Fleetwood Mac – L.A. Times

Fleetwood Mac – Better Rocking Through Chemistry

Fleetwood Mac, just a year and a half ago, was a band easy to take for granted. After nine years, 10 albums and countless personnel changes, it appeared all but immune to superstardom. The British group’s music sold decently — it was always competent and often imaginative — but the spark that could take it higher than a perennial second-billing was nowhere in sight.

These days, no one is wondering why Fleetwood Mac is still together. In an amazing case of rewarded persistence, its 11th album, the now-platinum Fleetwood Mac spawned a flurry of hit singles and has remained near the top of the charts for more than 14 months. Now the group is a coast-to-coast headliner, with each concert a quick sellout. Tickets for their shows next weekend at the Universal Amphitheater have been gone for weeks.

Drummer Mick Fleetwood, who began the group with bassist, John McVie, (hence the name) as a blues band in 1967, is nonplussed. “We never thought about quitting or stopping at all. Never,” he says matter-of-factly The rest of the band, gathered together here in its Sunset Blvd. public relations office, nods in silent agreement. “There were times of feeling intense neglect, but we just chugged along. Nobody in the band can do anything else.

Fleetwood Mac’s success story is mostly due to the ingenious addition of two basically incongruous musicians just 10 days before the recording of the break-through album. Singer-songwriters Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, a pop-oriented couple/duo from Los Angeles, immediately steered the group into a fascinatingly commercial direction. It was also Fleetwood Mac’s second intraband relationship. McVie’s wife Christine sings, writes and plays keyboards.

“It’s all a matter of chemistry,” figures Fleetwood. “Everything we’ve gone through up until now has been worthwhile if it meant getting to the point where the band is now. This is, by far, the most stimulating collection we’ve had.

Which says quite a bit. there is a standing joke that one out of every four people in the music business has, at one time or another, been in Fleetwood Mac. The group understandably cringes at the thought of detailing past history. It is no easy task remembering the many twists and turns they’ve taken. “Looking back,” John McVie says, “I’m very proud of the fact we’ve never been pinned with a label. We’ve changed too fast for that.”

In retrospect, Fleetwood Mac’s greatest asset may well have been its open mind. When Christine McVie was added to the band in ’71, it was not exactly in concurrence with the prevailing macho stance of rock ‘n’ roll. Four years later, they were not afraid to replace departing guitarist Bob Welch with an unknown — Buckingham — and his female partner, Nicks, who handles the vocals.

“I liked the idea,” Fleetwood says, “of real flesh-and-blood people and not hardened professionals.”

Sure enough, it was the two women in the group who scored the momentum-making singles hits. Christine McVie’s “Over My Head” came first, breaking big in both pop and easy listening markets. Nicks’ “Rhiannon” was the important followup. An infectious tale of an 18th-century Welsh witch, the song validated Fleetwood Mac’s hard-rock side as well. “Say You Love Me,” another rollicking C. McVie composition, secured the rare feat — three smashes on one album.

“It’s really amazing,” remarks Buckingham. “We had no idea any of those songs were hits. Especially not ‘Rhiannon’. We figured, for sure, that it was too weird.” Buckingham smiles broadly. “Now one more hit and it could almost be called ‘Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits.'”

Nicks brightens. “With that kind of thinking, we could buy ourselves another year to do the new album.”

The group’s next album, nearly completed, has a mid-September deadline. Already it is by far the longest Fleetwood Mac has ever spent on an album. An exasperated Nicks explains simply, “Nothing has gone right.”

When the sessions began at Sausalito’s Record Plant this year, the band was tired and spent six grueling months of grass-roots touring. Most of the material existed only as snips of melodies or lyrics. Weeks of expensive studio time later, the album began to take shape. NO sooner did that happen when an overzealous machine — since dubbed “Jaws” — mangled portions of the completed tracks, A slew of other technical problems sent them to Miami’s Criteria Sound Studios and later to a local facility.

“It’s not really the pressure of following up the last album that’s hung us up at all,” states Buckingham. “You create that kind of pressure yourself, in your own head. That’s all it is. We all knew this LP had to be good . . . and it is.”

The real reason behind the delay, the group readily admits, was a sudden upheaval in their domestic lives. Early on in the recording, each of the five members found himself on ‘romantically choppy waters.’ The result — the romantic relationships between members of the group dissolved.

“It was very, very strange . . .” reflects Christine.

Fleetwood finishes the story. “We all split up during the same two-month period. The grief is all behind us now, fortunately, but there was a very heavy time there when none of us were really up for doing much of anything.

Much of the emotional trauma, says Nicks, was turned into songs. “Every one on the new album,” she explains, “is about somebody in the band. Without being dumb or contrived about it. I think we’ve put together a very nice musical diary. All my songs are about what happens to me, anyway, whereas I got the idea for ‘Rhiannon’ from a book I read.

“It’s great that there are three strong songwriters in the band. That’s got to be a big reason for the success. When it comes right down to it, if the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band had band songs — forget it. But if you have really good songs, you don’t have to be a virtuoso. The songs will come across.”

Although they may not be virtuosos, Fleetwood Mac’s musicianship is certainly more than adequate. Fleetwood is one of rock’s most brilliantly functional drummers. McVie’s bass work and Buckingham’s vivacious guitar and vocal prowess enhance the material. Add Christine’s calming influence and Nicks’ full-throated warble and you have a first-rate grab bag of English/American styles. On stage, Fleetwood Mac even revisits such earlier material as “Oh Well” and “The Green Manalashi,” bringing them a new urgency.

There is definitely a live album in our future,” reveals Buckingham, “but not quite yet. I’d really like to develop in the studio with this band. Ater the album comes out and we complete the road cycle that will follow it, we’re going to lay back a little and spend the time to refine our work even further.”

Chances are they will do exactly that. There is no one around to try and convince them otherwise.

“I’m convinced that we wouldn’t have made it this big if we had a manager,” Fleetwood maintains. “We’ve taken a very natural course. God knows what might have happened if there was somebody trying to make an image for us. We have two women in the band, and a manager would probably make something out of that. We don’t. We don’t need a manager. We have an agent to book the tours and a lawyer when we need him. So John and I make a few more phone calls, use more brain cells and deal with all the rumors ourselves . . . big deal.”

Nicks stops him short. “I’ve got it,” she yelps. “Fleetwood Mac’s newest album Rumors and Heartaches.”

Courtesy of the L.A. Times – Cameron Crowe – August 22, 1976