First of all, I have to confess that the title I chose for this article is probably a bit unfair. Since at least the late seventies, the Fleetwood Mac that the world has come to know and love is the model that has sold buttloads of records under the creative leadership of Lindsey Buckingham and the somewhat mysterious onstage persona of their resident “Witchy Woman” Stevie Nicks.
Together, Buckingham-Nicks (who actually released a pre-Mac album under that very name) have come to define the band called Fleetwood Mac.
There is no doubt that Buckingham and Nicks led Fleetwood Mac out of the commercial grave they had so long been consigned to as one of the numerous faceless “Blooze Bands” they were prior to albums like Rumours. Don’t get me wrong here, I personally think that Lindsey Buckingham is pretty much a largely unheralded pop genius, not to mention a damn decent guitarist to boot (just check out his work on a song like the pop-era Mac gem “So Afraid” if you doubt me). Personally though, I prefer his solo work. I mean how can you deny a song like “Trouble” off of Buckingham’s first solo album? If this isn’t evidence that Lindsey Buckingham could have been the next Brian Wilson, I don’t know what is.
Before Fleetwood Mac became, well Fleetwood Mac, they began as “Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac.” Which I guess put them in pretty much the same category as any number of British “Blooze Bands” of their time back in the seventies. You know what I mean? I mean back then for every Humble Pie there was an equal Savoy Brown. What set Fleetwood Mac apart however was that founding member Peter Green was regarded as a British blues guitarist held up in the same sort of awe as people like Eric Clapton.
Although there are earlier examples such as the great instrumental “Albatross,” the finest examples of Green’s work can be found on the great album Then Play On. In it’s best known song, “Oh Well,” Green goes from dirty blues to an almost surreal sounding second part of the song. Less well known, but equally great are Green’s work on such songs as “Coming Your Way” and the great “Fighting/Searching For Madge” suite. As for Green’s other contributions? Well those have been covered from any number of rock bands from Santana’s “Black Magic Woman” to Judas Priest’s “Green Manalishi.”
After Peter Green left Fleetwood Mac to find his God (and if you can find it, he did a great Christian themed solo album in the early eighties called In The Skies), Fleetwood Mac carried on with a variety of guitarists at the helm. After all, despite Peter Green’s then considerable star as a guitarist, the band was actually founded by bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood. Hence the moniker, Fleetwood Mac.
First to step up to the plate were Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan, who along with the proverbial Fleetwood and Mac, completed the quartet which recorded a great little album called Kiln House. I guess this is where we get back to Fleetwood Mac’s pre Rumours status as one of those numerous faceless “British Blooze Bands” of the seventies. Except that songs like “Tell Me All Things You Do” showed that the new boys running the show were no slouches on guitar themselves. In the more pop oriented department, the minor single “Jewel Eyed Judy” gave a hint of the new, broader direction yet to come.
This would be completely manifested with the arrival of California guitarist/singer/songwriter Bob Welch in 1971 and the album Future Games. It is here that the creative direction of the group began it’s most radical change from the “British Blooze Band” known for albums like Then Play On and more towards the haunting, but still guitar driven pop of songs like Future Games great title track.
By the time of it’s follow-up Bare Trees, Welch had become one of the band’s principal songwriters, penning two of that album’s ten tunes. Bare Trees was notable for FM radio hits including “Child Of Mine,” and Welch’s “Sentimental Lady,” which he would later go on to remake with considerable success on his late seventies solo hit album French Kiss. This is a period which many hardcore Fleetwood Mac devotees will argue produced the bands best work, anchored by the combination of Welch’s haunting vocal style and unique sense of a good pop hook.
Together they would make one more truly notable album, Mystery To Me, which produced the truly great “Hypnotized,” arguably the best known song of Fleetwood Mac’s pre-Rumours career. With it’s ever distinctive guitar signature, “Hypnotized” remains an FM classic to this day. Not long afterwards, Welch departed to form the ill-fated group called Paris, and then to eventual, if brief solo success with the album French Kiss.
And the rest, as they say is history.