Fleetwood Mac's 50 Greatest Songs (RS)
Fleetwood Mac's 50 Greatest Songs
From British blues to California rock, from smooth sunshine to the most haunting breakup epics ever
Read our list of Fleetwood Mac's 50 greatest songs, stretching from their Sixties origins up through their 2013 reunion.
Fleetwood Mac have been rock's greatest soap opera for five decades – from their Sixties origins in the English blues-rock scene to their Seventies reinvention as California rock superstars through their smooth Eighties hits and right up to today. Through it all, there's been brutal romantic blowups and historic levels of drug use. "Parties going on all over the house," John McVie told Rolling Stone in 1977, recalling the making of their classic Rumours LP. "Amazing. Terrifying. Huge amounts of illicit materials, yards and yards of this wretched stuff. Days and nights would just go on and on."
But the soul of the Mac's magic has always been their songs. They began as a vehicle for the blues visions of tragic genius Peter Green, continued through fascinating, often overlooked, transitional records during the early Seventies with Jeremy Spencer, Danny Kirwan and Bob Welch, and hit an astonishing peak when songbird Christine McVie, mad drummer Mick Fleetwood and ultra-reliable bassman John McVie hooked up with the Southern California songwriting team of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. Our list of the band's 50 Greatest Songs pulls from all these eras. What brings it all together is an almost mystical chemistry wrought from grueling personal drama and heartbreak that they somehow found a way to turn into some of the most beloved rock & roll of all time.
50. "I Don't Want to Know"
For any other band, a song like "I Don't Want to Know" might be a focus track. On Rumours, it was just an afterthought, tacked on when the band realized that Nicks' "Silver Springs" was too long to fit on the LP. Nicks later speculated that it was chosen to assuage her because it was one of her own compositions, written before she joined the group. "That always put a shadow over 'I Don't Want to Know,' " she recalled. "Even though I love it and it came out great."
49. "That's Alright"
Fleetwood Mac have exerted a massive influence on country music, with artists from the Dixie Chicks to Little Big Town covering them. Nicks grew up singing old-time country with her grandfather, and that side is especially present on "That's Alright," a lilting shuffle first recorded as the acoustic "Designs of Love," in the Buckingham Nicks days, then slicked up years later for Mirage. The rootsier alternate take is a gem among the extras on the 2016 reissue of Mirage.
48. "The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)"
Non-album single, 1970
Written by Peter Green shortly before he left Fleetwood Mac, this miasmic proto-metal blues freakout was inspired by a dream that Green had while on mescaline, in which he was visited by a green dog that represented money. "It took me at least two years to recover from that song," Green recalled. "When I listened to it, there was so much power there, it exhausted me."
47. "The Ledge"
"Lindsey was really making a stand," Nicks said of Tusk. And never so much as on "The Ledge," a happily demented leap into post-punk primitivism and noise for its own sake. He recorded the song alone, turning his guitar down until it emitted an ugly rumble as he yammered another thinly veiled screed about his relationship with Nicks. "I was trying to find things that were off the radar," he recalled of the song and others like it on the LP. "On this, that one guitar was covering everything. It was a concept piece on that level. There was nothing for John or Christine to do."
46. "Earl Gray"
Kiln House, 1970
Guitarist Danny Kirwan was in Fleetwood Mac for only a brief period; he was a Peter Green acolyte brought on when he was just 18 years old. But he left his mark, and you can hear his pastoral blues-rock style on this lovely Kiln House instrumental, a pretty guitar exploration that sounds like it could've been on Wilco's Sky Blue Sky. Decades after Kirwan's drinking and mental-health issues got him fired from the band, Fleetwood proudly displayed his photo in his home in Hawaii. "Danny was wonderful," Fleetwood told Men's Journal in 2014, "but he couldn't handle the life."
45. "Farmer's Daughter"
Fleetwood Mac Live, 1980
At the tail end of their 1980 live double LP, Fleetwood Mac sneaked in a shimmering cover of the Beach Boys' 1963 deep cut "Farmer's Daughter," from a Santa Monica soundcheck. It was more than just a link between different generations of California rock; it was a sincere tribute. "The Beach Boys showed the way, and not just to California," Buckingham wrote in a piece for Rolling Stone. "They may have sold the California Dream to a lot of people, but for me, it was Brian Wilson showing how far you might have to go in order to make your own musical dream come true."
