Fleetwood Mac formed as a blues band in 1967, when Peter Green recruited Mick Fleetwood and John McVie as his rhythm section. The band went through a large turnover of guitarists and vocalists, including Green, Jeremy Spencer, Danny Kirwan, and Bob Welch, as they transitioned from a blues band to a pop band, and relocated from the UK to California. John McVie’s wife Christine joined on vocals and keyboards in 1970. The band’s fortunes were varied during this era, with successful records like Bare Trees and failures like Heroes are Hard to Find.
The band launched on a trajectory to stardom in 1974 when Fleetwood was played an unsuccessful album from the duo Buckingham Nicks while investigating a potential recording studio. He invited Lindsey Buckingham to join the band as guitarist. Buckingham insisted that his girlfriend Stevie Nicks was also included, forming Fleetwood Mac’s most successful lineup. The band peaked commercially with 1977’s mega-selling Rumours, with emotional turmoil around the group fuelling great songs.
While Stevie Nicks was the identifiable star in Fleetwood Mac, concurrently enjoying a successful solo career from 1981, Lindsey Buckingham’s studio expertise is the band’s key. His production skills add some grit and interest to the band’s material; for instance McVie’s ‘Hold Me’ is transformed from a straightforward blues song in its demo to a weird pop masterpiece in its finished version.
Buckingham left the group after 1987’s Tango in the Night, but rejoined for 1997’s live The Dance. The band have recorded little in the 21st century, with just a single studio album (2003’s Say You Will) and an EP without Christine McVie, while McVie and Buckingham released a duo album in 2017. The Fleetwood Mac soap opera has continued, when Buckingham was unceremoniously replaced by Mike Campbell and Neil Finn for the band’s farewell tour.
I’ve only covered the Buckingham-era albums at this point – I have little interest in the early 1990s albums without him, but I am interested in the early blues works and the pop-oriented albums leading up to 1975’s Fleetwood Mac, and might review them at some point. I’ve also covered Lindsey Buckingham’s solo career on a separate page.
Fleetwood Mac Album Reviews
Fleetwood Mac | Mr. Wonderful | Then Play On | Kiln House | Future Games | Bare Trees | Penguin | Buckingham Nicks | Mystery to Me | Heroes Are Hard to Find | Fleetwood Mac | Rumours | Tusk | Mirage | Tango in the Night | Behind The Mask | Time | The Dance | Say You Will
Best Album: Rumours
Overlooked Gem: Tusk
Fleetwood Mac (1968), Mr. Wonderful (1968), Then Play On (1969)
The band’s first three albums were recorded with guitarist and vocalist Peter Green. Blues isn’t normally my preferred genre, but I enjoy 1969’s Then Play On.
Kiln House (1970), Future Games (1971), Bare Trees (1972), Penguin (1973), Mystery to Me (1973), Heroes Are Hard to Find (1974)
The years between Peter Green and Lindsey Buckingham/Stevie Nicks was a wilderness era for the band, with varying success. Danny Kirwan, Christine McVie, and Bob Welch were the main vocalists for the band over this era. I’ve only heard 1972’s Bare Trees, which features Welch’s ‘Sentimental Lady’. Welch would later have a hit with the song as a solo artist in 1977.
Before joining Fleetwood Mac, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks recorded one album as a duo. Buckingham Nicks wasn’t successful, and it’s never been reissued, making it an interesting historical curiosity. Nicks has her distinctive husky-tinged voice, and Buckingham is already a polished guitarist, but overall it’s a strangely uncompelling album as the duo’s songs aren’t as strong as they’d be in Fleetwood Mac. Despite their obscurity, Buckingham and Nicks are supported by prominent session musicians like Jim Keltner, Waddy Wachtel, and Jerry Scheff.
Nicks is the better writer of the duo at this point – ‘Crying In The Night’ is a strong opener, while ‘Crystal’ was reworked on 1975’s eponymous Fleetwood Mac album, and it’s the most noteworthy song here. ‘Don’t Let Me Down Again’ is the strongest of Buckingham’s songs, and was played live by Fleetwood Mac. ‘Lola’ is also worthwhile; elements of it were recycled in ‘The Chain’, while it’s also notable for its succinctly sexist lyrics.
Buckingham Nicks is not without its charms, but it often feels like the work of a forgotten AM radio band rather than two future superstars.
