On New Year’s Eve 1974, Mick Fleetwood invited guitarist Lindsey Buckingham to join Fleetwood Mac. Buckingham insisted that his girlfriend Stevie Nicks was part of the package, and Fleetwood Mac’s tenth and most successful line-up was formed.
The lineu-p of Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, drummer Mick Fleetwood, bassist John McVie, and keyboardist/vocalist Christine McVie recorded five albums between 1975 and 1987, while 2003’s worthwhile Say You Will was recorded as a quartet without Christine McVie. 1997’s live album The Dance is also a significant item in their catalogue, shining attention on overlooked older songs like ‘Silver Springs’ and ‘Landslide’. It’s a miracle that this line-up remained intact for a dozen years – by 1976 the McVies had divorced, Fleetwood had divorced his wife, and Buckingham and Nicks had split, leaving the group dynamics fraught with tension. These tensions fed into the classic 1977 album Rumours, where the songs read like dialogue between ex-lovers.
Stevie Nicks enjoys a lot of adulation for songs like ‘Rhiannon’ and ‘Dreams’, but the group’s lynch-pin is Buckingham. A fan of Phil Spector and Brian Wilson, his studio skills allowed him to enliven McVie’s blues songs with unexpected production touches, and to organise Nicks’ intimate ramblings into radio hits. His guitar skills and impassioned vocals bring an edge to the classy Californian soft-rock band.
With three talented writers, Fleetwood Mac have a plethora of great material- apologies in advance to ‘Rhiannon’, ‘I’m So Afraid’, ‘The Chain’, ‘Silver Springs’, ‘Sisters of the Moon’, ‘What Makes You Think You’re The One?”, ‘Seven Wonders’, ‘Tango in the Night’, ‘Say You Will’, and ‘Miranda’.
10 Best Fleetwood Mac Songs
#10 – Little Lies
Christine McVie, from Tango in the Night (1987)
Of the five records that Nicks, Buckingham, and Christine McVie recorded with Fleetwood Mac, 1987’s Tango in the Night is my least favourite. Stevie Nicks’ material is weak, as she was distracted by her solo career and drug rehabilitation – the hit ‘Seven Wonders’ is great, but was donated by an outside writer. Buckingham and especially McVie shine on Tango in the Night, and the most magical moment is the beautiful synth intro to ‘Little Lies’. The chorus hook where the three vocalists trade lines is also brilliant; Christine sings “Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies”, Stevie adds “Tell me lies”, then Lindsey finishes with “Tell me, tell me lies.”
#9 – Gold Dust Woman
Stevie Nicks, from Rumours (1977)
I’ve mostly opted for radio hits on this list, as Fleetwood Mac are a pop band and their catchiest songs are often their best. But the closing song from 1977 mega-seller Rumours is one of their key tracks. Fleetwood Mac’s personal lives were in a mess around Rumours, with the two band couples splitting up and drug use frequent. Nicks told VH1 Classic Album Series that ‘Gold Dust Woman’ was “my kind of symbolic look at somebody going through a bad relationship, doing a lot of drugs, and trying to make it.” Musically, ‘Gold Dust Woman’ is tightly wound – even the chorus doesn’t offer much respite.
#8 – Landslide
Stevie Nicks, from Fleetwood Mac (1975)
‘Landslide’ wasn’t initially a single from 1975’s career reboot album Fleetwood Mac. Over time, however, this gentle Stevie Nicks ballad has become one of the band’s best-known songs. It’s been covered by The Smashing Pumpkins and the Dixie Chicks, and Fleetwood Mac’s live version from 1997’s The Dance was released as a single. Nicks wrote ‘Landslide’ in Colorado, contemplating whether to pursue a career in music after the failure of Buckingham Nicks.
