It all began with Fleetwood Mac.
Casual music fans would be forgiven for thinking that Fleetwood Mac is the band’s first album. It isn’t even the first self-titled album in the band’s discography–that honor goes to a 1968 release put out when the band was a blues-rock trio led by Peter Green–but it might as well serve as a starting point for what Fleetwood Mac would eventually become. While it is often overshadowed by the iconic Rumours, much of what made that album great is laid out here, from the band’s smooth, folk-rock sound and the identity that Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks brought to the band. If this re-issue demonstrates anything, it shows that this album is very much deserving of the instant-classic status that its successor also enjoys.
Fleetwood Mac is an album of three distinct personalities and styles that mesh surprisingly well together in a beautiful way. Buckingham provides most of the album’s rocking moments, but his slick, polished West Coast rock is far removed from anything the band did with either Peter Green or Bob Welch at the helm. Everything seems to have arrived fully-formed: the shimmering harmonies and scorned-lover lyrical perspectives are all there on “Monday Morning” and “Blue Letter,” the latter of which is one of the real hidden gems on this album. Nicks arrived in the band with a mix of heart-on-sleeve sincerity and sultry mysticism that created two of the album’s most enduring hits (“Landslide” and “Rhiannon,” respectively), and the new mastering on this edition makes her irreplaceable voice all the more powerful.
However, it’s arguably Christine McVie who stands out as the MVP on the album, straddling a line between Nicks’ ethereal folk and Buckingham’s driving rock to create songs that are really crucial to how the band would later develop. McVie had previously acted as the pop counterbalance to the band’s more blues-y tendencies after she joined in 1971, but the drastic shift to a more pop-leaning sound allowed her to truly shine with compositions like the dreamy “Warm Ways” and the undeniably catchy “Say You Love Me.”
The extra material available here only serves to underline just how remarkable the album is. Demos on box sets like these usually show a slow progress as each song develops from its barest beginnings to the finished product. That’s not quite the case with the demos for Fleetwood Mac, nearly all of which are mostly finished songs that lack the final production touches of the album versions. The early versions of Buckingham’s songs here mostly just lack the vocal harmonies that gave the final versions that extra kick, while McVie’s early recording of “Over My Head” is essentially finished. Given the amount of overhaul in the band at this time, the unified front presented in these studio outtakes is surprising indeed.
The real conflict in Fleetwood Mac circa 1975 comes out in the live material listed here. Yes, Buckingham and Nicks were brought in with the purpose of shaking up the band’s sound, but Fleetwood Mac had spent a decade as a wonky blues band before then, and those habits are difficult to break. Live, the band seem to be in a constant tug of war between their hard-rocking past and their poppy present. It should be a mess, but it instead gives the band a fire and energy that one doesn’t get on the recordings. The band’s newer material has a sharper edge, best exemplified by Buckingham’s blistering guitar work on the live version of “Rhiannon.” Similarly, the renditions of early blues material gets a new life by being interpreted by musicians less attached to the traditions of the material, turning them into fiery rock songs with just the right amount of aggression. It’s a wonderfully jarring experience for anyone who thinks of this era of Fleetwood Mac as a baggy-clothed folk-pop band without any harsh edges.
Whether they rocked or not, this iteration of Fleetwood Mac endured because of their songs. For all that can be said about Peter Green or Bob Welch during their respective time with the band, it’s clear now that the band’s focus was more on performance than on songwriting when they were figureheads. Buckingham and Nicks changed that entirely, and along with Christine McVie, they put pop songwriting at the forefront of what the band was about. The end result was a run of some of the greatest, most enduring pop music of all time and it all began with Fleetwood Mac.