I wrote about Buckingham Nicks and Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac and nerdy songwriting analytical stuff and all that “you two hos feed your own melodramatic narrative” bullshit for NPR Music’s Turning the Tables series. Read it here.
I can’t remember the first Tom Petty song I ever heard. I have no big revelation, no singular moment that sticks out as the moment I discovered Tom Petty. That’s because Tom Petty was always there.
He was at the local pool where I spent every long summer afternoon as a kid. The radio was never not tuned to the classic rock station and it seemed like they had some rule that a Petty track had to play at least once an hour.
He was there on VH1 every morning while I got ready for school. Those were the days when my parents deemed MTV too racy for my eyes, but the “adult contemporary” that circulated on VH1 was just fine. Still half asleep, 7 years old, maybe 8. Sometimes it was “Don’t Come Around Here No More” on the classics hour, “Swingin’” when it switched to the top 20 countdown.
He was there on every single mix cd blasted in my mom’s car, my dad’s car, my car as I learned how to drive. He was the soundtrack for my friends and I every time we tried to escape the boredom of our small suburban town by going on endless cruises. He was the ridiculous dance to “Don’t Do Me Like That” my youngest sister and I coordinated in bits and pieces any time we sat in traffic. Both my sisters scoffed and rolled their eyes at everything else I played; it was too old, too obscure. They wanted One Direction and Miley Cyrus and whatever else was cool on the radio that I was blissfully unaware of. But somehow Petty was always accepted without complaints.
I have so many memories tied up in Tom Petty, yes. That’s true for any artist or band that I love. But what I’ve realized over the past week, what I keep thinking about, is that I honestly thought those memories were still being made.
Tom Petty was always there because Tom Petty never left.
The old bands I’ve loved my whole life have largely been, sadly, just that: old bands. I was born in 1991. Led Zeppelin had been long done by that time; Talking Heads split shortly after then. Fleetwood Mac made one album of new material when I was 12 and then that was it. Their music has all been consumed from a slightly removed perspective, forever preserved on vinyl, but never to evolve any further.
But Tom Petty persisted. He just didn’t stop. He never split from the Heartbreakers when he achieved solo success. He resisted the changing musical landscape, refused to let streaming or the industry-wide decline in album sales persuade him to just quit making albums in favor of becoming another legacy act on an endless cycle of greatest hits tours. No, I could always count on something brand new from him to come out every few years. I could eagerly go to the mall and buy the Elizabethtown soundtrack solely for the new Tom Petty song that would be on it. I could buy a Heartbreakers album — a new one, not a reissue — on vinyl and feel the satisfaction of being able to hold it in my hands and anticipate going home, putting it on my turntable, and lying on the floor and letting the music seep into my pores. Times changed, but Tom Petty didn’t.
He was so special to me for so many reasons. His character was something I aspired to: humble, beyond the definition of loyal, kind, always looking out for the underdogs. He seemed effortlessly cool, but still like he held onto a bit of that scrappy kid from Florida.
His music covered me in so many different ways. Sometimes it was a leather jacket when I needed to feel tough and defiant. But sometimes it was a blanket when I needed comfort, when all I wanted to do was curl up into a ball and hide from the world.
His songs were magic. They just were. How else can you explain a 10-year-old girl, a 16-year-old girl, and 26-year-old girl not only falling in love with, but finding identity within lyrics written by a young man, a middle aged man, an old man, ones that were often deeply personal? On paper it doesn’t make sense, but I did. I do. I can see a bit of myself in almost all of his songs: The American Girl raised on promises. The jilted narrator of “You Got Lucky.” The resilient punks of “Refugee” and “I Won’t Back Down.” That wandering person still figuring out life, still learning to fly.