Then Play On, 1969
A vintage Peter Green guitar showcase, "Underway" was a highlight from his final album with the band, Then Play On, in 1969. As Green told Rolling Stone in 2001, "It was spontaneously composed by the whole lot of us all just playing in the studio and recording whatever we came up with – free-form. It's what I used to play before I had my problems." (See the 2009 documentary Peter Green: Man of the World for his full sad story.) Onstage, Green and the band would stretch "Underway" into a dazzling 16-minute jam, as best heard on subsequent live collections like The Vaudeville Years.
This gentle meditative ballad is Nicks' lament for her brief, messy affair with Fleetwood. "That relationship destroyed Mick's marriage," she later recalled. Unsurprisingly, "Storms" hit a sore spot for Buckingham. His girlfriend, Carol Ann Harris, recalled Nicks bringing it to the band, only to receive venomous criticism by Buckingham that led to a screaming battle. "These fights left their bloody marks, over and over again," Harris remembered. "Added to the weight of the battle scars from Lindsey's and Stevie's past personal relationship, they made the atmosphere of the studio even uglier with each passing day."
42. "Monday Morning"
Fleetwood Mac, 1975
When Buckingham and Nicks' 1973 debut album proved a commercial failure, Polydor dropped the duo. But Buckingham had already written a handful of songs for a follow-up. "[They] were showstoppers, even as rough sketches recorded on Lindsey's four-track," Fleetwood raved years later. Among these was "Monday Morning," and after being fleshed out in the studio, it became the lead track on Fleetwood Mac. When John McVie wondered if the band's new material had wandered too far away from the blues, producer Keith Olsen responded, "We're doing pop rock now. It's a much faster way to the bank."
41. "Black Magic Woman"
Non-album single, 1968
Fleetwood Mac's first Top 40 single in the U.K. was written by Peter Green after he'd seen a scary play on TV. "There's a whole group of skulls and things," he recalled. "It was so frightening." On "Black Magic Woman," he set that imagery to scruffy white-boy blues. The song might have become an obscurity had it not been for Santana's hit remake two years later, which adhered to the original Mac arrangement. (The idea came from Santana keyboardist Gregg Rollie.) When Fleetwood Mac were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, Green was on hand to play "Black Magic Woman" live with Santana.
40. "Blue Letter"
Fleetwood Mac, 1975
"Blue Letter" was written by Michael and Richard Curtis, two brothers who met Buckingham and Nicks during their pre-Mac Polydor days. The four musicians cut two demos together: "Blue Letter" and "Seven League Boots" (which Crosby, Stills and Nash later reconfigured as "Southern Cross"). Fleetwood Mac decided to record "Blue Letter" at the last minute, as they were finishing work on their self-titled '75 LP. "The idea came to us literally on the spot," wrote Fleetwood. "The Curtis brothers were recording demos at Sound City, and when we heard them play the song, we decided to give it a go."
39. "Seven Wonders"
Tango in the Night, 1987
The lush 1987 single "Seven Wonders" was the rare Fleetwood Mac hit not primarily credited to one of the group's many estimable songwriters. Nicks collaborator and Eighties synth-rock also-ran Sandy Stewart penned the harmony-soaked tune, and the demo was the first song Nicks presented to the band for Tango in the Night. Her lone contribution stemmed from misunderstanding one of Stewart's lyrics, producing the phrase "all the way down to Emmaline." "I thought she said that, and she hadn't," said Nicks. "And I had become so attached to the name Emmaline that we kept it in, and she gave me a small percentage."
