Fleetwood Mac Albums, Ranked Worst to Best
by Nick DeRiso
When considering a list of Fleetwood Mac albums, it’s easy to focus on Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. After all, the band’s biggest successes arrived thanks to the alchemy the pair provided to a lineup already featuring a stellar singer-songwriter in Christine McVie. Together, they sold millions of albums. Scratch that: tens of millions.
Still, the stalwart rhythm section of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie has led Fleetwood Mac (with a quite varied group of collaborators) to a hit album in every decade from the ’70s through the ’00s. This is the rare group that has enough hardness (in the blues-smarts of co-founder Peter Green and in the spindly creativity of Buckingham) to attract the average rock music fan; enough magical mystery (think Bob Welch’s dreamy sides, or the gauzier stuff by Nicks) to attract the fanciful; and a dollop of old-fashioned pop (Christine McVie) to lure in the rest.
In many ways, they were the perfect concoction for FM radio. Throw in the juicy melodrama of their lives (from Green and Jeremy Spencer’s legendary flame-outs to those Rumours-era dalliances), and it’s still somewhat surprising that any of it turned into great music. As you’ll see in our photo gallery of Fleetwood Mac Albums, Ranked Worst to Best, however, it very often did.
17: 'Time' (1995)
A Fleetwood Mac album arrived with neither Stevie Nicks nor Lindsey Buckingham for the first time since 1974’s 'Heroes Are Hard to Find.' And boy, were they ever: Replacements Dave Mason and Bekka Bramlett would be gone within a year, following Christine McVie, who contributed five songs to the project but left before the tour started. 'Time' failed to chart in the U.S., something that hadn’t happened since 1968’s 'Mr. Wonderful.'
16: 'Future Games' (1971)
Taking a more central role, Danny Kirwan set about crafting a kind of soft-rock prog, a la Wishbone Ash, on an album that saw Bob Welch take over for Jeremy Spencer — who in turn took with him the last vestiges of Fleetwood Mac’s early preoccupation with the blues. In its place, unfortunately, came a penchant for lengthy, and sometimes unfocused, instrumental passages.
15: 'Kiln House' (1970)
A transitional album in every sense of the word, 'Kiln House' is an unfocused project best remembered for what it meant rather than how it sounded. This album bid Peter Green farewell, even as it heralded the arrival of Christine McVie – signalling the definitive shift in the group’s early focus from the blues toward a brand of smooth California pop that would sell millions in the coming decade.
14: 'Behind the Mask' (1990)
Lindsey Buckingham vanished before the tour in support of 'Tango in the Night' got underway. As expected, that dealt Fleetwood Mac's next studio effort a mortal blow. They added not one but two guitarists (in Billy Burnette and Rick Vito), and there was still something missing. Stevie Nicks, who provided a rare highpoint with "Save Me," would depart next.
13: 'Penguin' (1973)
An album from a band utterly in flux, 'Penguin' reflects these changes. With Danny Kirwan gone, Fleetwood Mac added both Bob Weston and Dave Walker – the latter of whom wouldn't last past this album. The intoxicating blend of soft-rock romanticism coming from Bob Welch and Christine McVie needs something grittier to work against. And it's just not here.
12: 'Mr. Wonderful' (1968)
The good news: Jeremy Spencer digs deep into early blues hero Elmore James’ ageless “Dust My Broom.” The bad news? Just two albums in, everyone seems to be out of ideas. Spencer recycles the same James riff on three other songs, and Peter Green's stuff isn't much more original. The results were only passable, a huge disappointment after a stellar debut.
11: 'Bare Trees' (1972)
This would be the final Fleetwood Mac project for Danny Kirwan, who wasn't getting along with the others. 'Bare Trees' eventually went platinum anyway, but that was on the strength of songs from elsewhere: Bob Welch’s original version of “Sentimental Lady,” later a solo hit, and Christine McVie’s “Spare Me a Little of Your Love” — which became a concert staple in the mid-'70s.
10: 'Say You Will' (2009)
Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were apparently at work on a side project when their songs suddenly morphed into the newest Fleetwood Mac album – leading to an unbalanced project that unfolds like a too-long conversation between only two people. A little editing and the presence of Christine McVie would have done a world of good.
9: 'Then Play On' (1968)
Looser, and far more approachable, than their sophomore effort, 'Then Play On' finds Danny Kirwan coming aboard to great effect. Together with a rejuvenated Peter Green, they mix prog, soft rock and exotic rhythms into the band's basic blues-based approach. That left Jeremy Spencer with only a series of throwaway items, and he soon vanished.
8: 'Mystery to Me' (1973)
This album's best song is also its calling card: Bob Welch's "Hypnotized." Delivered with a whispering detachment, it unfurled amid an insistent conversation on the hi-hat and this thrilling series of jazz-inflected guitar fourths -- just as they would in their platinum years. “Hypnotized” illustrates how far Fleetwood Mac had come toward their smash singer-songwriter style long before Buckingham or Nicks joined.
7: 'Mirage' (1982)
After indulging in the sprawling, wildly expensive, weirdly effective double-album experiment 'Tusk,' Fleetwood Mac back slid into a comfy retro vibe for 'Mirage.' The hits ("Hold Me," "Love in Store" and "Gypsy") were fine examples of the old Fleetwood Mac magic, but they were just about the only ones here.
6: 'Heroes Are Hard to Find' (1974)
Bob Welch leaves behind perhaps his best set of songs, pointing directly to his own solo successes – while simultaneously setting a new standard that surely led Mick Fleetwood to Buckingham and Nicks. At the same time, Christine McVie comes into her own with lost classics like "Come a Little Bit Closer." The stage is set for something big.
5: 'Tango in the Night' (1987)
Like more than one post-'Rumours' record, this album grew out of a trampled solo project by Lindsey Buckingham. But his songs were needed to scuff up a session that might have collapsed under the high-gloss pop sheen of hit tunes by Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie. By and large, they found the perfect balance again.
4: 'Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac' (1968)
A subsequent struggle with mental illness, to say nothing of his old band's mainstream success without him, doomed Peter Green to an obscurity that this album argues mightily against. Green blends toughness and tender grace, country blues (with key assists from Jeremy Spencer) and a cool new Latin fusion. Maybe the best album from the British blues boom.
3: 'Fleetwood Mac' (1975)
The album that introduced Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham into what had become an ever-shifting, sometimes badly unfocused amalgam. The duo brought a California-infused singer-songwriter sensibility to Fleetwood Mac, and fans flocked to a string of mid-'70s Top 20 hits including “Say You Love Me,” “Rhiannon” and “Over My Head.” Thing is, they were just getting started.
2: 'Tusk' (1979)
The double-album format allowed them to experiment with everything from punk to New Wave sounds, leading directly to Buckingham's utterly unquantifiable title track. Still, even with underrated hits by both Nicks (“Sara”) and McVie ("Think About Me"), that outsized ambition ultimately keeps 'Tusk' out of the No. 1 spot. It's bracing, often weird, but just a touch too over-long.
1: 'Rumours' (1977)
Memorably cinematic, and propelled by the real-life scandals within the band, 'Rumours' chronicled with a lush directness (quite literally, it turned out) the way that relationships coalesce then dissolve. There aren't many perfect albums out there, but this one – gorgeous and then flinty, bright and then impossibly dark – is certainly one of them.
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