‘Silver Springs’: Inside Fleetwood Mac’s Great Lost Breakup Anthem
As classic live album The Dance turns 20, we look back at Stevie Nicks’ tortured torch song – and how it almost broke up the band
By 1997, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham’s romance should have been ancient history. The pair had split two decades prior, fueling Rumours‘ famously raw breakup anthems. But during a taping of a Fleetwood Mac reunion show later released as The Dance, shit once again got very real. Midway through a non-album rarity called “Silver Springs,” Nicks turned and faced her former flame as she sang the song’s rueful bridge: “Time cast a spell on you, but you won’t forget me/I know I could have loved you but you would not let me.” The pair locked eyes, and Nicks gradually built to a cathartic howl – “I’ll follow you down ’til the sound of my voice will haunt you/You’ll never get away from the sound of the woman that loves you” – indicating that, for her at least, resolution had never really come.
Suddenly, “Silver Springs,” a song written for Rumours but left off the finished album and relegated to B-side status, seemed like the key to the entire messy and enthralling saga of Fleetwood Mac’s most beloved lineup. Even back in ’77, amid iconic tracks like “Go Your Own Way” and “Dreams,” Nicks’ tender yet vengeful post-mortem on her breakup with Buckingham had become an emotional lightning rod. The song would have behind-the-scenes repercussions for decades to come – nearly leading to the breakup of the band. “Silver Springs” would also become a treasured touchstone for Nicks acolytes ranging from Courtney Love, who has passionately covered it, to Lorde, who cited it as an influence on her Melodrama LP.
Fleetwood Mac’s own melodrama was brewing well before Nicks penned “Silver Springs.” She and Buckingham met as teenagers at a religious-group gathering; after high school, they became romantic and musical partners, eventually teaming up in the duo Buckingham Nicks. In December 1974, Mick Fleetwood called up Buckingham to join the already-established Fleetwood Mac. The guitarist insisted that he and Nicks were a package deal, and both would join and appear on the band’s self-titled 1975 album – their first international smash and U.S. Number One.
As they worked on a follow-up, which would become Rumours, Buckingham and Nicks’ relationship, as well as the marriage of bandmates Christine and John McVie, began to implode. Nicks officially ended things, but neither were taking it well.
“[Stevie] was going through a bit of a hard time too because she was the one who axed it,” Christine McVie, who had become Nicks’ close friend and confidant during this time, said in Bob Brunning’s Fleetwood Mac: The First 30 Years. “Lindsey was pretty down about it for a while, then he just woke up one morning and said, ‘Fuck this, I don’t want to be unhappy,’ and started getting some girlfriends together. Then Stevie couldn’t handle it … !”
Rumours became a theatrical affair, with the exes addressing one another’s faults, their own pain and a storm of other topics related to their respective heartbreaks. “Silver Springs” was Nicks’ tribute to the fairy-tale ending that never was. The title came from Silver Spring, Maryland: While passing through the town on tour, Nicks romanticized the name. “It sounded like a pretty fabulous place to me,” she said in the Classic Albums documentary about Rumours. “It’s a whole symbolic thing of what [Lindsey] could have been to me.”
As Rumours co-producer Ken Caillat recalls, Fleetwood Mac recorded “Silver Springs” about six months into the process. “Stevie was in love with the song,” he tells Rolling Stone, noting that he views it as one of the best-engineered and best-produced tracks from the sessions, emphasizing the combination of acoustic and electric guitars added by the song’s own subject, Buckingham.
“Lindsey was the guy who laid all of these big colors on the record and so you have to imagine it’s an odd position for him to be in,” Caillat explains. “He’s mad at her, the song’s about them being mad but it’s a good art form. But you can tell by all those parts he did on the guitars and the harmonics and the picking, it’s a piece of art.”
Nicks was proud of “Silver Springs,” and while it was in part a revenge anthem directed at her bandmate/ex, there was someone more important in her life who was meant to benefit from the commercial success she assumed it would gain.
“She decided to give the publishing rights to her mother [Barbara] as kind of a big thanks with a nice royalty check for her mom,” Caillat adds.
The album was nearly finished when Mick Fleetwood pulled Nicks out into the parking lot of the Record Plant, the Sausalito, California, studio where much of the album had been recorded.
“I knew it was really serious ’cause Mick never asks you to go out to the parking lot for anything,” Nicks recalled in a 1991 BBC radio interview. It was there that Fleetwood revealed that “Silver Springs” had been cut from the album for being too long and “a lot of [other] reasons,” according to Nicks. Fleetwood wanted the lighter “I Don’t Want to Know” on the album instead, a track on which she and her ex-boyfriend harmonized about their breakup. She did not approve.
“I started to scream bloody murder and probably said every horribly mean thing that you could possibly say to another human being and walked back in the studio completely flipped out,” she continued.
