Mega-hits like 1979’s Tusk, 1977’s Rumours and the self-titled 1975 album by Fleetwood Mac were staples of the FM airwaves in Southern California where I grew up. Each member of the band came with a public persona that seemed real, not something manufactured by the music press, where they appeared frequently. Many of my friends hung their posters, and followed their exploits closely — particularly due to their very personal, confessional lyrics and their appeal as representatives of who we were at that point in the ’70s.
Recently, the band re-released these albums in deluxe collector’s editions, and they each have considerable merit – though they don’t tell the whole story. Fleetwood Mac began life, of course, as a British blues act in 1967. Still, numerous personnel changes resulted in a cross-pond partnership with American musicians that together had a more global appeal. The breakthrough came when core members Mick Fleetwood (drums), John McVie (bass) and his wife Christine McVie (keyboards, vocals) recruited Lindsey Buckingham (guitar, vocals) and his then-girlfriend Stevie Nicks (vocals) to join the already well-honed trio.
As if to underscore a fresh start, the newly constituted band titled their breakthrough album Fleetwood Mac. After extensive touring to back the record, it reached No. 1 on the U.S. charts. It’s a brilliant collection of enchanting stories, rockers and ballads, led by the defining Nicks composition “Rhiannon” along with McVie’s “Say You Love Me” and “Over My Head.” Buckingham’s brooding rocker “I’m So Afraid” became a concert staple, featuring an extended guitar solo highlighting his unique fingerpicking style. Everyone I knew had that record, whether they were into freak music, prog, or just good rock n’ roll. Such was the breadth of their appeal.
From the moments just before and after their new union, each band member went through tumultuous events in their romantic relationships — and these were covered extensively at the time, and to this day in the media. The lyrics reflected this well, as so many of Fleetwood Mac’s songs were about love and relationships, and were or seemed to be autobiographical. Fans knew the stanzas by heart; they read the stories and followed the band partly due to these dramas, cheering the musicians on and sometimes watching for a stray glance between Stevie and Lindsey, or other signs of emotional import.
This became a poignant kind of theater, illuminating life’s triumphs and travails, starring a cast of rock heroes. It became well known that drummer Mick Fleetwood’s wife had an affair as the old band disintegrated, leading to their divorce, and that John and Christine McVie ended their marriage. In addition, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks broke off their romantic relationship. Mick summed it up himself once, saying “the whole band’s gone through a complete emotional trauma” — adding that being in Fleetwood Mac was “more like being in group therapy!”
All of it transpired between 1974 and 1976, and the drama was captured in perfect prose and harmony on their next album, Rumours. It’s a testament to the determination of these artists that they were able to pull it together with everything that was apparently going on in their personal lives.
The lyrics Stevie and Lindsey wrote often directly referenced their romantic crisis, ruminating on the reasons for failed relationships in the upbeat “Go Your Own Way” and ethereal “Dreams,” and offering stark commentary on cocaine addiction in “Gold Dust Woman.” That was balanced by Christine McVie’s relatively cheerful songs “Don’t Stop” and “You Make Loving Fun” – the latter featuring her skills on the funky clavinet to lift the mood – as well as Buckingham’s “Never Going Back Again.” Concert staple and band composition “The Chain” summed up their collective romantic travails: “Run in the shadows, damn your love, damn your lies.”
The music was a spectacular demonstration of the classic-rock form, tinged by the California sound featuring the lovely three-part harmonies of Buckingham, Nicks and McVie, all backed by Mick Fleetwood’s steady laid back beat, and John McVie’s resonant warm bass. Rumours was Fleetwood Mac’s first No. 1 in the U.K., while lasting most of the year on the U.S. charts. With more than 40 million sales over time, it became one of the most successful rock albums of our era.
The next album Tusk took a more adventurous direction, and could be compared to the Beatles’ White Album in the breadth of its music and composition, and the difficulty Fleetwood Mac had getting through the long period of tinkering and recording in the studio. Anything was bound to sell less than Rumours, particularly a double album — but that is not a reflection on the contents, which are startling, and arguably represent their greatest work.
This version of the band recorded their first live album on the tour to support Tusk. Appropriately titled Live, the double album is a sprawling, nearly complete set list from that time, along with an additional studio recording of “The Farmer’s Daughter.” While it’s a fitting document of Fleetwood Mac’s live performances, the newly uncovered Rumours concert recordings caught the band on the upswing, and are superior for the energy and verve on display.
