After all of the mythologising — the most expensive rock album ever produced; a staggering commercial failure; a Lindsey Buckingham vanity project with the Fleetwood Mac name attached; what happens when too much money meets too much blow — Tusk remains a singular oddity in Fleetwood Mac’s oeuvre. By the time its recording commenced in June 1978, the band were in the stratosphere of commercial success: their previous album, Rumours, had shipped millions of copies and was on its way to becoming one of the best selling albums of all time. Yet the music that had inspired Buckingham during his respite from the gruelling Rumours tour was the opposite of commercial: the debut albums from The Clash and Talking Heads, both recorded on the cheap. As Rob Trucks recounts in his 33⅓ entry on the album, Tusk began its life as an ultimatum from Buckingham to band leader Mick Fleetwood: Buckingham had new songs he was going to record. In response, Fleetwood shot back another ultimatum: Buckingham was either in the band or out of it. The stage was set for a collision: between the moneyed, high-gloss world the band inhabited and the scrappy upstarts who were shaking that world’s foundations; between Buckingham’s musical ambitions and Fleetwood’s determination that Fleetwood Mac stick together as a band.
Tusk, therefore, is riven through with contradictions. It contains some of the band’s glossiest work, of the sort that would have made the executives at Warner hopeful that Tusk could function as Rumours Redux: the gorgeous “Sara,” Stevie Nicks’s aching paean of love and loss; Christine McVie’s rock burner “Think About Me,” complete with acid lyrics that would fuel further speculation about the band’s private lives; the lapidary “Storms,” featuring Nicks at her most pitilessly introspective. Yet these songs find themselves nestled between Buckingham’s off-kilter, deliberately lo-fi ditties: deliberately truncated songs (none longer than 3:32) with unusual, unresolved melodies, in which Buckingham affects a falsetto and Fleetwood sounds as though he were drumming with a set of cardboard boxes. You’d be hard-pressed to call these numbers “punk” per se — they thrum through with Buckingham’s interest in folk and blues traditions, and they were after all recorded at phenomenal expense — but they preserve punk rock’s affinity for simplicity and concision. In many ways they sound like exactly what they are: punk rock reflected back through the funhouse mirror of a platinum-selling band with a well-documented cocaine problem, a limitless recording budget, and a background in blues.
It’s no secret that Tusk performed poorly on its release, shipping a mere two million copies in its first few months of existence compared to the over ten million copies that Rumours shifted. Just who the fault can be pinned on remains the subject of some debate. Did Tusk‘s commerical failure, as Warner’s executives insisted, derive from Buckingham’s outré songwriting? Was it, as Mick Fleetwood argued, because the album was prematurely leaked to the RKO radio network, who proceeded to play it in order, much to the delight of home tapers? In the long view, such considerations are immaterial: given the album’s strange afterlives — including a start-to-finish cover version by Camper Van Beethoven and becoming a formative influence on Carl Newman’s work with The New Pornographers — it seems that Tusk has ultimately vindicated itself.
The latest remaster and reissue of the album — the third such intervention to have happened since the 1980s — is about as comprehensive as anyone could hope for. In addition to the original album, which has been given a crisp buff and polish (albeit one that could have preserved a little more of the original release’s dynamic range), and a second disc of single versions and demos (many of which originally appeared on the 2004 remaster/reissue), it also includes a start-to-finish version of Tusk in hitherto unreleased alternate takes and two discs of live material from the band’s 1979-1980 Tusk tour. Mac anoraks will find that the second disc’s collection of successive demos — which map out the progression of both “I Know I’m Not Wrong” and the title track from their early incarnations through to near-finished versions — illuminates the band’s creative processes.
Perhaps more interesting is the third disc, sequenced from unreleased alternate versions: while many songs sound essentially like rough-hewn versions of what would appear on the final release, it’s worth listening to just for the lengthy version of “Sara,” in which Nicks elaborates on the song’s themes in an extended outro. The live material on discs four and five is perhaps less essential: much of it is actually from prior albums rather than Tusk, and perhaps inadvertently demonstrates the cold shoulder with which the public received the album. (When Christine McVie introduces “Over & Over” to a crowd at St. Louis by informing them that it’s from the new album, the reception is rather more muted than the ecstatic cheers that greet the version of “Dreams” recorded at Wembley on the same tour.) Perhaps most interesting about these discs is the valiant attempt by the band to fit Buckingham’s Tusk songs into the stadium-rock mode: “Not That Funny” shifts into bombast, with Fleetwood hammering the kit and Buckingham belting out his lines, and Buckingham shreds out a solo that wouldn’t have been out of place on Rumours at the conclusion of “What Makes You Think You’re The One.”
These efforts to make Tusk‘s material appeal to the band’s demographic demonstrate just how much it began its life as an album out of time, an artifact that could not have been produced at any other juncture in history but one that, equally, sounded completely ill-at-ease in the cultural moment that produced it. Perhaps fittingly, time has been kind to Tusk, and the album doesn’t require the ultra-deluxe treatment to make a compelling case for its relevance — those two LP’s worth of creative tension, that juxtaposition of the rough and the smooth, are worth returning to with or without the context provided by this reissue.
(Editor’s note: This article was edited for spelling and grammar. You can read the original article here.)
Chad Parkhill / The Quietus / Wednesday, December 16, 2015
The January 29th issue of Rolling Stone (RS 1227), which featured Stevie on the cover, was one of the best selling magazines of the year, according to Adweek. The issue, also including features on Rush and SNL’s John Belushi, reportedly sold 64,125 copies in 2015.
Everyone loves Rumours, but what about its follow-up? Tusk remains the greatest self-sabotage in rock’n’roll history, but this month’s reissue of the Mac’s elephantine monolith reveals a record that stands for a golden moment in time — blithe and bacchanalian — which will never be seen, or heard, again.
“Oh I get it, you don’t want to be cute any more.” Bob Dylan to Paul McCartney, 1967
How things change in the index of cool. Back in 1989, back when God was a boy, there was a rather annoying Stock Aitken Waterman club single sung by the teenage Reynolds Girls called “I’d Rather Jack”, a “peculiar moment of year-zero militancy” in the words of GQ music columnist Dorian Lynskey. “I’d rather jack than Fleetwood Mac,” they sang, using the band as a rather convenient example of middle-aged millionaire campaign-trail rock (Bill Clinton would use the band’s “Don’t Stop” when he was running for office in 1992). Back then, the emerging rave generation had no time for the band, but these days it would be difficult to find anyone who doesn’t treat Fleetwood Mac as though they are as important and as influential as The Beatles.
They are almost as ubiquitous.
Rumours, their classic album from 1977, is now one of the most beloved albums of all time – everyone loves it, whether they’re 15, 25, 35 or 60. U2 unfairly got themselves into a bit of a fix when they delivered their last album free via iTunes, but I don’t know anyone who would complain if they suddenly found Rumours on their laptop one morning. In fact, I’m not sure I know anyone who doesn’t own it and, in the same way that it’s difficult to believe anyone who says they actively dislike The Beatles, saying you don’t like Rumours actually sounds pretentious.
A blackboard sign outside Hector & Noble, a pub in London’s Victoria Park, says it all: “Burgers. Pie. Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours on repeat.” We love Rumours in the same way we love James Corden, Dad’s Army or the Queen: it is a national treasure. One of the more popular Fleetwood Mac Instagram memes is a photograph of a small girl screaming, “Me when I realise I will probably never see Fleetwood Mac performing ‘Storms’, ‘Beautiful Child’ or ‘Sara’ live.”
Between 1977 and 1979, Rumours sold 13 millions copies, becoming the sound of FM radio in the process. It was played in dorms, in shopping malls, at baseball games, you could hear it blasting out of car windows and pouring out of the radio. During 1977, Fleetwood Mac spent so much time on FM radio in the US that you could have been forgiven for thinking the technology was named after them.
