On November 30, 2022, we lost a music legend. Christine McVie, keyboardist, singer, and songwriter of Fleetwood Mac, passed away at the age of 79. While she was often overshadowed by her co-stars Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, McVie’s soulful alto and impeccable chops made her the architect of some of the band’s greatest hits. Their eclectic blend of rock, country, and blues defined the sound of 1970’s pop, and has inspired generations of artists to this day. And nowhere is this more apparent than in their magnum opus, the 8th best selling album of all time, Rumours.
If you know anything about Fleetwood Mac, you’ve probably heard of the band’s troubled relationships and the whirlwind of cocaine that permeated Rumours’ production. But their tumultuous history goes far beyond that, going back to their formation in 1967. The Mac started out as a British blues band fronted by singer-guitarist Peter Green, but underwent numerous lineup changes after Green quit due to his declining mental health. Ultimately, the band moved to California and found Green’s replacement in fingerpicking maestro Lindsey Buckingham. He insisted on bringing his then-girlfriend Stevie Nicks, as they always performed as a duo, and the “classic” Fleetwood Mac lineup was born.
The three-part harmony of Buckingham, Nicks, and McVie gave the band a pop-rock sheen, but their relationships imploded after their excellent self-titled album dropped in 1975. Buckingham and Nicks broke up, and Stevie briefly dated the band’s drummer Mick Fleetwood. Then Christine McVie’s marriage with bassist John McVie fell apart, as Christine was cheating on him with the band’s lighting director of all things. And with easy access to drugs from their Sausalito recording studio, recording sessions descended into chaotic, all-night affairs. Still, each member channeled their frustrations into their music, writing a loose concept album about heartbreak and infidelity. Even at their lowest point, when no one in the band was speaking to each other, Fleetwood Mac worked together to make music that showcased the unique talents – and egos – of each individual member.
Lindsey Buckingham’s “Second Hand News” kicks off the album, so it makes sense to talk about him first. Naturally, his songs are the most guitar-oriented, and his performances on this album are among the best in classic rock history. On “Never Going Back Again”, he makes a complex fingerpicking pattern seem light and easy, contrasting with the pained lyrics about his failed relationship. But his big hit was “Go Your Own Way” a four-to-the-floor barn-burner with fiery dual guitar solos. Stevie hated the song at first; she had to sing backup on a song that says “packing up, jacking up’s all [she] wants to do”. But it’s still an absolute banger, just as raw and bombastic as some of the biggest rock hits of the era.
By contrast, Christine McVie’s tracks are more tuneful and harken back to the band’s bluesy origins. This is most apparent on “You Make Loving Fun”, a song that sounds like it should be served with a neat glass of whiskey. “Don’t Stop”, where she trades off lead vocals with Lindsey, is an inspiring tune about moving on after a painful breakup. “Oh Daddy” is a moodier track that shows off the keyboardist’s smooth alto voice the best. “Songbird” is a piano ballad whose line “and the songbirds keep singing like they know the score” always reminds me of John Keats’ dark Romantic poem “Ode to a Nightingale”. Christine wrote it in the middle of the night, and stayed up until morning just so she could remember the melody and lyrics.
But I’ll be honest: Stevie Nicks has always been my favorite. Her ethereal contralto and “witchy” stage persona makes her a captivating performer, both in the band and later as a solo artist. “Dreams” may be a vamp on just two chords, F and G Major, but her smoky voice keeps the listener spellbound. (The song recently made a comeback on TikTok, because of course it did.) On “I Don’t Wanna Know” she harmonizes with Buckingham for the entire song, which is way harder than it sounds. “Silver Springs”, despite being cut from the album at the last minute, is a heartbreaking ballad that ranks right up there with the classic “Landslide”. And “Gold Dust Woman”, is a haunting closer about how Nicks needs to “pick up the pieces and go home” to survive the chaotic LA rock scene.
All of these songs were written by one member individually and arranged by the rest of the band. But there is one track credited to all five members, and it’s the definitive Fleetwood Mac song. “The Chain” opens with a heavy kick beat, and Lindsey’s snake-like blues licks give the song an atmosphere of dread. All three singers give killer harmonies, John McVie plays an unforgettable bass line, and the guitar solo is one of the most fire in music history. Fittingly, the song is about the relationships each member has with the band, and with each other. The line “If you don’t love me now, you will never love me again” shows the heartbreak each member was going through but it’s this same chain of relationships that “keeps us together, running in the shadows”.
Although I’ve always been an old soul with music, I did not “get” Fleetwood Mac when I was younger. Compared to the heavier sounds of the 70’s – punk, disco, funk, and early metal – they seemed like lightweights. But as I got older, I learned to love how damn musical all their songs are. They’re one of the only bands (other than, of course, The Frickin’ Beatles) to be gifted with not one, not two, but three incredible singers and songwriters. And as their constant airplay on oldies radio shows, their eclectic blend of earthy, soulful sounds has remained timeless for all these years. Other albums may be more ambitious, experimental, or genre-defining. But Rumours is one of those rare albums where every single song is a classic, which is why it is still one of the greatest musical works of all time.
I was a huge Fleetwood Mac fan back in the day. Still am. Rumours was 38 minutes of pure heaven.
Who didn’t love Stevie Nicks? For me, hearing her voice inspired lust and fantasy. Kind of felt bad for Chisty to have to live in that shadow. She has some really nice stuff.
I was an adult when it came out. It never occurred to me that they were all older than me.
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