YOUR grandparents loved them, your parents grew up with them and your kids know their music thanks to countless hopefuls on The Voice.
Fleetwood Mac truly are a group for all generations whose story is filled with joys and sorrows, drama and fame, straight off the pages of a Hollywood movie script – and they are still here to tell the tale.
James Iles looks at the commercial success and personal pain that fuelled ‘Rumours’, one of the greatest albums of all time, that supercharged a decade at the top of their game.
‘F’ is for Fleetwood Mac
BEGINNING life in 1967 as a no-frills blues band, ‘Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac’ were so-named following lead guitarist Green’s recruitment of Mick Fleetwood on drums and John McVie (nicknamed ‘Mac’) on bass.
Fleetwood Mac went through many line-up changes in their early years, most importantly the addition of John McVie’s girlfriend Christine Perfect (who grew up in Bearwood, Birmingham) as keyboardist who both married John and joined the band to become Christine McVie in 1970.
Their bluesy sound had already helped them score a UK number one with Albatross in 1968 and two No.2 hits with Oh Well and Man of the World in 1969 but by 1974 they were left with no guitarists or lead vocalist after more departures.
In the first of a series of personal heartaches for the band, Mick Fleetwood’s wife Jenny Boyd Fleetwood had admitted to an affair with guitarist Bob Weston in 1973. Weston was fired, Fleetwood could not face finishing the tour and the group temporarily disbanded.
Deciding to regroup and recruit, Fleetwood was scouting recording studios in LA in 1974 when he was introduced to folk-rock duo Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. Buckingham was invited to be their new lead guitarist. He agreed, but only if Nicks could join the band too.
It turned out to be a good deal for the British-American act as the recruitment of Buckingham and Nicks gave them a more pop-rock sound. Their 1975 self-titled album, which features Rhiannon and Landslide (both penned by Nicks), hit the No. 1 spot in the USA.
A significant marker post in the long life of Fleetwood Mac, they now had not one but three brilliant singer-songwriters in their ranks and, in Buckingham, a great producer too. It was all underpinned by the arguably the most famous rhythm section in music, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie.
However, the mainstream success came at a huge personal cost to the band.
Under mounting pressure to capitalise on the success of ‘Fleetwood Mac’, by 1976 the band’s personal lives seemed to fall apart.
John McVie had struggled with alcohol addiction and by now Christine had started an on-the-road affair with the band’s lighting director. Meanwhile, Lyndsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks’ relationship was also on the rocks.
From the ashes of their love lives came the recording sessions for Rumours (the LP was named after constant press speculation around their personal troubles) which, although fuelled by drugs and alcohol, saw them hit their creative stride.
Christine McVie wrote You Make Loving Fun, about her affair, and it became a top-10 hit. Nicks wrote Dreams, which cites a break-up with a message of hope, while Buckingham provided Go Your Own Way, on a similar, if more direct, theme.
McVie offered some optimism with Don’t Stop while Songbird, her introspective “prayer for everybody and nobody”, became a tour encore and remains one of the most covered songs of all time, especially by contestants on TV talent shows.
The cornerstone of the Grammy-award winning Rumours album though is The Chain.
Spliced together from tapes of rejected or unfinished songs, the five are jointly credited for writing the epic track that starts as a folk-country ballad, then switches to that legendary bass line, before breaking out into a harder rockier sound.
Famously used on Formula 1 TV coverage, it is arguably their most recognisable track. Its lyrics and construction also refer to the band being links of a chain (just about) pulling together.
By the end of the highly-lucrative Rumours tour that followed the critical and commercial success of the album (its sold 40million copies and counting), the McVies were divorced.
But still Fleetwood Mac continued, and more success followed. After the more-experimental double album Tusk (1979) spearheaded by Buckingham, which contained both the hit title song and Sara, further successful world tours beckoned. They released the album Mirage in 1982 with the hits Gypsy and Can’t Go Back.
After a hiatus, each releasing solo records, Tango in the Night (1987) was the fifth and final studio recording from the classic line-up and marked the end of their most successful decade (1977 to 1987) that began with the Rumours LP.
Starting out as a Lyndsey Buckingham solo record (he also co-produced it), it remains second only to Rumours in terms of commercial success having given us the chart hits Big Love (written by Buckingham) and Little Lies and Everywhere (by Christine McVie and McVie and her then husband Eddy Quintela respectively).
That record was to be their ‘last tango’ as Buckingham left later that year. The classic line-up did reunite for Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993 (Clinton had made Don’t Stop his campaign theme song) but between the 1990s and 2014, each of Nicks, Buckingham and Christine McVie had left and re-joined the rollercoaster ride of Fleetwood Mac.
Buckingham quit again in 2018 after a row over touring which forced yet another line-up change. In came Neil Finn of Crowded House fame and Mike Campbell (one of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers) for their 2018-19 tour.
Fleetwood Mac’s broad back catalogue of classic songs makes choosing my regular three ‘top tracks’ the hardest task to date as they have graced us with so many brilliant songs that are personal to them but relatable to us all.
My top Fleetwood Mac tracks
1. The Chain
2. Go Your Own Way
3. Little Lies
Underrated track = Silver Springs
Check out James’ Fleetwood Mac playlist on Spotify – https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5xUucUcYilQujC2wcK8SVY