Thursday, January 1, 2015

Fleetwood Mac, The #8 Artist of the Seventies*

This group formed in 1967 when guitarist Peter Green named the group by combining the surnames of two of his bandmates in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie, in an effort to get them in his group.  But McVie originally decided to stay with Mayall, so Fleetwood Mac hired Bob Brunning on bass and slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer.  The band made its debut in 1967 at the Windsor Jazz and Blues Festival.  After a few weeks, McVie agreed to join the group and replaced Brunning.   

Fleetwood Mac signed a recording contract with Blue Horizon Records and released their self-titled album (later renamed Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac) in 1968, and the album Mr. Wonderful later in the year.  The band underwent several other personnel changes (including hiring guitarist Danny Kirwan) and recorded two more albums before shopping around for another label.  The Beatles wanted them on Apple Records, as George Harrison's wife, Patti was Fleetwood's sister, but Fleetwood Mac chose to sign with Warner Brothers Records and record on Reprise Records, a division of Warner Brothers.

The group recorded the solid album Then Play On in 1969.  But Green used LSD, which contributed to his schizophrenia.  Finally, he decided to leave the band in 1970.  John's wife, keyboardist Christine McVie (who was then called Christine Perfect), had helped the group out on previous albums and joined at this time.

By the time the seventies came around, this band had been through a lot.  But both their story and their troubles were far from over.

Fleetwood Mac released the album Kiln House in 1970, which sold moderately well, then the album Future Games the following year.  The latter did not do well initially, but eventually went Gold.  "Morning Rain" is a solid track.

While on tour in 1971, Spencer said he was "going out to get a magazine".  He never returned, and after several frantic days, the band discovered that Spencer had joined the Children of God.  Since Fleetwood Mac was still contractually obligated to finish the tour, the group convinced Green to help them.  Green however again left the band after the tour, so Fleetwood Mac again was in the position of hiring a new guitarist.

After some searching, the band hired Bob Welch.  In 1972, Fleetwood Mac released the album Bare Trees.  "Sentimental Lady" was one of the tracks on the album, a song that Welch later turned into a solo hit.  Bare Trees has since sold over one million copies.  Kirwan wrote the Top Track* "Dust". 

But Kirwan became an alcoholic and was feuding with both Welch and the McVies.  After he smashed his guitar before a concert and refused to go on stage, the band had no choice but to fire him.

In the next two-and-a-half years, Fleetwood Mac hired several new members, as well as manager Clifford Davis.  Guitarist Bob Weston and vocalist Dave Walker came aboard, and the group released the album Penguin in 1973.  But members were unhappy with Walker, and fired him after the subsequent tour.

Fleetwood Mac released the album Mystery to Me with the remaining five members.  It too was a moderate success that went Gold years later when fans began to buy the group's back catalog.  But Weston wasn't working out either, and when he had an affair with Fleetwood's wife, he was let go and the tour was canceled. 

Then, reality became stranger than fiction.  Davis claimed that he owned the name Fleetwood Mac and created his own band.  Fans were told that Welch and John McVie had quit the group, and that Fleetwood and McVie would be joining the band at a later date.  The fake group went out on tour, but road manager John Courage realized at the first show that it was a fake lineup, and hid Fleetwood Mac's equipment, which helped to shorten the tour.  But the lawsuit that followed kept things tied up in court for over a year, and Fleetwood Mac could neither record nor tour until the case was decided. 

During this time, the band decided to move their operations from England to Los Angeles.  Finally, the real Fleetwood Mac signed a new recording contract with Warner Brothers and released the album Heroes Are Hard to Find.  The group was down to a quartet, and Welch left soon afterwards, tired of touring and the legal struggles.

Yet again, Fleetwood Mac had to hire a guitarist.  While Fleetwood was at Sound City Studios in Los Angeles, engineer Keith Olsen played a track he had recorded from a duo called Buckingham Nicks.  By coincidence, guitarist Lindsey Buckingham was at the studio that day recording demos, and Olsen introduced him to Fleetwood.

Fleetwood soon asked Buckingham to join Fleetwood Mac.  Buckingham agreed, but only on the condition that his musical partner and girlfriend, singer Stevie Nicks, would also be included in the band.  It was the greatest "2 for 1" deal in music history.  Buckingham and Nicks joined in 1974, and the following year, the new lineup released the eponymous album Fleetwood Mac.  The single "Over My Head" became the band's first big hit, reaching #9 in Canada and a highly underrated 20 in the United States.
The album reached #1 in the United States, and a major reason was the second single, a Nicks song called "Rhiannon (Will You Ever Win)".  "Rhiannon" climbed to #4 in Canada and #11 in the U.S.

Eight tumultuous years had come to this.  Finally, Fleetwood Mac had a breakthrough album.  The group released a third single, "Say You Love Me", highly underrated at #11. 

The album has now sold over five million copies in the U.S. alone.  The group should have released this song as a single, but since they didn't, it remains a Top Track*:  "Monday Morning".

Christine wrote another great song on the album--"Warm Ways".

This is Buckingham's top contribution on the project--"Blue Letter".