Between the Heartbreakers, his solo work, and Mudcrutch, Tom Petty made 10 new albums in my lifetime. Ten. He was a constant. Every couple of years, there was something new, and it seemed like it was never going to stop. I was always a little angry at my parents for not taking me to one of his concerts as a kid, a little angry at myself for never getting around to seeing him live until after I was out of college. It was such an amazing experience: hair-on-my-arms-raising and tears-in-my-eyes-forming. My face hurt from smiling so big and my voice was hoarse from singing along so loudly. How many of these nights had I missed out on? Plenty, but I felt secure in my self-assurance that there would be plenty more to make up for lost time.
I guess what I am trying to say, as I continue to process why this has hit me so hard, why this all feels like a tremendous gut punch, is that I wasn’t ready. That I’m not ready. Just barely two months ago, I was standing in the second row at Forest Hills Stadium (another reason to love him, in that it cost what a floor seat should cost and not an entire paycheck), shouting out the “Hey!“s in “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” clutching my heart during “Crawling Back to You,” crying to “Learning to Fly,” laughing at his knowing grin as the audience sang “Let’s get to the point / Let’s roll another joint” extra loud during “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” clouds of smoke hanging low in the air. I still have a fresh scar on my right leg from not even a month before that, when I cut myself climbing over folding metal chairs at the Prudential Center to get to the pit for the encore. I didn’t even register the pain until after; I was euphorically singing along to “Refugee.”
He was just right there and I was just right there, marveling at how he somehow oozed cool guy and dork dad and chill bro all at the same time. Not once did I think it would be the last time. Nothing about it felt like the last time. Even thinking back now, combing my memory, rewatching the few videos I took, it doesn’t seem real. It seems so illogical it hurts. He wasn’t supposed to leave us like this, and not right now. He was okay. He was okay. He was okay.
Until he wasn’t.
The world feels a little darker. It feels a little more unjust. A little more cruel. But it also feels a little bit more full of love, paradoxical as that sounds. In the wake of Tom’s untimely death, countless tributes and remembrances have poured out from all corners of society. He was loved by everyone, from your Bernie bro hippie friend to your conservative uncle, your boomer parents and your college-aged sisters. We seem to have been reminded, in this ugly time, of goodness that still exists.
If I’ve reached any conclusions over the past week of thinking, it’s these few: that unifying power of music will continue to live on if we want it to. The joy and the comfort that we get from it doesn’t have to go away, it’s just different. But life is short and unpredictable. Don’t take any of it for granted. Buy that ticket. See that show. Remember why you love music in the first place.
This piece originally appeared on Bed Crumbs. About six months ago, I submitted a proposal for a book on Buckingham Nicks for the 33 1/3 series. It’s in a weird limbo state now, but I’m really proud of the work I did, and I love these words about this album that I love so much that I couldn’t just put them in a drawer and just walk away and wait. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.
“Let me ask you a question first,” producer Keith Olsen says not even three minutes into our first phone call. It’s a warm, beautiful spring day in Lake Tahoe; he’s spent most of it trying to place tom-tom drums on a mix he’s been sent. It’s been tedious work — like Photoshop with a bad picture, he explains — but he’s worked with worse. In the meantime, my call is a welcome distraction.
“Sure,” I respond, caught a little off-guard at how quickly he jumps into things. I thought I was the one who was supposed to be asking the questions.
“Why?” he asks.
“Why?” I repeat his question back.
“Yeah. Why? Why are you writing about Buckingham Nicks? Why do you love this album?”
It’s a simple question, one I don’t have a simple answer to.
I first heard Buckingham Nicks when I was 21 years old, nearly four decades after it was released. I was home from college for a weekend, and though I didn’t even have a turntable of my own yet, I was still trying to build my personal library to have something to play when I did. My father’s seemingly endless record collection that sat untouched in our basement was — and continues to be — a reliable and plentiful resource, one I can sift through countless times and still find something I hadn’t noticed before.
“You’ll really like that one,” my father said when I showed him my selections. He wasn’t singling out his copy of Berlin or Excitable Boy, not Some Girls or Combat Rock or More Songs About Buildings and Food. He pointed to the old, faded LP from 1973 with a wind-blown, half-naked, young unknown couple on the cover, the album that you’d likely never see on a Pitchfork list of must-have albums. The corners were tattered, the inner sleeve torn, but when I pulled it out, the record itself was in perfect form. “It’s Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham before they were in Fleetwood Mac.”
