Forty years after its release, the group’s improbably cohesive follow-up to Rumours remains the blueprint for what comes after astounding commercial success
One rumor goes that Stevie Nicks threatened to leave Fleetwood Mac if they actually called the album Tusk. “There was nothing beautiful or elegant about the word ‘tusk,’” she later said. She’s right: It’s a grunt, a jab, a thudding monosyllable that has none of the musicality of the title Nicks was already dreaming up for her first solo record, Bella Donna. It was also, at least according to another rumor, a dick joke: “I don’t recall it being Mick’s joke about a …,” she trailed off in that interview, as if she couldn’t even bring herself to say it. “That went right over my little prudish head. I wasn’t even told that until after the record was done, and then I liked the title even less.”
Another way of thinking about the title, though, is as an outgrowth of the decorative, costly excess that birthed it: Before Fleetwood Mac even arrived at Studio D at L.A.’s Village Studios in 1978, all sorts of exotic knickknacks were imported onto the premises, transforming the space into a simulacra of an obscenely rich rock star’s home. In the liner notes to the album’s 2004 reissue, Nicks set the scene: “shrunken heads and leis and Polaroids and velvet pillows and saris and sitars and all kinds of wild and crazy instruments and tusks on the console.” Photographs by the nature artist Peter Beard were scattered around for inspiration. “Rare woods from Brazil and volcanic stones from Hawaii went into the decor,” Nicks’s biographer, Stephen Davis, writes. All this ambiance—and Lindsey Buckingham still insisted upon recording some of the damn album in a bathroom.
Such is, as Mick Fleetwood aptly puts it in his biography, “the duality of Tusk.” A sprawling double album, it’s rife with contradictions and ironies. It was, at the time of its release 40 years ago this week, the most expensive album ever made (and the first album ever to cost more than $1 million to record), but its rough edges and experimental ethos have since made it a source of inspiration within the indie-rock world. (In 2002, art-rockers Camper Van Beethoven released a great, imaginative full-album cover of Tusk.) An intentional departure from the coiled energy of Rumours, Tusk is a record large, strange, and varied enough to contain its exact opposite: It is at once sprawling and intimate, masculine and feminine, successful and failed.
It is also the rare album that could sell more than 4 million copies, spawn six hit singles, and, relatively speaking, still be considered a flop. “I say this without hesitation; as a band we really didn’t give a shit,” Fleetwood writes of the record’s commercial prospects. “Not at all.” Not many artists have to confront the mixed blessing of following up what was then the best-selling record of all time, and no one in Fleetwood Mac would have felt creatively satisfied had they just made Rumours II. Still, few listeners or record executives could have quite anticipated the strange sprawl of Tusk, a record that over the years has earned numerous comparisons to the Beatles’ White Album. (Fleetwood, in his memoir, refers to the group’s 1975 self-titled release as their “‘White’ Album”—but he means that in a different sense.) But time sands all edges. Forty years after its release, Tusk feels not so much like an anomaly as an archetype, the urtext of the Difficult Follow-Up Album, and—wild as this would have seemed at the time of its release—increasingly the consensus choice for Fleetwood Mac’s finest record.
The year before he entered the studio to begin recording Tusk, Lindsey Buckingham saw the Clash live in London. The experience left him electrified, challenged, and a little bit personally offended. In late-’70s Britain, writes Nicks’s biographer Davis, “Fleetwood Mac, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Paul McCartney, Elton John, and all the older musicians were mocked for being out of touch with their audience and reviled as ‘dinosaur bands’ and Boring Old Farts.” Buckingham was then not even 30; he wasn’t about to live up to the Boring Old Fart stereotype. So he chopped off his flowing Led Zeppelin locks and traded in his bell-bottoms for skinny jeans and tailored suits. He started hearing beauty in dissonance, like the way recording on a boom box could give music a stark, compressed sound, or the tone you got from playing percussion not on a drum kit but an empty box of Kleenex.
An underappreciated aftershock of punk’s first wave is the kick in the ass it gave to some of the previous generations’ heroes, pushing some of those “dinosaur bands” to make their most adventurous music in years. Punk dared the Stones to make 1978’s Some Girls, their best and most brash record since Exile on Main St. It’s also the inspiration for some of the great Buckingham compositions on Tusk, from the taut, sneering “What Makes You Think You’re the One” to the haunting, oddly dissonant last-call dirge “That’s All for Everyone.” Buckingham was constantly experimenting in Studio D, searching for undiscovered tones and textures: He got the grumbling, blown-out sound of excitable punk ditty “The Ledge” by tuning his guitar down to sound like a bass. (“It sounds to me like it was put in a cement mixer and almost spat out,” he later said, proudly.) “I remember Lindsey used to make such a horrible sound,” the album’s co-producer, Ken Caillat, said in Ryan Reed’s book Fleetwood Mac FAQ. “He would physically make me distort the guitar so that it sounded like fingernails scraping across a chalkboard. I remember when he was recording ‘Not That Funny,’ he insisted he wanted a really weird-sounding vocal, so he made us tape a microphone to a tile floor, and he was doing a push-up over the microphone, singing, ’Not—that—funny—is it?!’ Anything to make it weirder was better on his songs.”
The Beach Boys, too, cast a long shadow over Tusk, and for several different reasons. Ever the studio rat, Buckingham spent the months leading up to the Tusk sessions listening obsessively to Pet Sounds, trying to deconstruct the production techniques behind that innovative masterpiece. It’s also been reported that Buckingham was granted access to the elusive master tapes of the Beach Boys’ then-unreleased Pet Sounds follow-up Smile, and that the Tusk tracks “That’s All for Everyone” and “Beautiful Child” bear the influence of Brian Wilson’s cutting-edge production. During the Tusk sessions, though, Christine McVie went even straighter to the source—she actually started dating a Beach Boy, the dreamy but ultimately troubled drummer Dennis Wilson.
As a counterbalance to Buckingham’s punk outbursts, Tusk showcases some of McVie’s most straight-forwardly lovely compositions: opener “Over & Over” sets a rose-colored tone, while the understated “Never Make Me Cry” is a perennial tear-jerker. Perhaps the most Rumours-reminiscent cut is McVie’s rousing “Think About Me”—one of Tusk’s few full-band jams. Tusk wouldn’t have confounded listeners if even half its songs sounded like this, but restless shape-shifting was also a consistent part of Fleetwood Mac’s ethos, even from the Peter Green days. “They had been a blues band, then a jam band, then a rock band, then a soft rock supernova,” Davis writes. “The Rumours groove had to be part of a progressive continuum, not the endgame.”
One of the most acrimonious fights during Rumours was over the exclusion of Nicks’s masterpiece “Silver Springs.” The band had to make some cuts to keep Rumours confined to a single LP, and when it came time for the final sequencing, the languorous, slow-tempo-ed “Springs” was first on the chopping block. “I started to scream bloody murder and probably said every horribly mean thing you could possibly say to another human being and walked back in the studio and completely flipped out,” Nicks said years later, recalling the conversation with Fleetwood when she first learned the song’s fate.
She got her revenge on Tusk. While Buckingham often approaches songwriting like a code to be cracked (“I’ve learned more about the mathematics of songwriting—how to fit pieces together, line length, timing chords and melodies,” he said around the time of Tusk’s release), Stevie’s process was more intuitive, her songs less rigorously structured. She thrived in open space and sprawl, something Tusk generously supplied. Her songs on the record are loose, unhurried, and exploratory, from the poignant ballad “Storm” to the meditative confessional “Beautiful Child.” The bluesy rocker “Angel” showcases a gravely, newly mature tone of Nicks’s voice that she’d explore further on Bella Donna, while the fan-favorite “Sisters of the Moon” furthered her witchy self-mythology: “A black widow spider makes / More sound than she,” Nicks sang, “and black moons in those eyes of hers / Made more sense to me.”
Her most enduring offering, though, is “Sara”—more of an incantation than a pop song, though it was still Tusk’s highest-charting hit. Her first demo of the track was 16 minutes long; a gorgeous nine-minute take was included on Tusk’s 2004 reissue. In his biography Gold Dust Woman, Stephen Davis calls “Sara” “the most asked-about song by Stevie’s interviewers, even more than ‘Rhiannon.’” Their first question, of course, was almost always, “Who’s Sara?” but that was a misleadingly literal thing to ask of a Stevie Nicks song. “It’s not about Sara [Rector], who was one of my best friends—even though everybody thinks it is,” she said many years later. “But it was really about what was going on with all of us at the time … some songs are about a lot of things.” “Sara” is an impressionistic swirl of all that was happening in Stevie Nicks’s mind in the heady days of 1978, from her ill-fated affair with bandmate Mick Fleetwood to her indecision about whether or not to pursue a solo career. It was a blustery brew but, as she’d tell us a few songs later, she had always been a storm.
While she believed Tusk to be “a spectacular record,” soon-to-be solo star Nicks resented the time its recording required of her. “Tusk took us 13 months to make, which is ridiculous,” she said when promoting Bella Donna in 1981. “I was there in the studio every day—or almost every day—but I probably only worked for two months. The other 11 months I did nothing, and you start to lose it after a while if you’re inactive. You see, Lindsey, Chris, John, and Mick all play, and I don’t. So most of the time I’d be looking at them through the window in the control room. After four or five hours, they’d forget I was even there, they’d be so wrapped up in little details. It was very frustrating.”
One of the approximately 3 billion things I adore about Tusk is that it contains maybe the greatest, and definitely the most petty, album credit of all time:
I completely forgot the production credit on Tusk is “Fleetwood Mac (Special Thanks from the Band to Lindsey Buckingham)” !!!! I will love this petty messy band until I die pic.twitter.com/l3gCk0RciY
Buckingham was, more than anyone, the sonic mastermind behind Tusk. But the very fabric of Tusk is also variety, collaboration, and bricolage—an alchemy he never could have achieved alone. If Rumours was the result of a handful of passionate, often-inebriated people standing elbow-to-elbow in a too-small room, Tusk is the sound of them stomping into their respective corners. To love Fleetwood Mac is to marvel at the beautiful absurdity that these five very different people were ever in a band together, let alone a band whose songs could hang together so well. In this sense, the improbably cohesive Tusk just might be their defining record.
Maybe it was just ahead of its time. Tusk’s double-album breadth might have stunted its commercial prospects in 1979—the 2XLP retailed for $16.98, around $50 adjusted for inflation—but in the more-is-more logic of the streaming era, it seems downright normal. (Drake’s mammoth-selling 2018 album Scorpion, for one example, is 15 minutes longer than Tusk.) Forty years later, it remains the blueprint for what comes after astounding commercial success, if an artist is too itchy and creative to simply rest on their laurels. Its forward-thinking ethos has kept it fresh all this time. “Tusk is not going to sound dated in five or 10 years,” the writer Blair Jackson predicted all the way back in 1981, “and I would be willing to bet that a lot more people will slowly be convinced of the album’s greatness than will forget all about it.” You can say that again.
Lindsay Zoladz / The Ringer / Monday, October 14, 2019
In this behind-the-scenes look at the making of Fleetwood Mac’s epic, platinum-selling double album, Tusk, producers and engineers Ken Caillat and Hernan Rojas tell their stories of spending a year with the band in their new million-dollar studio trying to follow up Rumours, the biggest rock album of the time.
Following their massive success, the band continued its infamous soap opera when its musical leader and guitarist, Lindsey Buckingham, threatened to quit if he didn’t get things his way, resulting in clashes not only with his band but especially Caillat, who had been essential to the band’s Grammy-winning sound.
Hernan Rojas’s story recounts a young man who leaves Chile after General Pinochet’s coup to seek his future in the music industry of Los Angeles, where he finds success at one of the hottest studios in town. When Fleetwood Mac arrives, Rojas falls in love with its star singer, Stevie Nicks, and the two of them become romantically involved.
Throughout the book, both Caillat and Rojas detail not only the trials and sacrifices they made to finish the album, but also triumphs of musical inspiration and technical innovation that have made Tusk the darling of music critics and indie rockers today.
Tusk is often lauded for being Fleetwood Mac’s most experimental album, but it certainly could have gone deeper into the sonic jungle if you listen to the alternate versions found on the deluxe version of Tusk. Take “Brown Eyes,” the Christine-McVie-penned song that takes listeners on a sensuous, slow-burn ride. In the alternate version, Christine sings the original lyrics, which describe something more of a platonic nature than the romantic innuendos shared on the final release. Tusk scholars would argue both sets of lyrics reflect different stages of the relationship Christine is depicting, with the final version actually being the edgier take.
Fleetwood Mac’s elusive founder Peter Green performs on “Brown Eyes,” but on the first-released version, his part is reduced to just a few seconds at the end of the song. His full solo can now be heard on The Alternate Tusk, and in the below YouTube clip.
In the deluxe version of Tusk, liner notes, Lindsey Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood share their recollections of the track:
Lindsey: I don’t remember Peter Green coming in, so I don’t think I made any judgement on whether to use it or not. Mick would ultimately have had the decision to use his playing or not. And it was Christine’s song to do with as she wished.
Mick: Peter was living in L.A. then and hanging out at my house a lot. He was still as he is now, changed, but he used to pop into the studio occasionally. I don’t know if he was that interested or not, but he did play on this song, which I love. Classic, slinky, killer stuff from Chris. The band’s playing really shines. I can’t recall why we only used Peter at the very end, but it’s great that he’s on here, because it’s Peter and it’s his band.
Brown Eyes (Original Lyrics)
If you’re ever feeling lonely
Don’t forget to call on me
Through all the years I’ve known you
You’ve always been good to me
Fleetwood Mac’s beautiful and terrifically strange 1979 LP Tusk poses the question: What happens when love dissipates, and you have to find a new thing to believe in? What if that thing is work?
The autumn of 1979 was, by any reasonable accounting, a challenging time to be alive. The world felt tenuous, transitional: panicked families were fleeing East Germany via hot air balloon, China was restricting couples to one child each, fifty-two Americans were barred inside the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, pending release of the Shah. It was also the year of Tusk, the album in which Fleetwood Mac, a soft-rock band second only to the Eaglesin their embodiment of easy 1970s gloss, completely lost their minds. It was the band’s twelfth album, though only its third with the now-iconic lineup of guitarist Lindsey Buckingham, drummer Mick Fleetwood, bassist John McVie, keyboardist Christine McVie, and singer Stevie Nicks, and it reflected a personal tumult so claustrophobic and intense it felt global in scale—an after-the-fall re-telling of catastrophic heartache and its endless reverberations.
By this time, Fleetwood Mac was widely beloved for its melodic, harmonized jams, which evoked Laurel Canyon, curtains of strung beads, turquoise jewelry, pricey incense, scarves flung over floor lamps, and brandy poured into a nice glass. Despite their smooth, murmuring sound, few of the band’s records pull punches emotionally, but even compared to a cry of pain like “The Chain,” Tusk is singular. It is pocked with heartbreak, resignation, lust, hope, and deep hurt. It poses unanswerable questions. It reckons with the past, and what that past means for a future. It invariably makes some people want to lock their door, excavate half a joint from the recesses of their couch cushions, and spend the next fourteen hours contemplating the Buckingham-Nicks union as one of the great failed loves of the twentieth century.