Mixing business and pleasure in an occupational hazard in the music industry, although with Fleetwood Mac it became something of a career in itself. The breakups of band members John and Christine McVie, as well as that of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, created not just personal chaos, it also led to the creation of Rumours, which contained such classic co-dependency songs as “The Chain”, “Go Your Own Way”, “Dreams”, “Don’t Stop” and ‘You Make Loving Fun”.
“It has the firepower of a greatest-hits collection and the coherence of a concept album,” says Lynskey. “Each song seems to be talking to, or about, all the others in a he-said-she-said echo chamber. Rumours may sound escapist, but in the lyrics there’s no escape, especially for the band. On one level it’s a painstakingly crafted soft-rock fantasy, glowing with sunshine and money, but uncomfortable emotions are constantly gnawing and jabbing away at the music’s flawless surface pleasures.”
In the same way that, more than 150 years ago, Manifest Destiny drove American pioneers westward – as hordes of speculators, migrants and would-be moguls staked claim to anything and everything before them as they pressed onward to the Pacific Ocean – so during the late Sixties and early Seventies, Los Angeles became the geographic holy grail of American rock music. It didn’t matter if you were an aspiring singer-songwriter like Joni Mitchell or Neil Young, an eager bunch of double-denim guitar players like The Eagles, or an old British blues band like Fleetwood Mac looking for rejuvenation, LA was where you can came. Even though the spelling still told the world they were a British band, Rumours is really a concept album whose concept was Los Angeles, as never has a record sounded so Californian, so sumptuous, so golden (honestly, you almost expected the album to come complete with a pair of sunglasses and a pool-side ice bucket).
Some might say that Fleetwood Mac’s Wikipedia page reads like a Russian novel, with new characters popping up, before exiting in grim circumstances, including mental illness, alcoholism, adultery, a religious cult and romantic trauma. They’re not wrong. The band was formed in 1967 in London by the guitarist Peter Green, who recruited drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie. Honing a hip, blues-rock sound, they had commercial success with songs such as “Black Magic Woman”, “Man Of The World”, “Oh Well” and “Albatross”. However, Green’s use of LSD exacerbated his schizophrenia, causing him to quit the band in 1970. He was replaced by Christine Perfect soon after she married John McVie, and various other members came and went, rarely having much lasting impact.
Seeking a reinvention of sorts, in 1974 the band moved to the US and, having seen Buckingham Nicks play in California, Mick Fleetwood asked Lindsey and Stevie to join them. The couple radically altered the band’s sound, adding a West Coast sheen that would quickly result in hit songs such as “Over My Head”, “Say You Love Me”, “Rhiannon” and “Landslide”. Soon, though, group relationships started to crumble. Fleetwood was in the middle of a divorce from his wife, Jenny Boyd; John and Christine’s marriage came to an end; and Buckingham and Nicks’s romance fell apart. “Being in Fleetwood Mac is more like being in group therapy,” Mick Fleetwood famously said.
These dysfunctional romantic struggles informed the bulk of the songs that turned up on Rumours, creating one of the most popular albums of all time. Fleetwood Mac managed to fuse the singer-songwriter pretensions of the early Seventies with a slick pop sensibility (and a great drum sound) that sounded just fine on FM radio, especially in your first car, with the top down and four or five friends in the back, passing beers and smokes between them. This imperial version of Fleetwood Mac achieved something quite rare, conquering a country and seemingly able to define it too. In the late Seventies, their only rivals in this — bottling the marshmallow musical essence of Los Angeles and Southern California — were The Eagles, and they had spent the best part of the decade working up to it; with Fleetwood Mac it sort of happened by accident.
And then they went and recorded Tusk, a double album of wildly eclectic and eccentric lo-fi, high-concept material that Mojo magazine once called “one of the greatest career sabotage albums of all time”. This was a concept album of sorts, although many at the time thought the concept was simply “We are not Fleetwood Mac!” In short, Tusk appeared to be a wholesale attempt by the band to completely subvert their brand.
Until a few months ago, I had never heard the band’s follow-up to Rumours. I knew the title track and had begun to begrudgingly enjoy it, fascinated by the way in which the horns had come to define the song, much like they have on Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke”. I knew the pearlescent song “Sara”, as it was a favourite of my wife (Sarah was one of the many disappointed millions who had bought a copy of Tusk after falling in love with Rumours — “It was boring,” she says). But apart from that, as far as I was concerned Tusk may as well have been a King Crimson album from the early Seventies or a Britney Spears CD from the early noughties; it simply wasn’t on my radar. Nonetheless, like many others who have spent time with it, I have, over the past few months, become quietly obsessed with it.
This month sees the release of a remastered deluxe edition of the album, including alternative tracks, two additional live CDs, a DVD documentary, extended liner notes and a wealth of previously unseen visual material. One of the most extravagant anniversary box sets ever, this is the last word on Tusk. It is a fitting tribute as, at the cost of well over $1 million frittered away over the space of two years,Tusk was the last word in extravagant, over-indulgent West Coast pop. If Rumours was the towel-slapping sound of young America getting ready for the weekend, Tusk was its nerd alternative, new-wave folk music for people who stayed in on Saturday nights.
The record was nothing if not unconventional, a volte-face of the most extreme kind. The band now like to say it was a pointed retort to the suffocating cocoon of expectations that fame had woven around them, although in reality it was more like the sensation you get when you’ve just climbed to the top of a very steep hill. Not only do you have to walk back down, but what’s the point of climbing it again?
“How do you follow, let alone top, the best work you’ve ever done in your life, work that almost killed you to complete?” asks Mick Fleetwood.
Well, the rest of Fleetwood Mac thought the same thing.
By the time the group started to record Tusk, Lindsey Buckingham had become the de facto leader, slipping into shoes only recently vacated by Mick Fleetwood. The album sessions started in spring 1978 at the Village Recorder studios near Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles, at the very height of punk, and you can hear its peroxide-spike-topped influence all over the record. Buckingham had become obsessed with punk and its inevitable US abstraction, new wave, devouring the likes of The Clash, Gang Of Four, Talking Heads and Elvis Costello. He wanted the band to sound modern, relevant, and yet he was also keen to branch out himself, wanting to start writing the kind of material that Brian Wilson, his hero, had created on Pet Sounds. Buckingham saw himself as the band’s visionary and he was determined that they not rest on their laurels. The band begrudgingly agreed to follow him.
“It seemed to me at some point that there was a major discrepancy between what the work was and what was going on outside of that,” says Buckingham, referring to Rumours. “I found that to be sort of dangerous ground. You know, Michael Jackson land. You’re walking on thin ice as far as how you define yourself and what you are and what is expected of you after that.”
“He was a maniac,” says Ken Caillat, who was one of the co-producers on Tusk. “The first day, I set up the studio as usual. Then he said to turn every knob 180 degrees from where it was now and see what happens. He’d tape microphones to the studio floor and then get into a sort of push-up position to sing. Early on he came in and he’d freaked out in the shower and cut off all his hair with nail scissors. He was stressed. And into sound destruction.”
There is an old theatrical term, used to describe unnecessary exposition or simple overacting: “That’s a hat on a hat.” You could ascribe the phrase to some of Buckingham’s songs on the record, songs the man who wrote them didn’t think were good enough unless they were recorded in a way that made them sound modern and relevant.
“Tusk is the most important thing, on some level, that I ever was involved with,” says Buckingham. “With Fleetwood Mac, certainly, for me, as much for the music but also because it was a line I drew in the sand. We had this ridiculous success with Rumours, and at some point, at least in my perception, the success of that detached from the music, and it was more about the phenomenon. We were poised to do another album, and I guess because the axiom ‘If it works, run it into the ground’ was prevalent then, we were probably poised to do Rumours II. I don’t know how you do that, but somehow my light bulb that went off was, ‘Let’s just not do that. Let’s very pointedly not do that.'”