38. "Think About Me"
The millions of people who bought Tusk hoping for a follow-up to Rumours that sounded like its predecessor could breathe a sigh of relief when they got to its third song, "Think About Me," Christine's bright pop-rock ode to a no-pressure relationship. "[Stevie and I] didn't really like [Tusk]," McVie admitted in a recent interview. "We just kind of went, 'O-kaaay.' Because it was so different from Rumours. Deliberately so. In hindsight, I do like that record, but at the time me and Stevie would be like, 'What the hell is he doing in the toilet playing an empty Kleenex box for a drum?' "
37. "Sisters of the Moon"
Fleetwood ranked "Sisters of the Moon" among "the greatest 'band moments' in our career." Unlike many Tusk songs that emerged from Buckingham's work in his home studio, the moody "Sisters of the Moon" was a product of jamming that took place during long sessions at Village Recorder in Los Angeles. "I honestly don't know what the hell this song is about," Nicks said. "It wasn't a love song, it wasn't written about a man. ... It was just about a feeling I might have had over a couple of days, going inward in my gnarly trollness. Makes no sense. Perfect for this record."
36. "Sentimental Lady"
Bare Trees, 1972
In 1971, L.A. singer-guitarist Bob Welch was playing with a band in Paris when he was recommended to Fleetwood Mac by a secretary for their management. "I said, 'I'll be there in two seconds,'" he recalled later. "'Could you send me plane fare?' I knew I was being scrutinized not so much for my musical talents but for my psychological soundness." Welch joined a group moving past its blues origins. The highlight of his time with Fleetwood Mac, "Sentimental Lady," was a tender ode to his wife, Nancy, with a mellow California feel that was new to Fleetwood Mac. After Welch left the band, a somewhat slicker version of the song (recorded with Buckingham, Christine and Fleetwood) became a solo hit for him. It remains a beloved soft-rock chestnut. "I had many great times with him after Lindsey and I joined Fleetwood Mac," Nicks said when Welch died in 2012. "He was an amazing guitar player. He was funny, sweet – and he was smart." As Fleetwood put it, "If you look into our musical history, you'll see a huge period that was completely ensconced in Bob's work."
35. "Oh Daddy"
"That's probably my favorite Christine song of all time," Nicks confided in the liner notes to the 2013 reissue of Rumours, "and probably one of the only dark songs she wrote." Fleetwood has claimed that the lonely, foreboding ballad was written with him in mind, as he was the only father in the band at the time. But it was likely another ode to McVie's new boyfriend, Fleetwood Mac lighting director Curry Grant. McVie later described the ease with which she composed her songs on Rumours: "One day in Sausalito, I sat and wrote in the studio, and the four and a half songs of mine on the album are a result of that."
34. "I'm So Afraid"
Fleetwood Mac, 1975
Fleetwood Mac's self-titled 1975 LP ends with this paranoid blues blowout, which immediately became a live showcase for Buckingham's guitar playing. "I'm no Jimi Hendrix," he said when asked about his approach to guitar solos. "I don't have the level of proficiency to just let myself go off into something completely different every night. Nor do I think I would want to. I am someone who values musical themes. Someone who feels there should be a consistency from night to night with something. I'm not one of those people that can slam out a completely different solo every night, because I don't have the skill to do that."
33. "Oh Diane"
Growing up in Palo Alto, California, Buckingham used to spend hours alone in his room listening to 45s by Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Little Richard. That Fifties influence came out on "Oh Diane," the fourth single from Mirage. According to Fleetwood, Buckingham wrote "Oh Diane" while the bandmates were in a mansion in Hérouville, 20 miles outside Paris, where they recorded the album. "He'd done what he needed to do on Tusk and was eager to get back to recording as a band," Fleetwood says. "His playing and approach was back to basics and called to mind his appreciation for early rock & rollers."
32. "What Makes You Think You're the One"
Buckingham rocks out with the raw spirit of a freewheeling garage band, while Fleetwood cuts loose on the drums. "That's one of the great drum tracks that I've ever heard," Buckingham said. "That's up there with 'Instant Karma.' That was a great moment. That was just Mick and myself late at night in the studio, me at the piano." Buckingham set up the mics to get the right "garage, trashy" sound, and something about the song's deceptively snide pop melody seemed to bring out Fleetwood's wild side. "He turned into an animal," Buckingham recalled. "And it was just two-piece, there was no Christine or anybody putting any constraints on what could or couldn't be done. That has to rate as one of my top-five moments in the band." In the liner notes of the 2015 deluxe reissue of Tusk, Buckingham described his attitude at the time: "There was a '**** you' thing about it on some level. Not directed at anybody in particular but at the business, the need to conform to some vague set of commercial standards."