Just two years earlier, the band had released Rumours, a collection of pert and amiable love songs that sold over ten million copies and spent thirty-one weeks at the top of the Billboard 200 chart. Rumours is presently among the top ten best-selling albums in American history, and, as of 2009, has shipped more than forty million units worldwide. It was—it remains—an album owned by people who have only ever owned eleven albums.
Commercial success on that scale is, of course, a complicated thing to navigate; for Fleetwood Mac, it was presaged and then aggravated by outrageous amounts of cocaine and an awful lot of intra-band copulation. I don’t mean to be reductive about the group’s emotional dynamic, but I can’t think of another assemblage of five able-minded adults who created and survived such a preposterous tangle of romantic investments and divestments (to wit: Nicks and Buckingham, McVie and McVie, Nicks and Fleetwood, Fleetwood’s wife and former member Bob Weston, McVie and the lighting designer, and Fleetwood and Nicks’ then-married best friend—to cite just the handful of permutations known to the public).
By the time *Tusk *was released, the two primary relationships sustaining the band (Christine and John’s marriage, and Lindsey and Stevie’s long-standing romance) had fully dissolved, which seemed to qualify Fleetwood Mac, in some perverse way, to go on to become one of our best and bravest chroniclers of love’s horrifying tumult. Being tasked with singing backing vocals for a song written by your ex-lover, about you, months (and eventually years) after the relationship ruptured? Hold that in mind—just how excruciating that must’ve been. Then find a video of Buckingham and Nicks performing “Silver Springs” (a song written by Nicks about Buckingham, withheld from Rumours, and later released, either cruelly or keenly, as the B-side to the single “Go Your Own Way,” a song written by Buckingham about Nicks) and try not to lose your mind completely when, as if to narrate the precise mechanics of their break-up, Nicks announces: “I’ll begin not to love you… Tell myself you never loved me.”
It’s “Silver Springs,” more than any other track in the band’s pre-Tusk discography, that tells the story of how Buckingham and Nicks lost each other, and, ergo, the story of Tusk; performing the song live, they frequently end up locked in a kind of tense combat stance. When Nicks’ cool, steady voice begins to dissolve into something feral and nearly deranged (“Was I just a fool?” she finally hollers) she’ll often take steps toward him. He always meets her gaze, calmly, and with determination. Maybe they’re putting us all on, but there’s something in those moments that makes True Love—the preposterous, fairy-tale kind, the sort that never resolves itself, that can’t be outrun or eschewed, not ever, not after decades, not after a lifetime—seem entirely possible, even to the most hard-boiled cynics. I bring this up because it’s the only explanation I can think of as to how the band kept going, despite what must’ve seemed, to anyone watching, like a cataclysmic implosion. True Love doesn’t care if your relationship ends; it remains, it buoys you.
If Rumours was the band’s break-up record, Tusk covers arguably even more complicated ground: how to transform a romantic partnership into a purely creative one, while remaining mindful of all the perilous ways in which love nurtures art, and vice-versa. That the band did this at all, much less successfully, much less good-naturedly—in promotional photos for Tusk, Nicks is pictured resting her left hand disconcertingly close to a bulge in Buckingham’s blue jeans—is dumbfounding.
The result is a beautiful and terrifically strange album. From the outset, Buckingham was insistent that the band not churn out a sequel to Rumours. His was a defensive, contrarian pose: Let’s deliberately not recreate that colossal commercial and critical success; let’s instead do something different, artier, less bulletproof, more experimental, more explicitly influenced by punk and new-wave, and less indebted to pop. Tusk contains twenty songs and is seventy-two minutes long. It retailed for $15.98 (or $52.88, in 2016 dollars). Its terrifically unattractive cover features a grainy, off-center photograph of a disembodied foot getting chomped on by a dog. The title is a euphemism for cock. Its sequencing is plainly insane, seesawing between two equally manic moods: “Everything is totally going to be fine!!!” and “This plane is going down and we’re all going to die!!!”
Tusk took thirteen months to make, and was the first record to amass production costs of over a million dollars. It was called self-indulgent, and it is. Legends abound regarding the details of its composition and recording. Nicks described their space in Studio D as having been adorned with “shrunken heads and leis and Polaroids and velvet pillows and saris and sitars and all kinds of wild and crazy instruments, and the tusks on the console, like living in an African burial ground.” Everyone agrees Buckingham was losing it a little—that he was chasing something (artistic greatness? avant-garde credibility?) and pursuing it wildly, haphazardly, like a crazed housecat stalking a black fly about the living room. Did he really have a drum set installed in his bathroom so he could play while on his toilet? (More reasonable minds have suggested he merely liked the acoustics in there.)
One solid argument against Tusk—though it could also be levied against Rumours—is that it lacks narrative coherence, in part because it features three songwriters (Nicks, Buckingham, and McVie), each working in their own distinct style. Still, while Nicks and McVie contributed some truly lovely tracks—“Sara,” “Beautiful Child,” “Think About Me”—the record clearly belongs to Buckingham, who wrote nearly half its songs, insisted upon its scope, and is its unquestionable spiritual center, the hamster on its wheel. The engineer Ken Caillat described Buckingham as “a maniac” during the sessions. He said it without equivocation. “The first day, I set the studio up as usual. Then he said, ‘Turn every knob 180 degrees from where it is now and see what happens.’ He’d tape microphones to the studio floor and get into a sort of push-up position to sing. Early on, he came in and he’d freaked out in the shower and cut off all his hair with nail scissors. He was stressed.”
At one point, Buckingham insisted that the band rent out Dodgers Stadium, and arranged to have the 112-piece U.S.C. Marching Band back them on the title track (his bandmates went along with this; none of the group’s foundational romantic relationships were intact, but Tusk still couldn’t have been made by people who didn’t trust one another implicitly). “Why don’t you tell me what’s going on? Why don’t you tell me who’s on the phone?” Buckingham and Nicks chant, their voices paranoid. Buried somewhere in there is a riff that could have sold a zillion cassingles, had this been 1977. But it wasn’t.
Though Tusk’s most memorable tracks are also its strangest (like “The Ledge,” a manic, pitter-pattering kiss-off in which the band’s signature harmonies are overridden by a guitar that’s been tuned down and turned up), there are a handful of songs that harken back to Rumours’ rich palatability. “Save Me A Place” plays like an extension, at least lyrically, of “Go Your Own Way,” in which Buckingham begrudges his lover’s unwillingness to grab what he’s half-offering her. A lot of Buckingham’s lyrics from the late ‘70s seem to simultaneously admit trepidation and cast him as the aggrieved party; he seems, in an endearing way, oblivious to his own caveats, or how they might dissuade another person. “Guess I want to be alone, and I guess I need to be amazed/Save me a place, I’ll come running if you love me today,” he sings on “Save Me A Place.” He later described the song as vulnerable. “None of us had the luxury of distance to get closure… It’s about a feeling that’s been laid off to one side and maybe not been fully dealt with, sadness and a sense of loss.” It captures the wildness of recovery: what happens when love dissipates, and you have to find a new thing to believe in? What if that thing is work?
Buckingham funneled all of his disorientation into these songs. Tusk is, more than anything else, a document of that feeling and that process—of bewilderment turning into ambition writ large. What happens when a complicated, wounded person grows exhausted and unimpressed by the commercial medium he took to naturally, maybe even instinctively, but no longer believes is important or curative? It’s not hard to imagine the voice of Buckingham’s internal foil during these sessions, whispering seedily, naysaying each new melody, pushing for more: “This is fine, but it’s not Art.” I don’t know anyone who cares about making things who hasn’t at some point lobbed the exact same challenge at themselves: Can’t you do better? Hasn’t someone done this before? Haven’t you done this before? You get the sense of a broken-down person trying to rebuild himself. He is diligent about getting the architecture right.
All of which makes “I Know I’m Not Wrong”—the first song the band started recording for Tusk, and the last one to be finished – even more poignant. When Tusk was reissued, in 2015, the expanded release included six (!) different “I Know I’m Not Wrong” demos, all recorded by Buckingham in his home studio. The chorus is a declaration of intention, of confidence: “Don’t blame me/Please be strong/I know I’m not wrong.” It’s not a thing a person gets to say very often. But Tusk isn’t a record that gets made more than once.
Saturday was Record Store Day and vinyl enthusiasts hit their favorite record stores in droves. To celebrate the ninth annual event, Metallica gave a special performance from the indie store Rasputin Music in Berkeley, California. Elsewhere, Mumford and Sons performed at Vintage Vinyl in St. Louis, while Kacey Musgraves set up at Lunchbox Records in Charlotte, N.C.
Warner Bros. issued a limited edition run of The Alternate Tusk on 180 gram black vinyl. Fleetwood Mac fans took to Twitter to share their excitement for the new release.
Like 1979 original, Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk reissue is bold, brash and excessive
Fleetwood Mac’s deluxe reissue of Tusk is as brash and elaborate as the 1979 original, offering extended insights into the development of 20 eclectic songs.
In its original form, Tusk was a 2-LP set that followed the mega-success of Rumours, which had delivered enduring pop classics “Don’t Stop,” “Dreams,” “You Make Loving Fun” and “Go Your Own Way.”
Flush with fame and cash, and fueled by cocaine use, according to band co-founder Mick Fleetwood, the band was intent on not making Rumours II. Instead, they released a 20-song set that mostly (not entirely) eschewed the sunny California harmony pop sound of Rumours. Songs haltingly methodical and slow crash into breakneck-paced punk-rock romps. On the first listen, it can be unsettling. After that, it works wonderfully.
A few hits emerged from between the heart-racing highs and the faint-pulse lows, including the title track, featuring the USC marching band, and the ethereal top-5 smash “Sara.” Most of the rest was not radio-friendly. Tusk was a critical smash but a commercial flop when stacked up against Rumours-sized expectations.
The passage of time has solidified the legacy of Tusk as a masterpiece. The anniversary set captures the album’s essence with an in-depth exploration of how it unfolded. Here’s why fans will wallow in its abundance of material:
It’s excessive, just like the original. The deluxe version delivers 84 tracks, spread across five CDs (the digital version is organized along the same lines.) Those tracks include inside-out looks at the evolution of the album, including the aforementioned title track (eight versions, including one live performance) and “I Know I’m Not Wrong” (eight versions.) Both have aged well. To be sure, half as many versions of each would be plenty, while leaving room for more outtakes and alternate takes.
The hidden gems shine. Stevie Nicks’ “Sisters of the Moon” starts softly and builds for five minutes, her distinctive raspy vocals taking center stage. An alternate take of “Storms” haunts with the backing of Lindsey Buckingham on acoustic guitar. Buckingham’s “The Ledge,” “That’s Enough For Me” and “I Know I’m Not Wrong” fuse rockabilly and punk; they sound like they could have been written on the same wild night, and that’s a good thing. On each of these three tracks (average length about 2:20), by the time you ask yourself, “Wait, this is Fleetwood Mac?” the tune is already over — and it’s time to jam on the brakes for a track like Christine McVie’s “Brown Eyes” or “Never Make Me Cry.” Those tracks may not rank among McVie’s career’s best, but they showcase a moody, silky voice that keeps you from skipping ahead. The alternate takes of these songs give a sense of what it was like in the recording studio, one that was famously, and very expensively, custom built for the band.
22 vintage live tracks. We don’t get a single concert, but rather selected tracks from the band’s 1979-80 tour in support of Tusk. Many were taken during a June 1980 run at Wembley Stadium. The tracks present a time capsule of a band still riding the crest of its popularity yet testing the waters with the new material. “Sara” is gorgeous in its simple arrangement and Nicks’ passionate vocals during a 1980 Tuscon, Ariz. show. Buckingham practically barks at a St. Louis crowd during a November 1979 performance of “Not That Funny.” He gets the point across. During that same show, McVie plaintively belts out “Over and Over,” the mournful leadoff track on Tusk. Tracks from the band’s 1975 eponymous album and Rumours round out the live offerings.
The band’s cohesiveness is on constant display. Watching and hearing Fleetwood Mac’s disparate units combine talents is the real pleasure in following the band. “The magic of a band, any band, is in the combination,” Fleetwood once said. Although they don’t write songs, Fleetwood and fellow original band member John McVie provide the band’s backbone, something that’s evident during the live performances of “Not That Funny” and “Tusk.” Ultimately, Buckingham’s orchestration of these songs works so well because it’s those guys who form the orchestra. Each of main album’s tracks takes on the distinctive personality of the songwriter — Buckingham (nine tracks), McVie (six) or Nicks (five).
The set, issued by Rhino Records, is available in multiple physical and digital configurations. Among them is a gift set that contains 5 CDs, a DVD, 2 LPs and a booklet, and retails for about $100. All the music can be purchased digitally for $39.99 on music services. The biggest fans will enjoy this encyclopedic approach to an album that holds up to an in-depth re-inspection. The set minus the 22 live tracks sells for $10 less. You can save another $10 by dropping all the outtakes and alternative tracks, but that’s where the real fun stuff lives.
Ken Paulsen / silive.com / Friday, February 12, 2016
Despite popular narratives, Tusk isn’t all druggy, unabashed excess. Instead, this new sets shows the record as a deeply self-conscious document, the sound of a band that didn’t rebel against success so much as it misunderstood the privilege it brings.
Tusk, Fleetwood Mac’s 1979 double album, is full of backstory. If its mega-successful predecessor Rumours had the Behind the Music-made backstories of deceit and division, Tusk (like the album itself) had several conflicting and chaotic backstories. It was the first record to cost over a million dollars. The affairs and divides of Rumours had, by 1979, grown into wider fissures between band members and, in some ways, full-on breakdown. There’s also the notion that this is the cocaine record, a product of excess and disconnection from sense.
Perhaps connecting all these stories together—or fracturing them further—is the idea that Tusk was Lindsay Buckingham’s brainchild. In the liner notes to this new Deluxe Edition of the album, Jim Irvin lays out Buckingham’s mindset post-Rumours. He didn’t want to lean back on success and make the same record again. He was also, so the essay suggests, influenced by the growing punk movement. That Irvin himself seems disingenuous about punk, referring to the movement as a “grubby breeze” and to the moderate chart success of the Ramones or the Damned as “if they were mould spores ready to discolor the musical wallpaper.” And though he sees punk and new wave as music with a “youthfully abrupt” attitude to the past, he does concede that Elvis Costello and the Clash, among others were “speedily evolving.” His attitude, colored by a clear love of the “plush delights” of Rumours, seems to echo Buckingham’s. He borrows the ethos of punk in claiming that Tusk was a “fuck you” to the business of music.
Digging into this new 5CD/DVD/2LP version of Tusk, with all its bonus tracks and liner notes and photos, suggests that Buckingham’s view of the record and its making veers us away from the notion of coke bloat. The album isn’t truly about unabashed excess. Instead, this new edition helps us to re-see the record as a deeply self-conscious document, wherein Buckingham’s turn to the Talking Heads and the Clash (influences largely absent on the actual music of Tusk) seem to suggest an any-port-in-the-storm approach to making new music. The truth, though, is that the success of Rumours was hardly a problem. Tusk suggests that Fleetwood Mac was for a moment—due to inexperience, drugs, personal rifts, whatever—unsure not of how to follow up Rumours, but of how to make any other record. The “idiocy of fame” Irvin suggests as a target for Fleetwood Mac rings as naïve even now. Buckingham’s genre-hopping was little more than diving into of-the-moment trends. Mick Fleetwood, according to liner notes, wanted to make an African record, calling it a “native record with chants and amazing percussion.” These starting points for Tusk suggest not a rejection of success, but rather a fundamental misunderstanding of the privilege it brings.