As the group was in the process of fraying internally, so the three principal songwriters had stronger voices on this album than perhaps at any other time in their career, and while this made for a less cohesive record than Rumours, it was no less interesting. However, instead of braiding the group’s talents to strengthen their increasingly distinctive sound, Buckingham pulled them apart, allowing it all to unravel. The band was tri-polar.
“Think About Me”, the pre-Raphaelite “Sara” and the epic “Sisters Of The Moon” (on which Nicks sounds like Patti Smith in a wind tunnel) sound as though they could have slipped easily onto Rumours, while other songs – “The Ledge”, “What Makes You Think You’re The One” – are so particular that they couldn’t really be anything other than the result of Buckingham’s homemade demos. Elsewhere, because Buckingham – the Rodeo Drive punk – deliberately sped up his songs to ape the “new-wave” metronomic, some of his songs sounded like fast versions of old rock’n’roll songs from the Fifties.
Released in 1979, Tusk would go on to sell four million copies, yet because Rumours‘ sales were then already into the double-digit millions, and because it had been slated by the press, Tusk was deemed a commercial and critical disaster. “The record was certainly not a failure,” says Fleetwood, “but neither was it the celebration of the quantum leap we felt we had taken.”
It was Mick Fleetwood who decided that Tusk should be a double album, simply because of the amount of material the three songwriters were producing. “At some point, Lindsey was starting to get very experimental in his own studio and was veering a little left of centre,” says Christine McVie. “He [Buckingham] had already decided that he wanted to make a solo record. In order to keep him within the fold we all said, ‘Well, look, let him do his experimenting and incorporate it in the album somehow.’ That’s how in essence it came to be a double album. There was all this experimentation flying around, especially from Lindsey’s point of view.”
Random, abrasive and lo-fi, the music that Buckingham started making didn’t sound like Fleetwood Mac at all, and it definitely didn’t sound like anything on Rumours. If Rumours was an exquisitely engineered soft-rock colossus, Tusk, said the New York Times, sounded as though parts of it were recorded on a whaling ship in heavy seas. If it sounds as though parts of Tusk were recorded in a bathroom, that’s because they were. Some songs were laid down in Buckingham’s home studio, where he had set up the equipment so he could play the drums while sitting on the loo seat. Reviewing the record, the critic Greil Marcus said, “Fleetwood Mac is subverting the music from the inside out, very much like one of John LeCarré’s moles — who, planted in the heart of the establishment, does not begin his secret campaign of sabotage until everyone has gotten used to him and takes him for granted.”
As one critic said, it’s the ultimate cocaine album, with manic, frantic explosions followed by interminable stretches of mellow. There were nine songs by Lindsey Buckingham, six by Christine McVie and five by Stevie Nicks, and, as John McVie says, the album sounds like the work of three solo artists. It was a highly adventurous, almost elephantine gamble – fragmented, uneven and often confoundedly irritating.
Buckingham had asked Warner Bros if they could create their own studio in order to record the album. The label declined so it ended up costing the band more than $1m. Not that any of them were shy about spending money or indulging themselves to the hilt. Throughout the Rumours sessions, it was said that a large black velvet bag full of cocaine was kept under the mixing desk, which meant that it could be dipped into at any point during the recording process. And, boy, was it dipped into. So much so that one day, as a prank, one of the engineers substituted a dummy bag full of talcum powder. When someone wanted a hit, he very slowly tipped the bag onto the floor, causing mayhem in the studio. Tusk was apparently no different; not only was there cocaine, champagne and lobster, there was English beer on tap. The atmosphere was more than heightened; it was positively spotlit.
“The studio contract rider for refreshments was like a telephone directory,” says Christine McVie. “Exotic food delivered to the studio, crates of champagne. And it had to be the best, with no thought of what it cost. Stupid. Really stupid. Somebody once said that with the money we spent on champagne o one night, they could have made an entire album. And it’s probably true.”
In this department, the band had a pantechnicon-load of previous. One of the studios they used had a projection of the day on the walls, from sunrise to sunset and stars at night in real time to help them get a handle on the outside world. When they used the Record Plant in San Francisco, they took full advantage of the complimentary limousines, speedboat and conference room complete with water bed and tanks of nitrous oxide for those requiring a mood change.
“Tusk was very native, very African,” Stevie Nicks said soon after its release. “Mick thinks he is a Watusi warrior and… he is! I would sit and wait for days. It was like these are the sacred steps back up the top of the sacred mountain of this jungle. That’s what Tusk was. Everything on Tusk was very warrior-esque, which is probably one of the reasons why 13 months didn’t kill us all; we went to another kind of world for Tusk.” She says the band were like a tribe, although she has also likened the recording process to being held hostage in Iran.
The title song, released as a single prior to the album’s release, certainly sounded like nothing the band had ever done before. Driven by a strident jungle-sounding drumbeat, a loop conjured up by Fleetwood, the band hired Dodger Stadium and the 120-piece of University of Southern California Trojan Marching Band to play over the top of it — Fleetwood had been inspired by a brass band he’d heard outside a hotel room in Barfleur, a fishing village in northern France. “I was in a room in the town square with a horrific hangover, and I was woken by the sound of the local brass band that relentlessly went round and round the square. As the day went on, they got drunker and drunker. But one thing was apparent. Everyone followed the brass band around the town, and I thought, ‘What a good idea!'”
“Tusk” started out as a drum riff that the band played onstage to warm up before the opening of every concert. Buckingham took a 20-second of a recording of this, sped it up and then started layering it with vocals and guitars. As Buckingham says, the 20-second section of drums was on “enough tape to go all the way across the board to the other side of the control room. We had to have someone in the middle of the room holding the tape up to make sure it didn’t sag. Then we made a copy, from one 24-track machine to another, of this huge, sped-up tape loop rolling around the room.”
As for the art, in hindsight it looks like an imperfect example of the transition between the Seventies and the Eighties, being a mixture of Hipgnosis-style Seventies extravagance (like a Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin album) and California New Wave, all red triangles, power-pop sunglasses and fake neon. The sleeve was illustrated with the dense African-inspired collages of Peter Beard, but also contained the sort of colourful, madcap photography that would become such a big part of pop iconography in the Eighties.
The band hired Beard (who went on to marry Cheryl Tiegs) to design and photograph the album’s inner sleeves. World famous for his photo-diary books and blood-spattered African montages, he was, the band felt, the perfect man for the job.
Explains Fleetwood, “Peter Beard, one of the three photographers who did some of the pictures on the inside [of the album sleeves], the artwork, happens to be someone who spent a lot of time in Africa. He came down to the studio and was there for probably about a week, taking pictures of the band. It turned out most of his work was of animals and people’s feet. He then left and during that time got very involved in the conservation of elephants and wildlife. We were just thinking of an album title. We had no idea that his artwork, when it came back probably three, three-and-a-half months later, would have elephant tusks all over it with odd pictures of us stuck in it, so it was just a coincidence. Then it was chosen as a word that we thought sounded good.”
Beard was in the studio for two weeks, shooting mainly Polaroids of the band and the inner circle. Resembling Peter O’Tooler in Lawrence Of Arabia, he was funny and a blast to have around, according to one observer. “Peter seemed unfazed by the amount of drugs that were everywhere in the studio, and I got the feeling that he saw us as just another species of wild creature to capture in his camera’s lens.”
Nicks, for one, was rather circumspect about it all. “Lindsey had tusk on the wall and all these weird Polaroids,” she says. “I thought this must be what hell is like. With speakers.”
Celebrated photographer and video-maker Norman Seeff was one of the photographers charged with shooting the band at the time. “They were already historically important by the time I met them, as they were a band that never repeated themselves,” he says. “Every member had a unique identity, and they brought that to the photo session.
