This is the sixteenth in a series of Rock & Roll features I'm writing for this site. I'm a rock and roller, so this column is a way for me to feature a different album that I like, from different genres every month.
It seems a little strange that in the 21st century many of the best rock and roll albums of all time are celebrating major milestones, especially for someone like me who wasn't around back in the 60s/70s and is discovering a lot of classic rock for the first time. They just seem so immediate, exciting, and fresh. So to realize that they're 40 years old is odd. The album I chose for this month's feature is one such album that celebrated a recent anniversary. I'm talking about the first album from Fleetwood Mac, Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, which I believe debuted in February 1968 making last month it's 40th anniversary.
I don't know about most people, but when I first started listening to Fleetwood Mac many years ago, I didn't even know who Peter Green was, let along that he was one of the founding members of the band or that they had quite a different sound when first starting out. I did however know of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks and was quite familiar with songs like “The Chain” and “Rhiannon” giving me a basic idea (and an incorrect one at that) of what to expect.
It took many years for me to actually hear some of the early albums with Peter Green. I kept hearing them mentioned every so often along side phrases like “blues” and “the beginning of blues rock.” Peter Green's name kept popping up in guitar related conversations. I just didn't get around to checking it out though and I never heard any of the tracks on classic rock radio. In fact, to this day I can't remember the last time I did hear a Green era Fleetwood Mac song on the radio. That's really a shame because there are some amazing albums from the early days, and because the tracks aren't played all that regularly, they often go unrecognized by the masses.
If you're more familiar with the later Fleetwood Mac, be prepared for a slight shock as this album is not in the same pop/rock style at all. In fact, the band didn't even start in the same country as the two who would become it's primary members in later years. Where Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks hailed from California, Fleetwood Mac began as a British blues band. Peter Green replaced Eric Clapton in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers before breaking off with bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood to form their own band. This early Fleetwood Mac album really hearkens back to their roots as it is a very bluesy album with great guitar work from Green (and Jeremy Spencer on slide as well) and tons of soul.
Starting off with the upbeat bluesy swagger of “My Heart Beat Like a Hammer”, there's no doubt where the band's musical tastes lie as they carry their blues roots throughout the entire album. There's even a number of covers of songs by Robert Johnson, Elmore James, and Howlin' Wolf. The slow blues of "Merry-Go-Round" is a personal favorite of mine because of soulful guitar work to match the equally soulful vocals, while “Long Grey Mare” is more upbeat with a great riff, sweet harmonica lead, and a touch of humor in it's lyrics.
The band's take on Robert Johnson's “Hellhound on My Trail” is incredibly stirring with just piano and vocals, sounding quite spontaneous and authentic… even if it does end somewhat suddenly. They follow it up with another cover, this time of Elmore James' “Shake Your Moneymaker”. With a rolling blues stomp and plenty of gritty, thick slide guitar work, this one is plenty good at getting toes tapping, but I don't think I'd say it outplays the original.
“Looking for Somebody” is another personal favorite. It's another slow burner but has a beat that is just a touch more hypnotic and primal, sort of swaying with so much soul. There's also some great lyrical moments with lines like “I've got a feeling, blues gonna be my only way…” coming from Green sounding extremely authentic and honest. It's a statement that looking back, you could argue turned out to be more accurate than Green could have ever imagined.
The cover of Howlin' Wolf's “No Place to Go” is unique with a slightly angular feel to it's riff and backing while the vocal work is more smooth creating it's own melody over top. There's another slide driven piece in “My Baby's Good to Me” which is a pretty straight forward number but still has power both lyrically and in the guitar work. “If I Loved Another Woman” on the other hand is a darker, more seductive flavored number. This is a stellar track with subtle but incredibly soulful guitar work from Green that hints at another song he would write with this band, one that would go on to be a hit for another great guitarist (and band): “Black Magic Woman”.
The album finishes with another slow blues number “Cold Black Night”, which has more rich slide guitar work, and another Elmore James cover, “Got to Move” which is pretty gritty and honest. Between those two is a little song called “The World Keep on Turning” which is easily my favorite from the entire album. Played acoustic by Green, this song is raw blues in the mold of some of the great acoustic blues founders, or perhaps I should say paying tribute to them. There's something very visceral and primal to it and the guitar work is just incredible through and through.
As a complete work this album is very much a blues or blues rock album. The standout for me is certainly the soul, especially of the guitar work. I'm partial to Greens guitar playing, but Spencer can tear it up on slide pretty good too, The two trade off songs making for two distinct styles of not only guitar playing, but vocals and songwriting as well.
Comparing this band's early style to their later one sounds almost like night and day, this bluesy version most definitely being night. There are a few moments on later albums where the songwriting begins to hint at more pop flavors suggesting that even if Spencer and Green had not left and Buckingham and Nicks hadn't been added, they still might have gotten to a more pop/rock sound.
This album though is blues to it's very core and the band pulls it off very well showing much of the influence of the Bluesbreakers and other British blues outfits, and especially blues legends like Robert Johnson, Elmore James, etc. There's a little something unique though that makes these tracks stand out as more than just blues tracks. The sound is very gutsy with lots of “oomph” similar to the work of Cream (nix all the psychedelia) and Led Zeppelin (minus the harder rock). Like those bands these songs seems to hint at the heavy blues that was coming, although in a far more subtle way, making this, and the other Fleetwood Mac albums that would directly follow, another important stepping stone in the progression of rock and roll.
If that is true though, then it begs the question: Why don't we hear tracks from Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac on modern classic rock radio all that often?
To be honest, I have no idea why we don't here more of these songs… or maybe the classic rock stations you listen to play it every day… who knows, maybe it's just when I'm listening that they don't play any.
What I do know though, is that as soon as I heard this album I immediately became a fan of the early Fleetwood Mac, especially of Peter Green, and I think the same might happen for you. If you're a blues fan, especially a British blues fan, I think this is a must have album. If you're not a blues fan but a Fleetwood Mac fan, I still think it's worth checking out at the very least to see where the band actually begin. If you were unaware, you might even be a little shocked.
Overall I think Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac is not only an important marker of where Fleetwood Mac the band actually came from, but features some great blues, great guitar work, and tons of soul. It's just one of those classic albums and I'm glad to salute it around the time of it's 40th anniversary because it's one of my favorites.