That misunderstanding bleeds into the confused album itself. But this misunderstanding, and all the other confusions that went into the record, is what makes it so fascinating to listen to. For one, Buckingham’s conceits of ambition distract from some of the album’s purest pop moments. “Sara” shimmers” on clean, crisp pianos and beautiful vocals (Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie are actually the voices that keep this record together, though their influence is undersold in the liner notes in favor of the Buckingham defiant-burdened-male-genius narrative). “Over & Over” is bittersweet, dusty country-rock. “Storms” feels both spare and dreamy, leaning on vocal harmonies and tumbling guitar phrasings. “Angel” is stripped down and lean, letting the rhythm section take over rather than Buckingham’s layering. “What Makes You Think You’re the One” is catchy, straight-on power-pop, even with the high-in-the-mix snares and Buckingham’s unruly, edged vocals (which appear plenty on the record).
There is new territory here that works, namely the shift to a focus on drums in “Tusk.” Some of the skronky and brittle guitar tones feel fresh, though they sometimes land (“I Know I’m Not Wrong”) and sometimes fail (“Ledge”). But Tusk is at its best when it merely twists the band’s sensibility into something a bit more edgy and challenging than Rumours. The out-and-out experiments—like the hazy layers of “That’s All For Everyone” and the oddball chug of “Not That Funny”—feel awkward and pretentious, as if Buckingham didn’t quite understand the trends he was immersed in. Meanwhile, other places like “Honey Hi” just pile on the too-polished layers to saccharin effect.
Hearing Tusk now, all the ambition and hand-wringing around its creation feels largely unnecessary, with Buckingham’s ambitions for the album more relevant as ways to square with success that gave far more than it took away. But absent of all that outside story, it plays like a fascinating, uneven record. It is, like so many double albums, too long, but it also pushes the band places it hadn’t gone before. That those places are still firmly rooted in their pre-existing pop aesthetic, the very thing they claim to be turning away from, adds an interesting wrinkle.
The extras here further drive home the self-conscious nature of Tusk, suggesting even more that its excesses were more tantrum than rebellion. The “Alternate Tusk” included with largely unreleased takes is a compelling listen. It definitely doubles down on the album’s eccentricities. Buckingham’s vocals are as edged and shrill as ever. An extended take of “Sara” feels more spacious and haunted than the album take. “Storms” is spare and acoustic, with layers peeled back to reveal the song’s broken-hearted center. It plays like a long shadow to “Landslide.” “Tusk” gives the synths more space than the horns, but all the notes feel 8-bit next to the drums in the mix. Overall, this version is more disjointed and odd than the album version, and certainly worth a listen. But assembled here for a massive reissue, there’s a constructed feel to it that seems canned and, like so many other things around Tusk, overwrought. Like the original version, it is fascinating both when it struts with confidence and when it trips over its own self-aggrandizing ambitions.
The singles and outtakes drive home the defensive nature of Tusk, as well as the obsessive tinkering that happened as a result. Single versions of several songs skew any discoveries back to the middle. “Think About Me” is mixed to be all vocals and drums. “Sara” gets cut to a truncated, claustrophobic four-ish minutes. Even “Not That Funny”, a bad single candidate, sounds tame when those bleating guitars get sanded down. There are some interesting versions here, especially early takes on “Storms” and “Never Make Me Cry”, but while the evolution inherent in six versions of “I Know I’m Not Wrong” seems compelling on paper, in practice none of the takes stand out.
The two discs of live performances from the Tusk tour are—surprise, surprise—both fulfilling and frustrating. For one, they put songs from Tusk alongside songs from the band’s catalog, and the fit once again suggests the fleeting nature of the ambition of this double record. But the performances themselves are often ragged, sometimes exhausted. Nicks labors through a version of “Landslide” as if she’d prefer never to sing it again. Meanwhile, for a band not interested in repeating early success, they really stretch out a bombastic performance of “Go Your Own Way.” Between exhaustion and wanking, the band does sometimes nail it, though, especially a version of “Sara” here, a solid take on “Tusk”, and a charged, scuffed-up take on “Dreams”.
Tusk is an album that is excellent—and these uneven extras add interest to it—because it seems to come from such a flawed perspective. Buckingham and company spent over a million bucks on an album supposedly influenced by punk. The band was railing against a system that paid for that record. And, in the end, those pretenses of rebellion give way to simple artistic uncertainty. Even now, this set seems unsure of which way to present the album. We get a remastered version, an alternate version, a surround-sound DVD version, and a new pressing of the record on two LPs. This edition is an expansive, if expensive, gift to fans, and worthwhile in that regard, but its presentation also reminds us that Tusk isn’t the product of a burst of creativity or a major shift in artistic vision. Rather, it’s the sound of a band that didn’t know where to go, so it went everywhere at once. If that sounds dismissive, it’s not. Beneath all the conceits and mythologies that surround this record, it’s the basic fact that it’s always reaching that makes it the strange, great record it is.
Matthew Fiander / Pop Matters / Friday, February 12, 2016
New box set expands, reveals Fleetwood Mac’s enigmatic opus
When the five members of Fleetwood Mac reconvened in the studio in 1978 to record the follow-up to their massively successful/decade-defining/inescapable disc Rumours, it would have been painfully easy to simply spit out Rumours II.
Instead, they took 13 months and spent a then-unprecedented $1 million-plus to birth Tusk, a double album of 20 songs spanning 72 minutes. The effort defied expectations, confounded some fans, sold “only” 4 million units, and produced only two singles resembling hits: the tribal-sounding title track (recorded with the 112-piece University of Southern California Trojan Marching Band), and Stevie Nicks’ ethereal “Sara.”
However, a funny thing happened with Tusk in the ensuing 35 years. Its standing among both Mac fans and musicians has skyrocketed, as has respect for the wildly diverse songs and experimentation. Now, Rhino/Warner Brothers has released Tusk: The Deluxe Edition. The 5-CD/2-LP/1-DVD set includes the original album remastered, a bevy of outtakes and alternate takes, and plenty of live material from the ensuing tour.
In the booklet of liner notes and rare photos, Jim Irvin celebrates the potpourri grab bag of music, spearheaded by Lindsey Buckingham’s newfound infatuation with the sounds of punk and New Wave music, and a desire to not repeat the same old formula. He would even adopt an entirely new look for the photos shoots and tour of closely cropped hair, suits, and…uh…heavy makeup.
“Listening to Tusk is like walking around a ridiculously eclectic art gallery curated by someone who’s keeping their aesthetic a secret,” Irvin offers. “And old master next to an abstract, a kinetic sculpture next to a watercolour. It makes no sense at first.”
Though, contrary to the established Rock History Narrative of him fighting for the change alone, both Nicks and Mick Fleetwood and not just Buckingham were also eager to shake things up, according to their own comments today.
And what of the effect as a whole? Buckingham certainly brings an un-Mac-like tension, nervous energy, and biting sarcasm to efforts like the deranged square-dance sound of “The Ledge,” the punkish “What Makes You Think You’re the One,” the biting “Not That Funny,” and the “rockabilly on acid” of “That’s Enough For Me.”
Stevie Nicks, always given something of a short shrift in terms of songwriting since she doesn’t play an instrument (not counting the tambourine), offers some of her finest work in the longing “Storms,” an upbeat “Angel,” elegiac “Beautiful Child,” and mysterious “Sisters of the Moon,” which surprisingly resurfaced on the set list for the Mac’s recent reunion tours.
Only Christine McVie’s contributions seem slight and listless — both lyrically and musically — save for some soft-and-gentle work on her usual romantic balladry in “Over and Over” and “Brown Eyes.”
Tusk‘s recording period saw Christine’s involvement with both Grant Curry (the band’s lighting director) and Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, while Buckingham fell into an intense involvement with record-company exec/former model Carol Ann Harris (who later wrote a not-that-flattering book about the relationship, Storms).
The shocker, fans later found out, was the news of Nicks and Fleetwood’s brief-but-intense involvement. It led to Fleetwood’s divorce from Jenny Boyd…who had previously had an affair with previous lineup guitarist Bob Weston…and was the sister of Rock’s Greatest Muse, Pattie Boyd, who sent both George Harrison and Eric Clapton into romantic bliss and yearning, poured out on vinyl.
And when Nicks and Fleetwood’s involvement ended, Nicks’ best friend, Sara Recor (partial inspiration for the song), took up with Fleetwood without either bothering to tell Nicks about it, which crushed her (are you following all of this?).
Thus, Nicks admits today that a number of her songs are about Fleetwood, and it’s not hard to interpret many of hers and Buckingham’s lyrics as continued musical snipes and judgments on their relationship.
Of the demos and alternate versions, there’s some very interesting development chronicled in the songs “I Know I’m Not Wrong” and “Tusk” as Buckingham — like he did with much of the material — tinkered with them in his own studio extensively before bringing them to the band. It was a way of songwriting that gave him more control, but which the band agreed to abandon after Tusk.
And on the live discs, listeners will find a band surprisingly willing to take risks with tempos and delivery onstage with material recorded in studio. And that includes tunes from their previous two records, Fleetwood Mac and Rumours.
So, while the hefty Deluxe Edition of Tusk may be for Mac Addicts only (and those with record players), less expensive options included a 3-CD Expanded Edition and a 1-CD Remastered effort.
In either case, for what attention and sometimes derision it received on release, Tusk is the one effort in the band’s discography whose standing has improved with time. Oh, and the meaning the title? It was Fleetwood’s slang term for a penis. You’re welcome for that.
Fleetwood Mac reissues Tusk with unreleased alternate takes and live renditions.
(Editor’s note: The article was edited for grammar. The original published article can be accessed by clicking on the link at the bottom of the page.)
Tusk, Fleetwood Mac’s 1979 opus was a daring experiment, one that defied commercial possibilities while expanding the band’s musical parameters into areas that were otherwise unimaginable. It was especially daring considering the fact that the band had just come off two LPs that had broken them wide open in the States, Fleetwood Mac and Rumours, albums that would go one to become among the best-selling albums in all of music history.
Helmed by the most successful line-up in their lengthy history — that being the front line axis of Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie — the band continued to venture even further from their blues based roots, having been hailed as the champions of soft-rock radio in all its endearing essence. In truth, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, the band’s namesakes and longtime standard bearers, had become token players in their own outfit, having ceded control to the trio responsible for their hits. Nevertheless, Fleetwood Mac was more potent and impressive commercially than at any time in their storied history, flush with widespread acclaim and ready to take on the world.
While the album was successful by most standards — it reached the Top 5 in the U.S., spent over five months in the Top 40, and was certified double platinum by virtue of selling two million copies — it didn’t come close to matching the levels achieved by its two immediate predecessors. Warner Bros. blamed RKO radio for playing the album in its entirety prior to release, encouraging volumes of home taping. The album cost over $1 million to make, the most expensive record in pop music history up until that time, and with consumers forced to shell out an extra $2 to cover the price of the resulting double album, economics discouraged those on a budget from making a ready purchase. It did produce a pair of hits in “Sara” and the title track, but given the fact it bore 20 tracks in all, expectations were never fully realized.
Tusk can now be seen as the bold effort it is, and it’s possible to appreciate all it has to offer.
Nevertheless, in retrospect, it is a fascinating album, a brilliant combination of excess, eccentricity, and studio savvy. Consequently, any reason for reexamination is well worth the time and effort. To be sure, this 2015 version isn’t its first reissue; an extensive re-release was launched a decade ago, but it pales in comparison to the expansive treatment the album is accorded this time around. Offered now as a six-disc set in its most elaborate configuration, it features an entire side of outtakes, rarities, works in progress and demos, as well as two discs culled from live recordings extracted from the Tusk tour, an alternate version of the album as it was first intended, and a DVD containing a surround sound mix of the original recordings.
Tusk deluxe is housed in an elaborate box that also boasts heretofore unseen photos and an extensive essay by journalist Jim Irvin, who, in turn, offers insights about the circumstances surrounding the album’s recording while reflecting on the general bewilderment it cast on an unsuspecting record label, music critics and the public in general, most of whom were either too confused or too overwhelmed to give it the time and attention the album deserved. As Irvin points out, many second generation copies were obtained from used record stores, discarded by the original owners simply because they had no patience for digesting it all.
More than 35 years later, Tusk can now be seen as the bold effort it is, and in listening to the various rehearsals and formative versions of its staple songs, it’s possible to appreciate all it has to offer. (Buckingham’s multiple takes on “I Know I’m Not Wrong” and his slow construction of “Tusk” offer fascinating insights into the way the genesis of the record was fashioned, one layer at a time.) No, it’s hardly a perfect record, but in terms of sheer brashness and bravado, it sets an exceptionally high bar.
Lee Zimmerman / Glide / Wednesday, December 23, 2015
The Mac’s wild, punk-y follow-up to Rumours hits just as hard 36 years later, especially on this extras-packed reissue.
While the music scenes of England, New York City and scattered bohemian enclaves the world over embraced punk’s do-it-yourself radicalization in the late Seventies, nearly every superstar of sunny southern California kept on making smooth and glossy soft rock as if Joey Ramone and Johnny Rotten had never happened. This didn’t comfort Lindsey Buckingham. The pressure to follow Fleetwood Mac’s astronomically successful 1977 LP, Rumours, with a follow-up just like it drove the singer-guitarist to turn to Talking Heads, Elvis Costello and other upstarts for inspiration and liberation.
And so he began what became 1979’s famously experimental and eclectic double-disc, Tusk, at home with the deliberate goal of shaking things up. While Buckingham crafted his unconventional solo recordings, the Mac had Studio D at L.A.’s Village Recorder built to their specifications, where they added to his songs and recorded their own with results that veered from demo-quality rockabilly to exacting balladry. Both capitalized on the freedom that came with their success: Because drummer Mick Fleetwood himself managed the band, absolutely no one but the musicians and their near-exclusive producer-engineers Richard Dashut and Ken Caillat had any input. Tusk may have been the first album to cost a million dollars, but much of it was in spirit and practice nearly as DIY as the era’s New Wave.
Sequenced for maximum disruptive effect, Tusk alternately reassures and startles: Christine McVie’s placid lullaby “One More Time (Over & Over)” opens the album with a soothing dose of musical morphine, but gets followed by the wake-up call of Buckingham’s anxious “The Ledge,” the album’s most punk-influenced track. As confirmed in the interviews that accompany this deluxe five-CD/two-LP/one-DVD box set edition, much of Tusk – like its predecessor – is a Rashomon-esque account of life within the band as seen through the sharply contrasting viewpoints of their three songwriters. One of Stevie Nicks’s most delicate and downhearted songs, “Storms,” wallows in the guilt over her affair with then-married Fleetwood, and the subsequent karmic payback she endured when her best friend secretly moved into his house. Buckingham’s confrontational “Not That Funny” addresses Nicks, by then his ex, whom he saw as getting caught up in celebrity culture. It’s this candid quality that makes Tusk so contemporary even decades later.
