“Do you always trust your first initial feeling?”
That was the memorable question poetically posed in the song “Crystal,” a gorgeous composition written by Stevie Nicks, featuring a moving lead vocal by Lindsey Buckingham that was first recorded for their 1973 debut effort as a duo, Buckingham Nicks; and then more famously redone for Fleetwood Mac, the game-changing 1975 release that will forever hold a special place in the enduring history of this legendary band.
Fleetwood Mac — also commonly known as “The White Album” — would ultimately prove in the best possible way that hood things do indeed come to those who dare to trust their first initial feelings. Whereas The Beatles’ “White Album” captured a brilliant band just as it was starting to splinter in separate directions, Fleetwood Mac’s own “White Album” marked the opposite — that notable moment when another genuinely fabulous band’s most beloved and successful lineup first came together. In a sense, Fleetwood Mac stands as the late-breaking origin story that tells the true tale of how a dynamic but little-known duo from America joined forces with what was left of a better-known but somewhat struggling blues band from England, then somehow all simultaneously becoming international superstars in the process. And to think, it all happened because Mick Fleetwood took a giant leap of faith and trusted a gut instinct as if it was pure crystalline knowledge.
“Thankfully, the undeniable musical genius of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks struck an instant chord with me when I first heard them,” Mick Fleetwood says today, with a laugh. “So I trusted my first initial feeling, and believe me, that has made all the difference.”
“This Fleetwood Mac album represents a magical time to remember when the planets all aligned for us,” adds Christine McVie, still sounding extremely grateful, all these years later. “This is where the goose bumps all began.”
Long ago and far away in the distant time called the middle ‘70s, Fleetwood Mac was an established veteran band that had already survived numerous incarnations and dramatic personnel changes since their early days in the British blue-rock scene of the late ‘60s, initially fronted by Peter Green, a notable guitar god who had left the group back in 1970. There were times when one really needed a scorecard to keep track of who was on the Fleetwood Mac team. Then in late 1974, Fleetwood Mac hit another significant bump in the road when the group’s latest lead guitarist, frequent lead singer and songwriter Bob Welch, announced he was leaving. And now there were just three band members left in the ranks of Fleetwood Mac — name partners Mick Fleetwood on drums, John McVie on bass, and Christine McVie (former Christine Perfect) still there and still perfect on keyboards and vocals, and by now married to her bandmate.
It is what we’re discussing here. It is what made Lindsey’s guitar and that vocal blend with Stevie stay with me. It is whatever makes music and people connect. Ultimately, It is what it’s about.”—MICK FLEETWOOD
A sudden departure like Welch’s might have ended up causing some lesser bands to throw in the towel, but not a band with an endlessly energetic and optimistic drummer and then-manager like Mick Fleetwood. Rather, Mick instantly flashed back a few weeks to a tip he had taken in search of a relatively inexpensive place to record Fleetwood Mac’s next album — their tenth — in the Los Angeles area. At the behest of Keith Olsen, an excellent producer and engineer acquaintance of his, Fleetwood took a little time to go check out the Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California, much later to become legendary thanks to Dave Grohl’s documentary of the same name. While there, Olsen demonstrated Sound City’s sonic potential by playing Fleetwood a few tracks from the Buckingham Nicks album he had produced there. Though the release had already come and gone commercially, something about the music stayed with Fleetwood, particularly the unusual and impressive guitar work from this Lindsey Buckingham character. “Lindsey’s style was so stunning and unique, it was what hit me first, and it hit me hard.”
“Mick has a sixth or seventh sense about these things,” Christine McVie says, before adding, “He may have made a few mistakes in band personnel over the years, but this was definitely not one of them.”
“That hour and a half spent in Sound City changed everything,” says Fleetwood. “I think Keith Olsen played me ‘Frozen Love,’ ‘Crying in the Night,’ and ‘Crystal’ — which we ended up re-cutting for Fleetwood Mac — by Buckingham Nicks. I do not believe I even heard the whole album. Bob Welch had not left yet. So I was not looking for a new guitarist or other band members at the time. It was purely the music that, by some miracle, made such a vivid impression. And I give myself kudos there because the music Lindsey and Stevie were making was very different — it wasn’t blues or the sort of thing I’d been brought up on. But what it did have was something that from the start in this band, Peter Green — who taught me so much — me, and, John used to call simply ‘It.’ We’d always say, ‘Yes, but does it have It.’ It is what we’re discussing here. It is what made Lindsey’s guitar and that vocal blend with Stevie stay with me. It is whatever makes music and people connect. Ultimately, It is what it’s about.”
