Listen Carefully to the Sound
Sparks flew both personally and creatively for Fleetwood Mac, whose stormy relationships and agonizing breakups inspired some of the best-selling songs in rock history. Now, as the band prepares to share the stage with other '70s superstars at the "Classic" festivals in New York and Los Angeles, let's look at what went on behind the music.
"Dreams" and "Go Your Own Way"
Written by Stevie Nicks, "Dreams" is an upbeat song about breaking up. It refers to her bandmate and boyfriend of eight years Lindsey Buckingham, who answered Stevie with another track on the 1977 "Rumours" album—the much angrier "Go Your Own Way." "Every time those words would come on stage," Nicks recalled, "I wanted to go over and kill him."
Also from "Rumours," this one was written by Christine McVie as she was on the verge of divorcing her husband and bandmate, John McVie, after eight years of marriage. Tensions were high, but instead of dwelling on the pain, Christine managed to look hopefully to the future: "It'll be better than before / Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone."
"I Don't Want to Know"
Although Stevie Nicks wrote "I Don't Want to Know" before the Nicks-Buckingham breakup, it foreshadows the end of their romance with lines like "I don't want to know the reasons why / Love keeps right on walking on down the line."
"Never Going Back Again"
In the wake of his split with Nicks and a rebound fling with another woman, Lindsey Buckingham wrote this innocent song about keeping sadness at bay and never repeating old mistakes. Despite the behind-the-scenes turmoil, Fleetwood Mac maintained its uncompromising standards. During the recording session, Buckingham's guitar was restrung every 20 minutes to achieve the perfect sound.
"Say You Love Me"
Fleetwood Mac's creativity wasn't fueled solely by pain and heartbreak. Christine McVie wrote this track from the band's self-titled 1975 album while her marriage was still intact. She was also energized by the recent arrival of two new bandmates, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham.
Polydor Records had dropped the newcomers' previous band, Buckingham Nicks. Alone in Aspen while Lindsey toured with the Everly Brothers, Stevie stared at "the snow-covered hills," aware that an avalanche could come crashing down at any moment. Should she go back to school? Break up with Lindsey? Give music another try? Her life felt like a landslide.
Another track from 1975's "Fleetwood Mac," this one is about a mythical Welsh goddess (Stevie Nicks, who co-wrote it with Lindsey Buckingham, referred to her as a witch). "Her song is a song that takes away pain," Stevie explained. "That's the legend. So, whenever I sing the song, I always think of that." For Nicks, the song was highly personal. Mick Fleetwood once noted that "her 'Rhiannon' in those days was like an exorcism."
"You Make Loving Fun"
Christine McVie wrote this song—from Fleetwood Mac's 1979 album "Tusk"—about her relationship with Curry Grant, the band's lighting director. That's the affair that broke up her marriage.
A quick overview: The McVies divorced after John learned of Christine's affair, which overlapped with the stormy breakup of Nicks and Buckingham. Mick Fleetwood and his wife Jenny divorced after Mick learned that Jenny was sleeping with former bandmate Bob Weston. Nicks had affairs with both Fleetwood and Weston. "The Chain" is the only track on "Rumours" written by all five band members.
Written by Lindsey Buckingham, the title song on the 1979 album is about sex ("Tusk" being slang for "penis"). But the word wasn't a turn-on for Stevie Nicks, who associated it with "elephants being slaughtered and ivory being sold on the black market." The USC Trojan marching band played on the track and earned themselves a platinum disc. The experimental percussion sounds include the whack of a spatula hitting a leg of lamb.
"Not That Funny" and "Think About Me"
Fleetwood Mac goes punk. Written and sung by Lindsey Buckingham, "Not That Funny" was his response to the punk and new wave sounds of the late '70s. It was paired with "Think About Me"—Christine McVie's under-the-radar punk song—as the first "Tusk" singles released in remixed form.
Stevie Nicks acknowledged that she had an abortion after becoming pregnant by Don Henley of the Eagles. If she had kept the baby and it had been female, Nicks said, she would have named her Sara. But there's more to the story behind this 1979 song. The singer also had a close friend named Sara, and when Stevie's affair with Mick Fleetwood came to an end, it was because Mick had fallen in love with ... Sara.
"Gypsy," a track on the 1982 album "Mirage," depicts the trappings of Fleetwood Mac's explosive fame—drugs, sex, big egos and broken relationships. Stevie Nicks recalls fondly the time when she and Lindsey were starving musicians, happy together even if she was just a "poor gypsy." Stevie dedicated the song to a close childhood friend who died of leukemia: ("I still see your bright eyes …")
After the McVies decided to go their own ways, Christine became involved with Dennis Wilson. They were together three years, until she could no longer cope with the Beach Boy's drinking. Wilson drowned two years later, drunk and homeless. Their relationship inspired this track from "Mirage."
From the 1987 album "Tango in the Night," this is the band's most recent Billboard Top 10 hit. Composed by Christine McVie and her then-husband, Portuguese keyboardist-engineer-composer Eddy Quintela, the song continues the Fleetwood Mac tradition of making music about volatile and entangled relationships. But this time, no individuals are implicated.
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