Tusk’s one-of-a-kind combo of punky verisimilitude and surreal opulence drives one point home harder than ever: No other band could’ve recorded this album.
That forthrightness gets magnified exponentially by the deluxe edition’s supplemental discs. One of them, “The Alternate Tusk,” presents the entire album via divergent versions of every song, including an early, piano-led rendition of Nicks’s “Sara” that lingers for nearly nine minutes; and Buckingham’s languid “That’s All for Everyone,” here featuring entirely different lyrics. Another disc, “Singles, Outtakes, Sessions,” demonstrates through multiple editions of some tracks like Buckingham’s “I Know I’m Not Wrong” – the first song recorded for the album, but the last one to be definitively completed – how the album evolved during Tusk’s year-long creation. The version of “Save Me a Place” on this disc lacks the weeping bluegrass harmonies that define the released take, but Buckingham’s vocal here is even more pained. Two discs of “Tusk Tour Live” serve as a considerably longer and looser alternate edition of the band’s 1980 live album, which chronicled that same world trek. And the set’s audio DVD provides a new 5.1 surround sound mix by Caillat that maximizes the album’s one-of-a-kind combo of punky verisimilitude and surreal opulence, and drives one point home harder than ever: No other band could’ve recorded Tusk.
With the ‘Mac hangover still hanging thick in the southern air, it’s time for the lush reissue of 1979 epic Tusk.
Once the most expensive album ever made, this was their indulgent response to Rumours, the album which cemented the quintet’s status as titans of melodic West Coast rock.
While selling only fractionally as well, and marked by Lindsay Buckingham’s obsessive and sometimes inspired attention to sonic detail, this two-disc deluxe edition features five versions of the immaculate title track, tracking the evolution of one of their most intriguing pieces.
Fleetwood Mac. Tusk: Deluxe Edition. Warner Music.
Three and a half stars (out of five)
Single download: Tusk (April 6, 1979 USC Version)
For those who like: ’70s excess
When Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk finally was unveiled to the masses back in 1979, it critically dropped like a white elephant. After releasing two of the best, almost flawless pop albums of the seventies — Rumours and Fleetwood Mac — folks expected the band’s formula of non-stop, potential singles to remain intact. Instead, Tusk had spread its sonic experimentation across two albums, its creative overlord, Lindsey Buckingham, having utilized virtually every studio toy at his disposal. Add to that USC’s marching band drumline-ing across the focus single/title track with servings of un-Mac-like musical performances and song lengths, and you get Buckingham’s musical vision/version of what a late-seventies album was supposed to be. Fleetwood Mad had arrived and considering the relationship breakdowns and band’s highly-publicized drug culture, it’s a miracle this previously-considered overthought, overwrought product made it to vinyl at all.
Fleetwood Mac’s shifting business and leadership dynamics and partner trade-ups shouldn’t have been surprising considering the musical institution’s member roster evolved following every few albums (remember Peter Green and Bob Welch?) and the inevitable shake-up cyclicly was due. All of this very public Mac stress delighted journalists who gleefully spread the word. Regardless, devoted fans still were hooked on the band that strutted siren Stevie Nicks and the sophisticated Christine McVie, and they would spend their last dollar for this sweet fix. So the album sold well though it did shock Macsters, and the returns (when stores want a refund for unsold product) were large since product shipments allegedly were as bloated as Tusk‘s track count and excesses. Then again, at the time, returns were a given and built into the business plan for virtually every album release.
Tusk is Fleetwood Mac’s middle child that demanded more attention and, until now, was very misunderstood.
As a single, the title track “Tusk” wasn’t a flop but it also wasn’t embraced like the usual, undeniable Mac release, possibly due to its cryptic poetry (“Why don’t you ask him what’s going on? Why don’t you ask him who’s the latest on his throne?”). The reality was that no matter how ambitious and applaudable the 45 was, it didn’t change music as we knew it; luckily Stevie Nicks’ “Sara” became the album Tusk‘s biggest hit and its saving grace. Unfortunately, “Think About Me” and “Sisters Of The Moon, the followup singles,” came off like second stringers, like Rumour‘s lightweight “I Don’t Want To Know.” Add to that Lindsey Buckingham’s creepy-ish “Not That Funny” and “The Ledge” and it was like the Fleetwood Mac we knew and loved had been euthanized.
With the release of the super-deluxe Tusk and its abundant, additional content — including a vinyl pressing — this head-scratcher of an album both gets its due and a thorough examination. Naturally, the remastered album sounds fuller than its original CD release and closer to the vinyl sonics, and the 5.1 surround mixes utilize instruments, vocals, and arrangement groupings previously denied this project. The crazy amount of work that went into Tusk‘s undertaking is uncovered further with a rarity disc that contains demos, outtakes, and remixes. There are also two live discs that put the emotionally and physically exhausted Fleetwood Mac’s fatigue front and center. What’s presented here may not be fantastic but it’s engaging, with performances of newbie compositions like “Sara” and older hits like the always dazzling “Landslide.” And the alternate Tusk disc comprised of alternate takes, is interesting, but Mac and the gang’s first go-round is definitive, even though this “what if?” is smartly assembled.
After this deluxe, historical analysis of Tusk and with so many decades following its initial release, it can be rationalized that it possibly was a commercial misstep but it also served a bigger purpose. Lindsey Buckingham’s genius has been outed through the years, project after project, and Tusk, obviously, was this mad scientist’s first true laboratory, so he should get a break for an experiment or two that went haywire. Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie’s lead vocals delighted on practically all of their songs, no problem there. Even former Mac-er Peter Green paid a visit to “Brown Eyes,” and to this day, everyone loves those USC marching band rascals, though not necessarily on a pop record heard every ten minutes on the radio. A big nod goes to the sound, expertly constructed by the project’s talented co-producers Richard Dashut and Ken Caillat (father of Colbie).
Not much more can be said about Tusk except that its opening song “Over And Over” got it right. Its message of sanity prevailing through adversity applied to this incarnation of the group…at least until they changed doctors a few years later (Doctor Who reference…anyone?). This version of the band–Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood — survived long enough to record the Mirage and Tango In The Night albums, whose creative heights may not have been achievable without Tusk. Put in another context, Tusk could be considered Fleetwood Mac’s middle child that demanded more attention and pretty much was, possibly until now, very misunderstood.
In its most popular incarnation — from the mid-1970s through the 1980s when Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were in the group — Fleetwood Mac released five studio albums. The middle title from that sequence, the 1979 double album Tusk, was the least popular, and still gets the least amount of airplay.
After the blockbuster success of 1977’s Rumours, one of the biggest-selling albums in history, Buckingham decided the band’s next record could afford to take more chances. Tusk includes unusual song structures, jagged rhythms, and on the lead single and title track — which prominently features the USC Trojan marching band — the group is practically unrecognizable.
While not as commercially accessible as the pairs that came before and after it, Tusk is nonetheless one of the most rewarding items in Fleetwood Mac’s catalog. Fans who have come to appreciate it should be intrigued by the new deluxe edition of the album released this month. The set contains five CDs with the original remastered album, dozens of demos and alternate takes that show how its twenty songs developed, and live performances from the band’s 1979-80 tour.
Completing the package is the album in two additional formats, vinyl and a 5.1 mix DVD. A less expensive alternative is the 3-CD version, which includes only the remastered Tusk and related studio outtakes.
After all of the mythologising — the most expensive rock album ever produced; a staggering commercial failure; a Lindsey Buckingham vanity project with the Fleetwood Mac name attached; what happens when too much money meets too much blow — Tusk remains a singular oddity in Fleetwood Mac’s oeuvre. By the time its recording commenced in June 1978, the band were in the stratosphere of commercial success: their previous album, Rumours, had shipped millions of copies and was on its way to becoming one of the best selling albums of all time. Yet the music that had inspired Buckingham during his respite from the gruelling Rumours tour was the opposite of commercial: the debut albums from The Clash and Talking Heads, both recorded on the cheap. As Rob Trucks recounts in his 33⅓ entry on the album, Tusk began its life as an ultimatum from Buckingham to band leader Mick Fleetwood: Buckingham had new songs he was going to record. In response, Fleetwood shot back another ultimatum: Buckingham was either in the band or out of it. The stage was set for a collision: between the moneyed, high-gloss world the band inhabited and the scrappy upstarts who were shaking that world’s foundations; between Buckingham’s musical ambitions and Fleetwood’s determination that Fleetwood Mac stick together as a band.
Tusk, therefore, is riven through with contradictions. It contains some of the band’s glossiest work, of the sort that would have made the executives at Warner hopeful that Tusk could function as Rumours Redux: the gorgeous “Sara,” Stevie Nicks’s aching paean of love and loss; Christine McVie’s rock burner “Think About Me,” complete with acid lyrics that would fuel further speculation about the band’s private lives; the lapidary “Storms,” featuring Nicks at her most pitilessly introspective. Yet these songs find themselves nestled between Buckingham’s off-kilter, deliberately lo-fi ditties: deliberately truncated songs (none longer than 3:32) with unusual, unresolved melodies, in which Buckingham affects a falsetto and Fleetwood sounds as though he were drumming with a set of cardboard boxes. You’d be hard-pressed to call these numbers “punk” per se — they thrum through with Buckingham’s interest in folk and blues traditions, and they were after all recorded at phenomenal expense — but they preserve punk rock’s affinity for simplicity and concision. In many ways they sound like exactly what they are: punk rock reflected back through the funhouse mirror of a platinum-selling band with a well-documented cocaine problem, a limitless recording budget, and a background in blues.
It’s no secret that Tusk performed poorly on its release, shipping a mere two million copies in its first few months of existence compared to the over ten million copies that Rumours shifted. Just who the fault can be pinned on remains the subject of some debate. Did Tusk‘s commerical failure, as Warner’s executives insisted, derive from Buckingham’s outré songwriting? Was it, as Mick Fleetwood argued, because the album was prematurely leaked to the RKO radio network, who proceeded to play it in order, much to the delight of home tapers? In the long view, such considerations are immaterial: given the album’s strange afterlives — including a start-to-finish cover version by Camper Van Beethoven and becoming a formative influence on Carl Newman’s work with The New Pornographers — it seems that Tusk has ultimately vindicated itself.
The latest remaster and reissue of the album — the third such intervention to have happened since the 1980s — is about as comprehensive as anyone could hope for. In addition to the original album, which has been given a crisp buff and polish (albeit one that could have preserved a little more of the original release’s dynamic range), and a second disc of single versions and demos (many of which originally appeared on the 2004 remaster/reissue), it also includes a start-to-finish version of Tusk in hitherto unreleased alternate takes and two discs of live material from the band’s 1979-1980 Tusk tour. Mac anoraks will find that the second disc’s collection of successive demos — which map out the progression of both “I Know I’m Not Wrong” and the title track from their early incarnations through to near-finished versions — illuminates the band’s creative processes.
Perhaps more interesting is the third disc, sequenced from unreleased alternate versions: while many songs sound essentially like rough-hewn versions of what would appear on the final release, it’s worth listening to just for the lengthy version of “Sara,” in which Nicks elaborates on the song’s themes in an extended outro. The live material on discs four and five is perhaps less essential: much of it is actually from prior albums rather than Tusk, and perhaps inadvertently demonstrates the cold shoulder with which the public received the album. (When Christine McVie introduces “Over & Over” to a crowd at St. Louis by informing them that it’s from the new album, the reception is rather more muted than the ecstatic cheers that greet the version of “Dreams” recorded at Wembley on the same tour.) Perhaps most interesting about these discs is the valiant attempt by the band to fit Buckingham’s Tusk songs into the stadium-rock mode: “Not That Funny” shifts into bombast, with Fleetwood hammering the kit and Buckingham belting out his lines, and Buckingham shreds out a solo that wouldn’t have been out of place on Rumours at the conclusion of “What Makes You Think You’re The One.”
These efforts to make Tusk‘s material appeal to the band’s demographic demonstrate just how much it began its life as an album out of time, an artifact that could not have been produced at any other juncture in history but one that, equally, sounded completely ill-at-ease in the cultural moment that produced it. Perhaps fittingly, time has been kind to Tusk, and the album doesn’t require the ultra-deluxe treatment to make a compelling case for its relevance — those two LP’s worth of creative tension, that juxtaposition of the rough and the smooth, are worth returning to with or without the context provided by this reissue.
(Editor’s note: This article was edited for spelling and grammar. You can read the original article here.)
Chad Parkhill / The Quietus / Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Everyone loves Rumours, but what about its follow-up? Tusk remains the greatest self-sabotage in rock’n’roll history, but this month’s reissue of the Mac’s elephantine monolith reveals a record that stands for a golden moment in time — blithe and bacchanalian — which will never be seen, or heard, again.
“Oh I get it, you don’t want to be cute any more.” Bob Dylan to Paul McCartney, 1967
How things change in the index of cool. Back in 1989, back when God was a boy, there was a rather annoying Stock Aitken Waterman club single sung by the teenage Reynolds Girls called “I’d Rather Jack”, a “peculiar moment of year-zero militancy” in the words of GQ music columnist Dorian Lynskey. “I’d rather jack than Fleetwood Mac,” they sang, using the band as a rather convenient example of middle-aged millionaire campaign-trail rock (Bill Clinton would use the band’s “Don’t Stop” when he was running for office in 1992). Back then, the emerging rave generation had no time for the band, but these days it would be difficult to find anyone who doesn’t treat Fleetwood Mac as though they are as important and as influential as The Beatles.
They are almost as ubiquitous.
Rumours, their classic album from 1977, is now one of the most beloved albums of all time – everyone loves it, whether they’re 15, 25, 35 or 60. U2 unfairly got themselves into a bit of a fix when they delivered their last album free via iTunes, but I don’t know anyone who would complain if they suddenly found Rumours on their laptop one morning. In fact, I’m not sure I know anyone who doesn’t own it and, in the same way that it’s difficult to believe anyone who says they actively dislike The Beatles, saying you don’t like Rumours actually sounds pretentious.
A blackboard sign outside Hector & Noble, a pub in London’s Victoria Park, says it all: “Burgers. Pie. Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours on repeat.” We love Rumours in the same way we love James Corden, Dad’s Army or the Queen: it is a national treasure. One of the more popular Fleetwood Mac Instagram memes is a photograph of a small girl screaming, “Me when I realise I will probably never see Fleetwood Mac performing ‘Storms’, ‘Beautiful Child’ or ‘Sara’ live.”
Between 1977 and 1979, Rumours sold 13 millions copies, becoming the sound of FM radio in the process. It was played in dorms, in shopping malls, at baseball games, you could hear it blasting out of car windows and pouring out of the radio. During 1977, Fleetwood Mac spent so much time on FM radio in the US that you could have been forgiven for thinking the technology was named after them.
