Looking Back at Fleetwood Mac

I’ve just recently finished reading guitarist/vocalist Walter Lure’s autobiography, To Hell and Back. Walter has a great story about his days in Johnny Thunders’s Heartbreakers and his own Waldos. Until he died in late August, you could still hear him playing with the Waldos and running periodic tributes to Johnny. But he also took some space to write about his first band, a hard-rock dance band called Bloodbath that pounded the risers in the North Bronx at the dawn of the 1970s. I had the extreme pleasure of being the vocalist and master of revels in this two-guitar maelstrom. We covered Fleetwood Mac songs that fit our concept: “Rattlesnake Shake” and “Tell Me All the Things You Do” worked especially well.

Like a lot of other blues fans, we held Fleetwood Mac, and particularly lead guitarist Peter Green, in high esteem. It’s strange to think that this band we thought so much of would seem so alien to the group the vast majority of Fleetwood Mac fans think of when the band’s brand is evoked. That would be the mid-’70s lineup fronted by Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, which made two of the best-selling pop-rock albums in history, Fleetwood Mac and Rumours.

But the time those albums were released, the band already had a rich history: nine albums and an evolving sequence of band members.

Fleetwood Mac 1969 to 1974 (8CD Warner Records R2 596006) collects the band’s Reprise catalog leading up to the Buckingham/Nicks era. It begins with the last record made with group founder Peter Green, Then Play On. At a time when guitarists were preoccupied with classical formalism and technical dexterity, Green played with deep soul and a searing tone that was partly due to his guitar, a Gibson Les Paul with one of the pickups reversed, giving it a unique, piercing sound with a hint of distortion in its wobbling high end.


Rhino is also releasing new, mid-period Fleetwood Mac: a four-LP set (Fleetwood Mac 1973 to 1974, 4LP Warner Records R1-596007) that brings the Penguin, Mystery to Me, and Heroes Are Hard To Find LPs back into print on vinyl, with a bonus live concert on the fourth LP. There’s also a 7″ single containing “For Your Love” (mono promo edit) on one side and the previously unreleased “Good Things (Come to Those Who Wait)” on the flipside. The LP box is also available in a limited-edition colored-vinyl format (RCV1-625013).

Fleetwood Mac emerged from John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Bluesbreakers charter member and bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood joining Green. The original band also included guitarist Jeremy Spencer, whose rough, dirty sound and slide-guitar work provided a foil for Green’s sharp, B.B. King–like tone.

Green also brought in the young Danny Kirwan on third guitar. Kirwan’s droning, ethereal sound and great feel for rhythms blended well with Green, and together they produced the first Fleetwood Mac masterpiece, the moody, instrumental “Albatross,” which went to number one on the British charts. Other than that song, and “Black Magic Woman,” which later became a hit for Santana, the first two albums are closer to the sound of John Mayall’s A Hard Road album, on which Green replaced Eric Clapton, than to what most of us recognize today as Fleetwood Mac.


The band has undergone so many personnel changes that it’s important to note that, despite the star quality of its front line, the continuity of the music comes from the rhythm section. McVie was a solid, pattern-oriented player with a fat tone and a deep groove coming out of the Mayall band. His role in Fleetwood Mac gradually expanded as the personnel shifted over the years, playing melodic lines of increasing complexity. Fleetwood is a master percussionist, driving, coaxing, and caressing the beat as the situation warrants.

The eight-record chronology chronicled on Fleetwood Mac 1969 to 1974 picks up with the third album, Then Play On, where Spencer is largely absent and Green and guitarist Danny Kirwan evolved a hard-rock sound of layered guitars and surging rhythms best represented by “Rattlesnake Shake” and “Oh Well.” There have been several versions of this record over the years. “Oh Well” was not on the initial release, but the two-sided single was added to later versions and is included here in a remastered version of the album originally released in 2013 with four additional tracks: “Oh Well Pts. 1 & 2,” “The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown),” and “World in Harmony.” Green obviously thought a lot of Kirwan, who wrote most of the songs—two credited to Green are studio jams—and set the course for what would become the trademark sound of the band going forward.

All the other albums in this 8-CD set are newly remastered. The set also includes a live performance from 1974 that has never been issued before.

On the four-LP Rhino set, the lacquers for the three previously released albums—Penguin, Mystery to Me, and Heroes Are Hard to Find—were cut from the original analog master tapes by Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman Mastering. That set also includes the live recording as a fourth LP. The records are pressed on 140gm vinyl with a special limited-edition colored vinyl version of the release. The LP boxes also include a 7″ single of “For Your Love” (mono promo edit) backed by “Good Things (Come to Those Who Wait).”