“I was part of the whole scene at the time, drinking, smoking, living the rock’n’roll life. However, by the time of this particular shoot I had decided to go straight and was into yoga and vegetarianism. But the band loved to party. When they turned up for the session they went straight to it from the get-go. We shot for hours and by the end they were looking a bit ragged, a bit crazy, although they were always professional. Even though they got completely loaded, they knew how to work with each other. I wasn’t looking to take pictures of people looking f***ed-up – I wanted to capture vitality… and I think I really captured that day.”
When Fleetwood suggested they call the album Tusk, the whole band knew this was his nickname for his own erect penis, and indeed everyone else’s erect penis. When Stevie Nicks heard that this was going to be the title, she threatened to quit the band. (As Rob Trucks points out in his book, Tusk, “You only need to look at the album covers of Fleetwood Mac and Rumours to see that Fleetwood has a penchant for dick jokes.”)
Rumours, although this time the band were squabbling about their creative direction rather than about who was sleeping with whom. However, this tension was exacerbated by the fact that Fleetwood had been sleeping with Nicks. Some have said this is the reason Fleetwood was so indulgent of Buckingham’s new direction.
“Never in a million years could you have told me that would happen,” says Nicks. “That was the biggest surprise. But Mick is definitely one of my great, great loves. But that really wasn’t good for anybody. Everybody was angry, because Mick was married to a wonderful girl and had two wonderful children. I was horrified. I loved these people. I loved his family. So it couldn’t possibly work out. And it didn’t. It just couldn’t.”
Neither did the album, not in the minds of the Warner executives at least. According to Buckingham, when the label was first invited to listen to Tusk, they “saw their Christmas bonuses going out the window”. One executive said the band were insane to release a double album at a time when “the industry is dying a death. The business is f***ed. We can’t sell records and this will have to retail at twice the normal price. It’s suicide.” Which, commercially, it sort of was. Having been told it had cost more than $1 million to record, Warner Bros told the band they needed to sell 500,000 copies of the album just to break even.
The critics didn’t seem it like much, either. It was immediately called a grand folly, a pale imitation of The Beatles’ “White Album”. It was called uncompromising, allusive, audacious, lazy, deliberately fragmented, indecisively sequenced (why would you start an album with the wistful ballad “Over And Over” followed by a punk-country hoedown like “The Ledge”?), over-baked, under-cooked, a post-fame comedown, sprawling and ambitious. And it’s pretty much all of these things. While it still contained some Stevie Nicks mooncalf songs and some wistful, down-home Christine McVie ballads, it was certainly several leagues away from the generic coke spoons and crushed-velvet formula they had developed over the precious five years. In Tusk‘s big box of chocolates innate languor sits next to frenetic intensity, making it difficult to digest all at once.
One of the critics who did respond well to Tusk was the NME‘s Nick Kent, who at the time was one of the most influential music writers in the world: “Ultimately it’s time to stop bracketing Fleetwood Mac alongside Foreigner, Boston, Linda Ronstadt, The Eagles, etc, in the same way that reactionaries bracket together The Clash, Human League, pragVEC, The Slits and Elvis Costello… If you reckon you’re too hip for Tusk, then you’re simply too hip.
“As important as Buckingham’s compositions are to Tusk, his production work helps to maintain an ever-effective Spartan feel – only the essentials, with the odd embellishment carefully etched in for maximum impact – while hi guitar-playing continually impresses by dint of its virtuosity without ever being too flashy.
“This feel is of paramount important, particularly when faced with Nicks’ songs,” Kent continues. “If Patti Smith didn’t so desperately want to be a man and had a real comprehension of what makes for good musical structure, then she might well be Stevie Nicks. More to the point, even when her songs are obviously well constructed and lyrically intriguing, one continually gets this distinct image of Nicks as a young woman who played Ophelia at some high-school production of Hamlet and never quite recovered by the experience.”
When the album was launched, the band embarked on an eight-month trek across the UK, a champagne-and-cocaine odyssey that would become one of the most celebrated and debauched tours in rock’n’roll history. In every city, grand pianos would be installed in hotel suites, winched through the window. Stevie Nicks would order her hotel rooms to be painted pink before her arrival. Each member had a black-belt karate bodyguard, their own make-up artist and their own masseur. On the Rumours tour, when the lights were dimmed between each song, a roadie would walk on stage like a butler, holding a tray of bottle caps filled with cocaine for each member of the band; on the Tusk tour there were two black tents on either side of the stage, one for Stevie Nicks’ seemingly exponential wardrobe changes and one for the band to take cocaine. Before a gig, 14 limousines would meet their private plane at the airport. “It was like a funeral,” says Fleetwood.
Christine McVie says she used to go on stage and drunk a bottle of Dom Perignon and then drink another one off stage afterwards. “It’s not the kind of party I’d like to go to now. There was a lot of booze being drunk and there was blood floating around in the alcohol, which doesn’t make for a stable environment.” Courtney Love, of all people, thinks the tour may have been one of the most excessive of all time. “I think the interesting thing to a lot of people is that there’s never been a period in rock as debauched as the period after Rumours,” she says. “Nobody’s touched it.”
The band also started spending some of the vast amounts of money they were earning – buying houses, cars, estates and planes. “The Eagles had it down,” says Nicks. “They had the Learjets and the presidential suites long before we did and so I learnt from the best. And once you learn to live like that there’s no going back. It’s like, ‘Get me a Learjet. I need to go to LA. I don’t care if it costs me $15,000. I need to go now.'”
Fleetwood Mac would soon calm down, sober up, and start making the kind of FM-friendly “Fleetwood Mac-sounding music” that would propel them to even greater heights, causing them to become one of the greatest live attractions of the last 25 years. For years, though,Tusk remained a grand folly in the eyes of consumers and critics alike. Unlike Rumours, whose songs were rarely off the radio, Tusk’s attraction was its apparent failure; it appeared as a stumbling block on the band’s narrative arc. Slowly, though, critics started to reference it, as did a new generation of performers who weren’t around when Tusk first came out and didn’t know or care about its diminished position in the pantheon of Fleetwood Mac. Tusk‘s appeal has grown by accretion.
“Tusk was my first extended experience with Fleetwood Mac,” says Echosmith’s Noah Sierota. “I randomly found the double vinyl album at a garage sale when I was a preteen and bought it because the name was familiar and the cover intrigued me. I knew some of the more popular songs, but Tusk was the first I had listened to completely. This record really captures the three different singers in what seems to me a very transitional phase. But the consistent musicianship keeps the album together as one cohesive piece, yet still explores several new additions ad sounds to the music.”
“I love Tusk, as it’s an absolute classic,” says 23-year-old singer-songwriter Gabrielle Aplin. “I think the fact that people of my generation and younger are still loving Fleetwood Mac is testament to the quality of their songs, as they’ve really stood the test of time.”
“It’s your classic ego album,” says Adam Anderson of Hurts. “It’s an album made by a band for the pleasure of themselves and other musicians, sandwiched between two album made for the masses. But retrospectively that’s what makes it cool. It still sounds unique. Fleetwood Mac, for me, is about pure songwriting genius, with three of the greatest songwriters of all time in one band.”
One of the reasons Tusk was a commercial failure (relatively speaking) was because of the appalling way in which it was sequenced, with ballads followed by barn-dance punk with a perverse lack of sensitivity. Back in 1979, the order of songs on a record was paramount, as that was the only way they were listened to. if Lindsey Buckingham had copied GQ’s Spotify version of Tusk, we guarantee it would have been a lot more successful. Promise. So when you’ve finally finished with the Weeknd album, give this a whirl.