Mixing business and pleasure in an occupational hazard in the music industry, although with Fleetwood Mac it became something of a career in itself. The breakups of band members John and Christine McVie, as well as that of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, created not just personal chaos, it also led to the creation of Rumours, which contained such classic co-dependency songs as “The Chain”, “Go Your Own Way”, “Dreams”, “Don’t Stop” and ‘You Make Loving Fun”.
“It has the firepower of a greatest-hits collection and the coherence of a concept album,” says Lynskey. “Each song seems to be talking to, or about, all the others in a he-said-she-said echo chamber. Rumours may sound escapist, but in the lyrics there’s no escape, especially for the band. On one level it’s a painstakingly crafted soft-rock fantasy, glowing with sunshine and money, but uncomfortable emotions are constantly gnawing and jabbing away at the music’s flawless surface pleasures.”
In the same way that, more than 150 years ago, Manifest Destiny drove American pioneers westward – as hordes of speculators, migrants and would-be moguls staked claim to anything and everything before them as they pressed onward to the Pacific Ocean – so during the late Sixties and early Seventies, Los Angeles became the geographic holy grail of American rock music. It didn’t matter if you were an aspiring singer-songwriter like Joni Mitchell or Neil Young, an eager bunch of double-denim guitar players like The Eagles, or an old British blues band like Fleetwood Mac looking for rejuvenation, LA was where you can came. Even though the spelling still told the world they were a British band, Rumours is really a concept album whose concept was Los Angeles, as never has a record sounded so Californian, so sumptuous, so golden (honestly, you almost expected the album to come complete with a pair of sunglasses and a pool-side ice bucket).
Some might say that Fleetwood Mac’s Wikipedia page reads like a Russian novel, with new characters popping up, before exiting in grim circumstances, including mental illness, alcoholism, adultery, a religious cult and romantic trauma. They’re not wrong. The band was formed in 1967 in London by the guitarist Peter Green, who recruited drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie. Honing a hip, blues-rock sound, they had commercial success with songs such as “Black Magic Woman”, “Man Of The World”, “Oh Well” and “Albatross”. However, Green’s use of LSD exacerbated his schizophrenia, causing him to quit the band in 1970. He was replaced by Christine Perfect soon after she married John McVie, and various other members came and went, rarely having much lasting impact.
Seeking a reinvention of sorts, in 1974 the band moved to the US and, having seen Buckingham Nicks play in California, Mick Fleetwood asked Lindsey and Stevie to join them. The couple radically altered the band’s sound, adding a West Coast sheen that would quickly result in hit songs such as “Over My Head”, “Say You Love Me”, “Rhiannon” and “Landslide”. Soon, though, group relationships started to crumble. Fleetwood was in the middle of a divorce from his wife, Jenny Boyd; John and Christine’s marriage came to an end; and Buckingham and Nicks’s romance fell apart. “Being in Fleetwood Mac is more like being in group therapy,” Mick Fleetwood famously said.
These dysfunctional romantic struggles informed the bulk of the songs that turned up on Rumours, creating one of the most popular albums of all time. Fleetwood Mac managed to fuse the singer-songwriter pretensions of the early Seventies with a slick pop sensibility (and a great drum sound) that sounded just fine on FM radio, especially in your first car, with the top down and four or five friends in the back, passing beers and smokes between them. This imperial version of Fleetwood Mac achieved something quite rare, conquering a country and seemingly able to define it too. In the late Seventies, their only rivals in this — bottling the marshmallow musical essence of Los Angeles and Southern California — were The Eagles, and they had spent the best part of the decade working up to it; with Fleetwood Mac it sort of happened by accident.
And then they went and recorded Tusk, a double album of wildly eclectic and eccentric lo-fi, high-concept material that Mojo magazine once called “one of the greatest career sabotage albums of all time”. This was a concept album of sorts, although many at the time thought the concept was simply “We are not Fleetwood Mac!” In short, Tusk appeared to be a wholesale attempt by the band to completely subvert their brand.
Until a few months ago, I had never heard the band’s follow-up to Rumours. I knew the title track and had begun to begrudgingly enjoy it, fascinated by the way in which the horns had come to define the song, much like they have on Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke”. I knew the pearlescent song “Sara”, as it was a favourite of my wife (Sarah was one of the many disappointed millions who had bought a copy of Tusk after falling in love with Rumours — “It was boring,” she says). But apart from that, as far as I was concerned Tusk may as well have been a King Crimson album from the early Seventies or a Britney Spears CD from the early noughties; it simply wasn’t on my radar. Nonetheless, like many others who have spent time with it, I have, over the past few months, become quietly obsessed with it.
This month sees the release of a remastered deluxe edition of the album, including alternative tracks, two additional live CDs, a DVD documentary, extended liner notes and a wealth of previously unseen visual material. One of the most extravagant anniversary box sets ever, this is the last word on Tusk. It is a fitting tribute as, at the cost of well over $1 million frittered away over the space of two years,Tusk was the last word in extravagant, over-indulgent West Coast pop. If Rumours was the towel-slapping sound of young America getting ready for the weekend, Tusk was its nerd alternative, new-wave folk music for people who stayed in on Saturday nights.
The record was nothing if not unconventional, a volte-face of the most extreme kind. The band now like to say it was a pointed retort to the suffocating cocoon of expectations that fame had woven around them, although in reality it was more like the sensation you get when you’ve just climbed to the top of a very steep hill. Not only do you have to walk back down, but what’s the point of climbing it again?
“How do you follow, let alone top, the best work you’ve ever done in your life, work that almost killed you to complete?” asks Mick Fleetwood.
Well, the rest of Fleetwood Mac thought the same thing.
By the time the group started to record Tusk, Lindsey Buckingham had become the de facto leader, slipping into shoes only recently vacated by Mick Fleetwood. The album sessions started in spring 1978 at the Village Recorder studios near Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles, at the very height of punk, and you can hear its peroxide-spike-topped influence all over the record. Buckingham had become obsessed with punk and its inevitable US abstraction, new wave, devouring the likes of The Clash, Gang Of Four, Talking Heads and Elvis Costello. He wanted the band to sound modern, relevant, and yet he was also keen to branch out himself, wanting to start writing the kind of material that Brian Wilson, his hero, had created on Pet Sounds. Buckingham saw himself as the band’s visionary and he was determined that they not rest on their laurels. The band begrudgingly agreed to follow him.
“It seemed to me at some point that there was a major discrepancy between what the work was and what was going on outside of that,” says Buckingham, referring to Rumours. “I found that to be sort of dangerous ground. You know, Michael Jackson land. You’re walking on thin ice as far as how you define yourself and what you are and what is expected of you after that.”
“He was a maniac,” says Ken Caillat, who was one of the co-producers on Tusk. “The first day, I set up the studio as usual. Then he said to turn every knob 180 degrees from where it was now and see what happens. He’d tape microphones to the studio floor and then get into a sort of push-up position to sing. Early on he came in and he’d freaked out in the shower and cut off all his hair with nail scissors. He was stressed. And into sound destruction.”
There is an old theatrical term, used to describe unnecessary exposition or simple overacting: “That’s a hat on a hat.” You could ascribe the phrase to some of Buckingham’s songs on the record, songs the man who wrote them didn’t think were good enough unless they were recorded in a way that made them sound modern and relevant.
“Tusk is the most important thing, on some level, that I ever was involved with,” says Buckingham. “With Fleetwood Mac, certainly, for me, as much for the music but also because it was a line I drew in the sand. We had this ridiculous success with Rumours, and at some point, at least in my perception, the success of that detached from the music, and it was more about the phenomenon. We were poised to do another album, and I guess because the axiom ‘If it works, run it into the ground’ was prevalent then, we were probably poised to do Rumours II. I don’t know how you do that, but somehow my light bulb that went off was, ‘Let’s just not do that. Let’s very pointedly not do that.'”
As the group was in the process of fraying internally, so the three principal songwriters had stronger voices on this album than perhaps at any other time in their career, and while this made for a less cohesive record than Rumours, it was no less interesting. However, instead of braiding the group’s talents to strengthen their increasingly distinctive sound, Buckingham pulled them apart, allowing it all to unravel. The band was tri-polar.
“Think About Me”, the pre-Raphaelite “Sara” and the epic “Sisters Of The Moon” (on which Nicks sounds like Patti Smith in a wind tunnel) sound as though they could have slipped easily onto Rumours, while other songs – “The Ledge”, “What Makes You Think You’re The One” – are so particular that they couldn’t really be anything other than the result of Buckingham’s homemade demos. Elsewhere, because Buckingham – the Rodeo Drive punk – deliberately sped up his songs to ape the “new-wave” metronomic, some of his songs sounded like fast versions of old rock’n’roll songs from the Fifties.
Released in 1979, Tusk would go on to sell four million copies, yet because Rumours‘ sales were then already into the double-digit millions, and because it had been slated by the press, Tusk was deemed a commercial and critical disaster. “The record was certainly not a failure,” says Fleetwood, “but neither was it the celebration of the quantum leap we felt we had taken.”
It was Mick Fleetwood who decided that Tusk should be a double album, simply because of the amount of material the three songwriters were producing. “At some point, Lindsey was starting to get very experimental in his own studio and was veering a little left of centre,” says Christine McVie. “He [Buckingham] had already decided that he wanted to make a solo record. In order to keep him within the fold we all said, ‘Well, look, let him do his experimenting and incorporate it in the album somehow.’ That’s how in essence it came to be a double album. There was all this experimentation flying around, especially from Lindsey’s point of view.”
Random, abrasive and lo-fi, the music that Buckingham started making didn’t sound like Fleetwood Mac at all, and it definitely didn’t sound like anything on Rumours. If Rumours was an exquisitely engineered soft-rock colossus, Tusk, said the New York Times, sounded as though parts of it were recorded on a whaling ship in heavy seas. If it sounds as though parts of Tusk were recorded in a bathroom, that’s because they were. Some songs were laid down in Buckingham’s home studio, where he had set up the equipment so he could play the drums while sitting on the loo seat. Reviewing the record, the critic Greil Marcus said, “Fleetwood Mac is subverting the music from the inside out, very much like one of John LeCarré’s moles — who, planted in the heart of the establishment, does not begin his secret campaign of sabotage until everyone has gotten used to him and takes him for granted.”
As one critic said, it’s the ultimate cocaine album, with manic, frantic explosions followed by interminable stretches of mellow. There were nine songs by Lindsey Buckingham, six by Christine McVie and five by Stevie Nicks, and, as John McVie says, the album sounds like the work of three solo artists. It was a highly adventurous, almost elephantine gamble – fragmented, uneven and often confoundedly irritating.
Buckingham had asked Warner Bros if they could create their own studio in order to record the album. The label declined so it ended up costing the band more than $1m. Not that any of them were shy about spending money or indulging themselves to the hilt. Throughout the Rumours sessions, it was said that a large black velvet bag full of cocaine was kept under the mixing desk, which meant that it could be dipped into at any point during the recording process. And, boy, was it dipped into. So much so that one day, as a prank, one of the engineers substituted a dummy bag full of talcum powder. When someone wanted a hit, he very slowly tipped the bag onto the floor, causing mayhem in the studio. Tusk was apparently no different; not only was there cocaine, champagne and lobster, there was English beer on tap. The atmosphere was more than heightened; it was positively spotlit.
“The studio contract rider for refreshments was like a telephone directory,” says Christine McVie. “Exotic food delivered to the studio, crates of champagne. And it had to be the best, with no thought of what it cost. Stupid. Really stupid. Somebody once said that with the money we spent on champagne o one night, they could have made an entire album. And it’s probably true.”
In this department, the band had a pantechnicon-load of previous. One of the studios they used had a projection of the day on the walls, from sunrise to sunset and stars at night in real time to help them get a handle on the outside world. When they used the Record Plant in San Francisco, they took full advantage of the complimentary limousines, speedboat and conference room complete with water bed and tanks of nitrous oxide for those requiring a mood change.
“Tusk was very native, very African,” Stevie Nicks said soon after its release. “Mick thinks he is a Watusi warrior and… he is! I would sit and wait for days. It was like these are the sacred steps back up the top of the sacred mountain of this jungle. That’s what Tusk was. Everything on Tusk was very warrior-esque, which is probably one of the reasons why 13 months didn’t kill us all; we went to another kind of world for Tusk.” She says the band were like a tribe, although she has also likened the recording process to being held hostage in Iran.
The title song, released as a single prior to the album’s release, certainly sounded like nothing the band had ever done before. Driven by a strident jungle-sounding drumbeat, a loop conjured up by Fleetwood, the band hired Dodger Stadium and the 120-piece of University of Southern California Trojan Marching Band to play over the top of it — Fleetwood had been inspired by a brass band he’d heard outside a hotel room in Barfleur, a fishing village in northern France. “I was in a room in the town square with a horrific hangover, and I was woken by the sound of the local brass band that relentlessly went round and round the square. As the day went on, they got drunker and drunker. But one thing was apparent. Everyone followed the brass band around the town, and I thought, ‘What a good idea!'”
“Tusk” started out as a drum riff that the band played onstage to warm up before the opening of every concert. Buckingham took a 20-second of a recording of this, sped it up and then started layering it with vocals and guitars. As Buckingham says, the 20-second section of drums was on “enough tape to go all the way across the board to the other side of the control room. We had to have someone in the middle of the room holding the tape up to make sure it didn’t sag. Then we made a copy, from one 24-track machine to another, of this huge, sped-up tape loop rolling around the room.”
As for the art, in hindsight it looks like an imperfect example of the transition between the Seventies and the Eighties, being a mixture of Hipgnosis-style Seventies extravagance (like a Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin album) and California New Wave, all red triangles, power-pop sunglasses and fake neon. The sleeve was illustrated with the dense African-inspired collages of Peter Beard, but also contained the sort of colourful, madcap photography that would become such a big part of pop iconography in the Eighties.
The band hired Beard (who went on to marry Cheryl Tiegs) to design and photograph the album’s inner sleeves. World famous for his photo-diary books and blood-spattered African montages, he was, the band felt, the perfect man for the job.
Explains Fleetwood, “Peter Beard, one of the three photographers who did some of the pictures on the inside [of the album sleeves], the artwork, happens to be someone who spent a lot of time in Africa. He came down to the studio and was there for probably about a week, taking pictures of the band. It turned out most of his work was of animals and people’s feet. He then left and during that time got very involved in the conservation of elephants and wildlife. We were just thinking of an album title. We had no idea that his artwork, when it came back probably three, three-and-a-half months later, would have elephant tusks all over it with odd pictures of us stuck in it, so it was just a coincidence. Then it was chosen as a word that we thought sounded good.”
Beard was in the studio for two weeks, shooting mainly Polaroids of the band and the inner circle. Resembling Peter O’Tooler in Lawrence Of Arabia, he was funny and a blast to have around, according to one observer. “Peter seemed unfazed by the amount of drugs that were everywhere in the studio, and I got the feeling that he saw us as just another species of wild creature to capture in his camera’s lens.”
Nicks, for one, was rather circumspect about it all. “Lindsey had tusk on the wall and all these weird Polaroids,” she says. “I thought this must be what hell is like. With speakers.”
Celebrated photographer and video-maker Norman Seeff was one of the photographers charged with shooting the band at the time. “They were already historically important by the time I met them, as they were a band that never repeated themselves,” he says. “Every member had a unique identity, and they brought that to the photo session.
