Reissue Review: Fleetwood Mac’s pivotal 1975 s/t LP remains a timeless classic
The Fleetwood Mac story is well known, but endlessly fascinating and one that's increasingly difficult to picture happening today. Like the Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett story, Fleetwood Mac started in the '60s as a psychedelic rock band led by a man who's probably a musical genius and whose mental health and use of psychedelic drugs caused him to leave the band just a few years after they formed (in Fleetwood Mac's case, said man is Peter Green). Then, like Pink Floyd, they continued on with other singers and found massive fame by the mid '70s with a sound that hardly resembled their early era. (Also like Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac's early era is still under-appreciated today.) The "classic" era of Fleetwood Mac that we know and love today hit its peak with 1977's Rumours -- the world's most famous breakup album where all three of the songwriters' exes are performers on the very songs that were written about them -- but that era began in 1975 with Fleetwood Mac's self-titled album (their second self-titled album and tenth album overall). Fleetwood Mac have been giving expanded reissues to the albums from that era over the past few years, and today comes a reissue of that 1975 self-titled LP, complete with early takes, live recordings, a DVD, rare and unseen photos, and in-depth liner notes.
Fleetwood Mac came about after Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, and Christine McVie were looking for a replacement for guitarist/vocalist Bob Welch, and they happened upon Lindsey Buckingham. Buckingham agreed on the terms that his girlfriend and musical partner Stevie Nicks join the band, and Fleetwood Mac would quickly prove that that was the best thing that ever happened to the band. Stevie Nicks wrote and sang lead on two songs on Fleetwood Mac, "Rhiannon" and "Landslide," both of which remain two of the most iconic songs not just in Fleetwood Mac's discography but in all of modern pop music. As someone who grew up in the '90s, I'm admittedly a little tired of "Landslide" because of all the overplayed covers (like by The Smashing Pumpkins and the Dixie Chicks, who both had hits with the song), but "Rhiannon" still sounds like it could've come out yesterday. The endlessly-worshipped gypsy woman that Stevie Nicks became is all there on that one song. The mysterious woman protagonist in the lyrics, the haunting minor-key chord progression, Stevie's soaring, unmistakable voice -- all the elements that would define Stevie Nicks' best songs for years to come are there. Not to mention Stevie, Christine, and Lindsey's three-part harmonies in the chorus, the very harmonies that would become a trademark of the band's sound.
That harmony style was one of the many things about Fleetwood Mac that separated them from their peers and influenced tons of hip modern bands, as fellow '70s soft rock acts faded away and became dinosaurs. Fleetwood Mac came out during a watered-down period for rock music, and Fleetwood Mac were associated with a lot of those more forgettable bands at the time. Part of what really set them apart, though, were their (bi-regional) '60s roots. When you think about organic pop harmonies, you think about The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Mamas & the Papas, The Kinks, but Fleetwood Mac entered that conversation after those bands had either broken up or gone creatively stale. With this lineup of Fleetwood Mac, you had a rhythm section who had actually been in the band when they were a British psych band, and then you had Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks who never gave up on their 1960s California dreams. Lindsey famously was in a band who once opened for Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, and his fiery guitar solos always had a hint of that West Coast acid rock, while Stevie tells stories at live shows to this day about how 1982's "Gypsy" was partially about being enamored with the vivid hippie imagery of singers like Janis and Grace Slick. That, combined with a more personal songwriting style than most AOR bands had at the time, resulted in timeless songs like Fleetwood Mac's "Crystal," "World Turning," "Monday Morning," and "I'm So Afraid." There's a little '60s jangle, a little '70s pop shine, and a whole lot of prescient insight into what sounds would hold up in the future.
Fleetwood Mac also has its more dated songs, like the rock n' rollin' "Blue Letter" and the piano pop of "Say You Love Me," but even those moments succeed in a way that similar bands did not. Stevie, Christine, Lindsey, Mick and John had such strong chemistry from the get go, which helped make disparate songs like the radio-ready "Say You Love Me," the haunting "Rhiannon," and the cheery "Monday Morning" become essential parts of one cohesive whole. The album has no real fat from start to finish, and no matter how many times I've played it in full over the years, I never get tired of it. With this expanded reissue, the early takes give you a nice look into the recording process, and they often sound surprisingly close to the finished versions. But it's really the live recordings that make this reissue worth picking up, even if you already have the album. Fleetwood Mac have been a fantastic live band for a long time (and still are), and these recordings remind you that they were already a tight-knit unit after only having this lineup for a year or so. Their live show has never been an exact replica of their albums, and here we're treated to unique live gems like an intensified "Rhiannon" from 10/25/75 and a jammed out, eight-minute "World Turning" from 10/17/75. Also included are recordings of this lineup playing some of the band's older songs, including must-hear Lindsey Buckingham-sung versions of Peter Green-era classics "Oh Well" and "The Green Manalishi," the latter of which the band apparently haven't performed since the '70s.