YOU COULD look it up. After 10 years and a like number of frequently boring albums (some great stuff in there, too), these penguin fanciers were starting to look like small beer. Meanwhile, Stevie Nicks was waiting tables, while her partner Lindsey Buckingham worked scams from home. It was L.A., and it was the tar pits.
Well, in what’s become the “auteur” theory on Mick Fleetwood, it was getting time for a new voice-guitar module. Let Lindsey Buckingham tell it in that pithy, laconic way an interview in Guitar Player magazine always inspires: “About two weeks before we ended up cutting Fleetwood Mac, Mick was looking for a studio to use. Someone haphazardly turned him on to this place in the San Fernando Valley called Sound City. So he talked to (engineer) Keith Olsen out there, and Keith put on “Frozen Love” from the Buckingham/Nicks album to show him what the studio was like and what his work sounded like. He wasn’t trying to showcase us, because Bob Welch was already in the band at that time. A week later, Bob decided to leave the group, and Mick just acted intuitively and called up Keith to get in touch with us. We rehearsed for about two weeks and then just cut the LP.”
The used-car capital of the world! They drove that cream puff right out of the lot and onto the charts, apparently forever. I played the shit out of my copy, too. Then, got a little tired of it. (My copy of 1970’s Kiln House looks like somebody held a roach race with figure skates on it, but I still play the record all the time.)
But before we get into silly disquisitions about why “Go Your Own Way” is a great single off an entirely up-to-snuff new album, let’s rip off another one of those Guitar Player quotes, the kind that put you right in the blind cosmic hum of the brood chamber of the rock & roll ant farm: “Then I got an Ampeg 4-track and started using the Sony 2-track for slap echo and effects like that with the preamp output of the deck into an amp. It’s just an amazing fuzz device. Since then I’ve taken the guts out of the preamp and put them in a little box, and that’s what I use onstage and in the studio. I also use a Roland Space Echo and a Cry Baby wah-wah sometimes. My strings are Ernie Ball Regular Slinky…”
What? Is that what’s getting under my skin in “Go Your Own Way”? You gotta remember that the formation of this group broke up three happy couples: that fact might bear on the title of this single, which opens with a Ventures strum that lifts out of the dashboard and says, “Hush your mouth.” Then comes a trebly, ringing acoustic guitar line. “Loving you/Isn’t the right thing to do,” twangs Buckingham in his best Danny Kirwan, heart broke dither, as Fleetwood’s drums spring in to help: “How can I/Ever change things that I feel?”
As Buckingham finishes the verse, Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks haul in for a full-voiced chorus, and the next stanza is underscored by a tense, curling tail of feedback. If you aren’t hooked by now, you better check your pulse. Just in time, too, because from the bridge on, they let Buckingham nudge the refrain aside and take the song out.
Given the vigor of that cut, plus “Second Hand News” and the previous album’s shoving “Monday Morning” (not to mention the exuberant finger-picking of “Never Going Back Again”), Lindsey Buckingham shows up as a saltier cowboy than most any of those other canyon-roaming L.A. smog-eaters.
Not to sell Fleetwood and the McVies short ― they’re steady punchers ― the band was also lucky to bring in Stevie Nicks’ talents. The mesh was very smooth: folding “Rhiannon” into a loping backbeat, she let a few lines catch in her throat, then warded off coyness by belting the odd phrase through her cheekbones, while lazy Byrds progressions linked the verses hypnotically together.
Stevie’s “Crystal,” sung by Buckingham both on Buckingham/Nicks and Fleetwood Mac in a timbre oddly like Christine McVie’s, turned, in a span of three years, from a picker’s minuet into an organ dirge. And the vocal that Nicks rode so hard in 1973 faded back. All of her vocals on the first group album were nice but a little cakey, so it’s good to hear the power come back on this new disc.
Both “Dreams” and “Gold Dust Woman” (the latter is about groupies) offer confident, nearly seamless singing. “Gold Dust Woman,” with its breathiness and whip-cracking phrasing, owes no small debt to Bonnie Raitt’s style. And Ken Emerson has pointed out that Nicks employs Melanie- and Lulu-like trills. “Dreams” shows all that, but Stevie Nicks gains appeal through her slack elocution. That insolently foxy upper lip flutters the tone like a mute in a trumpet.
Nicks’ “I Don’t Want to Know” is folk harmony over Merseybeat, complete with handclaps. The next step back in time is skiffle. Then maybe we can start the whole adventure, with Christine McVie in Chicken Shack, all over again.
Christine McVie’s “Oh, Daddy” and “Songbird,” like “Warm Ways” on the previous LP, are riskily close to the solemn bleating on the so-called Legendary Christine Perfect Album. Her chief virtue on slow songs is simple honesty, but it takes the gentle propulsion of “Over My Head,” “Say You Love Me,” and “Sugar Daddy” (or her new, cranked-up “Don’t Stop”) to make McVie a real asset.
Since this album’s a product of California, I subjected it, finally, to the rock professor’s test for non-verbal epistemological coherence. It sank like a bad egg in a glass of Jim Beam.
And that’s despite the, uh, cosmic circumstances of the group’s chemical collaboration on “The Chain.” The harmonies just pelt out over a determinedly walloping drum. Sounds like fervor for its own sake, but, like the Welsh witch howls that close the record, the song might lead you to think that Fleetwood Mac aspire to a station higher than that of a singles band. Fine ― but as things stand, I’m happy to take my dose over the airways for another year or so.
© Fred Schruers / Circus / April 1977