“I was part of the whole scene at the time, drinking, smoking, living the rock’n’roll life. However, by the time of this particular shoot I had decided to go straight and was into yoga and vegetarianism. But the band loved to party. When they turned up for the session they went straight to it from the get-go. We shot for hours and by the end they were looking a bit ragged, a bit crazy, although they were always professional. Even though they got completely loaded, they knew how to work with each other. I wasn’t looking to take pictures of people looking f***ed-up – I wanted to capture vitality… and I think I really captured that day.”
When Fleetwood suggested they call the album Tusk, the whole band knew this was his nickname for his own erect penis, and indeed everyone else’s erect penis. When Stevie Nicks heard that this was going to be the title, she threatened to quit the band. (As Rob Trucks points out in his book, Tusk, “You only need to look at the album covers of Fleetwood Mac and Rumours to see that Fleetwood has a penchant for dick jokes.”)
Rumours, although this time the band were squabbling about their creative direction rather than about who was sleeping with whom. However, this tension was exacerbated by the fact that Fleetwood had been sleeping with Nicks. Some have said this is the reason Fleetwood was so indulgent of Buckingham’s new direction.
“Never in a million years could you have told me that would happen,” says Nicks. “That was the biggest surprise. But Mick is definitely one of my great, great loves. But that really wasn’t good for anybody. Everybody was angry, because Mick was married to a wonderful girl and had two wonderful children. I was horrified. I loved these people. I loved his family. So it couldn’t possibly work out. And it didn’t. It just couldn’t.”
Neither did the album, not in the minds of the Warner executives at least. According to Buckingham, when the label was first invited to listen to Tusk, they “saw their Christmas bonuses going out the window”. One executive said the band were insane to release a double album at a time when “the industry is dying a death. The business is f***ed. We can’t sell records and this will have to retail at twice the normal price. It’s suicide.” Which, commercially, it sort of was. Having been told it had cost more than $1 million to record, Warner Bros told the band they needed to sell 500,000 copies of the album just to break even.
The critics didn’t seem it like much, either. It was immediately called a grand folly, a pale imitation of The Beatles’ “White Album”. It was called uncompromising, allusive, audacious, lazy, deliberately fragmented, indecisively sequenced (why would you start an album with the wistful ballad “Over And Over” followed by a punk-country hoedown like “The Ledge”?), over-baked, under-cooked, a post-fame comedown, sprawling and ambitious. And it’s pretty much all of these things. While it still contained some Stevie Nicks mooncalf songs and some wistful, down-home Christine McVie ballads, it was certainly several leagues away from the generic coke spoons and crushed-velvet formula they had developed over the precious five years. In Tusk‘s big box of chocolates innate languor sits next to frenetic intensity, making it difficult to digest all at once.
One of the critics who did respond well to Tusk was the NME‘s Nick Kent, who at the time was one of the most influential music writers in the world: “Ultimately it’s time to stop bracketing Fleetwood Mac alongside Foreigner, Boston, Linda Ronstadt, The Eagles, etc, in the same way that reactionaries bracket together The Clash, Human League, pragVEC, The Slits and Elvis Costello… If you reckon you’re too hip for Tusk, then you’re simply too hip.
“As important as Buckingham’s compositions are to Tusk, his production work helps to maintain an ever-effective Spartan feel – only the essentials, with the odd embellishment carefully etched in for maximum impact – while hi guitar-playing continually impresses by dint of its virtuosity without ever being too flashy.
“This feel is of paramount important, particularly when faced with Nicks’ songs,” Kent continues. “If Patti Smith didn’t so desperately want to be a man and had a real comprehension of what makes for good musical structure, then she might well be Stevie Nicks. More to the point, even when her songs are obviously well constructed and lyrically intriguing, one continually gets this distinct image of Nicks as a young woman who played Ophelia at some high-school production of Hamlet and never quite recovered by the experience.”
When the album was launched, the band embarked on an eight-month trek across the UK, a champagne-and-cocaine odyssey that would become one of the most celebrated and debauched tours in rock’n’roll history. In every city, grand pianos would be installed in hotel suites, winched through the window. Stevie Nicks would order her hotel rooms to be painted pink before her arrival. Each member had a black-belt karate bodyguard, their own make-up artist and their own masseur. On the Rumours tour, when the lights were dimmed between each song, a roadie would walk on stage like a butler, holding a tray of bottle caps filled with cocaine for each member of the band; on the Tusk tour there were two black tents on either side of the stage, one for Stevie Nicks’ seemingly exponential wardrobe changes and one for the band to take cocaine. Before a gig, 14 limousines would meet their private plane at the airport. “It was like a funeral,” says Fleetwood.
Christine McVie says she used to go on stage and drunk a bottle of Dom Perignon and then drink another one off stage afterwards. “It’s not the kind of party I’d like to go to now. There was a lot of booze being drunk and there was blood floating around in the alcohol, which doesn’t make for a stable environment.” Courtney Love, of all people, thinks the tour may have been one of the most excessive of all time. “I think the interesting thing to a lot of people is that there’s never been a period in rock as debauched as the period after Rumours,” she says. “Nobody’s touched it.”
The band also started spending some of the vast amounts of money they were earning – buying houses, cars, estates and planes. “The Eagles had it down,” says Nicks. “They had the Learjets and the presidential suites long before we did and so I learnt from the best. And once you learn to live like that there’s no going back. It’s like, ‘Get me a Learjet. I need to go to LA. I don’t care if it costs me $15,000. I need to go now.'”
Fleetwood Mac would soon calm down, sober up, and start making the kind of FM-friendly “Fleetwood Mac-sounding music” that would propel them to even greater heights, causing them to become one of the greatest live attractions of the last 25 years. For years, though,Tusk remained a grand folly in the eyes of consumers and critics alike. Unlike Rumours, whose songs were rarely off the radio, Tusk’s attraction was its apparent failure; it appeared as a stumbling block on the band’s narrative arc. Slowly, though, critics started to reference it, as did a new generation of performers who weren’t around when Tusk first came out and didn’t know or care about its diminished position in the pantheon of Fleetwood Mac. Tusk‘s appeal has grown by accretion.
“Tusk was my first extended experience with Fleetwood Mac,” says Echosmith’s Noah Sierota. “I randomly found the double vinyl album at a garage sale when I was a preteen and bought it because the name was familiar and the cover intrigued me. I knew some of the more popular songs, but Tusk was the first I had listened to completely. This record really captures the three different singers in what seems to me a very transitional phase. But the consistent musicianship keeps the album together as one cohesive piece, yet still explores several new additions ad sounds to the music.”
“I love Tusk, as it’s an absolute classic,” says 23-year-old singer-songwriter Gabrielle Aplin. “I think the fact that people of my generation and younger are still loving Fleetwood Mac is testament to the quality of their songs, as they’ve really stood the test of time.”
“It’s your classic ego album,” says Adam Anderson of Hurts. “It’s an album made by a band for the pleasure of themselves and other musicians, sandwiched between two album made for the masses. But retrospectively that’s what makes it cool. It still sounds unique. Fleetwood Mac, for me, is about pure songwriting genius, with three of the greatest songwriters of all time in one band.”
One of the reasons Tusk was a commercial failure (relatively speaking) was because of the appalling way in which it was sequenced, with ballads followed by barn-dance punk with a perverse lack of sensitivity. Back in 1979, the order of songs on a record was paramount, as that was the only way they were listened to. if Lindsey Buckingham had copied GQ’s Spotify version of Tusk, we guarantee it would have been a lot more successful. Promise. So when you’ve finally finished with the Weeknd album, give this a whirl.
Tusk, The GQ Remix
I Know I’m Not Wrong
Walk A Thin Line
Never Make Me Cry
Over And Over
Save Me A Place
What Makes You Think You’re The One
That’s Enough For Me
Sisters Of The Moon
That’s All For Everyone
Not That Funny
Three years ago the Starbucks/Concord label Hear Music celebrated the band’s legacy with a tribute album of covers, Just Tell Me That You Want Me, featuring Best Coast, MGMT, The New Pornographers, Lykke Li, Tame Impala, Washed Out, The Kills and more. Remarkably, six of the songs, including Tame Impala’s “That’s All For Everyone”, were from Tusk. In 2002 the Californian band Camper Van Beethoven even covered the entire Tusk album. The album has influenced chillwave and freak folk and has found fans in The trokes, Air, Vetiver and Mumford & Songs. And as Dorian Lynskey has already noted, their audiophile fanaticism was a touchstone for Daft Punk’sRandom Access Memories.
In 1979, though, this was all in the future.
The day of Tusk‘s release, 10 October, was designated Fleetwood Mac Day by Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley. The public’s expectations, as well as those of the record-label executives, were almost vertical, and by the time the band’s magnum opus was ready, the consensus seemed to be that Tusk was going to single-handedly rescue the record business.
Obviously it didn’t.
“Oddly enough, no one in the band really made a judgement about it until it became apparent that it wasn’t going to sell 16 million copies,” says Buckingham. “It was a double album and certainly confounded everyone’s expectations – which is what it was meant to do. Once it became apparent that it wasn’t going to be a massive commercial success, then the band members… Mick would say to me, “Well, we went too far. You blew it.’ And it was very hurtful. We were out on the road and I’m going, ‘Oh my God, how am I gonna react to this?”
By April 1980 the awful truth finally dawned. Tusk was a comparative failure. After all, it had only sold four million copies.
Over time, however, Tusk would slowly become recorded as one of the most intriguing albums to emerge from the post-punk period; it is certainly the most intriguing album Fleetwood Mac ever made. It will never have the sheen of Rumours, but as Rolling Stone said at the time, “Tusk finds Fleetwood Mac slightly tipsy from jet lag and fine wine, teetering about in the late-afternoon sun and making exquisite small talk. Surely, they must all be aware of the evanescence of the golden moment that this album has captured so majestically.”
They surely are, as, increasingly, are the rest of us.
Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, and Mick Fleetwood discuss the songs from Tusk in liner notes of the new Deluxe and Expanded editions of Fleetwood Mac‘s 1979 album Tusk. While fans have long speculated about the meaning of the songs, namely ones penned by Stevie Nicks, the band has finally come clean about how their compositions came to be. Read on.
1. Over & Over
The opening track, the first of Christine’s six songs on the album, is played remarkably slow — a ballad with a backbeat.
Lindsey: “By the time we got to this we knew we had [an album] that was not by the book. When it came to the sequencing we felt this song had a certain familiarity to it, something that people were going to be able to latch onto on one level and yet set them up for some of the other, more untraditional things. Where this got untraditional was leaving it in a fairly raw state, not too glossy in the production.”
2. The Ledge
Lindsey kicks off his contributions with the least Rumours-like song of the lot. Many of the vocals were recorded while kneeling or lying on the floor.
Lindsey: “About as far from “Over & Over” as it’s possible to go. I was trying to find things that were off the radar. I took a guitar and turned it way down, in the range of the higher notes of a bass, not like a baritone guitar, where it’s correct, but where it’s actually a little incorrect — the strings are flopping around and sharping when you hit them. I wrote a little figure with that, threw some teenage influences at it with the drums. It becomes a bit surreal — you throw a bunch of vocals on top that are communal, messy, a little bit punky even.
I don’t think there’s anyone else on there but me. There were times when the band would augment, and there were times when, even if I took a song in with the intention of having them play, it wouldn’t necessarily stick. On this, that one guitar was covering everything. It was a concept piece on that level. There was nothing for John and Christine to do.
Lyrically, I didn’t really have anything to say other than what I could put together that sounded musical. There was probably something subconscious about the lyrics. You could say that about Rumours too. I don’t think anyone in the band was in touch with the fact that we might have been writing dialogues with each other. It took the audience to help define that for us. That probably holds true for songs on Tusk too.”
3. Think About Me
This steady boogie by Christine was a Top 20 hit in the U.S. when released as a single in a punchy, remixed version.
4. Save Me a Place
In complete contrast to “The Ledge,” this Lindsey’s tenderest song on the album, and one of his tenderest ever.
Lindsey: “Stevie and I had compartmentalized our emotions in order to [get through Rumours], lived in denial. Same with Christine and John. None of us had the luxury of distance to get closure. You get to Tusk and there’s a real aggressive attitude in a lot of the songs from me. But “Save Me a Place” is one where, late at night, you reflect on the vulnerability underneath that. It’s about a feeling that’s been laid off to one side and maybe not been fully dealt with, sadness and a sense of loss. There’s also a sense of loss for my youth and my upbringing, memories of that, which I loved so much, and how I saw that receding away.”
ABOUT: Mick Fleetwood, Don Henley, J.D. Souther, Sara Fleetwood, and other things
Stevie’s first song on the album began as a 16-minute home demo, condensed into a nine-minute studio version, further trimmed to a six-and-a-half minute album track and, later, a four-minute single edit, which was a Top 10 U.S. hit and the version used on subsequent CD editions of the album. [Editor’s note: A different edit of “Sara,” not the official single edit, was actually used for the first CD pressing of Tusk.] The nine-minute first take, mixed down for listening purposes but not intended for release, is sometimes referred to as the “cleaning lady version,” after the dialogue at the start. It is among the bonus material in this edition.
Lindsey: “Some of Stevie’s songs were hard to rein in. If you’re very lyric driven and not overly worried about time and structure, if it’s more freeform, which a lot of Stevie’s things can be, six or more minutes is not hard to get to. The nine-minute version of this was something we cut but probably never intended it to go out at that length.
I wasn’t delving into Stevie’s private life at the time, so I was never told what it was actually about. I always assumed it was addressed to her friend, who was Mick’s wife at the time.”
Stevie: “It was a 16-minute demo. My friend Sara was there when I wrote it. She kept the coffee going and kept the cassettes coming and made sure we didn’t run out of batteries, and it was a long, long night recording that demo. She was a great songwriter helper. Sara was the poet in my heart. She likes to think it was all written about her, but it really wasn’t. She’s in there, for sure, but it’s written about a lot of other things, too. Mick was the “great dark wing within the wings of a storm,” but when I was going with Mick I was hanging out with J.D. Souther and he kept saying, ‘You do know this relationship with Mick is never going to work, don’t you?’ And I said, ‘Well, when I get out of it, I’ll let you know.” And so there’s bits and pieces of him there talking to me.
I played it for J.D. and Don Henley and the both said, ‘You know what, it’s almost not too long. It’s good in its full 16 minuteness — it’s got all these great verses and it just kinda travels through the world of your relationships.’ They were really complimentary to me and these are two great songwriters. I knew I had to edit it down, but I found it hard to get below seven minutes. As simple and pretty as the song was, it turned into a magical, rhythmic, tribal thing with all those ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs.” It’s a fun song to sing.”
6. What Makes You Think You’re the One
This spirited Lindsey song is notable for the loud, enthusiastic drum track, which Mick made the most of when performed live.