#7 – Walk A Thin Line
Lindsey Buckingham, from Tusk (1979)
The double album Tusk was a brave follow-up to the mega-selling Rumours – reportedly when executives at Warner Brothers first listened to it, they “all saw their Christmas bonuses flying out the window.” In hindsight it stands as one of Buckingham-era Mac’s finest achievements. It’s dominated by Buckingham – he wrote nine of the twenty tracks, and was determined to keep Fleetwood Mac relevant in a post-punk environment. ‘Walk A Thin Line’ is less Talking Heads and more Beach Boys – Buckingham was fascinated by Brian Wilson’s productions, and its multi-tracked vocals are reminiscent of Wilson’s arrangements. The song was actually inspired by a Charlie Watts’ drum fill on beloved Stones album track ‘Sway’.
#6 – You Make Loving Fun
Christine McVie, from Rumours (1977)
I feel sympathetic for John McVie – playing bass on this Christine McVie song celebrating the prowess of the band’s lighting director. Christine tried to smooth things over, telling him during recording that the song was about her dog. Buckingham’s usually the group’s studio mastermind, but he was absent for the early stages of recording ‘You Make Loving Fun’, and Christine’s electric piano and clavinet parts give the song a funky foundation. That staccato guitar fill that Buckingham drops into the last chorus is magical.
#5 – Second Hand News
Lindsey Buckingham, from Rumours (1977)
The opening track for Rumours is a breakup song like much of the album, but it’s barely regretful. Instead it’s an upbeat piece of folk-rock about the joy of rebound relationships. I never thought too deeply about the line “lay me down in the tall grass and let me do my stuff”, and now I wish I hadn’t. The song’s best part has no words – “Bow-bow-bow-bow-buh-bow bow, bow bow, doo da doodladoo!”
#4 – Gypsy
Stevie Nicks, from Mirage (1982)
‘Gypsy’ is written about two different events in Nicks’ life. “So I’m back to the velvet underground/Back to the floor that I love” is a nostalgic reference to her simple life with Lindsey Buckingham when the young couple would sleep on a mattress on the floor. The song is also written about Nicks’ best friend, Robin Snyder Anderson, who would pass from leukemia a month after the song’s release – Nicks was the “gypsy that remained.” ‘Gypsy’ also features a great finger-picked outro from Buckingham.
#3 – Hold Me
Christine McVie, from Mirage (1982)
The first single from Mirage is bonkers – Buckingham transformed a bluesy Christine McVie vamp into a bizarre pop song. Despite the weirdness, there’s plenty to enjoy – McVie’s piano hook is memorable, and McVie and Buckingham harmonise beautifully. The ridiculous music video for ‘Gypsy’ is shot in the desert. With band tensions high, only Mick Fleetwood and John McVie look as though they’re on speaking terms.
#2 – Go Your Own Way
Lindsey Buckingham, from Rumours (1977)
The lead single from Rumours was Lindsey Buckingham’s roaring rocker ‘Go Your Own Way’. It was a blatant kiss-off to Stevie Nicks at the end of their relationship, and understandably she wasn’t thrilled with the line “Packing up/Shacking up is all you want to do.” Buckingham layered on multiple guitar tracks, including the acoustic guitar that punctuates the verses. The solo was created by producer Ken Caillat from six different lead guitar tracks.
#1 – Sara
Stevie Nicks, from Tusk (1979)
“Wait a minute baby/Stay with me awhile/Said you’d give me light/But you never told me about the fire” are the evocative opening lines for Nicks’ majestic ‘Sara’. The band backs Nicks’ most memorable and personal imagery with smooth soft-rock. There are multiple meanings for the name Sara for Nicks:
– an alter-ego, “Sara, you’re the poet in my heart”.
– a close friend of Nicks’ whom Mick Fleetwood began a relationship with, ending Fleetwood and Nicks’ romance in the late 1970s
– the name that Nicks gave to the child she conceived with Eagles drummer Don Henley. Henley said she “wrote the song of the same name to the spirit of the aborted baby. I was building my house at the time, and there’s a line in the song that says ‘And when you build your house, call me.'”
According to Nicks, ‘Sara’ was originally sixteen minutes long and had nine extra verses.