And yet it all almost didn’t happen because, as Stevie Nicks still loves to jokingly remind Mick Fleetwood, his initial call was to Lindsey Buckingham to ask only him about joining Fleetwood Mac, and not her. “In my defense, our pressing need at the moment was for a guitar player,” Fleetwood recalls with a laugh. “To Lindsey’s credit, Buckingham made it immediately and eminently clear that he wasn’t going anywhere without Stevie Nicks.” Thankfully, Buckingham’s bold insistence on this matter led to Fleetwood Mac making perhaps the single greatest package deal in all of musical history. Yet before this wildly successful musical merger could happen, there were a few matters to attend to, like these young Americans getting to know the current British band members to see if they could work and play well with another.
The now-legendary Fleetwood Mac chemistry test took place at El Carmen, a Mexican restaurant on 3rd Street in Los Angeles. “We already loved the music,” remembers Mick Fleetwood, “but the dinner was the audition. Because the only thing Chris said to me was, ‘There’s nothing worse than two women who don’t get on. And I’ll know right away.’ So that was a very pivotal dinner. Luckily, Chis loved Stevie, straight away — this sparkling, little high-energy lady. And that was that. Lindsey and Stevie were asked to play with us without ever playing a note with us. It’s almost insane in retrospect considering the high risk, but somehow Christine and all of us knew.”
As Christine McVie remembers, “What Mick said to me before the meeting was, ‘Chris, if you don’t like the girl, then it’s not going to happen.’ I had never been in a band with another girl before, so it was important. So we met for Mexican food. First, right from their entrance, I was so struck by the way Lindsey looked when he in walked in the door — I said to myself, Wow, this guy is a god. And then Stevie walked in laughing, so cute and so tiny, and I took an instant liking to her. She has this wonderful laugh and a fantastic sense of humor. So by the end of that evening, I said, ‘Mick, let’s do this.’”
For Christine McVie, the key moment came a little later when the group finally gathered for their first musical rehearsal. “I had written a new song called ‘Say You Love Me’ that ended up being a bit of a hit,” she explains. “So I just started playing the song, and when the chorus came around and I sang, they started piping in with these perfect three-part harmonies. We carried on singing, but we all got enormous goose bumps. I looked at Mick, and he looked at me, and we went, ‘This is it.’ We would talk a lot about ‘The It Factor’ then, and this was It all over. Right from that moment, we went straight into making this album, and the whole experience was this wonderful giant discovery. We all had the best time, and I think that joy comes across even when you listen to it today.”
“As soon as Christine heard the Buckingham Nicks music she knew there were musical and harmonic possibilities she could not deny,” says Fleetwood. “A huge switch went off in her head, and by hearing all the harmonies and layering, there was something thrilling here to explore. We’d only touched a little on harmonies with Bob Welch, but these two new voices exploded in our heads, and suddenly, all these possibilities opened up because these two were so good, such powerhouses. When I first heard Lindsey and Stevie, it was like hearing The Everly Brothers on steroids, where they know instinctively what they are doing at any given moment. Christine adding her own earthy tones and soul to that made for some extreme magic right away. Hearing us all together for the first time is the reason we’re all still talking about this album after all this time.”
For Christine, the addition of Buckingham and Nicks was not simply a golden opportunity, but also the best kind of artistic challenge. “I was excited by their talent, but I also sensed I had to upgrade my game as a songwriter to keep up with them after I heard the Buckingham Nicks album,” she explains. “I thought, Crickey, these two can really write. So I got on my piano — one of those transistorized Hohners — in a tiny bedsit that John and I rented in Malibu, right on the ocean. And I sat there and wrote ‘Over My Head,’ ‘Warm Ways’ — those two at least. And I also found Lindsey, and I could co-write — ‘World Turning’ was our first song together and a strong start.”