Lindsey: “We cut this with just me on piano and Micks on drums, on opposite sides of the room. Aside from setting up the normal mics, we set up a cassette player, a boombox, in front of the drums and ran it into the desk. The mics in those devices have capacitors in them that act as really low-quality limiters, so you got this squash that’s really explosive, a real garage, trashy sound that you could only get that way. A good-quality limiter couldn’t replicate it. As soon as Mick heard that sound in his headphones he was, ‘Oh my god, I love this.’ It turned him into an animal. There’s not much else on there. I did some bass and guitar, but the center of that song is Mick’s drum work, one of my favorite drum performances by him. We talk about it to this day.”
About: Mick Fleetwood
A perfect example of the tastefulness and delicacy of Fleetwood Mac’s playing: everybody contributes just enough to one of Stevie’s most finely poised compositions.
Lindsey: “This album is a study in contrasts. It’s a very different mood from the previous song and a very strong song in terms of its form. It has its own folky, country thing going on. The recording speaks of it being cut fairly live. I love this song.”
Stevie: “Another tragedy. It has so many layers of telling the world what was happening to me without actually saying what was happening! It was really about Mick. That’s Stevie not happy with the way that relationship ended. That relationship destroyed Mick’s marriage to Jenny, who was the sweetest person in the world. So did we really think that we were going to come out of it unscathed? So then what happened to me, my best friend falling in love with him and moving into his house and neither of them telling me? It could not have been worse. Payback is a bitch. Bad karma all around. Here’s that song in a nutshell: Don’t break up other people’s marriages. It will never work and will haunt you for the rest of your miserable days.”
8. That’s All for Everyone
Echos of the Beach Boys with layered harmonies and a tempo like waves lapping the shoreline.
Lindsey: “This was influenced by Brian Wilson. What I love about him is not just his music but his choices. He gave me the courage to flout success, showed me that what you need to do as an artist is take risks and find new avenues.
It’s a wisp of a meaning at best, more of an atmosphere piece. I had the idea of being at a function with these people and having to go home, but on a less literal level I think it may also have been about deprogramming from the formulas you need to follow to buy what the corporate world is trying to sell you.”
9. Not That Funny
Lindsey’s sarcastic rocking with a distinctive, plangent guitar sound was extended into an eight-minute tour de force at subsequent live shows. A slightly remixed version was issued as a single in the U.K. but didn’t chart.
Lindsey: “This was directed at Stevie a little bit. There’s something we are still having to deal with as a band: ‘What’s important here? People thinking you’re cool or thinking you’re cool yourself?’ It’s more how you feel about yourself, isn’t it? This is a classic pitfall of the entertainment industry. It draws people to it who are looking for a Band-Aid to fix things that have happened in their lives. The celebrity culture we live in is a very Roman manifestation of something gone a little wrong with the value system. It doesn’t speak of substance; it only speaks of visibility. It’s about not buying into other people’s idea of you — that’s the important thing.
The guitar sound is just a Stratocaster; but I love using the VSO (Variable Sound Oscillation, or Varispeed, allows you to incrementally speed up or slow down a taper recorder). I just slow the machine down, come up with a picking part like that, double or triple it and tweak the VSO on either side so that it’s slightly out of tune, and the whole thing comes out with all this phasing.”
10. Sisters of the Moon
About: A bad mood
A lyrically enigmatic Stevie contribution, with a guitar solo by Lindsey that’s reminiscent of “The Chain,” this was a surprise addition to the set on the band’s spectacularly successful 2014/15 reunion tour.
Stevie: “I honestly don’t know what the hell this song is about. I’ve been singing it on tour for the last two and a half years, and every time I’m thinking, What the hell is that? I think it was me putting up an alter ego or something, the dark lady in the corner, and there’s a Gemini twin thing. It wasn’t a love song; it wasn’t written about a man, or anything precious. It was just about a feeling I might have had over a couple days, going inward in my gnarly trollness. Makes no sense. Perfect for this record!”
About: Mike Fleetwood
In a contemporary documentary, Stevie noted that this upbeat rock ‘n’ roll song somehow ended up with an eerie undertone.
Stevie: “A song about Mick. Not so much my love affair with him. I was always taken with his style, and in those days he would walk in the room and I would just look up. ‘I still look up when you walk in the room… I try not to reach out.’ It’s all about him and his crazy fob watch and his really beautiful clothes. He’s a very stylish individual and I was just this little California girl who’d never really known anybody like him.”
12. That’s Enough for Me
Lindsey’s breakneck rocker with country roots. Amazingly, the band sometimes played it even faster live. The song was initially known as “Out on the Road” — that title is visible in the handwriting incorporated into the inner-sleeves collages.
Lindsey: “Rockabilly on acid. An attempt to do something quite surreal, grounded in something recognizable. I was tapping into a general set of reference points on this album. But I never thought of it in terms of nostalgia. It was anti-nostalgia, if you will.”
13. Brown Eyes
Fleetwood Mac’s founder, Peter Green, makes an uncredited appearance on this song by Christine. His solo is just discernible on the fade out here but can be hear in its entirety on The Alternate Tusk.
Lindsey: I don’t remember Peter Green coming in, so I don’t think I made any judgement on whether to use it or not. Mick would ultimately have had the decision to use his playing or not. And it was Christine’s song to do with as she wished.
Mick: Peter was living in L.A. then and hanging out at my house a lot. He was still as he is now, changed, but he used to pop into the studio occasionally. I don’t know if he was that interested or not, but he did play on this song, which I love. Classic, slinky, killer stuff from Chris. The band’s playing really shines. I can’t recall why we only used Peter at the very end, but it’s great that he’s on here, because it’s Peter and it’s his band.
14. Never Make Me Cry
Short and sweet. A classic Christine McVie ballad.
Lindsey: “I think the others wanted to counter some of the my more manic moments with something a little more downbeat, so this is the kind of thing we ended up doing. This would have worked too with more of a beat, but I assume Christine saw it as a ‘Warm Ways’ kind of ballad.”
15. I Know I’m Not Wrong
The first and last song worked on in Studio D, it went through several iterations during the band’s year in the studio, as indicated by the density of the arrangement.
Lindsey: “This is a close relative to ‘Not That Funny’ and they share a lyric. ‘Here comes the night time/Looking for a little more.’ It’s a little joke — can you find the thread here? Like a repeating theme in a novel.”
16. Honey Hi
A Christine song with a markedly subdued arrangement, designed to never quite lift off. Its close cousin, “Never Forget,” brackets the mostly mellow fourth side of the vinyl album.
17. Beautiful Child
About: Derek Taylor
“This is one of my very favourite ballads. It’s so from the heart. It was written about an English man (Late Beatles road manager Derek Taylor) I was crazy about who was quite a bit older than me — another one of my doomed relationships. He used to read poetry out loud to me in his beautiful English voice, and I would sit at his feet, just mesmerized, and he would say, ‘You are a beautiful child,’ and I’d say, ‘I’m not a child anymore.’ He was married, so we stopped, because it was going to hurt a lot of people. The song is like a straight retelling of the last night of that relationship. Every time I sing it I’m transported back to the Beverly Hills Hotel and walking across the grounds to get a cab after saying goodbye.”
Lindsey’s experiment in embellishing a stately melody with multitracked drums.
Lindsey: “This was sparked by a Charlie Watts drum fill in ‘Sway’ on Stick Fingers. There are a couple of times where he does a kind of military press-roll across the beat, and I was in love with that moment. When I thought about the tempo of the song I was reminded of ‘Sway’ and that fill. It was a spirited idea that fit the song.”
This is the first music from the album that the world heard when it was released as a single. It became a Top 10 hit in the U.S. and U.K., and versions of the main guitar and drum riff appear on soundcheck tapes—labeled simply “Stage riff”—from as far back as 1975.
Mick: “My dad had just passed away and I went to see my mum, who lived in the south of France, and it was all pretty crazy. The first night I was drinking like a fish and I got woken in the morning, with an outrageous hangover, by the local brass band playing outside my window—a thing they do every weekend in a lot of places in Europe. It was like the pied piper: the whole village, old fisherman, kids, people in wheelchairs, all following this band, going ‘round and ‘round the village. Just as I thought I’d get back to sleep, the band would march past again. In the end I thought, Fuck it, I’ll keep on drinking. So I sat on the veranda with my brandy at 8 o’clock in the morning and started to think, What a cool thing, involving everyone in the village, bringing people together, a celebration. That’s what we should do on that track. Who might be the best brass band in L.A.? The USC marching band was touted, and I sold the idea to the band. John was uncontactable, off sailing somewhere, when we got the chance to record and film the band, so we took a cardboard cutout of him to Dodger Stadium to be in the video.”
Lindsey: “On some level this song was the embodiment of the spirit of the album. Riffs were a big thing for me, and Mick was always one to pick up on the potential of that. Christine helped me on this with some chords. The drum track is a loop. We found a 15-second section we liked and made a circular loop of two-inch tape that went across the room. We let it run for ten minutes and put the song over it. It was Mick’s idea to include the marching band. It was a great thing for USC. Not a particularly hummable song in the normal sense, but it functioned as a commercial piece, and it’s a killer moment in the live show.
I can’t say that I remember a strategy for it appearing at this point on the album. But because it stood alone, in terms of how it was done and with the marching band, if you were to stick it in too early it might blow too many cookies too soon. It feels like a capper of sorts.”
20. Never Forget
After the crazy parade of the title track, this mellow coda by Christine functions like a wave goodbye, possibly chosen to close the record for its repeated sentiment: “We will never forget tonight.”
Fleetwood Mac could have followed Rumours with more of the same — but they made this visionary masterpiece instead.
Evidence exists proving Fleetwood Mac could have followed-up Rumours with something similar had the spirit moved them, instead of the alienating departure of the double album called Tusk that they did make as the follow-up to one of the most universally appealing albums ever.
When singer-guitarist-producer Lindsey Buckingham wasn’t making like a lo-fi indie rocker from the future playing in Brian Wilson’s sandbox on Tusk, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie were singing songs that sounded like the Fleetwood Mac the world knew and loved — songs like “Sara,” “Think About Me,” “Over and Over,” “Sisters of the Moon,” “Never Forget” and “Angel.”
There’s further evidence sprinkled among the many demos and alternate takes featured on an expansive new Tusk box set Rhino Records just released, and unreleased Tusk-era tracks out there in the digital ether like Nicks’s “The Dealer,” which she re-recorded for her 2014 solo album “24 Karat Gold: Songs From the Vault.” “That’s Alright,” a beautiful country shuffle dating back to the Buckingham-Nicks days that ended up on 1982’s “Mirage” could have been folded neatly into this batch of songs. Mix those tunes in with some of the least-threatening Lindsey stuff from “Tusk,” like “Save Me a Place,” “I Know I’m Not Wrong” and “That’s Enough for Me” and you’ve got yourself a follow-up that doesn’t stray too far from the Rumours formula — one that could be squeezed onto two sides of vinyl as opposed to four by tightening up the fade-outs on a few tunes. Think something along these lines:
I Know I’m Not Wrong
Think About Me
Save Me a Place
Sisters of the Moon
Over and Over
That’s Enough For Me
This Rumours II scenario seems commercial enough, with a pretty equitable balance of Stevie’s mystique, Christine’s hopefulness and Lindsey’s intensity. All the familiar pieces are in place: the songs contain the requisite three-part harmonies, plenty of Lindsey’s sick fingerpicking and those hypnotic grooves from Mick Fleetwood and John McVie. And you know co-producers/co-engineers Richard Dashut and Ken Caillat could have dialed in that warm sonic glow they achieved on Rumours.
But there’s a significant void. The emotional lightning of two in-house romances simultaneously crumbling, which sparked the fire in Rumours songs like “Dreams,” “Go Your Own Way,” “The Chain,” “Never Going Back Again” and “Gold Dust Woman,” couldn’t strike twice. An attempt to repeat the Rumours formula without that kind of fire down below would’ve resulted in a hollow imitation. Maybe they sell an extra million or two records in the short term by making the follow-up a single, safer kind of album. Ultimately it would’ve rendered Fleetwood Mac just another big ’70s rock commodity that liked to stick to the script, like the Eagles, Peter Frampton or Boston.
So rather than following the path of least resistance, Fleetwood Mac took the most radical left turn a huge band has ever taken at the peak of its commercial and artistic powers. With Lindsey Buckingham hogging the ball, they spent $1.4 million in 1978-79 dollars making the most punk rock soft rock album ever in Tusk. Next to making Rumours (and also the band hiring Lindsey and Stevie after Bob Welch left), letting Buckingham take the lead on Tusk was the best career move Fleetwood Mac ever made, though it would take years for its impact to be measured accurately.
Once people started recognizing Tusk as the enduring masterpiece that it is, it began to serve as a gateway for evaluating Fleetwood Mac from another perspective. It proved there was more to Fleetwood Mac than just Rumours and a bunch of other classic rock radio staples; that they weren’t just a pretty cool band you could share with your mom and dad or older brother or sister. Tusk showed Fleetwood Mac were also a risk-taking bunch, artists of great depth and integrity. A younger generation of cutting edge artists including Peter Buck, Trent Reznor, Stephin Merritt of Magnetic Fields, Joanna Newsom and Kurt Vile, to name just a handful, have championed the album over the years — Buckingham’s work on it in particular. Other musicians have taken things a step further, by forming groups to cover “Tusk” (and other Mac tunes) live. Mick Fleetwood, in his 1990 autobiography, basically said Fleetwood Mac needed to make Tusk if they had any hopes of continuing: “It’s a great album and probably the only reason Fleetwood Mac is still together today … it released a lot of creative frustrations.”
That was not a widely held view when Tusk was released in October 1979. To the millions of jilted fans — along with Warner Bros. Records executives and some members of the band — that didn’t hear anything as immediately satisfying as “Dreams” or “Go Your Own Way” among Tusk’s 20 songs, it seemed as if Buckingham had steered this very expensive, high-performing vehicle into a ditch. But time has shown Buckingham steered the band exactly where it needed to go if it hoped to remain relevant in the long term, steering them away from that ’70s FM rock comfort zone into a passing lane where new influences like the Talking Heads and the Clash informed his Elvis/Beach Boys/Everlys roots. As a songwriter, he found a link between David Byrne and Buddy Holly and milked it to manic effect on songs like “Not That Funny” and “The Ledge.” As a producer, he stripped away familiar elements from songs, favoring raw process over the perfection of “Rumours.”
Christine’s spare and heartbreaking “Never Make Me Cry” features the solitary strum of reverb-y electric guitar; it’s not dressed up with a stately grand piano tracked in a concert hall a la “Songbird.” The longing in Stevie’s “Storms” is anchored by the muted pulse of a kick drum, electric piano and a delicate weave of electric guitars — no traces of dainty “Landslide”-isms here. Lindsey’s own “That’s Enough For Me” plays like “Second Hand News” at warp speed and feels like a purely solo exercise — just Lindsey’s double-tracked vocal, a few tracks of frantic guitar picking and a stomping drum track. It’s telling to note the subtle changes from the demos of these songs featured on the new box set to the finished versions: The shifts aren’t drastic but they’re crucial, as if Buckingham is trying to scrub away any scent of Rumours. With a heavier hand on the drums and acoustic guitar up in the mix in one demo version of “Storms,” it feels like the band is trying to figure out how to make the song sound like Fleetwood Mac. In a demo version of “Never Make Me Cry,” Christine’s on piano and trying to sell the vocal just a little bit harder. It’s beautiful — it’s Christine Fucking McVie singing, how on earth can it not be beautiful? — but it’s a shade too familiar. The demo of “That’s Enough For Me” (titled “Out on the Road”) is fleshed out with a harmony vocal from Stevie and piano — definitely been there, done that territory.