Fleetwood Mac was named after the band’s rhythm section, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie. Remarkably, by 1975 they were the group’s only original members, having run through a succession of guitarists and vocalists, and having relocated from England to California. After front-man Bob Welch left the group, serendipity allowed Mick Fleetwood to hear the Buckingham Nicks album, and invite Buckingham and Nicks to join, creating the group’s most successful and long running lineup. With Buckingham on vocals and guitar, and Nicks, the band had three songwriters, with Christine McVie already providing keyboards and vocals.
Their first album together finds them already firmly entrenched into their detailed pop sound with intricate production and smooth harmonies, and Fleetwood Mac is all but impeccable. McVie delivers the sweet pop of ‘Warm Ways’ and ‘Over My Head’, Buckingham bookends the album with the upbeat pop of ‘Monday Morning’ and the darker ‘I’m So Afraid’, while Nicks is the strongest writer at this stage with ‘Rhiannon’ (based on Welsh mythology), ‘Crystal’, and the gentle acoustic ‘Landslide’.
This debut is overshadowed by Rumours two years later, which sounds similar but has even better songwriting and more emotional depth, but Fleetwood Mac already have their signature sound in place.
There’s a temptation to dismiss Rumours as an opiate of the masses, as it spent six months on the top of the U.S. charts, while ‘Don’t Stop’ also served as Bill Clinton’s campaign song in the 1992 elections. Rumours is catchy and lushly produced, but is filled with emotion; recorded at a time of emotional turmoil for Fleetwood Mac; Buckingham and Nicks split up, and the McVies divorced. All three songwriters channelled their feeling into their songs, while the group wrote ‘The Chain’ as an exercise in emotional rehabilitation.
Pain generated tremendous artistic results; Lindsey Buckingham’s powerful ‘Go Your Own Way’ seethes with pain and aggression, while John McVie’s self esteem must have plummeted recording ‘You Make Loving Fun’, his former wife’s tribute to her new lover. Nicks’ spooky ‘Gold Dust Woman’ also has a trace of nastiness, although ‘Dreams’ is tinged with hope. Buckingham contributes the wonderful opener ‘Second Hand News’, with the memorable line “just lay me down in the tall grass and let me do my stuff,” while McVie contributes the beautiful ‘Songbird’.
As a measure of just how strong Rumours is, Fleetwood Mac were able to omit Stevie Nicks’ impressive ‘Silver Springs’ without ill effect, although it’s restored to the album’s 2004 remaster.
After two very tight and polished albums, the sprawling Tusk is much more experimental. Lindsey Buckingham was adamant that he didn’t want to make another Rumours, and the album’s sound is informed by the punk and new wave that was happening at the time, while the length (it was originally a double LP) only adds to the less polished feel. It was considered a disappointment at the time, but it’s since gained a cult following.
Nicks’ ‘Sara’ is arguably the best single that Fleetwood Mac ever released, although it is regrettable that it was the choice of song to be edited so that Tusk would fit on one CD. Nicks also contributes the mellow and meandering ‘Storms’ and ‘Beautiful Child’, while ‘Sisters of the Moon’ is Tusk‘s best rocker. Buckingham dominates Tusk, contributing nine out of the twenty songs; ‘That’s All For Everyone’ and ‘Walk A Thin Line’ are lovely pop songs reminiscent of The Beach Boys, while the title track utilises the U.S.C. Trojan Marching Band. I’m least impressed by McVie’s contributions; there are top-drawer pop songs like ‘Never Make me Cry’, but some of her material feels bland here.
While Tusk doesn’t have the mass appeal of Fleetwood Mac and Rumours, dedicated fans of Fleetwood Mac will enjoy it immensely.
Fleetwood Mac were beginning to explore solo careers by the time Mirage was released – Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, and even Mick Fleetwood had released solo albums in 1981, making Fleetwood Mac something of an afterthought. Mirage isn’t as engaging as their best work, but there’s still plenty to like. They’ve adapted their sound to the 1980s gracefully and it sounds like a more restrained version of Tusk
As with Tusk, Buckingham’s still experimenting with new wave sounds with ‘Empire State’ and ‘Eyes of the World’, although ‘Oh Diane’ is a very straightforward piece of retro pop. Christine McVie’s trippy ‘Hold Me’ and Nicks’ wonderful spotlight ‘Gypsy’ are two of the group’s strongest hits and they anchor this album. McVie is the strongest writer on Mirage, perhaps because she hadn’t released a solo album the previous year; the pretty and straightforward ‘Only Over You’ and ‘Wish You Were Here’ are both beautiful.