"Landslide" later became a big hit for the Dixie Chicks, but it was always widely accepted as an outstanding song then for Fleetwood Mac and in the years that followed.

In 1977, the group experienced more inner strife as Buckingham and Nicks were breaking up, Fleetwood was ending his marriage, and the McVies were on the verge of divorce.  The appropriate name for the album was Rumours, and "Go Your Own Way" went to #1 in the Netherlands, #10 in the U.S. and #11 in Canada.

One of the great benefits of getting Buckingham and Nicks was that the group now had three excellent songwriters, and on Rumours, all three wrote the best material of their lives.  "Go Your Own Way" was a Buckingham song, while the follow-up, "Dreams", written by Nicks, topped charts in the United States and Canada, and peaked at #8 in the Netherlands.

"Don't Stop raced to #1 in Canada, #3 in the U.S., and #4 in the Netherlands.

The pressure put on the group to release a high quality album only increased personal and professional tensions within the group.  Christine wrote a song not about her husband John, but about her new boyfriend.  John of course knew this, and still had to be professional in playing bass on her song. Fleetwood Mac was on fire, and they released a fourth single, "You Make Loving Fun", #7 in Canada and #9 in the United States.  Fleetwood Mac thus became one of an elite group to score four Top 10 songs from an album.

Rumours went to #1 in the United States, the U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the Netherlands and sold over 19 million copies in the U.S. and over 30 million worldwide.

Rumours is essentially a musical home run, an album that can be played from start to finish without the "filler" that you usually find on other albums.  Another great track is "I Don't Want To Know".

So popular and long-lasting was the Rumours album that it earned Fleetwood Mac nominations in both 1978 and 1979 for Favorite Pop/Rock Group and Favorite Pop/Rock Album.  Even more curious, the group won both awards in 1978, but didn't in 1979.   "The Chain" was the only song Fleetwood Mac recorded that was written by all five members.

Rumours won the Grammy for Album of the Year, and Fleetwood Mac was nominated for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for their work on the entire album.  Rumours included this fine track from Christine--"Songbird".

Fleetwood Mac went on a highly successful (and lucrative) world tour to promote their masterpiece.  Stevie's "Gold Dust Woman" is not only a Top Track* on the album, but one of The Top Album Tracks of the Rock Era*.

The double album Tusk win 1979 was a Top 5 album in every major country in the world except Sweden and Norway, where it went Top 10.  The album has gotten a bad rap, merely because it was not as good as Rumours.  News flash:  no album in history is as good as Rumours (it's The #1 Album of the Rock Era*), but, as you'll see and hear, it is an outstanding release in its own right and a highly underrated album.

The lead single was an unconventional release, featuring a tribal beat and the USC Trojan marching band.  It was a risk, but "Tusk" became one of their biggest worldwide hits--#3 in Australia, #4 in New Zealand, #5 in Canada, #6 in the U.K. and Austria, #7 in Germany, #8 in the United States, and #10 in the Netherlands.

Stevie's "Sara" was chosen to be the next single, even though research showed that another of her songs was more popular--more on that later.  "Sara" achieved a Top 10 ranking in one country, the United States (at #7).


Fleetwood Mac released "Think About Me" as the next single, and it stalled at #20.
So fans who were considering buying the album had "Tusk", "Sara" and "Think About Me" as their only clues to what was on the album.  Unfortunately for the group, but fortunately for people who bought it, the album was filled with incredible depth, loaded with tracks that were better than the songs chosen for single release.

We chose five of the best tracks on the album to feature, but there are plenty more good ones.  The Nicks song that should have been released as a single was not--no matter, it is a huge fan favorite, and one of the best of The Top Unknown/Underrated Songs of the Rock Era*--"Angel".

Fleetwood Mac toured the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and the U.K. for 18 months to promote their new album.  On this tour, the band recorded music for the Fleetwood Mac Live album, which was released in 1980.  Here's another quality track on Tusk--."Storms".

Nicks wrote a rare ballad that stands out on the album--"Beautiful Child".

For Christine's song "Brown Eyes", an old friend was invited into the studio.  Although he is uncredited on the album, Peter Green played guitar on the song.
Then you have this amazing song, "Sister Of The Moon", also by Nicks.

Tusk has now sold two million albums and is still selling well.

The band continued to be a major force in music in the 80's, and, along with several reincarnations, has reunited with its classic lineup several times.  In fact, Christine, who had been out of the group for several years, recently rejoined for a world tour and new album.

In 1988, Fleetwood Mac released their Greatest Hits album, which has now sold over eight million.  The 70's material included on the album has to be factored into their standing in this special.

In 1998, Fleetwood Mac was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

The band sold over 28 million albums in the United States in the decade, with Rumours of course being a major part of that.  They registered nine hits in the 70's, with five of those going Top 10 and one #1 song.  Fleetwood Mac's album sales from their 70's material ranks ninth, while their  performance in The Top 5000 Songs of the Rock Era* ranks 12th among 70's artists.  As we have stressed throughout this music special and elsewhere, hits don't tell the entire story, and it is the Mac's album tracks that enable them to rank as The #8 Artist of the Seventies*.

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