Imagine, if you will, you’re a teenage blues rock fan in 1974 recovering from the odd new melodic sound of one of your favorite bands, Fleetwood Mac. After their 1974 album Heroes Are Hard to Find was much more chart-friendly than previous outings, you start to wonder what kind of band this will become. It’s even more shocking to find out that Fleetwood Mac have apparently changed their scenery from bustling England to sunny California. More so, two new members have joined the band, and when you go to find out what music they’ve done in the past, you’re shocked to find an album cover featuring a couple that look more like models than rock stars. Fast forward to July the next year as you pick up Fleetwood Mac’s brand new album. To you, the blues-rock junkie looking for dirty riffs and Elmore James covers, what you hear is a more shocking musical departure than the last record. But to someone else, say the hot next door neighbor you’ve been crushing on since pre-k with long blonde hair and sunflowers on her sun dress, who rides with top down in her car, it’s the coolest album around.
Today is the 40th anniversary of the album that gave everyone a sneak peek of the sound that would turn Fleetwood Mac into superstars. It makes sense that the band’s first self-titled album (their 1968 debut) has been re-dubbed Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac over the years, since the 1975 self-titled album served as a new identity for the band. Hints of folk, country, and FM-friendly pop rock are all over the 1975 album thanks to the presence of finger-picking Lindsey Buckingham and cooing gypsy woman Stevie Nicks. Funny enough, Nicks only joined the band as a package deal with Buckingham, as he only joined the band on the condition that Nicks (his girlfriend at the time) join too. Since bassist John McVie and keyboardist Christine McVie didn’t want to be hypocrites (they were married at the time), they and drummer Mick Fleetwood (the only man from the original line-up) brought the duo on board, and the rest is history.
One could call Fleetwood Mac the rough draft for their 1977 blockbuster Rumors, as many elements of the latter are found in the former. Buckingham’s driving picks and plucks of the guitar help songs like “Monday Morning” and “Blue Letter” chug through. Christine McVie knows how to move hearts with her delicate vocals and soft balladry (“Over My Head,” “Say You’ll Love Me”), while still matching with McVie and Fleetwood’s tight rhythm section. Even the mystical groove of “Rhiannon” might as well be a demo for the Rumors cut “Dreams.” Of course, the X factor here was Stevie Nicks, with her low but warm vocal delivery that was both bittersweet and enticing. There’s a reason that everyone from The Dixie Chicks to The Smashing Pumpkins have covered “Landslide,” because all are still trying to match the simple beauty of Nicks’ contemplation of the future.
What’s most interesting on Fleetwood Mac is how, despite each band member bringing different elements to the table, there are moments where they all click together. Take “Sugar Daddy,” for example, where Christine McVie’s soft vocals manage to match the groove of her husband John and Fleetwood’s rhythm, along with Buckingham’s springy guitar work. The same unity is heard on closing track “I’m So Afraid,” and Buckingham finds his place amongst the tight rhythm section on “World Turning.” “Rhiannon” is another example, where each band member seems to match up with the sensual soul in Nicks’ vocal performance and swirl around her like magic.
Granted, Fleetwood Mac isn’t perfect due to its reliance on Christine McVie’s ballads that lose their kick after a while. Regardless, the album has aged pretty well 40 years on. People like Fleetwood Mac for the same reason they like The Eagles, in that they combine the most popular pieces of American music in the 70’s, merging folk, country, and pop into an organic rock formula. The band just came off of a successful reunion tour (with the return of Christine McVie) and plan to release new music together, so it’s just a question of if they can recapture that magic. Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to look back at this album and review their formula. It was given a field test on Fleetwood Mac, and the big synthesis was just two years (and two breakups) away.