My friend Scottie was unhappy with the greeting I had left on the answering machine. It was long and possibly self-indulgent. I decided to change it. I played the intro to a Fleetwood Mac song and added the customary ‘leave a message for *****’, in the hope that it would meet with Scottie’s approval.
It was a forlorn desire, however. The song was from 2003 and, according to Scottie, Fleetwood Mac never did anything worthwhile since Peter Green’s departure in 1970. He said their subsequent output was akin to John and George leaving The Beatles and Paul and Ringo recruiting a couple of session musicians.
I remember seeing the cover of ‘Rumours’ in the late 70s, along with LPs like Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Darkness at the Edge of Town’ and Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ round my friend’s house in East Putney, south-west London. His stepdad was into adult-oriented rock. I was more into disco and child-oriented rock but the image stayed with me. However, I only became a Mac Man during the last few days.
There was a BBC documentary that was screened last year which focused on the break-ups of the 2 couples within Fleetwood Mac and the songs which 3 of the 4 people involved wrote about them. At the time I was more interested in the break-ups than the songs but later came to appreciate the complementary songwriting styles of Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie.
The rhythm section of John McVie and Mick Fleetwood, despite representing a link with the band’s origins in late 60s London and providing the inspiration for the name of the group, seem to supply a somewhat bland backing to the songs, particularly in the 80s and 90s.
Checking out the experimental follow-up to ‘Rumours’, 1979’s ‘Tusk’, I found a sprawling masterpiece with some more great songs. Buckingham adds grit and virtuosity to the sound and is the leader in the studio; Nicks has a way of conjuring up deep feminine imagery in her lyrics; Christine McVie has the most commercial songs and sings them in an appealing folk/pop style.
Like a lot of acts who were soulful and organic in the 70s, Fleetwood Mac became a watered-down and dumbed-down (though hugely successful) version of themselves in the 80s, particularly on the album ‘Tango in the Night’. Then the industry moved on, like it always seems to, and started promoting younger, more infantile product.
Reuniting to make a greatest hits CD and DVD, ‘The Dance’ in 1997 seemed to be a worthwhile venture. The fans enjoyed it and it gave Christine the chance to wrap up her time as a pop star and move back to England from LA. Now she seems like a nice liberal who goes to the village pub occasionally and supports good causes.
I watched another documentary, this one highlighting not the romantic but the creative tensions within the band (minus Christine) during the making of its latest album. What was obvious was that they still cared (with the possible exception of bass player John), they still had the desire to create and they were still debating, pretty passionately, about the best way of exploring all the creative possibilities available while still appealing to a record-buying public ‘between the ages of 10 and 27’.
The production and arrangement on 2003’s ‘Say You Will’ is pretty contemporary, with drum loops to the fore and not many rough edges. But there’s some crazy stuff too, like ‘Murrow Turning Over in his Grave’, and some moving lyrics and vocals from Stevie Nicks. If you don’t believe me, give me a call. I’ll leave the answerphone on.