Green is gone by the fourth album, Kiln House, one of the great under-recognized classics in rock history, featuring Kirwan’s magnificent compositions “Station Man” and “Tell Me All the Things You Do” and guitarist Jeremy Spencer’s forays into R&B and rockabilly with “This Is the Rock,” “Buddy’s Song,” and “Hi Ho Silver.” The album is named after the Hampshire country house the band lived in while making the album, and the music has that numinous back-to-the-roots quality that was pervasive in a lot of British rock around 1970. The great vocalist Christine Perfect, already a star in England from her work with Chicken Shack, married McVie and lived with the band in Kiln House. She made uncredited contributions to the album on vocals (on the choruses of Spencer’s songs and the bonus tracks “Dragonfly” and “The Purple Dancer”) and piano (she also played some piano on Then Play On). She also created the idyllic rustic design used for the gatefold cover art. Between the folk-rock sound of Kirwan’s melodic compositions and the dark honey soul of Christine’s vocals, the band’s new identity was about to pull into even sharper focus.


The remaster sounds wonderful. I always felt the vocals were a bit buried in the atmospherics of the album’s original aural narrative, but here the voices stand out more without changing the soundstage, and Fleetwood’s cymbals literally sizzle. The boost also gives the sonic detail of the architecture in the guitar interlace great presence on “Station Man.” This many-chaptered construction fades out after 5:53, just as it sounds as if the band is about to launch into a massive jam. On the recording, it’s a good way to end it, but anyone who saw the band live during this time knows that a jam did indeed take place, and with a vengeance. Pretty much the same thing happens with “Tell Me All the Things You Do.”

By the time of the next album, Future Games, Spencer had left the group. Guitarist Bob Welch was brought in to replace him, and Christine McVie joined full-time on vocals and keyboards, contributing the soulful ballad “Show Me a Smile” and the great R&B glider “Morning Rain,” with its rollicking piano underpinning showing the blueprint of what would ultimately be Fleetwood Mac’s most popular sound. Christine was not an atmospherist: She went for the heart with her songs, and it brought a freshness to the band’s approach that would pay dividends down the road. Meanwhile, Kirwan continued to develop his ethereal sound on Future Games and Bare Trees, while Welch’s material bore a resemblance to the San Francisco–meets-London albums Steve Miller was making around the same time. Bare Trees was Kirwan’s last record with the band, and he finished that work on a high note with the title track and “Child of Mine” in particular shimmering with layered guitars, vocal harmonies, and a purring motor of rhythms. Welch contributed “Sentimental Lady,” which later became a hit on his solo album French Kiss in a version backed up by other members of the band. Christine McVie wrote, played, and sang on “Homeward Bound” and the magnificent “Spare Me a Little of Your Love,” destined to become a Fleetwood Mac classic.


The final three studio albums in the sequence are in both the CD package and the LP box. Guitarist Bob Weston and vocalist Dave Walker were brought in on Penguin to replace Kirwan, whose absence signified how essential he was to FM’s identity up until this point.

He could not be replaced. Walker, a big-voiced blues shouter who’d been with Savoy Brown, sang only two leads on the album, including the enjoyable cover of the Jr. Walker and the All Stars classic “(I’m a) Road Runner.” Welch gave the rhythm section a good workout on one of his three songs, “Revelation.” As a lead guitarist, Weston was useful but not essential—a glorified session musician. But Christine McVie stepped up, delivering more great performances on the album opener, “Remember Me,” and the sprightly pop R&B of “Dissatisfied.”

Walker was dumped before Mystery to Me, but Welch and Christine McVie more than made up for his absence. Christine delivered the brisk rocker “Believe Me” and the classic Fleetwood Mac chorus of “Just Crazy Love.” Welch was busy with five classic-rock staple “Hypnotized” and the trademark Fleetwood Mac guitar vehicles “The City” and “Miles Away.” The rhythm section gets adventurous on Mystery… with John McVie playing a prominent role in the arrangements and Fleetwood marshaling esoteric beats on drums and various percussion instruments.


The group broke up after Mystery… and reformed more than a year later as a quartet, with Welch the sole guitarist remaining to make the band’s comeback record, Heroes Are Hard to Find. This is Fleetwood Mac 2.0, the first album recorded in California and without longtime engineer/co-producer Martin Burch. Gone is the old-school Mac of layered guitars and psychedelic overtones. This band is meat and potatoes, the vocals punch through instead of washing along inside the mix, and the rhythm section is crisp and well-articulated. Welch had been around long enough to handle his role as the sole guitarist, as the bonus live recording from San Francisco’s K-SAN studio proves. The live set is a career retrospective mixing old favorites “Green Manalishi,” “Oh Well,” “Rattlesnake Shake,” and “Black Magic Woman” with McVie’s showcase “Spare Me a Little of Your Love” and Welch favorites “Angel” and “Sentimental Lady.”

The band looked set for a fresh run—but not so fast. Within months, Welch was gone. While searching for a replacement, Fleetwood met up with producer Keith Olsen, who played him the Buckingham Nicks album, and the remaining three went on to form the best-known version of Fleetwood Mac with Buckingham and Nicks. So now Fleetwood Mac fans are divided. Most are devotees of the shimmering power-pop that Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, and producer Keith Olsen brought to the group. The rest are hard-core Peter Green guitar aficionados, like my buddies in Bloodbath. Both camps lost a mainstay in 2020, when both Olsen and Green passed away. But the constant heartbeat through it all is one of the most durable rhythm sections in rock history, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie.

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