Overall Mirage dips below the writing standard of Fleetwood Mac and Rumours, and isn’t as interesting as Tusk. But it’s a solid outing which has aged gracefully.
Tango in the Night
Fleetwood Mac’s second highest selling album after Rumours, Tango in the Night shows the group keeping up with production trends – it’s state of the art late 1980s pop, which means it sounds more dated than their other albums. It’s the last Fleetwood Mac studio album to feature the lineup that made Rumours, and they’re still churning out hits – Tango features ‘Everywhere’, ‘Little Lies’, and ‘Seven Wonders’, and ‘Little Lies’ in particular is one of their strongest singles.
Tango in the Night is my least favourite of the lineup’s albums, however – the dated drum sound doesn’t help, while aside from ‘Seven Wonders’ Nicks’ contributions aren’t her best. Nicks only spent a couple of weeks with the band on her songs, as she was out touring her third studio album during the rest of the recording. There’s still plenty of solid material though from Buckingham and McVie to back up the hits – Buckingam’s ‘Caroline’ is nasty, McVie’s ‘Mystified’ is pretty, while the closing duet of ‘You and I Part II’ is a nice conclusion.
Tango in the Night is the weakest effort from Fleetwood Mac’s pop lineup, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Lindsey Buckingham quit the band before the tour for Tango in the Night, leaving Fleetwood Mac without their primary creative force.
Behind The Mask (1990), Time (1995)
Fleetwood Mac released two albums while Buckingham was out of the band – 1990’s Behind The Mask and 1995’s Time. Stevie Nicks was also absent for Time. At the time of Behind The Mask, Rolling Stone boldly claimed that “the addition of Rick Vito and Billy Burnette is the best thing to ever happen to Fleetwood Mac,” but the two albums haven’t been remembered fondly by posterity.
As a teenager in the 1990s, this live reunion album of the Rumours lineup was my introduction to Fleetwood Mac. It’s a solid, workmanlike set, that concentrates on their first two albums together – 1975’s Fleetwood Mac and 1977’s Rumours. Some of Nicks’ pieces like ‘Rhiannon’ and ‘Dreams’ lack the mystical qualities of the original versions, but a couple of Buckingham’s songs are improved – the version of ‘Tusk’ here is punchy and focused, while ‘Big Love’ sounds better as a solo Buckingham acoustic performance.
The set is augmented with four, mostly uninteresting, new songs of which the highlight is Buckingham’s sweet ‘Bleed To Love Her’. The bridge is recycled from ‘You Do Or You Don’t’ from his solo record Out Of The Cradle. It’s not a new song, but perhaps the most significant track selection is Nicks’ stunning Rumours b-side ‘Silver Springs’. It had the misfortune to emerge in an era with a wealth of material, but it’s revealed here as one of the group’s best, with an enticing structure that leaves listeners waiting for the chorus.
Like most live albums, The Dance isn’t essential, but the rehabilitation of ‘Silver Springs’ was an excellent outcome.
Say You Will
Fleetwood Mac’s first studio album since 1995’s Time, and their first with Lindsey Buckingham since 1987’s Tango in the Night, Say You Will began as a Buckingham solo album entitled Gift of Screws. Buckingham enlisted the Fleetwood Mac rhythm section, and it became a group album with Stevie Nicks also joining the project. It feels, however, like a Nicks solo album and a Buckingham album spliced together; with 18 tracks, and a longer running time than Tusk it’s long enough to comprise two full albums. While Nicks and Buckingham sing and play on each other’s tracks, it doesn’t feel especially like Fleetwood Mac, especially without Christine McVie; she does guest on a few tracks, but she’s not an official member and doesn’t write or sing lead.
Say Your Will is overlong and disjointed, but there are enough strong songs for a respectable album; Buckingham pulls out some enjoyable power pop with ‘Miranda’ and ‘Steal Your Heart Away’, although more extreme material like the heavy ‘Come’ and the weirdness of ‘Murrow Turning Over In His Grave’ would have fit better on a solo album. Nicks scores with the straightforward title track, and ‘Running Through The Garden’, a leftover from an early solo record, but some of her material is monotonous.
Say You Will is a very respectable late period album but, with more Christine McVie and some trimming, it could have been one of the group’s finest efforts.
Ten Favourite Fleetwood Mac Songs
Go Your Own Way
Second Hand News
You Make Loving Fun
Walk A Thin Line
Gold Dust Woman
Back to 1970s Album Reviews….