I believe that Tango In The Night is a better album than Rumours.
Some people express their most contrary opinions because they crave attention. I do it purely because I hate to lie. To myself, and to you.
Look, I have Fleetwood Mac issues. Endless car trips soundtracked by their long and boring 1997 live album The Dance will do that to you. I’m aware of their legacy, all 17 (!!) albums of it, but they don’t move me in the same way they do most.
Yes, I know and love the Peter Green debut album. And yes, I have come to begrudgingly admit that Rumours is among the most important rock records ever made, with a hell of a story behind it.
Tusk has its moments, sure. Had Ween released “The Ledge” a decade later, I’d probably be trying to convince you it’s a masterpiece.
But when it comes to the Mac, I’m all about Tango… and you can’t take that away from me.
It’s the overlooked classic in Fleetwood Mac’s arsenal. Of course, overlooked is a relative term. It’s their second highest selling records – over 15 million copies sold, thank you very much – but in the shadow of Rumours, sometimes it feels like it doesn’t even exist.
I’m certain there’s a strange subconscious reason behind my preference of Mac albums. I was still in nappies when Tango was released, and I’m sure its songs were probably inescapable across TV and radio. Maybe the slickness was easy for my developing mind to absorb, or maybe it’s just one of those things, how we always look fondly upon the music of our childhood.
And can we talk about that slickness? This album is like an 80s sportscar; it’s dated and ostentatious, perhaps laughably so in some cases, but you can’t help but marvel at the way its put together.
The synths. The drums. The weird grunts in “Big Love.” Everything shimmers. For a band who had been around for 20 years, and who’d had their biggest hit a decade earlier, the record was remarkably on trend.
And it largely happened on the band’s own terms.
The gargantuan team that revolved around Fleetwood Mac wanted – nay, needed – a hit record, presumably to retain their jobs. So, they hatched a plan to get the band back on the charts.
“It had been so long since we had interacted that lawyers and people like that were sort of getting into it,” guitarist and vocalist Lindsey Buckingham told Creem. “Their idea of how to get Fleetwood Mac back together to make an album was to bring in a young, hot producer.
“But it just didn’t work out that way: he didn’t know how to handle us salty old guys—and I realized, too, that if we were going to do it all, it just wasn’t our style to go in half-assed and be a part of something that was piecemealed together.
“So, this guy went back to New York and Richard [Dashut, long-time Fleetwood Mac producer] and I sort of took over and went from there.”
One of the best things about the record is how it serves as a kind of middle finger. A kiss off at critics who were ready to report that the band was dead. A shot fired at anyone who figured the band were about to slide into the annals of history, rather than make something as vital as their 1977 breakthrough. This was Fleetwood Mac proving that they were still relevant.
But the best thing about the album is its songs. Particularly its first side. Opener “Big Love” is good, second track “Seven Wonders” is great, and track three, “Everywhere,” is pop brilliance so refined that it deserves to be in a museum. A song so perfect that its very existence makes you happy to be alive. It’s joy incarnate.
Perhaps the only thing really missing from Tango is a little more Stevie Nicks. Her performance on “Seven Wonders” – co-written with her friend Sandy Stewart – is strong enough that it could have been her only contribution and she still would’ve remained a matchless part of the band. But it’s an album with less of her stamp than Stevie fans would like.
There are many reasons why this might have been the case.
Firstly, Nicks was making and promoting a solo record [1985’s Rock A Little] while the sessions for Tango… were happening. While Lindsey Buckingham channelled all his energy into the band, Nicks wasn’t interested in Fleetwood Mac being the only musical feather in her cap.
Some reports suggest that Nicks wasn’t all there when she was in the studio, getting bored almost immediately and drunk just as quickly. Nicks was fresh out of rehab and recording the album at Buckingham’s house, which he shared with his girlfriend Cheri Caspari.
“I can remember going up there and not being happy to even be there and we were doing vocals in their master bedroom and that was extremely strange,” she told the Miami Herald in 2016.
“In all fairness, it was like the only empty room and they had a beautiful master bedroom all set up like a vocal, booth but I found it very uncomfortable, personally.
“I guess I didn’t go very often and when I did go I would get like, ‘Give me a shot of brandy and let me sing on four or five songs off the top of my head.’
“And then I was on Klonopin and not quite understanding why I was feeling so weird and this doctor kept saying, ‘This is what you need.’ It’s the typical scenario of a groupie doctor. Discuss rock’n’roll with you, so in order to do that he would keep upping your dose so you’d come in once a week.”
Then there’s the fact that bad blood between Nicks and her former boyfriend – and Tango’s creative controller – Buckingham never really subsided.
“The other members of Fleetwood Mac, from the beginning, have always been lovely to me, have always known how important my songs are to me, whereas, with Lindsey, he would rather I just stayed at home doing laundry,” Nicks told BAM in October 1987.
Neil Finn and Mike Campbell have recently joined Fleetwood Mac to replace Buckingham. It all came as a bit of a shock, but it’s not the first time this had happened.
It was in the wake of Tango… that Buckingham left the band for the first time, to be replaced on the ensuing tour by session players Rick Vito and Billy Burnette.
“We’re closing in on 20 years and there’s a time to put everything to rest and get on with other things, and I would like to do that,” Buckingham told Creem magazine in 1987.
“During the sessions, we sensed this was probably the last thing Lindsey would do with us,” Christine McVie told BAM.
“It was sort of said, but not said, you know? He admitted his solo career was becoming his priority. But by the end of the album, he did sort of agree to tour, then at the eleventh hour, he just pulled out, saying that he simply couldn’t cope with it.”
Mick Fleetwood later expressed regret at how little kudos Buckingham got for his part in Tango…
“He was coerced and persuaded to do that album – mainly by me,” the drummer told Classic Rock magazine in 2013. “And, to his credit, he put aside everything that he’d dreamt of doing, including making his own album, for Fleetwood Mac; but then realised that he’d made a mistake…
“Lindsey was not being heard. We just didn’t get it.”
I’m not here to convince you that Rumours is overrated. But, as this band’s legacy becomes more and more about one big album, I urge you not to forget Fleetwood Mac’s 1987 pop classic.
It’s not a flawless record. “Family Man” is just a bit too ridiculous and hasn’t aged all that well, nor has the lite-disco romp “You And I, Pt. II.”
But Tango In The Night deserves to be more than a footnote in the Fleetwood Mac story. More than a mere afterthought offered once you’ve exhausted yourself talking about cocaine, Rumours and how much they all hate each other.
And for those pariahs, like me, who just don’t get their kicks from Rumours, maybe this will serve as a more effective entry point into the world of Fleetwood Mac.
Dan Condon / ABC / Thursday, October 11, 2018