Tusk, The GQ Remix
I Know I’m Not Wrong
Walk A Thin Line
Never Make Me Cry
Over And Over
Save Me A Place
What Makes You Think You’re The One
That’s Enough For Me
Sisters Of The Moon
That’s All For Everyone
Not That Funny
Three years ago the Starbucks/Concord label Hear Music celebrated the band’s legacy with a tribute album of covers, Just Tell Me That You Want Me, featuring Best Coast, MGMT, The New Pornographers, Lykke Li, Tame Impala, Washed Out, The Kills and more. Remarkably, six of the songs, including Tame Impala’s “That’s All For Everyone”, were from Tusk. In 2002 the Californian band Camper Van Beethoven even covered the entire Tusk album. The album has influenced chillwave and freak folk and has found fans in The trokes, Air, Vetiver and Mumford & Songs. And as Dorian Lynskey has already noted, their audiophile fanaticism was a touchstone for Daft Punk’sRandom Access Memories.
In 1979, though, this was all in the future.
The day of Tusk‘s release, 10 October, was designated Fleetwood Mac Day by Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley. The public’s expectations, as well as those of the record-label executives, were almost vertical, and by the time the band’s magnum opus was ready, the consensus seemed to be that Tusk was going to single-handedly rescue the record business.
Obviously it didn’t.
“Oddly enough, no one in the band really made a judgement about it until it became apparent that it wasn’t going to sell 16 million copies,” says Buckingham. “It was a double album and certainly confounded everyone’s expectations – which is what it was meant to do. Once it became apparent that it wasn’t going to be a massive commercial success, then the band members… Mick would say to me, “Well, we went too far. You blew it.’ And it was very hurtful. We were out on the road and I’m going, ‘Oh my God, how am I gonna react to this?”
By April 1980 the awful truth finally dawned. Tusk was a comparative failure. After all, it had only sold four million copies.
Over time, however, Tusk would slowly become recorded as one of the most intriguing albums to emerge from the post-punk period; it is certainly the most intriguing album Fleetwood Mac ever made. It will never have the sheen of Rumours, but as Rolling Stone said at the time, “Tusk finds Fleetwood Mac slightly tipsy from jet lag and fine wine, teetering about in the late-afternoon sun and making exquisite small talk. Surely, they must all be aware of the evanescence of the golden moment that this album has captured so majestically.”
They surely are, as, increasingly, are the rest of us.
So: Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood were at the Broadway premiere of “School of Rock” Sunday night. Why? In the movie, Stevie’s “Edge of Seventeen” is cited and sung. In the musical, too. Big discussion of Stevie and Fleetwood Mac in the show, which got a lot of laughs from people in the audience who knew they were in attendance.
Backstage, Stevie told me the first time she knew “Edge of Seventeen” was in the movie, she was at home by herself with Sulamith, her hairless Chinese Crested, and watching TV. “I couldn’t believe it,” she said, “and I had no one to share it with but her.”
Stevie told me that Fleetwood Mac’s long world tour is finally over. Now they will undertake a new album. Not just the four songs they released for download in 2014. “A whole album, we have plenty of songs,” she advised. This will be most welcome. Their last album came out in 2003, before I was born.
I also met the great Mick Fleetwood for the first time ever. He is very tall and extremely nice, with long gray hair tied into a pony tail and a matching beard. We talked about the pre-Lindsey Buckingham-Stevie Nicks pairing coming to the Mac in 1977 for the self titled album that launched a mega career for the group (and went on Rumours, Tusk, and everything since then). Do you go back as far as [original member] Peter Green, Mick asked? I do, I told him, and we talked about “Bare Trees,” “Heroes are Hard to Find,” and “Hypnotized.” Mick was surprised that I knew Peter Green wrote Santana’s hit “Black Magic Woman.”
Sting, who’d really never met Fleetwood, said he went back to the Mac 1968 hit “Man of the World.” Fleetwood was impressed. I think he was impressed we knew that Fleetwood Mac started out a blues band.
Also PS I did ask Stevie why the original Buckingham Nicks album has never been on CD. It remains one of the few oddities of the rock era still only on vinyl somewhere (like my record bin). Mick chimed in “It got them the gig.” That was FORTY years ago. Well? “The real answer is, I don’t know,” said Stevie.
On Sunday, Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood turned up at the Broadway premiere of School of Rock, a new musical based on the 2003 film, which starred Jack Black and Joan Cusack. Mick’s twin daughters Ruby and Tessa also attended the show, which is currently playing at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York. While on the star-studded red carpet, Stevie and Mick spoke to the press, such as ET (Entertainment Tonight).
Stevie and Mick were spotted later at the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Squares, attending the School of Rock after party.
A huge fan of Broadway musicals, Stevie showed up again on the following night to watch another performance of School of Rock. And just two nights earlier, Stevie and Mick watched an evening performance of Wicked.
Photos by Jenny Anderson, Broadway World, Bruce Glikas, Elizabeth Helke, Cooper Lawrence, and @SoRmusical
In the original film, Stevie’s 1981 hit “Edge of Seventeen” played an integral role to the plot. During the bar scene, substitute teacher Dewey Finn (Jack Black) plays one of Principal Rosaline Mullins’ (Joan Cusack) favorite songs (“Edge of Seventeen”) in an attempt to persuade the uptight principal to let him take their elementary school students to a concert. Tipsy from her beer, Principal Mullins starts to dance and sing aloud to the song.
Celebrity Sightings, reported by Jaime Rabb, OK! On Sunday, December 6, Fleetwood Mac icons Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood visited Hard Rock Cafe New York in Times Square as part of the after party to celebrate the Broadway premiere of School of Rock.
Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, and Mick Fleetwood discuss the songs from Tusk in liner notes of the new Deluxe and Expanded editions of Fleetwood Mac‘s 1979 album Tusk. While fans have long speculated about the meaning of the songs, namely ones penned by Stevie Nicks, the band has finally come clean about how their compositions came to be. Read on.
1. Over & Over
The opening track, the first of Christine’s six songs on the album, is played remarkably slow — a ballad with a backbeat.
Lindsey: “By the time we got to this we knew we had [an album] that was not by the book. When it came to the sequencing we felt this song had a certain familiarity to it, something that people were going to be able to latch onto on one level and yet set them up for some of the other, more untraditional things. Where this got untraditional was leaving it in a fairly raw state, not too glossy in the production.”
2. The Ledge
Lindsey kicks off his contributions with the least Rumours-like song of the lot. Many of the vocals were recorded while kneeling or lying on the floor.
Lindsey: “About as far from “Over & Over” as it’s possible to go. I was trying to find things that were off the radar. I took a guitar and turned it way down, in the range of the higher notes of a bass, not like a baritone guitar, where it’s correct, but where it’s actually a little incorrect — the strings are flopping around and sharping when you hit them. I wrote a little figure with that, threw some teenage influences at it with the drums. It becomes a bit surreal — you throw a bunch of vocals on top that are communal, messy, a little bit punky even.
I don’t think there’s anyone else on there but me. There were times when the band would augment, and there were times when, even if I took a song in with the intention of having them play, it wouldn’t necessarily stick. On this, that one guitar was covering everything. It was a concept piece on that level. There was nothing for John and Christine to do.
Lyrically, I didn’t really have anything to say other than what I could put together that sounded musical. There was probably something subconscious about the lyrics. You could say that about Rumours too. I don’t think anyone in the band was in touch with the fact that we might have been writing dialogues with each other. It took the audience to help define that for us. That probably holds true for songs on Tusk too.”
3. Think About Me
This steady boogie by Christine was a Top 20 hit in the U.S. when released as a single in a punchy, remixed version.
4. Save Me a Place
In complete contrast to “The Ledge,” this Lindsey’s tenderest song on the album, and one of his tenderest ever.
Lindsey: “Stevie and I had compartmentalized our emotions in order to [get through Rumours], lived in denial. Same with Christine and John. None of us had the luxury of distance to get closure. You get to Tusk and there’s a real aggressive attitude in a lot of the songs from me. But “Save Me a Place” is one where, late at night, you reflect on the vulnerability underneath that. It’s about a feeling that’s been laid off to one side and maybe not been fully dealt with, sadness and a sense of loss. There’s also a sense of loss for my youth and my upbringing, memories of that, which I loved so much, and how I saw that receding away.”
