Who They Are: As was the case with earlier superstar entries in this series like David Bowie and Neil Diamond, I suspect that if you’re culturally literate enough to read my website, then you know who Fleetwood Mac are. That said, your knowledge of the group may be limited to the line-up that recorded 1977’s Rumours, which has long sat in the list of top ten best-selling albums ever. But the Mac issued a lot of music before Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined in 1975 to cement that commercial and critical juggernaut, and they’re still a going concern in 2021 (as much as any group can be during our Anno Virum) with Neil Finn (of Split Enz and Crowded House) and Mike Campbell (Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers) replacing Buckingham in 2018 after the latest of many personnel dramas in their history. At bottom line, the answer to the question “Who Are Fleetwood Mac?” comes down to this: they’re an incredible rhythm section (John McVie on bass and Mick Fleetwood on drums) with stellar skills at picking singers and songwriters to man the front-lines they make possible. John and Mick have been working together since around the time I was born, first with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, then with their own band (formed in 1967 with guitarists Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer), and they are a tight and mighty machine at this point, bless their hearts and hands.
When I First Heard Them: 1975ish, after the release of the eponymous album that first featured Buckingham and Nicks, and scored big charting singles with “Over My Head,” “Rhiannon,” and “Say You Love Me.” They were a group the whole family liked, which was nice. At some point after that, but before Rumours, record labels decided to capitalize on the new Mac’s American success and acclaim by re-releasing a lot of pre-Buckingham/Nicks records, and I received a copy of their 1971 album Future Games as a birthday present in 1976 during that period. I was already an inveterate liner-note reader, so was surprised and/or confused to see that two guys named Bob Welch and Danny Kirwan were playing and singing where Buckingham and Nicks were on the group’s then-latest album, alongside the stalwart rhythm section and keyboardist-singer-songwriter Christine McVie, then wife of John (though not for much longer). It was different from the then-current hits, yes, but I adored and still adore Future Games, and if only allowed to take one Mac album to the proverbial desert island, that would be the one I’d pack. When Rumours came out the next year, the Mac became ubiquitous, and I was at the Uniondale Public Library on Long Island around the time and saw a new book exploring their history. I borrowed it, found their evolution and family tree utterly fascinating, and acquired all of their studio albums in the years ahead, then have stayed abreast of their ongoing work ever since. Marcia and I have seen the Mac three times (the full “classic” five-piece twice, and once when Christine McVie was on sabbatical), and we’ve also seen Buckingham solo (amazing!) and the Buckingham-McVie duo tour (not quite as amazing, but still delightful). I hope that, in the COVID after-times, we’re able to catch the current incarnation of the group, and would be happy to have a new studio album from them to boot, since it’s been a long time since the Mac have produced one of those.
Why I Love Them: If you’re willing to take a long view of their career and catalog, being a Fleetwood Mac fan is a smorgasbord of riches, because it means you get to be a fan of several great, different-sounding line-ups, united only by Mick Fleetwood and John McVie anchoring whatever the various and hugely talented singers, guitarists and keyboardists are doing in the visual and audio foreground. While I would not likely include either McVie nor Fleetwood if asked to name my 10 favorite bassists or 10 favorite drummers ever, I would certainly cite them if asked to name my favorite rhythm sections, where their work together is definitely greater than the sum of its individual parts. As noted above, the Mac rhythm section’s greatest strength may be in identifying and recruiting brilliant singer-songwriters, and giving them the space and time to shine, each playing to their own individual and collective strengths. Wikipedia says that the Mac have had 19 different line-ups over the years, but I tend to think of them in four blocks: Peter Green Era (1967-1970), Danny Kirwan/Bob Welch Era (1970-1974), Buckingham/Nicks Era (1974-1987), and Everything After Era, Including Reunions (1987-Now). As noted above, the group’s greatest commercial success came in the Buckingham/Nicks Era, while the blues-oriented Peter Green Era probably wins the most critical kudos, and the Post-1987 Era has mostly been defined by sold out nostalgia reunions dotted with the emergence of ephemeral alternative versions of the band. That leaves the unique Danny Kirwan/Bob Welch Era as the least well known in the narrative, though it is the one that I actually listen to the most these days, happily. Kirwin, Welch and Green are all dead, now, alas, and I must note that I do have a strong beef with the Mac over their treatment of Welch when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. See this article for more on that tragic travesty. But Green, Welch and Kirwan left behind truly great work that shines on beyond their too-short times as members of the Mac, and they feature as prominently in my personal Top Ten list below as do their later, better-known successors.
#10. “Hypnotized” from Mystery to Me (1973)
#9. “Second Hand News” from Rumours (1977)
#8. “Coming Your Way” from Then Play On (1969)
#7. “Earl Grey” from Kiln House (1970)
#6. “Sands of Time” from Future Games (1971)
#5. “Sunny Side of Heaven” from Bare Trees (1972)
#4. “Never Going Back Again” from Rumours (1977)
#3. “Albatross” from “Albatross” single (1968); later reissued on The Pious Bird of Good Omen (1969)
#2. “Dust” from Bare Trees (1972)
#1. “Woman of 1000 Years” from Future Games (1971)