Fleetwood Mac embodied the high gloss, tube-topped reality of the late ’70s like few others. Equal parts British blues rockers, folkie bohemians and thick South California soft-pop harmonies, they crafted a songbook rife with strife, long on eroticism and charged by the cocaine-fueled reality of the era. Post-disco, it was the illusion of earthy, mystical post-hippie magic, the return of electric guitars and rhythm sections that echoed.
Ironically, it was the merger of two Northern California dreamers—Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks—that provided the solid rhythm section of Britain’s ferocious Mick Fleetwood on drums, velvety vocalist/B-3/pianist Christine McVie and melody-driven bassist John McVie the catalyst for superstardom. Aggressive playing, pop-inflected melodies and sexual frisson ignited rock that was palatable in the malls as well as back rooms, yet some of pre-Buckingham/Nicks songs remain pivotal in the catalogue.
And what a catalogue! The self-titled “white album” lead to the 45-million selling Rumours—inescapable for a period of almost three years. They followed with the progressive, challenging two-record set Tusk, the more conventional Tango in the Night and Mirage. When Bill Clinton made his ran at the White House, it was “Don’t Stop” that fired up his team; for his Inauguration, the band reunited to play.
Here are the 20 best songs from Fleetwood Mac:
In some ways, it felt a little like “Stevie does Stevie,” but it’s hard to argue with the free-spirited declaration of self. For Fleetwood Mac, the other side of Southern California’s “peaceful easy feeling,” this was the Bohemian manifesto of sparkle, sunshine, chiffon and wanderlust on a cloud of creamy synthesizers from Christine McVie—with a confectionary video that was every hippie girl’s dazzling fantasy embodied by Stevie Nicks in full regalia.
19. “Rattlesnake Shake”
(Then Play On)
People forget that the Mighty Mac started as a British blues band, mining the roots and creating an electric homage a la Led Zeppelin or the Yardbirds. To understand the toppling rhythms that drove latter versions, start with Peter Green yowling about sex and masturbation and Mick Fleetwood brings those sticks down hard and John McVie undulates with a melodic sense that underscores the potency of the beat. (And Playboy founder Hugh Hefner with “Hee Haw” Honey girlfriend Barbi Benton adds a nice flourish)
18. “Over My Head”
When “the White Album”—as it was known among Mac fans—was released, “Over My Head” seemed to be the track people watched. A jangling bit of satiny desire, the notion of surrendering to want and savoring what was there was driven by Christine McVie’s warm alto and steamy B-3, but also given heft from then-husband John McVie’s bass and brand new Lindsey Buckingham’s electric guitar embellishments.
17. “Blue Letter”
(Who’s the New Girl?)
Having just joined the band, Lindsey Buckingham figured out how to bridge the realm of Brit blues and the more euphoric rock/pop he and paramour Stevie Nicks had been making on their own. This kiss-off, rendered with a bit of ’50s pop urgency and a lacerating guitar part, foreshadowed the turmoil that defined Mac’s Rumours; but in the moment, it was a hard-charging feel-good “eff you” that had just enough teeth and a blistering guitar solo to make the Mac’s most successful line-up more than spacy hippies.
16. “The Chain”
The vitrol of betrayal drips from this track, stretched over Fleetwood’s percussive bed like some gothic torture chamber. As an entire band imploded under drugs, booze, hubris and the romantic uncouplings of the McVies and Buckingham-Nicks, this raw three-part vocal harmony, circular and in unison, against a stark track is staggering in its delineation of the promise made—and broken, the disorientation of what’s happened and the resolve of acrimony in the wake of it all. Built on a vacillating guitar part, that like tortured grief never crescendos or abates, the tension ratchets up to what becomes a tour du force jamslam between Buckingham, McVie and Fleetwood.
15. “Sisters of the Moon”
Tusk was the experiment that failed, yet several ambitious tracks emerged and sustained. “Sisters of the Moon,” with its creepy minor key, solidified Nicks’ witch status, the queen of the occult, the night things, the spells and conjurings. With Fleetwood’s big bass drum thumping, the tale of spells and the woman who casts them—as well as a Heathcliffian romantic suggestion—made this a crowd favorite long before it found a place on an album, and offered a rock surge amongst the increasingly Top 40 fare the band was becoming known for.
(Mystery To Me)
A hypnotic saunter from the late Bob Welch, the hush and the light jazz beat conspires with Welch’s dusky vocal to create the sort of demi-story narrative that would become a trademark. But here, it’s just soft-rock with the tension of Welch’s guitar plucking notes and short runs over Fleetwood’s gently pushing rim work. As much a spell as anything Nicks’ ever conjured.
13. “World Turning”
The barnyard chicken scratch moment of Mac’s emergence, as Buckingham finds his hillbilly etching tools for this love-who-you-can-where-you-are-right-now torch cry from former Chickenshack anchor Christine Perfect McVie. The sweeping siren call of want amongst the demands and indifference gave Fleetwood Mac a certain brio, the notion of hair out of place, bodily fluids surging and the will to push the moment to a more carnal solution delivered a grittiness of rock’n’roll authenticity that endures.
12. “Gold Dust Woman”
The drugs were becoming a problem, as were the internal crises. Again, Fleetwood with a cowbell and sticks on the rim and Buckingham’s serpentine electric guitar—that would flange into pools of quaver as punctuation—cast a spell for Nicks’ harrowing portrait of the wages of morning afters, vampire coke whores and the ravages of realizing the cost of empty encountering. Throatily, she cautions, “lousy lovers pick their prey, but they never cry out loud” and “rulers make bad lovers, you better put your kingdom up for sale”—two enjoinders destined to be carved into notebooks well into the ’90s.
11. “Bare Trees”
Released as a single from Bare Trees, the desired effect was stalled until Bob Welch made his solo French Kiss, brought Christine McVie into sing—and had Fleetwood help create a spine for one of the ’80s biggest AC smashes. A descending melody line and bland homage to a woman seems out of place in the Mac’s charged narrative, but not when the band released it in 1972.