I had known about Buckingham Nicks for a few years, but it seemed like a myth. Later, I would find bootleg digital rips on the internet, but at the time, I only knew it as a cult favorite long out of print on vinyl, never made available officially on cassette, CD, or any streaming service, and rarely talked about. It seemed like the holy grail of records, one that you were either lucky enough to find and hear or not.
Maybe that’s part of its enduring magic. It’s elusive. There’s no instant gratification, no shrink-wrapped copy at Urban Outfitters or quick download on iTunes or stream on Spotify. It isn’t music that presents itself to you. It has to be found, the same way I found it digging through crates of old records in a damp basement one day.
Buckingham Nicks isn’t technically remarkable. Its music and lyrics, at times, sound juvenile, show how young Buckingham and Nicks are, both in life and in art. There’s no clear focus; some tracks could belong on an entirely different project. But, still, I fell in love with it. I fell in love with it because it’s pure. It’s raw. I fell in love with it because, when I hear it, I don’t hear Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, rock icons. I hear Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, two kids my age, completely in love with each other, completely determined to become successful, however success may present itself, and not quite sure of much else.
I fell in love with it because it was unexpected, because it changed the way I looked at the Buckingham Nicks we know now, the ones I was first introduced to as a teenager, who had, until then, lived in my mind simply as two parental figures of rock and roll:
Lindsey plays the role of the aging father: there to tell tales of hedonistic glory days — the stories you can listen to and think of the way you think of your own parents in their youth, both impressed and embarrassed that they were once that cool — with a newly-mellowed and romantic outlook. There’s less of a sting to his art now. He’s less bitter, more sure of himself, but always eager to keep a hand in the game, still wanting to understand what it is the kids are doing these days.
Stevie Nicks is the great maternal comfort, the self-proclaimed fairy godmother to thousands of women and girls who find safety and comfort in her music, whose voice consistently serves as a lighthouse when feel like you have lost your way. Her words offer their guidance and encouragement, whisper confidence in your ears, sing you a soft lullaby when you can’t sleep at night.
By and large, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks seem like two people who have, for the most part, figured their shit out.
But for 37 minutes, I can slip this record on and those figures disappear. For 37 minutes, they are two young 20-somethings, forever suspended in time and acetate as my peers. For 37 minutes, we are the same: kids masquerading as grown-ups while trying to figure out how to exactly be grown-ups, as we try to figure out how to be heard in this world, looking at others doing what we want to be doing with a mixture of admiration, envy, determination, and fear. For 37 minutes, they’re just two kids trying to make something happen, knowing where they wanted to be and still trying to figure out how to stumble towards a finish line that seems to keep move further and further away.
It’s odd to think of two icons as my peers, but when I’m lying on the floor of my small New York apartment, exhausted and exasperated and wondering “what am I doing with my life?” yet again, it’s comforting — and almost too easy — to fish this record, this record that my father bought as a 17-year-old kid and unexpectedly passed down to his 20-something daughter, out of its safe spot, put it on the turntable, and think of them as anything but.
Because it’s about life — life at a very specific, tumultuous time — and all of the passion and fear and frustration that comes with it. It’s about that feeling that every 23 or 24 or 25-year-old gets and they think that they’re the first to have ever felt it: Like life is both euphoric and terrifying. Like your brain is moving a million miles a minute and everything is happening and there’s so much to do, but you don’t have the time to do it all. Like you just can’t stop thinking about time. Time is of the essence. I’ve got nothing but time, no time for living. There’s too much time. There’s not enough.
It’s about being that age where you realize that everything you’ve been told as a kid — that you are good, that you are talented, that you can do anything you want if you just work hard — might not be true. You get out in the real world and realize you’ve got competition. Suddenly, life is a race and you’re looking around at everyone else trying to do what you’re doing — so many different kinds of people trying to be the same — and you question if you’re good enough, question if you can keep up. Races are run; some people win, some people always have to lose — and you’re praying you’re not the latter.