31. "Jewel Eyed Judy"
Kiln House, 1970
An obscure gem from the years between the original Mac with Peter Green and the modern Buckingham-Nicks incarnation. Guitarist Danny Kirwan was a great songwriter in his own right, fond of dreamy Beatle-struck ballads like this 1970 single, which chimes in the mode of Badfinger or Big Star. Kirwan led the band on albums like Bare Trees and Future Games, with his George Harrison–style guitar. But, tragically, Kirwan slipped into a void much like his fellow Mac guitarists Green and Jeremy Spencer – he suffered a mysterious mental breakdown, vanished from the music world and drifted into homelessness.
30. "Jumping at Shadows"
Live in Boston, 1985
This smoky blues ballad sums up the lost legend of Peter Green – especially the version on Live in Boston, recorded in February 1970. Green doesn't let his guitar or voice get too loud – he just grabs this tune from U.K. bluesman Duster Bennett and turns it into his own harrowing confession, as if he can see his imminent collapse. "I've cried myself to sleep many a night listening to early Fleetwood Mac and going, 'What happened to this guy?' " Fleetwood once said. "I'd always get people in the hotel room on tour and say, 'Now I want you to hear Peter Green.' ... I'd put on a record, and I would always end up in tears."
29. "Sad Angel"
Extended Play, 2013
"Sad Angel" came out in 2013, as the band went back on the road – the Mac's first great new song in years and a welcome sign that their creative fires were raging again. But it was also a song that came to terms with the band's complex personal history. "I wrote that song for Stevie," Buckingham told Rolling Stone. "She and I have known each other since high school." Their voices blend as they reflect on their long-running bond, both musical and romantic. As Buckingham admitted, "All these years later, we are still writing songs that are dialogues for each other."
28. "World Turning"
Fleetwood Mac, 1975
The band's 1968 debut, Fleetwood Mac, contains a Peter Green song, "The World Keeps on Turning," and when the revamped Buckingham-Nicks lineup recorded its own Fleetwood Mac in 1975, they modified the old blues number to "World Turning." Fleetwood plays a talking drum presented to him in 1969 by Speedy, a Nigerian musician gigging in London at the time, and Buckingham adds a metallic country blues sound with his dobro work. The song's been a fixture of their set for four decades, complete with a frenzied Fleetwood drum solo.
Tango in the Night, 1987
Released as the fourth single from Tango, the airy Christine McVie tune "Everywhere" was Fleetwood Mac's final single to break the American Top 20. The song's recording was fraught with tension thanks to an argument that took place after Nicks heard an early version without her harmonies. (She'd been largely absent from the Tango sessions due to her touring schedule and a stint in the Betty Ford Center.) Her vocals were eventually added, and she's since warmed to the tune. "It just shows you that Christine is the hit songwriter in Fleetwood Mac," she said of "Everywhere."
26. "Oh Well"
Then Play On, 1969
"It represents my two extremes," Peter Green has said of this nearly nine-minute epic. "As wild as I can be, and my first sort of semiclassical attempt." Green insisted on releasing the song as a single over the objections of John McVie and Fleetwood, who, as legend has it, made a bet with the guitarist that the unorthodox track wouldn't chart. They lost: Split in two, with the bluesy freakout on Side One of a 45 and the flamenco guitar showcase on the other, "Oh Well" hit Number Two in the U.K., though the disagreement surrounding its release played a role in Green's departure from the band.
25. "Not That Funny"
Like many Tusk highlights, "Not That Funny" began as a solo Buckingham experiment, down in his home studio. It has lyrics in common with Tusk's "I Know I'm Not Wrong," but it's raunchier and rougher. "You have to allow yourself to get totally drawn into the music," he said in 1980. "Once you're there, the hardest thing to do is let yourself do anything outside that. I'd come out of my basement studio after about six hours, and Carol, my girlfriend, would be sitting in the living room watching TV or something, and I just wouldn't have much to say. My mind would be racing. I love it."
24. "Hold Me"
Inspired by the recent ending of her relationship with Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys, Christine McVie partnered with English singer-songwriter Robbie Patton to write "Hold Me." It ended up being the band's first single to have a music video, a surrealist clip filmed on a 110-degree day in the Mojave Desert. According to the clip's producer, Simon Fields, "John McVie was drunk and tried to punch me. Stevie Nicks didn't want to walk on the sand with her platforms. Christine McVie was fed up with all of them. Mick thought she was being a bitch, he wouldn't talk to her." Christine later called the experience "a nightmare."