ABOUT: Mick Fleetwood, Don Henley, J.D. Souther, Sara Fleetwood, and other things
Stevie’s first song on the album began as a 16-minute home demo, condensed into a nine-minute studio version, further trimmed to a six-and-a-half minute album track and, later, a four-minute single edit, which was a Top 10 U.S. hit and the version used on subsequent CD editions of the album. [Editor’s note: A different edit of “Sara,” not the official single edit, was actually used for the first CD pressing of Tusk.] The nine-minute first take, mixed down for listening purposes but not intended for release, is sometimes referred to as the “cleaning lady version,” after the dialogue at the start. It is among the bonus material in this edition.
Lindsey: “Some of Stevie’s songs were hard to rein in. If you’re very lyric driven and not overly worried about time and structure, if it’s more freeform, which a lot of Stevie’s things can be, six or more minutes is not hard to get to. The nine-minute version of this was something we cut but probably never intended it to go out at that length.
I wasn’t delving into Stevie’s private life at the time, so I was never told what it was actually about. I always assumed it was addressed to her friend, who was Mick’s wife at the time.”
Stevie: “It was a 16-minute demo. My friend Sara was there when I wrote it. She kept the coffee going and kept the cassettes coming and made sure we didn’t run out of batteries, and it was a long, long night recording that demo. She was a great songwriter helper. Sara was the poet in my heart. She likes to think it was all written about her, but it really wasn’t. She’s in there, for sure, but it’s written about a lot of other things, too. Mick was the “great dark wing within the wings of a storm,” but when I was going with Mick I was hanging out with J.D. Souther and he kept saying, ‘You do know this relationship with Mick is never going to work, don’t you?’ And I said, ‘Well, when I get out of it, I’ll let you know.” And so there’s bits and pieces of him there talking to me.
I played it for J.D. and Don Henley and the both said, ‘You know what, it’s almost not too long. It’s good in its full 16 minuteness — it’s got all these great verses and it just kinda travels through the world of your relationships.’ They were really complimentary to me and these are two great songwriters. I knew I had to edit it down, but I found it hard to get below seven minutes. As simple and pretty as the song was, it turned into a magical, rhythmic, tribal thing with all those ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs.” It’s a fun song to sing.”
6. What Makes You Think You’re the One
This spirited Lindsey song is notable for the loud, enthusiastic drum track, which Mick made the most of when performed live.
Lindsey: “We cut this with just me on piano and Micks on drums, on opposite sides of the room. Aside from setting up the normal mics, we set up a cassette player, a boombox, in front of the drums and ran it into the desk. The mics in those devices have capacitors in them that act as really low-quality limiters, so you got this squash that’s really explosive, a real garage, trashy sound that you could only get that way. A good-quality limiter couldn’t replicate it. As soon as Mick heard that sound in his headphones he was, ‘Oh my god, I love this.’ It turned him into an animal. There’s not much else on there. I did some bass and guitar, but the center of that song is Mick’s drum work, one of my favorite drum performances by him. We talk about it to this day.”
About: Mick Fleetwood
A perfect example of the tastefulness and delicacy of Fleetwood Mac’s playing: everybody contributes just enough to one of Stevie’s most finely poised compositions.
Lindsey: “This album is a study in contrasts. It’s a very different mood from the previous song and a very strong song in terms of its form. It has its own folky, country thing going on. The recording speaks of it being cut fairly live. I love this song.”
Stevie: “Another tragedy. It has so many layers of telling the world what was happening to me without actually saying what was happening! It was really about Mick. That’s Stevie not happy with the way that relationship ended. That relationship destroyed Mick’s marriage to Jenny, who was the sweetest person in the world. So did we really think that we were going to come out of it unscathed? So then what happened to me, my best friend falling in love with him and moving into his house and neither of them telling me? It could not have been worse. Payback is a bitch. Bad karma all around. Here’s that song in a nutshell: Don’t break up other people’s marriages. It will never work and will haunt you for the rest of your miserable days.”
8. That’s All for Everyone
Echos of the Beach Boys with layered harmonies and a tempo like waves lapping the shoreline.
Lindsey: “This was influenced by Brian Wilson. What I love about him is not just his music but his choices. He gave me the courage to flout success, showed me that what you need to do as an artist is take risks and find new avenues.
It’s a wisp of a meaning at best, more of an atmosphere piece. I had the idea of being at a function with these people and having to go home, but on a less literal level I think it may also have been about deprogramming from the formulas you need to follow to buy what the corporate world is trying to sell you.”
9. Not That Funny
Lindsey’s sarcastic rocking with a distinctive, plangent guitar sound was extended into an eight-minute tour de force at subsequent live shows. A slightly remixed version was issued as a single in the U.K. but didn’t chart.
Lindsey: “This was directed at Stevie a little bit. There’s something we are still having to deal with as a band: ‘What’s important here? People thinking you’re cool or thinking you’re cool yourself?’ It’s more how you feel about yourself, isn’t it? This is a classic pitfall of the entertainment industry. It draws people to it who are looking for a Band-Aid to fix things that have happened in their lives. The celebrity culture we live in is a very Roman manifestation of something gone a little wrong with the value system. It doesn’t speak of substance; it only speaks of visibility. It’s about not buying into other people’s idea of you — that’s the important thing.
The guitar sound is just a Stratocaster; but I love using the VSO (Variable Sound Oscillation, or Varispeed, allows you to incrementally speed up or slow down a taper recorder). I just slow the machine down, come up with a picking part like that, double or triple it and tweak the VSO on either side so that it’s slightly out of tune, and the whole thing comes out with all this phasing.”
10. Sisters of the Moon
About: A bad mood
A lyrically enigmatic Stevie contribution, with a guitar solo by Lindsey that’s reminiscent of “The Chain,” this was a surprise addition to the set on the band’s spectacularly successful 2014/15 reunion tour.
Stevie: “I honestly don’t know what the hell this song is about. I’ve been singing it on tour for the last two and a half years, and every time I’m thinking, What the hell is that? I think it was me putting up an alter ego or something, the dark lady in the corner, and there’s a Gemini twin thing. It wasn’t a love song; it wasn’t written about a man, or anything precious. It was just about a feeling I might have had over a couple days, going inward in my gnarly trollness. Makes no sense. Perfect for this record!”
About: Mike Fleetwood
In a contemporary documentary, Stevie noted that this upbeat rock ‘n’ roll song somehow ended up with an eerie undertone.
Stevie: “A song about Mick. Not so much my love affair with him. I was always taken with his style, and in those days he would walk in the room and I would just look up. ‘I still look up when you walk in the room… I try not to reach out.’ It’s all about him and his crazy fob watch and his really beautiful clothes. He’s a very stylish individual and I was just this little California girl who’d never really known anybody like him.”
12. That’s Enough for Me
Lindsey’s breakneck rocker with country roots. Amazingly, the band sometimes played it even faster live. The song was initially known as “Out on the Road” — that title is visible in the handwriting incorporated into the inner-sleeves collages.
Lindsey: “Rockabilly on acid. An attempt to do something quite surreal, grounded in something recognizable. I was tapping into a general set of reference points on this album. But I never thought of it in terms of nostalgia. It was anti-nostalgia, if you will.”
13. Brown Eyes
Fleetwood Mac’s founder, Peter Green, makes an uncredited appearance on this song by Christine. His solo is just discernible on the fade out here but can be hear in its entirety on The Alternate Tusk.
Lindsey: I don’t remember Peter Green coming in, so I don’t think I made any judgement on whether to use it or not. Mick would ultimately have had the decision to use his playing or not. And it was Christine’s song to do with as she wished.
