the last thirty years or so.

This classic era, sadly, only lasted a few years. Jeremy Spencer apparently had a breakdown of some kind, and joined a cult in Ceylon. Hardly anything has been heard from him since. Green also suffered a breakdown. He didn't pick up a guitar for years as he became something of a recluse. Some say his problems were caused by a drug habit he first formed in the 60's, and if it wasn't for this problem, this battle with his personal demons, he would have surely become as huge as Hendrix and Clapton.

The second big era began around 1974. After the original line-up had disbanded, various members came and went over the years. One of the most notable to join the band was John McVie's wife, Christine, who had formed a successful career in her own right as Christine Perfect. Her song, I'd Rather Go Blind, did quite well towards the end of the 60's.

With their careers having floundered somewhat in the first years of the 70's, Mick, John and Christine eventually relocated to California, where, while looking for a new guitarist, Mick, quite by chance, came upon Lindsay Buckingham. Having been played a demo from Buckingham's last album, Mick offered Lindsay the job. However, there was a hitch. Lindsay would only join if his girlfriend and writing partner, Stevie Nicks, came as part of the package. After consulting the other members of the band, the deal was struck, and the new era began.

1975 saw the release of their first album. Gone were the blues-inspired songs, to be replaced by a more AOR-kind of sound, which was largely due to the influence Lindsay and Stevie brought to the band. Along with Christine, the band now had three excellent singers, and three excellent song writers.

While the 1975 album was successful, their 1977 offering, Rumours, was their biggest selling album ever, and at the time, was the biggest selling album in music history. It gave us classic songs such as The Chain, Don't Stop, and Go Your Own Way.

But what was remarkable was that during the recording of this album, the members of the band were each going through a personal hell. Mick Fleetwood's marriage was coming to an end. The relationship between Lindsay and Stevie was on the rocks, and the marriage of John and Christine was also coming to an end. What also didn't help matters was the fact that Mick was having an affair with Stevie as well.

The fact that this album was recorded at all, and that the band were able to get through the obligatory tour says a lot for them as people. With all the trouble in the band, it would have been far easier for them to have called a halt to everything. But they didn't. They carried on.

Two years later saw the release of Tusk. But this recording wasn't without incident. The relationships were still very strained as the album was recorded. Lindsay and Stevie, in particular, found it very difficult to work together.

One thing that came out of this recording was the fact that after they had recorded so many songs, the infighting made it impossible for the band to decide just what songs to leave off the album. So Tusk became a double album.

After the success of Rumours, there was always the danger that the band wouldn't be able to follow up on that success. Legend has it that when the record company executives heard the title track, they saw their Christmas bonuses flying out of the office windows.

Tusk was successful, but not as successful as rumours.

Three years after Tusk came Mirage. Some Mac fans consider this album a failure. Sure, it wasn't as good as Rumours or Tusk, but it still showed that as far as writing songs goes, the Mac still had it. One particular standout on this album was Stevie Nicks's wonderful song, Gypsy. At a time when the pop music video was still in it's relative infancy, the video was one of the best of the early 80's, with Stevie's performance quite enchanting.

It would be another five years before Mac returned with another studio album, Tango In The Night. The album would prove to be the most successful since Rumours ten years before. It was full of great songs, Big Love, Seven Wonders, Little Lies, Everywhere, and the title track.

But then the old problems began to surface again. On the eve of the tour to promote the album, Lindsay dropped the bombshell, telling the band that he was leaving.

While Mick, John and Christine could understand Lindsay's reasons for leaving, Stevie couldn't, at a few years later, was quoted in an interview as saying that she could have killed Lindsay for what he was doing.

With one of their main songwriters gone, the Mac decided to replace him with not one man, but two, with Rick Vito and Billy Burnette replacing Lindsay for the tour. The tour was a success, and the band even returned to their roots a little by playing some of the old blues numbers during the concerts.

The line-up only recorded one album together, 1990's Behind The Mask. The album was good, with Christine and Stevie, as always, on top form, but without Lindsay, things just weren't the same.

Over the next few years, the group kind of floundered. The classic Rumours line-up did reform for a one-off show at the request of Bill Clinton, but on the recording front, Vito and Stevie left, to be replaced by Dave Mason and Bekka Bramlette. 1995 saw the release of Time, again, a good album, but without the magic that had come before.

A short time later, Lindsay Buckingham began work on a solo project, and asked Mick to play drums on a couple of tracks for him. One thing led to another, and eventually, Lindsay, Mick, John, Christine and Stevie found themselves in a recording studio together for the first time in ten years. They began to talk. Old grievances were brought up and discussed, before the one rediscovered the thing they had lost all those years ago - friendship, and their mutual love of music.

A year or so later, and live on MTV in America, the classic line-up played their first major concert together in almost fifteen years. They wheeled out all the classics - Rhiannon, The Chain, Go Your Own Way, You Make Loving Fun, topping it off with Tusk and Don't Stop, complete with marching band. The Mac were back!

It was as if this classic line-up had never been apart. One moment from the concert that tugged on the hart strings saw Stevie and Lindsay embrace after a song. It showed the world that despite the fact that these two had literally been at each other's throats ten years before, they had put all of their troubles behind them.

Sadly, this reunion didn't last long, when Christine announced that she was retiring from the music business.

2003 saw the release of Say You Will, the first studio album to involve John, Mick, Lindsay and Stevie since 1987. Chrstine contributed a little, but not to the extent she had all those years ago.

The now-four piece Mac got an excellent reception when, for two nights running, they tore the house down on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. The Mac were definitely back. They were as strong as ever, and Say You Will proved that as songwriters, and performers, Mick, John, Lindsay and Stevie were as just as good, if not better, than before.

Glad to have you back guys.