There are certainly some people who prefer the early blues lineup of Fleetwood Mac.
There may even be a few people who prefer the early 1970’s lineup with Bob Welch.
I’ve collected good songs from both of those versions of the band.
But, the truth is, Fleetwood Mac might have been a musical footnote without the addition of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks.
Fleetwood Mac had released nine previous studio albums, with no breakthrough in the United States. That’s more albums than the new Fleetwood Mac recorded. Some of the lack of success could be due to their small blues label “Blue Thumb” from 1968 to 1970, but they had moved to “Reprise”, a major division of Warner Brothers during their rock/pop phase from 1970 to 1974.
While John McVie and Mick Fleetwood are a formidable bass & drums rhythm section, it also takes great songwriting, singing, and producing to be successful. Christine McVie is an excellent keyboardist and singer, but there were no songs she did during those earlier albums that were so good they had to be included in Fleetwood Mac’s repertoire going forward.
With the addition of Lindsey Buckingham, Christine McVie now had a talented arranger/producer (and songwriter) to shape her newly written songs into great recordings. The proof of this change is her songs on the 1975 Fleetwood Mac album…”Over My Head”, “Warm Ways” and “Say You Love Me”. She had no recordings of that quality on previous Fleetwood Mac albums. You can easily hear Buckingham’s influence. Christine went on to write some of the group’s biggest hits.
Stevie Nicks also credits Lindsey Buckingham with helping her turn her songwriting demos into completed recordings, as he did for all of the band’s songs.
When Buckingham and Nicks joined Fleetwood Mac in 1975, they brought with them the key songs “Monday Morning”, “Rhiannon”, and “Landslide”. Lindsey’s a great lead guitarist (the reason he was hired in the first place). That guitar style influenced his own impressive songwriting, and created a new sound for Fleetwood Mac.
So what did the addition of Stevie Nicks mean? Stevie is a special songwriter whose topics and depth of lyrics gave Fleetwood Mac’s music greater meaning. Her songs have held up extremely well. She added mystique with her lyrics, and showmanship with her live performances.
We can now look back with some historical perspective on Fleetwood Mac’s recordings. What songs do fans still want to hear decades later? An interesting gauge for assessing the popularity of songs is in iTunes. With just a click over an album’s song list, you can place the songs in order of popularity. It’s based upon which songs are being purchased (basically the public is voting with their money). So I did this with Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits. Four out of the top five songs are by Stevie Nicks, and for some reason, she only has four songs on that album of sixteen songs.
Maybe it was a fluke, so I did the same thing with the 36 song collection The Very Best Of Fleetwood Mac. Stevie Nicks wrote 9 of the top 10 purchased songs. The other one, at number 4, was “Tusk” by Lindsey Buckingham. He also had songs 11, 12, & 13…”Go Your Own Way”, “Monday Morning” and “Never Going Back”. Starting with #14, Christine McVie had 5 of the next 7 songs.
It’s extremely obvious that Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham were the key ingredients to turn Fleetwood Mac into the amazingly successful band they became. However, they were also lucky to get into Fleetwood Mac. The band had a recording contract, and Lindsey and Stevie were barely getting by financially.
Fans are fortunate those particular five people came together when they did. The only rock band in the 1970’s that was as successful as Fleetwood Mac was the Eagles. They toured together in the 1970’s, and just this July, the two groups co-headlined the “Classic West Festival” in L.A., and the “Classic East Festival” in New York.
Appropriately, Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame together in 1998 (when the Hall’s membership was still mainly rock artists). That same year, my wife, Jeannette, and I went to Cleveland and took a memorable tour of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum (there’s an article about it). We got to see the displays for those two classic groups.
Update: Stevie Nicks was inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame as a solo artist (2019), the first woman inducted twice.