That audio recording, simply titled Fleetwood Mac Live – 1977 Rumours World Tour, is part of the multi-disc re-release of the Rumours album completed in 2015. Coming directly on the heels of the album’s recording, the songs are culled from multiple shows on the tour, including Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Nashville and Columbia, South Carolina.
The live renditions are much tighter than the Tusk tour Live album, containing aggressive, true to studio versions of “Monday Morning,” “Gold Dust Woman,” and a nearly eight-minute version of Nicks’ classic “Rhiannon.” The song is introduced by Stevie simply (“This is a song about a witch”), and ends with some of her most gravelly rock n’ roll vocals on record. Hard, driven versions of “The Chain” and “World Turning” are also highlights of the set, along with a straight-ahead rendition of “Never Going Back Again,” a song that Lindsey expanded into an acoustic jam on later tours.
For years, the only officially available footage of this era’s lineup was part of a one-hour documentary made in the late 1970s. Released by Warner Home Video on videotape, Fleetwood Mac Documentary and Live Concert captured the band in studio and on tour supporting their artistic masterpiece Tusk. Ten songs are presented in whole or in part, highlighting Stevie’s songs “Sisters of the Moon,” “Angel,” and “Sara.” (The latter clip was used to make a video that found heavy rotation at MTV.) Lindsey belts out his vocals for “Go Your Own Way,” and “Not That Funny,” a clip also used on MTV and usually credited as being a response to the punk movement. A rousing rendition of “The Chain” captures the band as a whole, and Christine’s “Songbird” ends the show nicely, though marred by rolling end-credits.
Much of the “behind the scenes footage” is worthwhile, though some of it is superfluous. For instance, we see Mick taking oxygen, Stevie fluffing her hair, and John taking a smoke backstage before an encore. Mick mugs for the camera when presented with a type of voodoo doll, before explaining how he ended up becoming the band’s manager. The in-studio clips are interesting, the best by far being Stevie working side by side with Lindsey, recording the actual vocal track for “Angel.” She then explains that though she usually writes “intense, serious, dark songs,” it was meant to be an “up” song that ended up having an eeriness to it. Fans cheer as Lindsey hugs her during the live performance.
In one segment, Lindsey says his real value to the band is not as a guitar player or writer, but “as someone who can take X amount energy flowing through different people and somehow formulate to some degree how things should sound in studio.” Stevie is shown doing ballet, opining that it’s important that she have interests outside rock n’ roll, as a true Gemini. Christine is shown sailing and shares her origin as a bass player in a blues band prior to her college years and time as a window dresser, concluding with “I paid my dues.” But the real treat is the live performances, which are electrifying, and these remain the best official footage of the band in concert.
More recently, the Rosebud film by Michael Collins was released as part of the aforementioned Rumours box set. Clocking in at just 30 minutes, it is a long-sought 1977 documentary film created to promote the European leg of that tour. It includes interviews, rehearsal clips, and live performances of six songs. The opener “World Turning,” and closer “I’m So Afraid” document Fleetwood Mac live at an outdoor festival. “Rhiannon,” “Say You Love Me,” “Go Your Own Way,” and “You Make Loving Fun” are very effectively captured indoors with an eerie moonlit tree-lined backdrop, which graced many a poster and promotional photo of the band at that time. These clips were also shown on late night TV music shows like The Midnight Special.
As with the live disc, the performances are defining, energetic renditions of the selected tracks, while the band was truly in top form. In the best quote of the back stage interviews, Stevie Nicks comments on Fleetwood Mac’s diverse wardrobe: “Lindsey’s all Chinese guy in his Kimono, and I look like I’m going to a Halloween party, Christine looks like she’s going to be confirmed in the Catholic church, and Mick’s going to a Renaissance fair and John’s going to the beach!”
While the Rosebud film and 1977 live audio are key for any fan or collector, in the case of video, the Tusk documentary is superior. Fans await an official release on more current media, as this gem is not yet officially available on DVD or streaming services. Fleetwood Mac continues to tour to this day, now back with the complete lineup after Christine McVie’s short retirement. Amazingly, they sound as good in concert today as ever, another testament to this enduring ensemble.
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