23. "Over My Head"
Fleetwood Mac, 1975
After Fleetwood Mac finished work on their self-titled 1975 LP, they found themselves at a loss as to which song to release as a first single. Eventually, they landed on one of the album's more subtle moments, "Over My Head," Christine McVie's soft ode to a rocky relationship. According to Christine, "It was the last track we ever thought would be a single." The single itself was substantially edited; the fade-in intro that appeared on the album version was removed, and louder guitars were added in the chorus. It became their first song to reach the American charts since 1970 and their first Top 20 hit in the U.S.
22. "Second Hand News"
Provisionally titled "Strummer," the opening track on Rumours began as an instrumental, apparently because Buckingham didn't want to worry Nicks with its wounded lyrics. Intrigued by the chugging rhythms found in the Bee Gees' then-current hit "Jive Talkin'," Buckingham sought to inject a slight disco groove into the song. To achieve the desired percussive effect, he pounded the seat of a Naugahyde chair found in the studio. "Lindsey was the accent king," Ken Caillat marveled. "He could accent with guitars, he could accent with toms, he could accent with Naugahyde chairs."
21. "Man of the World"
Non-album single, 1969
Fleetwood Mac followed up the success of "Albatross" with another U.K. hit, this mournful ballad, written by Peter Green, the founding guitarist whose delicate blues style defined the band's early sound. Green had a sudden LSD-related mental collapse, dropped out of the band and ended up digging ditches and sleeping on the streets. "With all that was happening for the band, we failed to see that our leader, Peter Green, was changing," Fleetwood recalled, writing about "Man of the World" in his memoir. "There was a sadness to his lyrics that hadn't been there before."
20. "I Know I'm Not Wrong"
"I Know I'm Not Wrong" sums up the eccentric basement-recording feel Buckingham brought to Tusk – a simple yet sublime Beach Boys–style melody over fuzz guitar. It sounds uncannily like the playful indie-rock sound of Nineties bands like Pavement. "Punk and New Wave had kicked in," Buckingham said. "It gave me a kick in the pants in terms of having the courage to try to shake things up a little bit." His bandmates gave him room to explore. As Fleetwood said, "If [a song] needs someone hitting a Kleenex box instead of me hitting snare drums, then we're going to hit the Kleenex box!"
It took Christine McVie only 30 minutes to write this lovely piano ballad. "I wrote the chords and the words and the melody almost as if it was coming from someone else and not me," she said. It was recorded in the empty Zellerbach Auditorium in Berkeley and used as the B side to "Dreams." In his autobiography, Fleetwood said, "We wanted the song to sound like Chris was singing it at the end of the night, after a show to an empty house." The song hit especially hard for its author's ex. "When Christine played 'Songbird,' grown men would weep," said John McVie. "I did every night."
Mystery to Me, 1973
During the early Seventies, Fleetwood Mac gradually transformed from a blues unit into a much poppier band – and this beguiling contribution from singer-guitarist Bob Welch was a key link in that progression. Inspired by Welch's fascination with UFOs, "Hypnotized" features Christine McVie's bright harmonies and a fluid, jazz-influenced guitar solo by then-band member Bob Weston. "[The song is] classic Bob Welch from a relatively unknown era of Fleetwood Mac that goes overlooked," said Fleetwood. "This is also the beginning of the vocal harmonies, which later became our trademark."
17. "Never Going Back Again"
"That was a very naive song," Buckingham said of this solo-acoustic ballad, one of the prettiest moments on Rumours. "I had broken up with Stevie and maybe met someone," he recalled of the song's inspiration. "It could have been someone who really didn't mean a thing." In the studio, co-producer Ken Caillat asked Buckingham to restring his guitar every 20 minutes. "I wanted to get the best sound on every one of his picking parts," Caillat said. "I'm sure the roadies wanted to kill me. Restringing the guitar three times every hour was a bitch. But Lindsey had lots of parts on the song, and each one sounded magnificent."