The producers tried to find a way to keep the song on the album, and offered to cut down its length or trim a different Nicks track, like the seven-minute “Gold Dust Woman.” As Fleetwood had relayed to Nicks during their fateful parking-lot argument, length was a major factor in the song’s displacement, given the limitations of vinyl pressings and her bandmates’ desire for equal representation on the LP. Plus, “Silver Springs” would have made for a third ballad by Nicks on the album, as opposed to the more upbeat “I Don’t Want to Know,” a duet with Buckingham.
“As you can hear, [the album] turned out feeling poppy despite the fact that we had a lot of slow songs in there like ‘Oh Daddy’ and things like that,” Caillat adds. “So we gave her the option that we could cut one of the slow songs down so we could have room for the other ones or we could take one of the other songs off and she said, ‘Let’s do it.’ She wanted to keep all of the other songs more than ‘Silver Springs.'”
According to Nicks, however, she wasn’t so compliant.
“With a gun to my head, I went out and sang ‘I Don’t Want to Know’ and they put ‘Silver Springs’ on the back of ‘Go Your Own Way,'” she told the BBC in ’91.
As Caillat sees it, the placement of “Silver Springs” as a B side on the album’s first single was a peace offering. “Stevie was devastated for a number of reasons,” he explains. “She loved the song, and by it not being on the LP, her mom didn’t make all the extra publishing because the single didn’t sell very much.”
The story of “Silver Springs” appeared to end right there, in Sausalito. The band performed the song live a few times in 1976 and ’77 before moving on from it for the remainder of the Seventies and the entirety of the Eighties. Even so, Nicks devotees still found their way to the tune. Tori Amos’ family lived in Silver Spring, Maryland, during the Seventies, and in the Rumours era, she was cutting her teeth by playing gay bars around nearby Washington, D.C. Nicks had long been one of her biggest influences, but it was a random barfly who put in a request for “Silver Springs” that led to her discovery of the song.
“I heard it and thought it was beautiful,” she tells Rolling Stone. “It just became part of the repertoire for the past 39 years.”
For those not frequenting the bars where Amos kept the song’s spirit alive, the track’s primary exposure was as a B side to “Go Your Own Way” – Buckingham’s own expression of anger and revenge against Nicks, where he claimed that “packin’ up, shackin’ up is all you wanna do.” The song would become one of the band’s biggest hits, charting in the Top 10.
“He knew it wasn’t true. It was just an angry thing that he said,” Nicks told Rolling Stone in 1997 of the “packin’ up, shackin’ up” line. “Every time those words would come onstage, I wanted to go over and kill him. He knew it. He really pushed my buttons through that. It was like, ‘I’ll make you suffer for leaving me.’ And I did.”
Of course, Nicks had the exact same motivation when she wrote “Silver Springs.” In a 1997 interview with Arizona Republic, she explained the song’s message as “I’m so angry with you. You will listen to me on the radio for the rest of your life, and it will bug you. I hope it bugs you.”
After their breakup and massive success with Rumours, Buckingham and Nicks spent a decade continuing to sing to and about each other onstage, even as they appeared to move on with their respective personal lives. They courted different people – Nicks even briefly married – and pursued solo careers alongside their work with the band. But according to Mick Fleetwood’s autobiography Play On, the passion and anger had not entirely died down, and a physical altercation between the former couple during a band meeting in 1987 is what ultimately led to Buckingham’s departure from the group. Both Buckingham and Nicks denied Fleetwood’s claims.
Three years later, the new, Lindsey-less incarnation of Fleetwood Mac released Behind the Mask and went on a world tour. Following the trek, Nicks began plotting a greatest hits compilation titled Timespace – The Best of Stevie Nicks where she hoped to include “Silver Springs” alongside her other Fleetwood Mac contributions and solo hits. But her plan got in the way of Fleetwood’s own desire to include it on a forthcoming box set cataloging the band’s discography. This led to another heated dialogue between the two about “Silver Springs.”
“I told [Fleetwood’s manager] that I want ‘Silver Springs’ because it belongs to my mother,” she told the BBC in 1991. “It didn’t occur to me that they wouldn’t let me have it back. I said to his manager, ‘You find Mick, and you tell him that if I don’t have those tapes by Monday, I am no longer a member of Fleetwood Mac.'”
Fleetwood won, and the song appeared on 25 Years – The Chain. True to her word, Nicks left the band.
By the time of The Dance, both Buckingham and Nicks had seemingly settled into a new era of their lives. Nicks had been sober for a few years, having finally kicked the drug addiction that had plagued her since the Seventies. Buckingham was then dating Kristen Messner, the woman who would give birth to the first of their two children a year later and marry him in 2000. It was an improbable Buckingham Nicks reunion in 1996 for the duet “Twisted” off the Twister soundtrack that would put the Fleetwood Mac reunion in motion. (The tornado metaphor was hopefully not lost on the pair.)