It’s about making decisions that will affect the rest of your life. Do you always trust your first initial feeling? Special knowledge holds true, bears believing. It’s about the uncertainty of it all, about wanting independence, but wishing for a little bit of guidance once you suddenly get it. It’s about the overwhelming love you have for those rare people you find who stick by your side in the trenches — I turned around, and the water was closing all around me like a glove, like the love that finally found me.
In a few years, this feeling may no longer be true. It is not lost on me that I am now the same age Stevie was when Buckingham Nicks was released; it’s not lost on me how many times I’ve found myself inadvertently using her timeline as a barometer of my own success. It’s okay that I’m not exactly where I want to be just yet: Look where Stevie was at 23, 24, 25; don’t worry about it too much — Stevie didn’t even join Fleetwood Mac until she was 27.
In a few years, I will likely become like every other adult I’ve spoken about this album with: forever unable to separate it from this specific time in my life, forever unable to listen to it and hear anything other than my youth. I’ll probably hear memories. I’ll probably think “God, was anyone so young?”
Sometimes you love things so intensely for no reason other than because they have become a part of you, and maybe that’s why I’ve come to call Buckingham Nicks my favorite album. It’s not that it’s ahead of its time or profound or perfect. It’s just that, as much as I have wanted to crawl inside its world and stay there, it’s actually managed to do the opposite: it’s latched its claws in my skin, dug in, and embedded itself in my DNA.
“So, we are going to play for you the oldest song we’ve ever played on stage. It’s from the Buckingham Nicks album and—”
Stevie Nicks is on her 19th solo date of 2016. The majority of the audience at Madison Square Garden have no idea that this isn’t her usual greatest hits tour. Most of them came for “Edge of Seventeen” and “Stand Back.” They are blissfully unaware that this tour is different; they haven’t trolled Twitter or message boards or set list sites. They don’t know that, for the two months she’s been on the road, Nicks has been filling the night with deep cuts — one, in particular, deeper than others. And yet, for such a little known album, the mere mention of it draws such screams from the crowd that she has to pause before she can continue.
Nicks continues that this song was intended to be the single, but the record didn’t sell well, so it, and the potential single, was dropped.* “We never played it. We went and joined Fleetwood Mac and we never played this song again, ever.”
In 1973, Nicks was a maid and a waitress, driving a car that was constantly breaking down and perpetually without reverse, trying to support herself and Lindsey Buckingham. Forty-three years later, as a 68-year-old woman — not a Beyoncé or a Rihanna or an Ariana Grande — she sells out Madison Square Garden as a headliner, one of few women in her demographic to do so as a solo headliner in this decade,** and she performs “Crying in the Night” live for the first time since it was recorded 43 years before.
“There were a lot of firsts with them,” Keith Olsen says.
Olsen had not heard from Buckingham and Nicks since Fritz’s demo session at Sound City in 1970 until he got a call from Stevie nearly a year later. Lindsey came down with mononucleosis and quit the band; Stevie had been nursing him back to health, she explained. They had begun writing songs together, cut their own demos on a four track machine, and wanted to visit Olsen in LA to play them for him.
“They came to my house with their four track machine and their little mixer and they set it up and pressed play and I was astounded. I said, ‘Yeah. Yeah, I think we can get a deal.’ So, I took those demos and I started shopping around. I got them, Waddy Wachtel, and Jorge Calderon all signed to one thing,” Olsen says.
In the span of six weeks, Olsen secured a $35,000 budget and a backing band that would find itself switched up more than once throughout the recording process. Wachtel was a staple, lending additional guitar parts and harmonies. Ronnie Tutt and Jerry Scheff, known at the time as Elvis’s rhythm section, snuck into sessions when they had spare time, but eventually had to leave to tour, only to be replaced with musicians like Warren Zevon collaborator Jorge Calderón and Jim Keltner, who had been building a reputation as a go-to session player for everyone from George Harrison to Carly Simon. With a brand new Neve console arriving at Sound City around the same time, Nicks, Buckingham, and Olsen were ready to start recording.