Non-album single, 1968
Fleetwood Mac's first Number One U.K. hit had two inspirations: Eric Clapton's guitar work on the Bluesbreakers' version of "The Last Meal," and Santo and Johnny's surfy, Fifties steel-guitar showcase "Sleep Walk." "You put the two together – they don't fit in any way," Peter Green once said. "But that's how I got 'Albatross.' " It's one of the bestselling instrumental songs in English history, and its heavily reverbed guitar partially inspired the Beatles' "Sun King." "We said, 'Let's be Fleetwood Mac doing "Albatross," just to get going,' " George Harrison recalled. "It never really sounded like Fleetwood Mac ... but that was the point of origin."
15. "Big Love"
Tango in the Night, 1987
Buckingham described the smoothly rolling first single from Tango in the Night as a "lustful mid-to-up-tempo number featuring love grunts." As it turns out, the sex-soaked "ah" to Buckingham's "uh" that we hear wasn't a vocal throwdown with Nicks, but his own voice sped up. "It was about a guy who was kind of a lonely guy on a hill in a house kind of hanging out by himself," Buckingham said of "Big Love" in 2005. "When I look back on it now, I'm still living on the same hill, but in a new house and with a family, from a whole different perspective. So the song has taken on kind of an irony."
14. "Silver Springs"
The Dance, 1997
Inspired by a road sign she spotted on tour, Nicks intended this simmering requiem for her romance with Buckingham to be her crowning moment on Rumours. "As far away as Lindsey goes from me, he'll never get away from the sound of my voice," she said, according to co-producer Ken Caillat. But the song (which originally ran almost 10 minutes) was too long to fit on the finished LP and was dropped. "They didn't even ask me," Nicks has said. "I was told in the parking lot after it had already been done." A live version on 1997's The Dance was nominated for a Grammy – belated recognition for one of Nicks' masterworks.
13. "You Make Loving Fun"
In 1976, Christine McVie's patience with husband John's alcoholism reached its end, and she started dating the band's lighting director Curry Grant. The exaltation of that new relationship can be heard on "You Make Loving Fun," a buoyantly funk-infused snapshot of a woman availing herself of rock-star sexual freedom. (To protect John's feelings, Christine told him it was about her dog.) Rumours co-producer Ken Caillat was amazed during the session for "You Make Loving Fun," when he witnessed Buckingham and Nicks get into a vicious argument while recording backing vocals, then pause and nail their parts perfectly.
12. "Little Lies"
Tango in the Night, 1987
Christine McVie wrote this song with Portuguese songwriter and keyboardist Eddy Quintela, whom she married in 1986. The band's last Top 10 hit, "Little Lies" showed that McVie was still able to effortlessly tap into the restless longing that's infused her best songs. "My writing ability all stems from the blues," she said. " 'Don't Stop,' 'Say You Love Me' – they all have that boogie-bass left-hand thing. Even the more recent things, like 'Little Lies.' " She later mused that Fleetwood Mac should have unearthed this song – and not "Don't Stop" – when they performed at Bill Clinton's inauguration.
11. "Say You Love Me"
Fleetwood Mac, 1975
"Say You Love Me" was a watershed moment for Christine McVie, her second straight Top 20 single. It was also a watershed moment for the band itself; when McVie played it for Fleetwood Mac at their very first rehearsal, it offered a potent indication of their new lineup's easeful chemistry. "I started playing 'Say You Love Me' . . . and fell right into it," McVie recalled. "I heard this incredible sound – our three voices – and said to myself, 'Is this me singing?' I couldn't believe how great this three-voice harmony was. My skin turned to goose flesh, and I wondered how long this feeling was going to last."
Released in December 1979, this somber, elegant ballad was Fleetwood Mac's first hit of the Eighties. Don Henley of the Eagles claimed the song was named for a baby Nicks was pregnant with and decided not to have during their brief late-Seventies affair. Thirty-five years later, she confirmed that he was partially correct. "Had I married Don and had that baby, and had she been a girl, I would have named her Sara," she said in 2014. "But there was another woman in my life named Sara, who shortly after that became Mick's wife, Sara Fleetwood."
