(Wilco, the Autumn Defense)
This song was a departure coming from the bruising, blues-rock Fleetwood Mac of the late ’60s. It’s a spacey, instrumental nod to Santo & Johnny but with three Les Pauls, featuring Peter Green and Danny Kirwan’s interweaving guitar harmony and Jeremy Spencer’s ethereal slide. And it was a No. 1 hit.
“Show Me a Smile” (1971)
A great piece of baroque elegance from Christine McVie in the mold of her Christine Perfect solo album from 1970—a classic. This is a different sound from the band post–Peter Green, pre–Bob Welch, but Christine, new to the band at this point, put her mark on Fleetwood Mac with this song.
(Bare Mutants, the 1900s, the Eternals Espiritu Zombi Group)
“Honey Hi” (1979)
I always look forward to playing the last side of Tusk because it opens with this song, though I will forever be conflicted about those bongos! Christine writes very simple, direct lyrics, but she can deliver a melody so gorgeous that she pulls off a line like “it’s good to talk to you.” There is magic in the vocal harmonies throughout—those three singers kill me, always.
(solo artist and backup singer for Iron & Wine, Andrew Bird and Kelly Hogan)
“That’s Alright” (1982)
I was touring pretty heavily with Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire around 2001. Somewhere in there, I think I got dumped!? Without being too heavy, I spent some time on the back bench in the van weeping. (Poor dudes in my band!) Then, on a long drive day, Andy Hopkins played one of his famous mix-tapes and there it was: “That’s Alright” by Fleetwood Mac, a deep cut from Mirage (1982). Some say it cured me. It’s one of the greatest breakup songs I’ve grown to love, record and sing as often as I can. “I hope you find a love / Your own designs of love / That’s alright.” (Side note: I loved the song even more once I found out it was originally from the Buckingham/Nicks sessions. Performing the entire Buckingham/Nicks record top to bottom is on the top of my musical wish list.)
(Mazes, the 1900s and Sanzimat International)
With just three chords and a generic beat, “Dreams” is still one of those rare, perfectly actualized works of art thanks to its production subtleties and emotional eternities. I think a large part of Fleetwood Mac’s success is due to their ability to tap into some universal, elemental energy. “Dreams” might be the best example of this pop alchemy, with Mick [Fleetwood] and John [McVie] offering the pulsing heart, Christine and Lindsey [Buckingham] the amorphous, undefinable haze and Stevie [Nicks] the fire. It can bring a tear to my eye even when sung a cappella and out of tune by drunks at dinner parties. (Note: The demo version of this song, “Dreams (Take 2)” on the new four-CD Rumours box set is also pretty incredible.)
“Trouble” from Lindsey Buckingham’s solo debut, Law and Order, feels like Lindsey’s response to Stevie’s “Dreams,” both sonically and lyrically. It features Mick’s classic beat and Christine’s swirly backing vocals, but where “Dreams” is all melancholy and metaphor, “Trouble” is pragmatic and even a little goofy. Buckingham nerds totally bond over this super catchy jam, which every Mac fan should know.
“Sentimental Lady” (1972)
I’m a little embarrassed to admit I recently discovered this song by Shazaming it at Strack & Van Til. Sadly, songwriter Bob Welch took his own life a week after I got into his music. The track’s breezy grocery-store-pop feel was the first sign of what was to come later in the ’70s, and I’m particularly impressed with the songcraft. Starting with a downtempo verse, the song moves to the bridge’s triumphant rap and ultimately the soaring, transcendent chorus. A good entry point to an oft-neglected era of the band.
“Beautiful Child” (1979)
Stevie Nicks’s torch song, “Beautiful Child,” is structured like a witchy dirge—creeping, pining vulnerability is mirrored in a softly delivered vocal that builds and builds but never reaches a climax. Haunting backup vocals echo Stevie’s plaintive lyric, and Christine’s husk and Lindsey’s yowl—here reduced to reverberating whispers—secure the song as an episode of pure and utter heartbreak.
(solo artist and backup singer for Neko Case)
“Over My Head” (1975)
Fleetwood Mac reminds me of being forced to clean our entire house every Saturday before we could watch cartoons. My dad would blast Rumours and hand us the Windex. Yeah, I never saw any cartoons, and I never became a Mac-ophile, per se—liked ’em but never bought any records. And I’ve really never been able to “get” the whole Church of Stevie, but then I also hate Renaissance fairs. I’m pro Christine all the way. She’s got sensible sleeves, massive musical chops and a voice as creamy as Monistat. “Over My Head” is my super favorite. Somehow it makes everything slide into a petroleum jelly slow motion, no matter where I hear it—the dentist, the Piggly Wiggly, the DMV. “You can take me to paradise…” and suddenly I’m wearing shitty rented skates at Rollercade West, swimming under white disco ball dots and thinking my eighth-grade problems are huge.
(Thrill Jockey Records)
Trying to pick just one Fleetwood Mac song is impossible. My problem is that I love the Peter Green era (just listen to the blazing opening of "Oh Well"), I love what his 18-year-old replacement [Danny Kirwan] wrote ("Jewel-Eyed Judy"), yet I also love the super cheese of the songs on Mirage ("Hold Me") and the smooth Bob Welch era ("Sentimental Lady"). Tusk remains one of my favorite albums. There is a ballad double-shot on that record, one penned and sung by Christine McVie ("Honey Hi") and the other written and sung by Stevie Nicks ("Beautiful Child"—Stevie has kept it in her repertoire ever since, overdoing it and making it ever more sickening with each passing year). These are followed by my favorite freaker (if you doubt check out his recent solo albums): Lindsay Buckingham's "Walk a Thin Line." So I can't pick one song and I did not even delve into all the obvious hits on Fleetwood Mac. I am just going to go back to YouTube and watch Live at Capital Centre (Largo 1975) and try to get a ticket for when they come back in June.
Fleetwood Mac plays United Center Saturday 13 and Allstate Arena June 14.