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Music Review: Fleetwood Mac – Then Play On

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Change was in the air for Fleetwood Mac after two successful blues albums. While slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer would still be listed as a member of the band, his contributions would be minimal.

Holdovers John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, and Peter Green were now joined by 19-year-old guitarist Danny Kirwan, who would be a better fit for Green. Spencer and Green had virtually stopped speaking to each other and playing with one another, so Fleetwood solved the situation by bringing in Kirwan, who moved right in and wrote six of the 13 tracks, while Green wrote five.. Christine Perfect was on hand as an unaccredited pianist, which looked ahead to the band’s future.

The band’s fame in Great Britain in their first incarnation as a blues band was at its height. They were a rare blues-based group to issue a series of successful singles. During 1969, “Albatross” reached number one on the British charts, while “Man Of The World” and “Oh Well” each reached number two.

Then Play On was released September 9, 1969 and continued Fleetwood Mac’s commercial success in their home country, reaching number six and 109 in The United States. It was also their first release for The Warner Brothers label, with whom they would remain to the present day. Some early copies of the album came with a bonus single of “Oh Well,” which had not been included on the original release.

This album is one of the forgotten gems of The British Blues movement. Fleetwood and McVie lay down a solid foundation and the guitars of Green and Kirwan work together brilliantly.

Two of the Green compositions are among the best to come from the late sixties rock/blues era. “Closing My Eyes” is a Green vocal at its emotional best. “Rattlesnake Shake” just rocks in a blues sense from beginning to end. If this song doesn’t grab your attention and get you up out of your chair, nothing will.

Kirwan also has his high points as well. “Coming Your Way” is the album’s lead track and quickly proves there is a new guitarist in town. He is an exact fit for Green and each bring out the best in the other. “When You Say” and “Like Crying” are still worth multiple listens today.

Green and Kirwan would both become tragic figures. They would be in Munich together and legend has it took drugs at the same party. Both would endure years of mental illness, institutionalization, and homelessness. It would take Green decades to recover, but Kirwan never would and remains missing from the music scene. Both are members of The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame for their work with Fleetwood Mac.

Then Play On contains the best of Peter Green and Danny Kirwan. Had they stayed together they might have formed one of the great guitar duos. Rock ‘n’ roll is dotted with “What Ifs,” so this album will have to stand as their defining statement.

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About David Bowling

  • Charlie Doherty

    The electric part of “Oh Well” is my fav from this album, though “Rattlesnake Shake” is a close second.

    If you haven’t already, you should check out the live Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers cover of that version of “Oh Well.” It kicks ass, almost Led Zeppelin-style rock. They’ve been doing it for years, but saw them cover it in person for the first time a couple of months ago and it was brilliant. You can probably find it on YouTube.

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