One afternoon during the recording of Rumours, Nicks disappeared into a small studio in the Record Plant, which belonged to Sly Stone. "It was a black-and-red room with a sunken pit in the middle where there was a piano, and a big, black-velvet bed," she said. "I sat down on the bed with my keyboard in front of me ... and wrote 'Dreams' in about 10 minutes." "Dreams" became Fleetwood Mac's only Number One single, Nicks' mystical assessment of her dying relationship with Buckingham: "[In 'Go Your Own Way'] Lindsey is saying go ahead and date other men and go live your crappy life, and [I'm] singing about the rain washing you clean. We were coming at it from opposite angles, but we were really saying the same exact thing."
Fleetwood Mac, 1975
Nicks was still a young woman when she wrote the reflective ballad "Landslide" – but she already sounded like an old soul. "I was only 27 – I wrote that in 1973, a year before I joined Fleetwood Mac," she told Rolling Stone. "You can feel really old at 27." "Landslide" is Nicks' acoustic meditation on growing up and the passing of time, with her brooding, "I'm getting older too." A surprising sentiment on Seventies rock radio – yet "Landslide" became an AOR staple, and has only grown throughout the years, with the Dixie Chicks taking it to a new audience with their country version. The fear in the song is real: When Nicks wrote "Landslide," she and Buckingham had only been in L.A. for two years. She waitressed at a singles bar. "It makes me remember how beautiful and frightening it all was," Nicks said. "Asking each other, 'Now what? Should we go back to San Francisco? Should we quit?' We were scared kids in this big, huge, flat city where we had no friends and no money. But we didn't quit." The world has been taking "Landslide" to heart ever since.
A landmark of badass rock & roll bravado: The world's most popular group, after perfecting an L.A. rock formula that went megaplatinum around the world, decided to rip it up and start again. "Tusk" sounded like commercial suicide – yet it turned into one of the weirdest Top 10 hits any megastars ever dropped. Buckingham and co-producer Richard Dashut took a drum riff that Fleetwood devised to warm up before shows and looped it into an evil-sounding sex-and-drugs chant, with the singers practically whispering, "Why won't you tell me who's on the phone?" Halfway through, it explodes into a free-for-all rock jam. Not weird enough? They added the USC Marching Band, inspired by a brass band Fleetwood saw at a village festival in France. It was excess in every sense of the word. "There was blood floating around in the alcohol," Christine McVie later said. "Recording Tusk was quite absurd. ... The studio contract rider for refreshments was like a phone directory. Exotic food delivered to the studio, crates of Champagne."
Like so many Mac classics, "Gypsy" has its roots in the ballad of Buckingham and Nicks. As Nicks told Rolling Stone in 2014, "We write about each other, we have continually written about each other, and we'll probably keep writing about each other until we're dead." Back when she and Buckingham were just another struggling pair of hungry songwriters in San Francisco, Nicks used to visit a downtown store called the Velvet Underground, where Janis Joplin and Grace Slick shopped, and fantasize about being able to afford the clothes. She told herself, "I'm not buying clothes, but I'm sure as hell standing in the place where the great women have stood." By 1982, she could afford to buy the whole damn store – but in "Gypsy," she looks back to the freedom of those early days. As Nicks said in 1988, "In the song 'Gypsy' it says, 'Going back to the Velvet Underground/Back to the floor.' ... which means my bed went back on the floor. ... There's a part of that [era] that there will never be again."
5. "The Chain"
Side Two of Rumours opens with a tortuously pastiched collaboration that remains the only song in the band's history on which all five members of Fleetwood Mac are credited as songwriters. Though the song was built from a handful of disparate musical fragments, at its core is the Christine McVie composition "Keep Me There" (also known as "Butter Cookie"), a tense, keyboard-driven track that remained incomplete during the early album sessions in February 1976. "We decided it needed a bridge, so we cut a bridge and edited it into the rest of the song," Buckingham told Rolling Stone in 1977. They settled on an ominous 10-note bass passage played by John McVie over Fleetwood's ascending drum pattern. "We didn't get a vocal and left it for a long time in a bunch of pieces," Buckingham said. "It almost went off the album. Then we listened back and decided we liked the bridge, but didn't like the rest of the song. So I wrote verses for that bridge, which was originally not in the song, and edited those in."