The sounds that have come out of Sound City studios defy the looks of it — even before it became better known for being a grimey, run-down hole-in-the-wall with stained brown shag carpets and chipping paint. For starters, it simply wasn’t built to be a studio. The layout has been compared to a barn — empty and cavernous, too open to contain sound. Somehow, the studio has produced an impressive list of albums, from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Damn the Torpedos to Nirvana’s Nevermind, all recorded on the same magical analog Neve console that captured drum tracks like no other could and gave warmth and depth to an otherwise empty space.
“Buckingham Nicks was the first album ever recorded on that Sound City console. The very first one,” Olsen explains. “I mean, it came out of the box, we plugged everything in that afternoon and into the early evening and it looked like everything was okay. I called in the guys and we cut ‘Crying in the Night.’ When we came in and listened back at the first playback, I remember Lindsey looking at me with a smile on his face saying, ‘Oh my God!’ Because that’s the Neve console. That was that English sound that we wanted to get really bad and there it was.”
Given the album’s stature as not only the first music recorded on the now iconic Neve board, but as the springboard for Buckingham and Nicks’s future careers with Fleetwood Mac, the question of how it has possibly remained “lost” work for 44 years astounds even their closest friends and colleagues.
“I don’t know that anybody really has an answer,” says Lori Nicks, Nicks’s friend, sister-in-law, and backup singer who first met Buckingham and Nicks in 1973 when visiting the studio with then-boyfriend and promoter Gordon Perry, and has worked with Nicks since 1978. “It’s the $64,000 question. I think that Keith would probably have a version of what happened or why it hasn’t happened yet. I think Lindsey would. I think Stevie would. And then their managers, probably, would have something to say about it, as well.”
It turns out, that’s exactly how it is: everyone involved with Buckingham Nicks meets the question of its still unreleased status with a different take, the only similarity between stories being a fuzziness recalling details of deals worked out decades ago and uncertainty of what has happened to the rights or the master tracks or the personal and professional relationships since then.
There are a slew of unanswered questions, but, at the end of the day, what matters most is this: This is a love story. This is a love story in its earliest form, before it burnt to the ground and was rebuilt and branded as a Love Story™. A love story about two kids from San Francisco, new to LA, bouncing checks at IHOP and falling behind on their rent, trying to make it as a duo, both in love and in music. A love story about Buckingham Nicks before they were Buckingham Nicks, America’s favorite musical soap opera.
This is a love story about love in its rawest, most genuine form, the kind that still lives on today when Buckingham Nicks, no longer a couple in real life, join hands and play one on stage, built from 50 years of shared history, a lowercase love story, there to give a sliver of veracity to their stage performances.
This is a love story about youth, about what it’s like to feel very young and very old at the same time, about the love you have for that time period both when you’re in it and when you’re looking back.
This is a love story about the kind of music that rattles your cage, that may not be the best album made, but crawls under your skin and lives there somewhere next to your heart. This is a love story about music that requires playing at every important moment in your life, music that makes you feel like someone else knows exactly how you feel.
Mostly, though, it’s a love story about a lost story. The Fleetwood Mac we know today, the band that has given pop culture not only a wealth of music, but a wealth of soap opera-worthy drama, would not exist without Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. Buckingham Nicks was just the beginning, the catalyst for everything to come. Yet little known is about it, both its creation and its legacy. For years, and for what seems like years to come, its significance has been reduced to footnotes or mere paragraphs in articles and biographies that focus more on gossip, sensationalism, and rumors than music.
Time moves forward relentlessly and though the music itself is not finite, the vinyl that exclusively houses it is. One day the few mentions the album manages to get now will become shorter and shorter. The opportunities for future generations to discover the album, to fall in love with or identify with some bit of it and be curious about its story, will become increasingly rare. It falls to us to tell this story now, before time extinguishes too much of its light.
