Fleetwood Mac hit big with Tango in the Night, then imploded: ‘It was difficult for everybody’

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Like more than one Fleetwood Mac recording subsequent to Rumours, 1987’s Tango in the Night grew out of trampled solo project by Lindsey Buckingham — and the title track bears the most striking resemblance to his quirky individual efforts. They were always welcome asides, but perhaps no where more so than this project.

The title track scuffed up a session that might have collapsed under the high-gloss pop sheen of hit tunes like Stevie Nicks’ “Seven Wonders” and Christine McVie’s “Little Lies.” Those two smash tunes (along with Lindsey Buckingham’s “Big Love” and Christine McVie’s “Everywhere”) helped make Tango in the Night the band’s second-biggest selling studio project ever — after, of course, Rumours.

Nicks’ “When I See Again,” with a smart assist from Buckingham, plumbs the dark emotions of a broken relationship once more. Tango in the Night is also notable for the tight songwriting bond between Buckingham and McVie; they co-wrote a trio of songs, including “Mystified.”

But something more ominous was already looming, both personally and professionally, for the drugged-out, worn-out Fleetwood Mac. Lindsey Buckingham, perhaps determined to actually have a solo career this time, walked out shortly before the band’s scheduled tour in support of Tango in the Night. Rick Vito and Billy Burnette were drafted to replace him for the subsequent Tango Tour through 1988.

“That was in my estimation when everybody in the band was personally at their worst,” Buckingham later remembered. “If you take the whole subculture that existed in the 1970s, and what it led to — and how it degraded — by the time we did Tango in the Night, everybody was leading their lives in a way that they would not be too proud of today. It was difficult for everybody.”

In keeping, Tango in the Night has a few potholes. “Welcome to the Room… Sara” comes off as a lesser sister to Steve Nicks’ underrated gem “Sara.” “Family Man,” though it arrived with some mildly interesting guitar embedded in the middle, is ultimately an off-kilter, calorie-free throwaway. Replacing narrative and musical content with studio trickery, the song even used the same beat found elsewhere (and to far better effect) on “Big Love.”

But more of Tango in the Night worked than didn’t — even if, today, Buckingham sees “Big Love” (which went all the way to No. 5) as deeply ironic. “There’s a line in there about ‘looking out for love,’ and it wasn’t about looking for love, it was about guarding against love,” Buckingham says of the period. “I had seen a lot of people that I knew who were spouses and parents and they were not there for their families during that time. I didn’t want to be one of those people.”

Lindsey Buckingham wouldn’t return to Fleetwood Mac again for 10 years, a period that saw the band fracture. He missed 1990’s Behind the Mask, he and Stevie Nicks were absent for 1995’s Time and Christine McVie sat out for 2003’s Say You Will.

In the meantime, Buckingham has gotten married, and now has three children — something he says puts “the subject matter of ‘Big Love’ firmly in the past.”

But the past, nevertheless, has an odd way of repeating itself. Fleetwood Mac’s Tango in the Night-era lineup is back together again for the first time. A reunion tour is to be followed by a new album.

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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