4. "Don't Stop"
"Don't Stop" was Christine McVie's sunny, optimistic advice to John McVie at the end of their marriage, doubling as a snapshot of her own happiness. (She was then dating the band's lighting director Curry Grant, creating another layer of tension within Fleetwood Mac's stormy working environment.) " 'Don't Stop' is Chris saying 'I love you, but I'm not in love with you' to John," Fleetwood later said. As Christine put it, " 'Don't Stop' was just a feeling. It seemed like a pleasant revelation to have. ... It would make a great song for an insurance company, but I'm definitely not a pessimist. I'm basically a love-song writer." The song made it to Number Three on the Billboard charts, and took on an even wider resonance in 1992 when presidential candidate Bill Clinton used it as his campaign theme song. The members of Fleetwood Mac were barely communicating at the time, but they still got back together to play "Don't Stop" at Clinton's inaugural ball. When Christine rejoined her bandmates at a Dublin gig in 2013, after 17 years away, it was the first song they played.
3. "Gold Dust Woman"
The chilling climax of Rumours is a seductive guitar ballad that doubles as a horror show. Nicks sings about a dark, sexual obsession and a drug rush as if they're the same addiction, taunting, "Did she make you cry?/Make you break down?/Shatter your illusions of love?" over woozy, phased guitars. According to engineer Chris Morris, the song took "20 or 30 takes" to get right, with Nicks recording her vocals late at night wrapped in a shawl and standing on a chair as someone slowly dimmed the lights in the recording booth. Nicks still performs "Gold Dust Woman" live, with an interpretive dance. "It's me being some of the drug addicts I knew, and probably being myself too – just being that girl lost on the streets, freaked out with no idea how to find her way," she told Rolling Stone. "When Christine saw it, she said, 'Wow, we've always known that "Gold Dust Woman" was about the serious drug days, but this really depicts how frightening it was for all of us and what we were willing to do for it.' We were dancing on the edge for years."
Fleetwood Mac, 1975
Shortly before she and Buckingham joined Fleetwood Mac, Nicks picked up a novel called Triad at an airport. The book told the story of a Welsh woman who believes she's been possessed by another woman, named Rhiannon. "I wrote this song and made her into what I thought was an old Welsh witch," Nicks said. "It's just about a very mystical woman that finds it very, very hard to be tied down in any kind of way." Envisioning a "Welsh country song," Nicks began with stark, autumnal piano chords, around which Buckingham built a guitar part. "My tendency is to want to add rhythm and to rock it up," he recalled. Nicks later learned that Rhiannon was a character from Welsh mythology, but the real myth she invented on Fleetwood Mac's first American Top 10 hit was her own – the shawl-wearing California enchantress who left crowds stunned by her smoldering, trancelike performances. "She's like your fairy-princess godmother," Courtney Love once said, "who lives in a magical kingdom somewhere and has, like, fabulous romances."
1. "Go Your Own Way"
In 1976, early in the recording process of what would come to be Fleetwood Mac's epochal album Rumours, they took some time off from touring and rented a house in Florida to work on new material. With the two relationships at the center of the band unraveling, it may not have been the best time for a family vacation: "Aside from the obvious unstated tension, I remember the house having a distinctly bad vibe to it, as if it was haunted, which did nothing to help matters," Mick Fleetwood wrote in his memoir. While there, Lindsey Buckingham wrote a bruising new song that channeled the darkening anger brought on by his impending breakup with Stevie Nicks. " 'Go Your Own Way' was filled with anger, it was filled with angst," he recalled. With an inverted stomping drumbeat and a taut, aggressive guitar part, it was also a hard-driving departure from the "light rock" with which Fleetwood Mac were being grouped. "I had this idea taken from 'Street Fighting Man,' by the Rolling Stones," Buckingham said of the song's rhythm. "And Mick couldn't quite get that, and he did his own thing." Released as the first single from Rumours, "Go Your Own Way" became a Top 10 hit as well as their tempestuous set-closer, reigniting the drama at the heart of the band's music every night. "I very, very much resented him telling the world that 'packing up, shacking up' with different men was all I wanted to do," Nicks told Rolling Stone in 1997. "He knew it wasn't true. It was just an angry thing that he said. Every time those words would come out onstage, I wanted to go over and kill him."
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