*Rare copies of a single version of “Crying in the Night” with “Stephanie” as the B-side have made occasional appearances online, and once, a few feet away from me at Bleecker Street Records, selling for the reasonable price of $120, which a not-so-reasonable 22-year-old me nearly bought before a more responsible 22-year-old reminded me that things like rent and student loan bills exist.
**Being a woman over the age of 60 to play as a solo artist Madison Square Garden is a rarity in and of itself. Since 2010, only Nicks, Bette Midler, Blondie (co-headlining with Morrissey), and Patti Smith (supporting Neil Young and Crazy Horse) have done so.
Before Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, classic American rock icons, they were just five kids from Gainesville, Florida who had driven cross country to Los Angeles with $200 and hopes of landing a record deal for their southern rock group Mudcrutch.
Their ascent would be a slow one; the group signed with Shelter Records in 1974 and released a single, only to be dropped from the label. The band broke up. The band got back together and found themselves with a new opportunity to release an album — this time with a better name: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Released in 1976, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ self-titled debut is an amalgamation of styles and influences. It travels from classic blues to swampy country to classic ‘50s rock in songs that are abruptly short and full of anxious, pulsing rhythms that weren’t too deviant from the emerging punk scene. It’s no wonder people didn’t know what to do with them or how to classify them when the album was released.
Though the album contains songs that are now staples of American pop culture, ingrained in our collective consciousness — songs like “American Girl” and “Breakdown” — it would be a few years before Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers cemented their status as household name rock stars — but it’s a status they’ve held onto.
In this episode, we discuss the variety of musical influences on early Heartbreakers work, dive into Tom Petty’s sparse songwriting style, and talk about why Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ enduring, four decade long careers truly inspire us.
On March 31, 1974, a young band called Television played their first gig at recently-opened Bowery dive CBGB. Not long before, they had helped Hilly Kristal put the CBGB stage together; now, they were performing in the club that they would help to immortalize. Television, comprised of Tom Verlaine, Richard Lloyd, Richard Hell (replaced by Fred Smith in 1975), and Billy Ficca, soon became the de facto house band at CBGB, appearing regularly and becoming a staple of the growing scene that would come to include the Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, Dead Boys, and Patti Smith, to name a few.
With their popularity growing, the logical next step would have been to record an album, but Television bided their time. They chose to hone their sound, to develop and grow as a band, so by the time they were signed to Elektra Records in 1976, they were more than ready to begin work on what would become the seminal Marquee Moon. Released in early 1977, the album is regarded as one of the greatest of the punk era, containing songs that continue to be referenced today in covers and samples.
We chose this album as the first to be covered from our show’s namesake year because of its grit, its timeliness and timelessness, and its particular way of getting under your skin and making you feel more electrically charged than you were when you began the album. In this episode, we explore how Television’s and CBGB’s beginnings are inextricably linked, dive into Marquee Moon’s darkness and dreaminess, and outline the continuation of the band’s sound, proving that their legacy still thrives today.
By 1972, British music had fully renewed itself on the American scene in the form of glam rock. David Bowie, Slade, and Roxy Music were all part of this musical landscape that Marc Bolan and his band T. Rex expanded and exemplified. Glitter, platform boots, sci-fi imagery, and ’50s rock n’ roll roots made this sub-genre exciting, fresh, and new to kids of the ’70s who may not have realized that this was the rock n’ roll of Chuck Berry, Howlin’ Wolf, and Little Richard — just amped up and fuzzed out for the new generation.
T. Rex’s album The Slider made full use of all of these elements to create a vibe that spoke to a new generation of rock fans. The album was the pinnacle of the dreamworld that Marc Bolan created, and it leaves us spellbound more than 40 years later. In this episode, we theorize over some extremely poetic lyrics, attempt to decode Bolan, introduce a new hashtag (#RespectTheSequence), and somehow, somehow connect T. Rex to DJ Khaled.