Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mac Attack

Fleetwood Mac--"Go Your Own Way (Michael May mix) (mp3)

Inexplicably and out of nowhere, at ages 22 and nearly 19, my daughters have gotten into Fleetwood Mac. Why? Glee. Apparently they devoted an entire episode to the Rumors album, you know, the one that contains "Dreams" and "The Chain" and "Second-Hand News" and "You Make Lovin' Fun" and "Never Going Back Again" and "Gold Dust Woman." And that sent my girls to their old dad to see if he had any Mac on CD. So I hauled out my copies of Fleetwood Mac and Rumors (I didn't rebuy Tusk on CD, just a few favorite Lindsey Buckingham songs for the double-disker) and we started listening.

And now they're walking around the house singing Fleetwood Mac songs.

That isn't necessarily a bad thing. Coming back to these songs after so many decades of not paying much attention to them and certainly not listening to these albums as entire, self-contained entities, they still sound very fresh and capable of commanding radio airplay (which I'm sure they still do). But if you think I'm going to let the moment go by without getting all judgy and snobby, you are very wrong.

I'm focusing on the first two albums only; the wheels were coming off the bus by the time Tusk came out, though I still enjoy many of its messy pieces.

So here are my official Fleetwood Mac song ratings:

Stevie Nicks' songs: A
Lindsey Buckingham songs: B+
Christine McVie songs: C
The McVie/Buckingham collaborations "World Turning" and "Don't Stop": A- and C-, respectively
The whole band collaboration "The Chain" which sounds like nothing more than Buckingham/Nicks: A+

In other words, Ms. McVie, you are well-represented on these two albums, but your songs are insipid and all too similar, each to the other's mid-tempo blandness.

Let's get one thing out of the way: the revived, revised Fleetwood Mac that appeared in 1975 (Sorry, Billy, it's a much greater phoenix story/band comeback than Yes' 80's phase--remnants of one band audition a music studio and are captivated by the tape the studio uses to show off the studio, which happens to be the Buckingham Nicks album and leads to first band subsuming second band) is pop candy. Catchy songs, catchy riffs, catchy choruses perfect for 70 degree days in L.A., pot-smoking, or presidential inaugurations. Not a whole lot of weight to the whole endeavor, but, man, could they crank out the hits.

But almost 40 years later, I especially hear the quality of Stevie Nick's songwriting. Those are the songs that really hold up for me: "Rhiannon," "Crystal," "Landslide," "Dreams," and "Gold Dust Woman." There is still a depth there. Is it the minor key sound? Is it her quirky interest in white witchcraft? Is it that only her songs explore the the L.A. decadence of the day? Is it her gift for an opening line: "Do you always trust your first initial feeling?" Is it Buckingham's sensitive ability to create the settings for the songs (It is said that Nicks would hum the melodies and that Buckingham would build the songs from there) that makes them stand out? Or is it that I've just always had a thing for Stevie and am somewhat blinded by that? I really don't know.

Certainly, it is true that the most interesting guitar parts and the cleanest production occur on Nicks' songs. Buckingham's use of volume pedals and dropped-D tuning on the acoustic guitars make the Rumors songs, especially, sound as crisp and fresh now as they did three and a half decades ago. I have never gotten tired of hearing "Dreams." I don't say that about many songs. So production does have something to do with it.

Revisiting these old songs, it strikes me that Fleetwood Mac has aged surprisingly well. The songs don't sound like songs that I used to like; they sound like songs that I still like. And the pep of Buckingham numbers like "Blue Letter" or "Monday Morning" still makes me want to grab my guitar and tackle those upbeat numbers with a tenor voice and a quick guitar strum. Christine's stuff probably sounds just fine on adult-oriented radio and I don't even mind a little "Over My Head" once in a decade. And Stevie, well, she's the one who had a solo career, so her Fleetwood Mac songs, and her Buckingham Nicks songs before that, sound like the beginnings of a canon that I have stayed in touch with off and on over the years.

To hear one of my daughters singing "Dreams" as she walks through the kitchen gives me a nostalgic reassurance that all those years haven't really passed and that the old can become new again and that there is safety in familiarity. But then my wife will point out that actually thunder happens before it rains most of the time, trying to skewer the moment. No matter. I keep my visions to myself.


Billy said...

Your "phoenix" argument: I concede defeat.

Billy at 14: Hated the Mac.
Billy at 27: Rediscovered "Rumors."
Billy at 37: Dove into "Tusk" and beyond, mostly because of this blog.

As a protected teen, I think I was freaked out by their sexual antics, by Stevie Nicks' witchy aura, by the sheer uglyness of Mick, who looked like a reject from "The Addams Family." And I just didn't quite get it. To be fair, "Tusk" came out when I was 12, and struggling to like "Tango In The Night" isn't quite as criminally offensive.

But the music... It sure as heck doesn't lose anything over time.

Anonymous said...

In hindsight, yet another thing that Bill Clinton nailed.

DWMD65 said...

Great post and 2 great replies. Both comments made me laugh. I'm now listening to Fleetwood Mac "Fleetwood Mac" again because of this post. Thanks
Dave (46)