Fleetwood Mac Without Lindsey Buckingham, Peter Green or Stevie Nicks: Gimme Five

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Which ever side you come down on in the Great Fleetwood Mac Debates, surely it’s either with the initial rootsy Peter Green era or the platinum-kissed Buckingham-Nicks pop period.

But what about the rest?

From 1970-74, as the group added Christine McVie, Bob Weston and Bob Welch — they’d subsequently lose both Bobs as Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks arrived — Fleetwood Mac began to build a bridge between the two camps. Already, they couldn’t have sounded less like the amalgam that emerged out of the John Mayall blues band featuring Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer, Danny Kirwan and stalwarts Mick Fleetwood and John McVie. But, at the same time, Fleetwood Mac was still mixing and matching ingredients in their search for the right recipe for success.

Later, long after their biggest-selling days had passed, Fleetwood Mac found itself first without Buckingham for a pair of new songs to be included on 1988’s Greatest Hits and then for all of 1990’s Behind the Mask. The group would record sans Buckingham or Nicks for 1995’s Time.

Here’s a look at some of the best moments from these often-forgotten Fleetwood Mac years …

“SENTIMENTAL LADY” (BARE TREES, 1972): Welch’s original take on a track that would be remade into a No. 10 solo hit some five years later is less polished, more personal. Also adding to the 1972 version’s rangier, far more present feel is McVie. She appeared on the subsequent side with Welch, of course, but here sings with a much freer, almost improvisational emotion.

The only place that this strikingly unvarnished, almost first-take feel doesn’t work is on the guitar solo, a watery, unfocused moment that can’t hold a candle to Buckingham’s turn on the 1977 single for Welch.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: S. Victor Aaron remembers early Fleetwood Mac member Bob Welch, who left behind an interesting legacy of his own before tragically committing suicide in 2012.]

“I DO” (TIME, 1995): By this point, both Buckingham and Nicks had departed, replaced by Bekka Bramlett, Billy Burnette and — for this album — Dave Mason, a former member of Traffic who had hit with “We Just Disagree” in 1977. With that many new faces, much of the album doesn’t sound much like what had come before — at least until McVie steps up to the mic.

“I Do” is her best song on Time, as McVie deftly sidesteps her typical role as the lovelorn romantic. Instead she seems to skip through a quietly assertive verse, before ramping up into a soaring, joy-filled chorus which gets as close as this edition ever did to the sound of Fleetwood Mac at its 1970s zenith. In another time (well, in that time, anyway), this would have been a huge hit.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: We cued up the old albums recently, looking for those unfortunate moments when Fleetwood Mac, well, sucked. Some of our selections might surprise you.]

“SANDS OF TIME” (FUTURE GAMES, 1971): Kirwan set about crafting a kind of soft-rock prog, ala Wishbone Ash, on an album that saw Welch take over for Spencer — who in turn took with him the last vestages of Fleetwood Mac’s early preoccupation with the blues.

In its place is a penchant for lengthy, sometimes unfocused instrumental passages. Not here, though, as Kirwan’s melancholic lyric works in nice counterpoint to the track’s generally upbeat demeanor. Twin guitars explore taut figures in between, adding depth to an involvingly ruminative tale.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: We chatted with co-founder Jeremy Spencer about Fleetwood Mac’s early days, how Elmore James altered everything, and Spencer’s 2012 comeback solo effort.]

“AS LONG AS YOU FOLLOW” (GREATEST HITS, 1988): A largely forgotten low-charter recorded along with Nicks’ “No Questions Asked” for this hits set, “As Long As You Follow” might have McVie on vocals but the curling guitar signature from Rick Vito gives the proceedings a jolt of rockabilly cool. Without Buckingham’s reliable quirks, McVie’s penchant for tender grandiosity comes to full flowering.

Of course, you could argue that we cheated a bit, since technically Nicks sings backup on this tune, but her voice is so far back in the mix — unheard, really, until the very end — and Vito’s presence is so pervasive that the song feels like a completely new iteration of Fleetwood Mac.

[SOMETHING ELSE REWIND: Returning to the Fleetwood Mac’s 1975-79 era, the creative and commercial peak of their collaborations with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks.]

“HYPNOTIZED” (MYSTERY TO ME, 1973): Welch’s dreamscape journey across an majestic, unknowable landscape — delivered vocally with a whispery detachment — unfurls amid an insistent conversation on the hi-hat from Fleetwood and this thrilling series of jazz-inflected guitar fourths. Sound familiar? Much has been made, and justifiably so, of the arrival of Buckingham and Nicks — but “Hypnotized” illustrates how far Fleetwood Mac had come toward their polyester-era California singer-songwriter style long before that duo joined.

As Weston’s Wes Montgomery-isms are surrounded by a swirling, sometimes wordless breeze of voices from Welch and McVie, it’s easy to see — just over the next horizon, after a few more personnel switches — the charttopping promised land.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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