Mick: Peter was living in L.A. then and hanging out at my house a lot. He was still as he is now, changed, but he used to pop into the studio occasionally. I don’t know if he was that interested or not, but he did play on this song, which I love. Classic, slinky, killer stuff from Chris. The band’s playing really shines. I can’t recall why we only used Peter at the very end, but it’s great that he’s on here, because it’s Peter and it’s his band.
14. Never Make Me Cry
Short and sweet. A classic Christine McVie ballad.
Lindsey: “I think the others wanted to counter some of the my more manic moments with something a little more downbeat, so this is the kind of thing we ended up doing. This would have worked too with more of a beat, but I assume Christine saw it as a ‘Warm Ways’ kind of ballad.”
15. I Know I’m Not Wrong
The first and last song worked on in Studio D, it went through several iterations during the band’s year in the studio, as indicated by the density of the arrangement.
Lindsey: “This is a close relative to ‘Not That Funny’ and they share a lyric. ‘Here comes the night time/Looking for a little more.’ It’s a little joke — can you find the thread here? Like a repeating theme in a novel.”
16. Honey Hi
A Christine song with a markedly subdued arrangement, designed to never quite lift off. Its close cousin, “Never Forget,” brackets the mostly mellow fourth side of the vinyl album.
17. Beautiful Child
About: Derek Taylor
“This is one of my very favourite ballads. It’s so from the heart. It was written about an English man (Late Beatles road manager Derek Taylor) I was crazy about who was quite a bit older than me — another one of my doomed relationships. He used to read poetry out loud to me in his beautiful English voice, and I would sit at his feet, just mesmerized, and he would say, ‘You are a beautiful child,’ and I’d say, ‘I’m not a child anymore.’ He was married, so we stopped, because it was going to hurt a lot of people. The song is like a straight retelling of the last night of that relationship. Every time I sing it I’m transported back to the Beverly Hills Hotel and walking across the grounds to get a cab after saying goodbye.”
Lindsey’s experiment in embellishing a stately melody with multitracked drums.
Lindsey: “This was sparked by a Charlie Watts drum fill in ‘Sway’ on Stick Fingers. There are a couple of times where he does a kind of military press-roll across the beat, and I was in love with that moment. When I thought about the tempo of the song I was reminded of ‘Sway’ and that fill. It was a spirited idea that fit the song.”
This is the first music from the album that the world heard when it was released as a single. It became a Top 10 hit in the U.S. and U.K., and versions of the main guitar and drum riff appear on soundcheck tapes—labeled simply “Stage riff”—from as far back as 1975.
Mick: “My dad had just passed away and I went to see my mum, who lived in the south of France, and it was all pretty crazy. The first night I was drinking like a fish and I got woken in the morning, with an outrageous hangover, by the local brass band playing outside my window—a thing they do every weekend in a lot of places in Europe. It was like the pied piper: the whole village, old fisherman, kids, people in wheelchairs, all following this band, going ‘round and ‘round the village. Just as I thought I’d get back to sleep, the band would march past again. In the end I thought, Fuck it, I’ll keep on drinking. So I sat on the veranda with my brandy at 8 o’clock in the morning and started to think, What a cool thing, involving everyone in the village, bringing people together, a celebration. That’s what we should do on that track. Who might be the best brass band in L.A.? The USC marching band was touted, and I sold the idea to the band. John was uncontactable, off sailing somewhere, when we got the chance to record and film the band, so we took a cardboard cutout of him to Dodger Stadium to be in the video.”
Lindsey: “On some level this song was the embodiment of the spirit of the album. Riffs were a big thing for me, and Mick was always one to pick up on the potential of that. Christine helped me on this with some chords. The drum track is a loop. We found a 15-second section we liked and made a circular loop of two-inch tape that went across the room. We let it run for ten minutes and put the song over it. It was Mick’s idea to include the marching band. It was a great thing for USC. Not a particularly hummable song in the normal sense, but it functioned as a commercial piece, and it’s a killer moment in the live show.
I can’t say that I remember a strategy for it appearing at this point on the album. But because it stood alone, in terms of how it was done and with the marching band, if you were to stick it in too early it might blow too many cookies too soon. It feels like a capper of sorts.”
20. Never Forget
After the crazy parade of the title track, this mellow coda by Christine functions like a wave goodbye, possibly chosen to close the record for its repeated sentiment: “We will never forget tonight.”
Fleetwood Mac could have followed Rumours with more of the same — but they made this visionary masterpiece instead.
Evidence exists proving Fleetwood Mac could have followed-up Rumours with something similar had the spirit moved them, instead of the alienating departure of the double album called Tusk that they did make as the follow-up to one of the most universally appealing albums ever.
When singer-guitarist-producer Lindsey Buckingham wasn’t making like a lo-fi indie rocker from the future playing in Brian Wilson’s sandbox on Tusk, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie were singing songs that sounded like the Fleetwood Mac the world knew and loved — songs like “Sara,” “Think About Me,” “Over and Over,” “Sisters of the Moon,” “Never Forget” and “Angel.”
There’s further evidence sprinkled among the many demos and alternate takes featured on an expansive new Tusk box set Rhino Records just released, and unreleased Tusk-era tracks out there in the digital ether like Nicks’s “The Dealer,” which she re-recorded for her 2014 solo album “24 Karat Gold: Songs From the Vault.” “That’s Alright,” a beautiful country shuffle dating back to the Buckingham-Nicks days that ended up on 1982’s “Mirage” could have been folded neatly into this batch of songs. Mix those tunes in with some of the least-threatening Lindsey stuff from “Tusk,” like “Save Me a Place,” “I Know I’m Not Wrong” and “That’s Enough for Me” and you’ve got yourself a follow-up that doesn’t stray too far from the Rumours formula — one that could be squeezed onto two sides of vinyl as opposed to four by tightening up the fade-outs on a few tunes. Think something along these lines:
I Know I’m Not Wrong
Think About Me
Save Me a Place
Sisters of the Moon
Over and Over
That’s Enough For Me
This Rumours II scenario seems commercial enough, with a pretty equitable balance of Stevie’s mystique, Christine’s hopefulness and Lindsey’s intensity. All the familiar pieces are in place: the songs contain the requisite three-part harmonies, plenty of Lindsey’s sick fingerpicking and those hypnotic grooves from Mick Fleetwood and John McVie. And you know co-producers/co-engineers Richard Dashut and Ken Caillat could have dialed in that warm sonic glow they achieved on Rumours.
But there’s a significant void. The emotional lightning of two in-house romances simultaneously crumbling, which sparked the fire in Rumours songs like “Dreams,” “Go Your Own Way,” “The Chain,” “Never Going Back Again” and “Gold Dust Woman,” couldn’t strike twice. An attempt to repeat the Rumours formula without that kind of fire down below would’ve resulted in a hollow imitation. Maybe they sell an extra million or two records in the short term by making the follow-up a single, safer kind of album. Ultimately it would’ve rendered Fleetwood Mac just another big ’70s rock commodity that liked to stick to the script, like the Eagles, Peter Frampton or Boston.
So rather than following the path of least resistance, Fleetwood Mac took the most radical left turn a huge band has ever taken at the peak of its commercial and artistic powers. With Lindsey Buckingham hogging the ball, they spent $1.4 million in 1978-79 dollars making the most punk rock soft rock album ever in Tusk. Next to making Rumours (and also the band hiring Lindsey and Stevie after Bob Welch left), letting Buckingham take the lead on Tusk was the best career move Fleetwood Mac ever made, though it would take years for its impact to be measured accurately.