Even all these years later, the overall strength of the material featured on Fleetwood Mac remains astounding, with McVie singling out “Monday Morning” and “I’m So Afraid” by Buckingham, and “Rhiannon” and “Landslide” by Nicks as just a few of her many favorites. And somehow, despite all the change and the new infusion of talent, including Buckingham’s growing strength as an arranger and producer, there remains the pulse of Fleetwood Mac, thanks in large part to the distinctive pulse of the group’s rhythm section. “If you change members in a lot of other big bands, I don’t think they change the essence, the musical identity as much as we have,” says Mick Fleetwood. “Put on this album and put on Live At Chess Records with Peter Green, and it is stunning to think that can be the same band, but somehow it is. I feel like there are other bands that have survived, but no other that changed as much, and despite or perhaps because of that somehow survived as well. I think perhaps John and I hanging in there allowed this funny diverse band to keep changing and evolving. It was really all three of the writers’ songs — and our balls — keeping it going. And the album you’re writing about that is that line in the sand where you can see the biggest and most significant change. It came along at a time when it could have the end, but instead it became a new beginning.”
With the initial sessions for Fleetwood Mac proceeding so well in Sound City, Mick Fleetwood couldn’t wait to take this new version of Fleetwood Mac on the road. As he recalls, “At that time I was the manager — or the nearest facsimile to a manager we had — so I remember going to see Mo Ostin at our label, Warner Bros., while we were making that album, and it was so evident to all of us that something was happening. So I took some of the tracks, and I remember I went around the corner for two brandies to pluck the courage before seeing the big head honcho. I sat down with Mo and said, ‘I’m just saying, if you don’t hear something special here, will you let us go? Because I really believe this is something special.’ It was a kind of naive threat, I think. And of course, Mo loved it. Then I said, ‘This is so special, I think we need to go out as a band because I knew when the record came out, we had to be ready for whatever came. Also we really needed a little pocket money.”
Right from that moment, we went straight into making this album, and the whole experience was this wonderful giant discovery. We all had the best time, and I think that joy comes across even when you listen to it today.” —CHRISTINE MCVIE
Thinking back now, Mick Fleetwood says, “We were literally knowing but unknowing about what lay ahead for us. But I wanted to make sure we were tried and tested and ready for whatever was coming. Lindsey and Stevie walked onstage with nobody knowing who they were as part of Fleetwood Mac, playing some of our old music, a few songs of theirs, and of course, some of the stuff on our album to come. Yet when we walked on the stage together, we instantly saw our audience coming alive, as something new unfolded onstage. So we did a short tour like that, went back and finished the album already knowing that we were ready for whatever came. We knew there was this tremendous chemistry onstage. We became very aware of what a remarkable player Lindsey is and of young Stevie’s amazing stage presence, and how that changed the game. And the rest is history.”
As Christine recalls, “Obviously, we started out in some half-empty halls, but right away there was something happening onstage that ignited between the five of us. Even back then before all the social media, there was word of mouth and good reviews, and gradually the audience heard the buzz and started showing.”
Fleetwood Mac was released in July 1975 by Warner’s Reprise label, and shared that minimalist title with the group’s 1968 debut. Gradually, the new album became a slow-burning sensation — reaching #1 on the Billboard 200 more than a year after entering the chart. Ultimately, the album would spend 37 weeks in the Top Ten and more than fifteen months in the Top 40. The “White Album” became the second-biggest album of 1976, outsold only by Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive. As singles from the album, “Over My Head,” “Rhiannon,” and “Say You Love Me,” all went Top 20, “Monday Morning” became an FM favorite, and “Landslide” slowly but surely emerged as an enduring standard. Another radio favorite was “Blue Letter,” a song with a lead vocal by Buckingham, which Lindsey and Stevie had demoed with their former Polydor labelmates, The Curtis Bros., making it a rare cover for this lineup of Fleetwood Mac.
In the end, the goose bumps were only the beginning. “There was such a sense of excitement, you didn’t want to leave the studio,” say Christine McVie. “We are so diverse in so many ways, including that we have men and women, Americans and Brits, and three main writers with very different styles of writing. We all sing on each other’s songs. And the songs themselves are diverse. Yet there’s always a thread that catches all the songs together and makes all the pieces fit. Even before there was ‘The Chain,” there was something tying us all together.”
David Wild / Fleetwood Mac – Deluxe Edition / January 19, 2018