Now what is this? A top selling act with no face, lips, nose, hair, eyes, legs, or arms for the public to.latch on to in creating that all-important image? Well, behold Fleetwood Mac, ascending demigods of progressive pop, the band without “the image.” Still this “faceless” quintet has managed to release an album which not only refuses to slip off the charts after fourteen months, but retains its position in the top five on the way (so far) to sales in excess of three million units. Singles from the LP continue to dominate the AM/FM airwaves and Fleetwood Mac now faces the enviable task of choosing whether or not to hold the release of their next, and already completed, effort, a choice afforded to few groups. Fleetwood Mac, along with Peter Frampton, are popdoms newest and hottest phenomena. But why has it taken nine years and the “lucky” thirteenth album to bring the elusive spotlight of commercial success to this hardworking, long respected band? Read on .. .
The, birth of this enigmatic group came sometime around August of 1967, when drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie teamed with the dual lead guitars of Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer.
Blues were their main strength and, under Green’s direction, their first release, FLEETWOOD MAC, hit the top of the British charts. Among the hit singles that followed was the classic original version of “Black Magic Woman.” Green’s writing talents were hardly confined to the blues though, as he penned some brilliant contemporary rock songs and instrumentals, including “Albatross,” their first, and accidental, million selling single, which was cut shortly after the addition of Danny Kirwan as a third guitarist.
“Albatross” was accidental because of its curious rise to popularity. A radio deejay used the instrumental as background music for a few of his programs and when the producer of British TV’s TOP OF THE POPS heard it, he decided to give them a chance with it on the air. It quickly went top-ten in Britain, firmly establishing the group at home. Not long after, Fleetwood Mac inked a pact with Warner Bros. and recorded the much acclaimed THEN PLAY ON. With their now solid reputation, the group looked toward increasing the contingent of American cult followers they had already accumulated. What happened then was the beginning of a merry-go-round of personnel and subsequent musical changes for the band.
In May of 1970, a disillusioned Peter Green quit the group and eventually disappeared from the music business. Suspended suddenly into a leaderless limbo, Fleetwood Mac’s bright future was in doubt. The critics were thoroughly astounded when the Mac emerged with the superb KILN HOUSE LP, replacing Green with Christine McVie, a songwriter-keyboardist whose earlier tenures with Chicken Shack and her later solo career were widely heralded.
From there they launched an American tour which produced the next casualty when Jeremy Spencer vanished from his L.A. hotel room one evening and turned up later as a member of the Children of God, religious sect. To fill this new, unexpected void, Bob Welch was recruited on guitar and their sound took a dramatic turn, featuring pretty harmonies and the bouncing melodies which have become Christine McVie’s trademark. They posted two moderately successful albums (“Bare Trees” and “Future Games”) before Danny Kirwan split to pursue a solo career and was replaced by former John Baldry axeman Bob Weston, whose slide guitar evoked memories of the departed Jeremy Spencer.
The new lineup lasted through two albums and was probably the busiest Fleetwood Mac up to that time, spending as much as nine months a year on the road. Still, they needed something to push them over the top and when the band was on holiday in 1974, that certain something happened. Then-manager Clifford Davis approached the group with the prospect of doing another tour and when the exhausted Mac turned down his request, Davis, claiming rights to the group name, formed a new “Fleetwood Mac” and put them on the road. When informed of this gross injustice, the real band was rightfully outraged and together they took legal action to put an end to the “bogus” Mac and Davis’ managing tenure. With a new-found sense of identity which more than compensated for their lack of a group image Fleetwood Mac turned their energies to the studio and emerged with HEROES ARE HARD TO FIND plus a grueling tour.
Welch, by this time, was feeling confined by the band’s format and left to form Paris, a heavy metal trio, with former Tull bassist Glen Cornick. Now enter Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, an accomplished duo in their own right on guitar and vocals respectively. As FLEETWOOD MAC, their latest release, proves, the new additions coupled with the new attitude (i.e. identity) form a knockout lineup. Still evident are Christine’s bouncy compositions (“Say You Love Me”) and the always dependable backbeat of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie. Only now they have the added benefit of Stevie’s lighter, more fragile vocals (“Rhiannon” and “Krystal”) to balance Christine’s huskier tones. Buckingham’s whirlwind picking has also proven to be a valuable asset to the new Fleetwood Mac (“World Turning”).
So it appears that on the verge of album number fourteen the revolving door of character changes has at least temporarily stopped, and Fleetwood Mac, though still lacking “the face,” finally have their sound everywhere, which is where it’s always belonged.