Happy Anniversary, You Crazy Kids: Forty Years of (This) Fleetwood Mac

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This post originally appeared on Bed Crumbs.

Forty years ago today, the face of rock and roll changed. They didn’t know it. We didn’t know it. But in one fell swoop, one phone call, history was made.

New Year’s Eve, 1974. Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks join Fleetwood Mac. Up until then, they were a couple of California kids trying to make it as a musical duo (not to mention as a couple) with middling success. They had a critically acclaimed, but poorly selling, debut album in the can and promptly dropped by Polydor; its follow-up being scrapped together on spec studio time and high hopes. They were poor, tired, overworked.

They were talented – oh, were they talented. Nicks’s lyrics were poetic and introspective. Her voice so versatile, it could range from raspy to silky, powerful cries to childlike whispers, low to high all within the same song. Buckingham’s guitar playing – he is a self-taught guitarist with a finger picking technique unique to rock and roll – nearly knock a listener out. After all, it only took his solo in Buckingham Nicks’s “Frozen Love” to convince Mick Fleetwood that he was the next guitarist for Fleetwood Mac.

And they were hard working. The couple took a leap of faith, left their band Fritz, which had opened for legends like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, and moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles to pursue a shared dream. Together they wrote and recorded into the early, pre-dawn hours. By day, Nicks worked multiple jobs to pay the rent; Buckingham continued to hone their music. And yet. They had little to show for it.

Did they know? Did they know, truly, what the future held? Nicks frequently speaks of having premonitions, visions of the rock star she would become, but in her heart of hearts, as she waited tables and cleaned homes and found herself up against a six month make-it-or-go-back-to-school ultimatum, did she know?

Did she truly think that the two would become rock legends, not only together, but separately as well? Did Buckingham know, as he fiddled with his guitar, finger picking a new riff, that he would soon play an integral role in one of the best selling bands of all time?

What happened that New Year’s Eve, when Mick Fleetwood called and offered Buckingham a spot in the band? By 1974, Fleetwood Mac certainly was not the astronomical success that they were to become, but they had put out several prominent records with impressive former members like Peter Green and Bob Welch. What do you say when you pick up the phone and Mick Fleetwood is on the other end, offering you a job without so much as an audition?

Even more pressing is the issue of how the band pursued a guitarist and ended up gaining another singer. Nicks and Buckingham would come to form the tenth lineup of the band; Buckingham was their sixth guitarist. Had they taken just Buckingham, as intended, how would they have fared? What would have become of Nicks? What if, when Buckingham said “You’ve gotta take my girlfriend, too,” they said “Eh, no thanks.”? What if he turned down the offer outright? Would Buckingham Nicks II have been a success? Would the young couple have stayed together?

There are so many what ifs that it seems remarkable, serendipitous even, how the events played out. We can think about the sister lives of everyone involved, the could have beens and might have beens, the alternate routes that their lives could have taken that never were traveled. The parallel universes are endless enough to make our brains fuzzy, overwhelmed with the possibilities. We know which path was taken, how they fared on their journey, and the alternate reality makes no difference now. What matters is that it all started with Fleetwood Mac.

The majority will point to Rumours as the definitive Fleetwood Mac album (at least from this lineup), and how can they not? It was, after all, a runaway success: the number one album for 31 weeks, the tenth best-selling album worldwide, Rolling Stone’s 26th greatest album of all time, among many more accolades.

But it is important to acknowledge the pivotal role Fleetwood Mac, their first album together, played in establishing the band’s new identity. The addition was beneficial for both parties: Fleetwood Mac gained a duo with a pure American sound; Buckingham Nicks gained a British blues perspective and an indomitable rhythm section.

The new album together met the expectations associated with re-establishing themselves and then some. Each of the three unique songwriters – Lindsey Buckingham, Christine McVie, and Stevie Nicks – has at least one iconic track on Fleetwood Mac, a cut that identifies who they are as people and as artists so intrinsically that it’s borderline astonishing that they all run together so naturally.

Mystical, metaphoric “Rhiannon” would come to represent Stevie Nicks not only in terms of songwriting, but also as a woman, while “Landslide” will forever cement Nicks as sensitive and vulnerable, yet resilient. The blistering “I’m So Afraid” is pure Lindsey Buckingham: brooding, intricate, complicated. Dialogues with Nicks, a common theme throughout his now decades-long career, had already begun with “Monday Morning.” And “Over My Head” is the literal, grounding complimentary piece from Christine McVie – exactly what she does best, rooting her lofty California counterparts with clear, simple pop writing.

And then there are those vocals. It’s clear that Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks’s voices were meant to sing together. They fold together so seamlessly; where does one end and the other begin? They warmly embrace each other, even when the people controlling them are at odds.

The addition of Christine McVie to harmonies was not like filling a missing piece, as is the case in many bands who bring in new talent. The sum is greater than the parts, yes, but the parts alone are pretty damn terrific.

Rather, it was a beautiful addition. The house Buckingham and Nicks built was already gorgeous; McVie’s voice was the deep, luscious pool in the backyard. To hear the three of them sing three part harmonies together on “Say You Love Me” or “World Turning” is bliss. It’s chemistry that you hear, plain and simple, authentic and raw – something that can’t be faked.

So what does it all mean? They may be celebrating their 40th anniversary with the 13th best-selling tour of 2014 (worldwide), but right now, Fleetwood Mac is at a crossroads, artistically.

The year saw the return of Christine McVie after a 16 year absence, but plans for a new (maybe final) album remain vague, though speculative explanations range from the troubling concern that they are currently without a label to supposed resistance on Nicks’s end to an over-eagerness to capitalize on quick cash by extending touring.

As we approach 2015 and commemorate 40 years of music, both the triumphs and tribulations, brought forth by these five artists, let’s remember their origins and the potential for the future.

Happy Anniversary, you crazy kids. Go show the world that your magic is still there.

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