Once people started recognizing Tusk as the enduring masterpiece that it is, it began to serve as a gateway for evaluating Fleetwood Mac from another perspective. It proved there was more to Fleetwood Mac than just Rumours and a bunch of other classic rock radio staples; that they weren’t just a pretty cool band you could share with your mom and dad or older brother or sister. Tusk showed Fleetwood Mac were also a risk-taking bunch, artists of great depth and integrity. A younger generation of cutting edge artists including Peter Buck, Trent Reznor, Stephin Merritt of Magnetic Fields, Joanna Newsom and Kurt Vile, to name just a handful, have championed the album over the years — Buckingham’s work on it in particular. Other musicians have taken things a step further, by forming groups to cover “Tusk” (and other Mac tunes) live. Mick Fleetwood, in his 1990 autobiography, basically said Fleetwood Mac needed to make Tusk if they had any hopes of continuing: “It’s a great album and probably the only reason Fleetwood Mac is still together today … it released a lot of creative frustrations.”
That was not a widely held view when Tusk was released in October 1979. To the millions of jilted fans — along with Warner Bros. Records executives and some members of the band — that didn’t hear anything as immediately satisfying as “Dreams” or “Go Your Own Way” among Tusk’s 20 songs, it seemed as if Buckingham had steered this very expensive, high-performing vehicle into a ditch. But time has shown Buckingham steered the band exactly where it needed to go if it hoped to remain relevant in the long term, steering them away from that ’70s FM rock comfort zone into a passing lane where new influences like the Talking Heads and the Clash informed his Elvis/Beach Boys/Everlys roots. As a songwriter, he found a link between David Byrne and Buddy Holly and milked it to manic effect on songs like “Not That Funny” and “The Ledge.” As a producer, he stripped away familiar elements from songs, favoring raw process over the perfection of “Rumours.”
Christine’s spare and heartbreaking “Never Make Me Cry” features the solitary strum of reverb-y electric guitar; it’s not dressed up with a stately grand piano tracked in a concert hall a la “Songbird.” The longing in Stevie’s “Storms” is anchored by the muted pulse of a kick drum, electric piano and a delicate weave of electric guitars — no traces of dainty “Landslide”-isms here. Lindsey’s own “That’s Enough For Me” plays like “Second Hand News” at warp speed and feels like a purely solo exercise — just Lindsey’s double-tracked vocal, a few tracks of frantic guitar picking and a stomping drum track. It’s telling to note the subtle changes from the demos of these songs featured on the new box set to the finished versions: The shifts aren’t drastic but they’re crucial, as if Buckingham is trying to scrub away any scent of Rumours. With a heavier hand on the drums and acoustic guitar up in the mix in one demo version of “Storms,” it feels like the band is trying to figure out how to make the song sound like Fleetwood Mac. In a demo version of “Never Make Me Cry,” Christine’s on piano and trying to sell the vocal just a little bit harder. It’s beautiful — it’s Christine Fucking McVie singing, how on earth can it not be beautiful? — but it’s a shade too familiar. The demo of “That’s Enough For Me” (titled “Out on the Road”) is fleshed out with a harmony vocal from Stevie and piano — definitely been there, done that territory.
This was a band that had to re-invent itself to varying degrees several times due to membership changes. Here they did it again, but for different reasons. In many ways, Fleetwood Mac had become the embodiment of ’70s rock (still are, really) and it’s as if Lindsey’s did all he could to drag the band into the ’80s ahead of schedule. A lot of people just weren’t ready for it. Opening the album with Christine’s dreamy “Over and Over” drifting into Lindsey’s harsh two-step “The Ledge” certainly was not a segue that went down easy, like “Second Hand News” into “Dreams.” Those pristine snare drum sounds that felt like liquid gold flowing from stereo speakers being replaced on some songs by what sounded like a sack of loose change hitting a phone book and Lindsey playing a box of reel-to-reel tape with his hands surely gave radio programmers pause. And can we be certain that Mick Fleetwood is, in fact, playing the same song as the rest of the band (i.e. Buckingham playing everything) on “What Makes You Think You’re the One”?
If there’s one song that best represents the departure and experimentation at the core of Tusk, it’s the title track. Thirty-six years after its release, it can still prompt the listener to wonder what the fuck it was they just heard as Buckingham’s symphony of marching band brass and woodwinds, jungle-drum rhythms, grunting, chanting, barking vocals and gnarly guitars fades to black after a chaotic three minutes and thirty-seven seconds. Where the Eagles teased their big follow-up to “Hotel California,” “The Long Run,” with the yacht R & B of “Heartache Tonight” in September 1979, Fleetwood Mac introduced its big follow-up that very same month with what is perhaps the strangest song to ever reach the Top 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart. In a year where disco and Styx and the Knack and “The Pina Colada Song” were all over the radio, “Tusk” reached number 8. That’s how hungry people were for new Fleetwood Mac music.
Fleetwood Mac eventually got around to making Rumours II, in a sense. In the wake of Tusk’s relative commercial flameout (selling “only” four million copies domestically, to Rumours’ 20 million) the follow-up Mirage felt like a calculated return to the comforting creative bosom of Rumours. The album’s 12 songs are pleasing enough (with a few Mac classics like “Hold Me,” “Gypsy” and “Oh Diane” highlighting the collection) but on the whole it feels more deliberately cohesive than it does inspired. It’s the anti-Tusk. And time has shown the anti-Rumours to have left a much greater impact on the band’s legacy.
Patrick Berkery / Salon / Friday, December 4, 2015
Patrick Berkery is a Philadelphia-based drummer and writer who has recorded and toured with the War on Drugs, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Pernice Brothers, Danielson, and Wesley Stace. He is also a regular contributor to Modern Drummer magazine. Twitter: @patrickdberkery
Had Fleetwood Mac played it safe after Rumours, they probably could have made another gajillion-selling album. Instead, they handed the reins to singer and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and allowed him to steer the follow-up to one of the 20th century’s biggest LPs to wherever he wanted (with a few detours along the way).
The result was 1979’s double-LP Tusk, a much-delayed, over-budget and sprawling masterwork that often played out like Fleetwood Mac’s version of the Beatles’ White Album: three distinct singer-songwriters hashing out their solo compositions while the rest of the group played backing band. And it was, if you believed what you read at the time, a total bomb.
But 36 years later, Tusk stands as one of rock’s most underrated and rewarding albums, a complex and layer-revealing work that offers new perspectives and treasures with each listen. A new five-disc Deluxe Edition doesn’t so much give fresh insight to the record as it provides a behind-the-scenes peek at its formation and development, as well as the occasional struggles the band endured during its long and difficult birth.
The original two-LP set is expanded with discs of single remixes, outtakes, session leftovers, live cuts from the 1979-80 tour in support of the album and the entire record made up of mostly previously unreleased versions of the 20 songs. It’s as often fascinating as it is repetitive: Even for an album built on textures and detailed studio assembling, multiple takes on the title track and “I Know I’m Not Wrong” begin to get tedious after the fourth pass.
Still, alternate versions of “Over & Over” (the ambiance-soaked Christine McVie ballad that opens the album), “The Ledge,” “That’s All for Everyone” and “Brown Eyes” (with early member Peter Green prominently sitting in) show just how meticulous the recordings were … and just how much the band was slowly unraveling. Buckingham is clearly in control here, injecting flashes of weirdness and brilliance into the project. Stevie Nicks‘ contributions tend to be the least affected by his mad-scientist tinkering, but even they go deeper than Rumours‘ most intricate tracks.
Tusk: Deluxe Edition doesn’t show us much in the way of how skeletal demos evolved into multi-layered art pieces, though — it’s not that kind of box. If anything, it leads us to believe that most of these songs were fully structured by the time Fleetwood Mac began recording. And radio mixes of “Think About Me” and “Not That Funny” prove that even after the LP’s release, some cuts took on even newer forms.
It’s a lot to get through — more than 80 songs in all — and parts of it seem like padding (the live tracks, mostly from 1975’s self-titled album, Rumours and Tusk, sound diluted without their studio adornments). But the original album is worth diving into again, if only to revisit one of the era’s most undervalued works, a bold record made by a superstar band willing to risk its place at the top for its art.