Synopsis of Pop Music
"Don't stop, thinking about tomorrow,
Don't stop, it'll soon be here..."
Good music and high drama go hand-and-hand in any Fleetwood Mac discussion—their more than three decade-long career was packed with both. The band’s hits are well-loved and oft-played, millions of albums have sold, and millions have seen them perform live…and their off-stage goings-on are a veritable rock soap opera. Relationships that were both passionate and passionately stormy, some that transpired inside the band and some out, personal tragedy and triumph, hirings, firings, shave-your-head cults…on second thought, it was juicier than any soap opera.
When a nineteen-year-old guitarist named Peter Green replaced Eric Clapton in the U.K. band the Bluesbreakers, he met fellow members John McVie and Mick Fleetwood. And when Green recorded a song in 1967 with his new friends and didn’t have a title, he combined the last names of his band mates to make “Fleetwood Mac.” Fleetwood himself was eventually fired from The Bluesbreakers, and when Green left later, the two formed their own band (calling it, you guessed it, Fleetwood Mac), and recruited Jeremy Spencer for guitar and Bob Brunning for bass.
Green’s inspired and inventive guitar work and vocals were the basis of Mac’s sound, and they played their first gig together in 1967 at the Windsor’s National Jazz and Blues Festival. The newish record label Blue Horizon released “I Believe My Time Ain’t Long” as the band’s first U.K. single, and in 1968, billed as Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, they recorded their first album, Mr. Wonderful. On it, Christine Perfect, the lead singer from a band called Chicken Shack, played piano uncredited. She and McVie dated, then married in the summer of ’68. Guitarist Danny Kirwan was also hired. With four albums released that year, and a new blues obsession washing over Britain, the albums did fairly well.
Not particularly comfortable with his success, and certainly no stranger to hallucinogenics, Green became obsessed with the idea of making money just so he could give it away, and he wanted his bandmates to do the same. But they weren’t so interested in his particular brand of charity, and in 1970, right before their European tour started, Green left. Christine McVie, formerly Christine Perfect, joined in his place, and Jeremy Spencer took over Green’s de facto role as the band’s creative leader. But Spencer would soon make an exit that rivaled even the oddness of Green’s just the year prior. While touring in Los Angeles, Spencer told his bandmates that he was stepping out to buy a couple of newspapers, and then disappeared to shave his head and join the 'Children of God Now' cult. Bob Welch, a California guitarist, was hired as Spencer’s replacement, and the hair clippers were probably kept under lock and key. Future Games was released, and while fans back in the U.K. missed the old Peter Green sound, the band’s popularity in the U.S. was ever-increasing.
Despite voids in the guitarist/songwriter slots, the band kept it together for a few months and then was faced with yet another exodus—Kirwan this time, in 1972. Dave Walker was brought on as a vocalist and fired eight months later. Bob Weston, formerly of Long John Baldry, joined up as a guitarist, but was also fired when it was discovered he was giving, um, private guitar lessons to Mick Fleetwood’s wife. Understandably shaken by recent events (Bob Welch had also left), the numb remaining members cancelled their tour. And as if things weren’t chaotic enough already, their manager Clifford Davis slapped together another band, called them Fleetwood Mac, and put them on tour in the real Mac’s place to fulfill contractual obligations.
Fleetwood Mac, the originals, sued for the rights to their name and relocated to Los Angeles for a much-needed clean slate. While shopping around for studio space, Fleetwood heard a Buckingham/Nicks tape and was intrigued. Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, a local couple with a couple of soft rock releases under their belt, joined up in ’74—the band’s tenth line-up since 1967.
This new line-up’s debut, called just Fleetwood Mac, reached the Top-10. Their follow-up, in 1976, was the aptly titled Rumours, made during a time of personal turmoil for all the band's members. The McVies were divorcing; Fleetwood, who had reunited with his wife after the Bob Weston scandal, was on the precipice of divorce himself; and Nicks’ and Buckingham’s relationship was on the rocks. Jaws might have been flapping over all that relationship grist, but jaws were dropping over the music. Its durable, still-loved songs included "Go Your Own Way," "Don't Stop," "Second Hand News" and "Dreams." It went to #1 and stayed there for six months. And over the years, it has sold more than twenty-five million copies. Somehow, out of all of that personal turmoil, came an extraordinary record. And if you happened to know (or know now) a little of what was going on behind-the-scenes, listening was (or can be) a little more delicious.
Their next effort was Tusk, which given all the events of the last year, didn’t come from a very cohesive band—geographically or musically. Christine, Stevie and Lindsey wrote separately, and Lindsey recorded his work out of his studio at home. It was an ambitious double album, and the songs had no collective theme except that of their own stand-apart diversity. The title track “Tusk” was a perfect example—recorded with the USC Trojan Marching Band, it was an expensive, outrageous-sounding venture that worked. To back their eclectic album, Fleetwood Mac then embarked on their longest tour ever. When the tour ended, the band refined live tracks that were recorded along the way, and from these assembled their Live album in 1980.
Now eager to recuperate and work on their own projects, the Fleetwood Mac band members went their own ways for a spell—and though plenty of naysayers predicted that their solo efforts and time apart would be the cause of the band’s undoing, the time apart only kept them going longer. In 1982, they released Mirage, and five years later, they released the well-received Tango in the Night. Not interested in touring, Buckingham left after this record, and in 1990, Nicks and McVie announced their intentions to leave as well.
In early 1993, the band reunited for a purportedly onetime performance of “Don’t Stop” at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration, a song that Clinton had turned into his optimism-infused theme song. The group, which now included Dave Mason and Bekka Bramlett (from Fleetwood’s side project, the band Zoo) performed sporadically and released the not-so-successful Time. Then in 1997, in their proudest Nicks, Buckingham Rumours formation, the band reunited for a MTV special and released a 17-track album The Dance based on material therein. An incredibly successful tour followed, and in 1998, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—and that night, the temporarily re-emerging Peter Green played "Black Magic Woman" with Carlos Santana, bringing the old and the new Mac line-ups together.
The fans are still loyal, and the back catalogue still sells. All of which is to say...there are some soap operas worth watching.
Artist Release History1968 – Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac
1969 – English Rose
1969 – Then Play On
1970 – Kiln House
1971 – Future Games
1972 – Bare Trees
1973 – Penguin
1973 – Mystery to Me
1974 – Heroes are Hard to Find
1975 – Fleetwood Mac
1977 – Rumours
1979 – Tusk
1980 – Fleetwood Mac Live
1982 – Mirage
1985 – Live in Boston
1986 – London Live ‘68
1987 – Tango in the Night
1988 – Live Fleetwood Mac
1990 – Behind the Mask
1992 – Live at the Marquee
1995 – Time
1995 – Live at the BBC
1997 – The Dance
1998 – Live at the Boston Tea Party, Pt. 1
1998 – Live at the Boston Tea Party, Pt. 2
1999 – Shrine ’69
1999 – Live!
2000 – Live at the Boston Tea Party, Pt. 3
Pop Sub Categoriesrock
Essential Music AlbumsRumours (Reprise)
Band MembersMick Fleetwood drums
John McVie bass
Christine McVie keyboards, vocals
Lindsey Buckingham guitars, vocals
Stevie Nicks vocals