The Dance, a release largely made up of Fleetwood Mac’s best-known hits, would earn the band three Grammy nominations and their first Number One album since 1982’s Mirage.”To be honest, I don’t remember hearing ‘Silver Springs’ done at rehearsals,” Elliot Scheiner, producer and engineer of the concert film, tells RS. Similarly, director Bruce Gowers doesn’t recall anything special about the early run-throughs of the song. It had always been a part of the set list for as long as he had been attending their practice sessions, and he just assumed that it had been a part of their pre-breakup concert repertoire. The looks exchanged by Buckingham and Nicks throughout the show – and the particularly raw moment between them during the climax of “Silver Springs” – did not come about until the two nights of taping in Burbank.
This was by design. Nicks has admitted that the fiery take on the song that appears in The Dance was “for posterity,” as she told RS at the time. “I wanted people to stand back and really watch and understand what [the relationship with Lindsey] was,” she later told Arizona Republic.
“‘Silver Springs’ always ends up in that place for me because she’s always very committed to what those words are about, and I remember what they were about then,” Buckingham told Rolling Stone in 1997. “Now it’s all irony, you know, but there is no way you can’t get drawn into the end of that song.”
“When we’re [onstage] there singing songs to each other, we probably say more to each other than we ever would in real life,” Nicks added.
For many Fleetwood Mac fans, The Dance marked the first time they had even heard the track. One of these was Courtney Love, who has long been a very public admirer of Nicks and Fleetwood Mac. Hole had released their own cover of “Gold Dust Woman” in 1996 and interpolated “Rhiannon” into their Pretty on the Inside track “Starbelly” back in 1991.
“I wouldn’t exist without Stevie,” she tells Rolling Stone. Love and Nicks have known each other for years, and the alt-rock singer had been in attendance for one of the live tapings of The Dance, even spending time with a nervous Nicks in her dressing room before the show.
“I thought it was an old Buckingham Nicks song,” she recalls of her first exposure to “Silver Springs.” “It really moved me. I was like ‘What the fuck is this?’ I didn’t ask her about it.”
While Love had been playing “Gold Dust Woman” live for decades, she recently chose to sing “Silver Springs” instead at a Fleetwood Mac tribute show in Los Angeles last year. “I started crying as I was singing it,” she admits. “It doesn’t sell itself, you have to sell it a little bit. Take it to the end. Before the instrumental break, it builds, it builds, it builds and it climaxes. It’s an unusual song musically in that sense.”
Nicks’ own performance earned “Silver Springs” a belated Grammy nomination, in the category of Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group With Vocals (it lost to Jamiroquai’s “Virtual Insanity”). It was the only song from The Dance to be recognized outside of the album as a whole.
“I never thought that ‘Silver Springs’ would ever be performed onstage,” she reflected during a 1997 MTV interview. “My beautiful song just disappeared [20 years ago]. For it to come back around like this has really been special to me.”
“Silver Springs” has gone on to have an extraordinary second life. Besides Love and Amos, Florence and the Machine and Lykke Li have covered it live; it appeared in the finale episode of American Horror Story: Coven; and just this year, 20-year-old Lorde cited “Silver Springs” during a conversation about her own heartbreak album Melodrama, released in June.
“I remember being [15 years old] listening to [‘Silver Springs’] over and over, doing my art homework, thinking it was a beautiful song,” she said in conversation with Tavi Gevinson for the Rookie Magazine podcast. “I remember hearing ‘Time cast its spell on you but you won’t forget me/I’ll follow you down ’til the sound of my voice will haunt you/You’ll never get [away from] the sound of the woman that loves you’ and feeling the weight of them, and I also remember hearing them six months ago and hearing a total different thing unlock.”
Speaking to Rolling Stone later, Gevinson cites her own high-school breakup as her impetus for connecting to the song. “I definitely copied down the lyrics in multiple journals,” she says.
Fleetwood Mac still plays “Silver Springs,” often as an encore alongside “Don’t Stop” and other signature songs. Live, Buckingham and Nicks have continued to revive their haunting locked-gaze Dance duet. In late 1997, live footage captured Buckingham welling up with emotion and embracing Nicks at the end of the song. In a 2004 clip, he aggressively strums his guitar and yells into the microphone, making his harmonies more audible than ever.
After Christine McVie rejoined Fleetwood Mac in 2014, her heartbreak sisterhood with Nicks was rekindled. By that time, “Silver Springs” had already become a staple of the band’s set lists. “When I finish [performing] ‘Silver Springs,’ Christine waits for me and takes my hand,” Nicks told Maclean’s Magazine in 2015. “We walk off and we never let go of each other until we get to our tent. In that 30 seconds, it’s like my heart just comes out of my body.”
Since Nicks was able to turn “Silver Springs” into the hit she always wanted it to be, her mom Barbara did receive the royalty check her daughter had earmarked for her – 20 years later than expected. “My mom ended up getting a $50,000 check two months after The Dance went out,” the singer revealed. “To my mother, it had been a million dollar check.”
Nicks also finally had the opportunity to place the song on her own compilation, including it on 2007’s Crystal Visions – The Very Best of Stevie Nicks. In the liner notes, she dedicated “Silver Springs” to her mom, who passed away four years later. It was the elder Nicks’ “rainy day song.”
Brittany Spanos / Rolling Stone / Friday, August 18, 2017