Fleetwood Mac

Courtesy of the Rock Hall Library and Archive
1998
Category:
Performers
Members:
  • Stevie Nicks
  • Lindsey Buckingham
  • Mick Fleetwood
  • Peter Green
  • Danny Kirwan
  • John McVie
  • Christine McVie
  • Jeremy Spencer

After forming as a British blues band in the late '60s, Fleetwood Mac evolved into one of the most influential rock groups of the '70s.

Not only did they write some of the decade's most indelible songs—and release one of the best-selling albums of all time, 1977's Rumours—but the troupe created a distinctive "California sound" that endures today as a sonic touchstone for countless bands.

Biography

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When a band completely pivots lineups and stylistic approaches, it rarely turns out well—except if you're Fleetwood Mac. Formed in the U.K. as a blues-rock act, the troupe eventually morphed into one of the most influential American bands of the '70s.

Fleetwood Mac did so by creating their own unique "California sound" which added romantic tension and rock & roll bite to the then-popular, country-insipred Laurel Canyon sound. After Stevie Nicks joined in the mid-'70s, her dreamy, mystical songwriting contributions gave the band's music additional (and appealing) emotional complexity, especially on 1975's Fleetwood Mac and 1977's sales juggernaut Rumours.

Superstardom was a long time coming, however. Fleetwood Mac initially formed in 1967 after three members of the British blues act John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers—guitarist/vocalist Peter Green, bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood—formed a new group along with guitarist Jeremy Spencer. Unsurprisingly, the U.K.-based band's early albums were heavy blues-rock affairs marked by Green's fluid, evocative guitar style and gravelly vocals. Notable singles included the smoldering "Oh Well" and the Latin-flavored "Black Magic Woman," which was later a hit for Santana.

Green left after 1969's Then Play On, which was the first album to feature guitarist/vocalist Danny Kirwan and the last LP on which Spencer appeared. In the early '70s, the Fleetwood Mac lineup revolving door continued, with keyboardist/vocalist Christine McVie and U.S.-born guitarist Bob Welch joining for 1971's Future Games, a decidedly lighter LP with pop- and folk-oriented flourishes. Kirwan was fired in 1972, several months after the release of the equally straightforward Bare Trees.

In 1974, Welch made two fateful decisions that ended up dictating Fleetwood Mac's future. He persuaded the band to move to L.A. to be closer to their record label, Reprise, and he chose to leave the group. The latter left the door open for Fleetwood Mac's smartest personnel move yet: recruiting guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and his romantic and music collaborator Nicks.

The couple—which had released 1973's now-cult classic Buckingham Nicks, to little impact—had an immediate, positive effect on Fleetwood Mac. The band's 1975 self-titled album far exceeded the top 40 inroads of 1974's Heroes Are Hard To Find: Nicks' sweetheart-folk "Rhiannon" and the bluesy, romantic anxieties of "Landslide," as well as Christine McVie's "Say You Love Me," drove the album to No. 1.

Fleetwood Mac contained the first glimpses of this configuration's precarious, unknowable musical chemistry. Buckingham's virtuosic, bluesy guitar work was forceful and crisp, while the seasoned rhythm section of bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood alternated between a thunderous backbone and whispered nuance. Long-time band member Christine McVie assumed a more influential role within the group—meaning that both her watercolor-streaked keyboards and smoky folk-pop songs carried more weight—while her harmonies with Buckingham and Nicks possessed almost supernatural precision and depth.

1977's Rumours is when Fleetwood Mac exploded, however—literally and figuratively. The record's year-long genesis was informed by three breakups—Buckingham and Nicks; the McVies; and Fleetwood and his wife—and copious drug use. Yet despite this turmoil, the band managed to create a rock masterpiece, perhaps because they harnessed their internal fractures for creative inspiration.

Christine McVie's bluesy swing "Don't Stop" was directed at ex John as a note of post-divorce comfort, although her soulful strut "You Make Loving Fun" was a mash note to her new beau, Fleetwood Mac's lighting designer. Buckingham and Nicks traded off thinly veiled disgruntled messages of their own. The former's disco-folk opener "Second Hand News" asks to be released from their relationship, and the latter's sparse "Dreams" couches bitter lyrics such as "Players only love you when they're playing" with an insistent, pirouetting drum pattern.

All of this drama was enormously appealing, of course, and remains an integral part of Fleetwood Mac's mythology even today. Still, the band members didn't use interpersonal turbulence as a crutch, and they despised stagnation. That's no more evident than on 1979's sprawling, experimental double album Tusk, which reportedly cost over $1 million to make.

Although Christine McVie's "Think About Me" and Nicks' "Sisters Of The Moon" aren't a far cry from Fleetwood Mac's older work, Tusk is decidedly modern—between the nervy, new wave-inflected "Not That Funny"; the psychedelic-leaning, drifting pop of "That's All For Everyone" and "Sara"; and the marching band-augmented title track.

Tusk didn't come close to the commercial success of Rumours, but after brief solo record detours for Nicks and Buckingham, Fleetwood Mac sailed into the '80s. All told, 1982's Mirage and 1987's gauzy Tango In The Night produced a handful of hits ("Little Lies," "Hold Me," "Big Love," "Gypsy") that kept the band relevant even as trends changed.

In the three decades since, members of the core Fleetwood Mac five have come and gone, which has led to multiple reunion tours and lineup shifts. Still, everyone from the classic, Rumours-era configuration has eventually returned to the fold; in fact, the quintet toured the U.S. to rapturous reception in 2014 and 2015.

This trek in particular proved that no matter what tensions or heartbreak existed in the past—there's something undeniably magical when Nicks, Buckingham, Fleetwood and the two McVies come together as Fleetwood Mac.