This was a band that had to re-invent itself to varying degrees several times due to membership changes. Here they did it again, but for different reasons. In many ways, Fleetwood Mac had become the embodiment of ’70s rock (still are, really) and it’s as if Lindsey’s did all he could to drag the band into the ’80s ahead of schedule. A lot of people just weren’t ready for it. Opening the album with Christine’s dreamy “Over and Over” drifting into Lindsey’s harsh two-step “The Ledge” certainly was not a segue that went down easy, like “Second Hand News” into “Dreams.” Those pristine snare drum sounds that felt like liquid gold flowing from stereo speakers being replaced on some songs by what sounded like a sack of loose change hitting a phone book and Lindsey playing a box of reel-to-reel tape with his hands surely gave radio programmers pause. And can we be certain that Mick Fleetwood is, in fact, playing the same song as the rest of the band (i.e. Buckingham playing everything) on “What Makes You Think You’re the One”?
If there’s one song that best represents the departure and experimentation at the core of Tusk, it’s the title track. Thirty-six years after its release, it can still prompt the listener to wonder what the fuck it was they just heard as Buckingham’s symphony of marching band brass and woodwinds, jungle-drum rhythms, grunting, chanting, barking vocals and gnarly guitars fades to black after a chaotic three minutes and thirty-seven seconds. Where the Eagles teased their big follow-up to “Hotel California,” “The Long Run,” with the yacht R & B of “Heartache Tonight” in September 1979, Fleetwood Mac introduced its big follow-up that very same month with what is perhaps the strangest song to ever reach the Top 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart. In a year where disco and Styx and the Knack and “The Pina Colada Song” were all over the radio, “Tusk” reached number 8. That’s how hungry people were for new Fleetwood Mac music.
Fleetwood Mac eventually got around to making Rumours II, in a sense. In the wake of Tusk’s relative commercial flameout (selling “only” four million copies domestically, to Rumours’ 20 million) the follow-up Mirage felt like a calculated return to the comforting creative bosom of Rumours. The album’s 12 songs are pleasing enough (with a few Mac classics like “Hold Me,” “Gypsy” and “Oh Diane” highlighting the collection) but on the whole it feels more deliberately cohesive than it does inspired. It’s the anti-Tusk. And time has shown the anti-Rumours to have left a much greater impact on the band’s legacy.
Patrick Berkery / Salon / Friday, December 4, 2015
Patrick Berkery is a Philadelphia-based drummer and writer who has recorded and toured with the War on Drugs, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Pernice Brothers, Danielson, and Wesley Stace. He is also a regular contributor to Modern Drummer magazine. Twitter: @patrickdberkery
Had Fleetwood Mac played it safe after Rumours, they probably could have made another gajillion-selling album. Instead, they handed the reins to singer and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and allowed him to steer the follow-up to one of the 20th century’s biggest LPs to wherever he wanted (with a few detours along the way).
The result was 1979’s double-LP Tusk, a much-delayed, over-budget and sprawling masterwork that often played out like Fleetwood Mac’s version of the Beatles’ White Album: three distinct singer-songwriters hashing out their solo compositions while the rest of the group played backing band. And it was, if you believed what you read at the time, a total bomb.
But 36 years later, Tusk stands as one of rock’s most underrated and rewarding albums, a complex and layer-revealing work that offers new perspectives and treasures with each listen. A new five-disc Deluxe Edition doesn’t so much give fresh insight to the record as it provides a behind-the-scenes peek at its formation and development, as well as the occasional struggles the band endured during its long and difficult birth.
The original two-LP set is expanded with discs of single remixes, outtakes, session leftovers, live cuts from the 1979-80 tour in support of the album and the entire record made up of mostly previously unreleased versions of the 20 songs. It’s as often fascinating as it is repetitive: Even for an album built on textures and detailed studio assembling, multiple takes on the title track and “I Know I’m Not Wrong” begin to get tedious after the fourth pass.
Still, alternate versions of “Over & Over” (the ambiance-soaked Christine McVie ballad that opens the album), “The Ledge,” “That’s All for Everyone” and “Brown Eyes” (with early member Peter Green prominently sitting in) show just how meticulous the recordings were … and just how much the band was slowly unraveling. Buckingham is clearly in control here, injecting flashes of weirdness and brilliance into the project. Stevie Nicks‘ contributions tend to be the least affected by his mad-scientist tinkering, but even they go deeper than Rumours‘ most intricate tracks.
Tusk: Deluxe Edition doesn’t show us much in the way of how skeletal demos evolved into multi-layered art pieces, though — it’s not that kind of box. If anything, it leads us to believe that most of these songs were fully structured by the time Fleetwood Mac began recording. And radio mixes of “Think About Me” and “Not That Funny” prove that even after the LP’s release, some cuts took on even newer forms.
It’s a lot to get through — more than 80 songs in all — and parts of it seem like padding (the live tracks, mostly from 1975’s self-titled album, Rumours and Tusk, sound diluted without their studio adornments). But the original album is worth diving into again, if only to revisit one of the era’s most undervalued works, a bold record made by a superstar band willing to risk its place at the top for its art.
After a huge world tour, Fleetwood Mac reconvened in an expensively customised Los Angeles studio to make the follow-up to the biggest-selling rock record of its time, Rumours. So how did they spend $1 million in the process? And why did it sell a tenth of its predecessor?
Part 1: “Complete Crazy Land”
Stevie Nicks on fractured lovelives, crocheting scarves and the record they thought they were going to make.
Stevie Nicks: “Rumours was a perfect, off-the-top-of-our-head thing that turned into a huge-selling, amazing record. It wasn’t planned, but we were not going to make that same record. Nobody wanted to do exactly the same thing each time, that’s just five people being creative. This was different though, this was Lindsey [Buckingham] really making a stand. ‘I’m not going to do a remake of Rumours. I don’t care what anyone says.’ And the rest of us were like, ‘What do you mean? Why would any of us want to do Rumours over, we just want to make a great new record.’ If you want to go down some different pathways, study and research some different genres of music and change it up, everybody was fine with that, but Lindsey was just so adamant about doing something that was the total opposite of the previous records. He announced it so viscerally, so demandingly that I think he scared all of us. We were like, What the ****?
Mick [Fleetwood] wanted to make an African record. He was saying, ‘Let’s do chants and amazing percussion’. I love all that too, so great, and Christine [McVie] too, and John [McVie] would have liked to have been in an all-black blues band, so he was all for that. We were definitely all on the rhythm train. So we set off on this journey, and this record started to unravel itself in the Village and become something extremely different.
I think Tusk is a spectacular record. But when we were making it for that 13 months we were locked up in the Village – we’d completely redecorated this Studio D, we had shrunken heads and leis and Polaroids and velvet pillows and saris and sitars and all kinds of wild and crazy instruments, and these tusks on the console, it was kind of like living on an African burial ground – it was heavy, intense heavy. Sometimes it wasn’t very happily heavy either. We were all down with getting heavy, but Lindsey was really trying to make it weirder and heavier than any of us were able to quite comprehend. But we went along, we followed him up the mountain.
My affair with Mick went on for the first three months of Tusk. We broke up, my best friend Sara fell in love with him and that just turned into a nightmare. She moved in with Mick overnight and I got a call from Sara’s husband telling me the news. Neither of them bothered to tell me. I went and sat up on the mountain for three hours and watched my life pass before me, then I had to get up the next day, get dressed and go into work, and not ever look at Mick for months. It was horrible, horrible, months of sitting in that room, five days a week, all day long, and all night sometimes, sitting on the couch just watching, writing in my journal and watching some more, and crocheting scarves by the dozen, it was a very strange atmosphere. I’d have been happy to sit it out in the lounge, but I wasn’t gonna not know what was going on, not be a part of the music that was being made in my name. So I was gonna sit there and watch everybody, even though I would have liked to have been anywhere else. I was like, ‘Lindsey with your new ideas be damned. Mick, you be damned also – Christine, John and I will watch and make sure that you guys don’t go completely round the twist and mess up everything for us. We’ll be the keepers of the gate while you guys go to complete and utter crazy land.’
I didn’t understand the title, there was nothing beautiful or elegant about the word ‘tusk’. All it really brought it mind was people stealing ivory. Even then in 1979 you just thought, the rhinos are being poached and the tusks are being stolen and the elephants are being slaughtered and ivory’s being sold on the black market. I don’t recall it being [Mick’s slang term for the male member], that went right over my prudish little head. I wasn’t told that until quite a while after the record was done, and when I did find out I liked the title even less!”
Part 2: “Our Place Of Worship”
Mick Fleetwood on replica bathrooms, par-taying and working ones’ balls off.
“Our lifestyle was well and truly changed by Rumours, riding a wave of personal and musical success beyond any measure. The whole thing was like a Fellini flick. There we all were, busted up as usual, at the height of our success. Stevie and I were very prone to living the rock’n’roll lifestyle, more than anyone else in the band, we were the par-taying group leaders. That was alive and well. But it didn’t detract from what we doing. Studio D at the Village was our place of worship. It was really a trip.
That studio was everything we’d ever dreamt of, including replicas of bathrooms that Lindsey Buckingham liked at home. It sounds like an indulgence, but in truth it’s very much not. I think it’s a really cool thing that a bunch of people don’t go in and say, ‘Hey, let’s just feed them fish, make an album in three months and get the **** out of here.’ We worked our balls off, willingly and lovingly, and we always do. And, by the way, that’s our money. We were funnelling our resources back into our art. We learnt not to go for the cheap one, I’m glad that didn’t happen.
I remember Lindsey sitting on the lawn with me saying, ‘Can I do this, bring stuff in from home?’ And I said that it was not going to be a problem. However, this is a band, at some point it has to be integrated. [He was doing] a lot of experimental stuff excluding our direct input, but I had muscle memory of Peter Green doing that, so it wasn’t that shocking. Like Lindsey playing a Kleenex box as a snare drum and getting me to overdub. That didn’t freak me out because John and I remembered that happening on Then Play One, Peter playing the timpani part or something. It’s fair to say Lindsey felt he had to fight to get this to happen. I think that all went away. When we went into making this album there was no trepidation at all.
We referred to Fleetwood Mac as The Bubble. We lived and coexisted in that for many years, the touring and the studio was one big journey, one commitment. We were very focused. Because we managed ourselves we didn’t have a paranoid Svengali going, ‘It’s gonna be the kiss of death if you do this’. So we did it.
Tusk stands as a testament to Lindsey, who really foresaw that pitfall that happens to some artists who can end up with a form of complacency, which leads to, ‘Oh, we’re sort of done.’ Tusk stands as a great body of work, a creative milestone and a lesson learned, that if you want to keep creatively stimulated you have to take risks. Fellow musicians and young bands are discovering it all the time, which is very gratifying. It truly is my favourite album.”
Lindsey Buckingham has long told the story of reaction inside and around Fleetwood Mac when 1979’s Tusk fell far short of sales for its predecessor, Rumours. “The conventional wisdom was, ‘You blew it,'” Buckingham recalls with a laugh. “A lot of people were pissed off at me for that.”
Not so now.
The often experimental Tusk — which will be celebrated with a deluxe edition box set on Dec. 4 — may not have lived up to Rumours’ diamond-certified status, but it was still a double-platinum release that hit No. 1 in the U.K. and No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and spawned a pair of top 10 hits in “Tusk” and “Sara.” More importantly it became a sonic inspiration (and has been cited as such) for many that followed and, in Buckingham’s mind, gave Fleetwood Mac a broader artistic license that his bandmates would later appreciate.
“For me, being sort of the culprit behind that particular album, it was done in a way to undermine just sort of following the formula of doing Rumours 2 and Rumours 3, which is kind of the business model Warner Bros. would have liked us to follow,” Buckingham tells Billboard. “We really were poised to make Rumours 2, and that could’ve been the beginning of kind of painting yourself into a corner in terms of living up to the labels that were being placed on you as a band. You know, there have been several occasions during the course of Fleetwood Mac over the years where we’ve had to undermine whatever the business axioms might be to sort of keep aspiring as an artist in the long term, and the Tusk album was one of those times.”
Coming in three- and five-CD versions — the latter of which comes packaged with two vinyl LPs and a DVD — the Tusk (Deluxe Edition) is brimming with outtakes, demos and remixes, particularly of the title track and “I Know I’m Not Wrong.” There’s also The Alternative Tusk comprised of unreleased outtakes and two discs of live tracks recorded during shows in St. Louis, Omaha, Neb., and London during 1979-90. The studio material in particular demonstrates just how ambitious Buckingham was in making the album, recording vocals in bathrooms and deploying a variety of effects on its 20 songs.
“My big rap on stage was how I would’ve loved to have been a fly on the wall when Warner Brothers first put that album on in the boardroom, ’cause they really didn’t hear it until it was done and we gave it to them,” Buckingham says. “From a marketing point of view it was not what they wanted or what they expected. It was a ballsy thing to do.”
Tusk has, of course, stood up to the test of time and now enjoys a kind of classic status for its creative adventurousness. Ironically, last spring Fleetwood Mac found itself back in the same studio — Studio D at the Village Recorder in Los Angeles — working on new material which has yet to see the light of day, while Buckingham is gratified that high regard has replaced any reservations about Tusk back in the day.
“I’d like to think the younger generation has certainly been able to understand that, not only in terms of appreciating the music but more importantly understanding why we did it — just a philosophy of taking risks, which is not something that you necessarily even get the chance to do,” Buckingham says. “So it kind of worked out OK, I guess, but it did take some time because it was immediately embraced by a certain faction but it was a much more marginal faction that seems to embrace it now, from what I can tell.”
Gary Graff / Billboard / Thursday, November 19, 2015
Fleetwood Mac’s most notorious album gets the deluxe treatment on December 4
On December 4, Fleetwood Mac’s 1979 album Tusk will be reissued in deluxe and expanded editions. Spin CDs, a online music retailer based in the UK, first reported about the deluxe and expanded releases on October 23.
“Tusk Deluxe” is now available for pre-order on Amazon.com.
Deluxe TUSK (DELUXE EDITION) delves deep into the vaults with five CDs including the remastered original album, an alternate version of the complete album made up of session outtakes, most of which have never been released, as well as an additional selection of singles, demos and remixes, including an outtake of the Top 20 hit “Think About Me,” an early version of “That’s Enough For Me” called “Out On The Road,” plus several incarnations of “I Know I’m Not Wrong.” Also included are two discs loaded with 22 unreleased performances from the band’s 1979 Tusk tour with selections from concerts in London, Tucson, and St. Louis. It includes live versions of album tracks like “Sara,” “Over And Over” and “Save Me A Place,” as well as favorites like “Landslide,” “You Make Loving Fun,” “Rhiannon,” “Don’t Stop” and “Go Your Own Way.” Rounding out the Deluxe Edition is a 5.1 surround mix of Tusk on DVD-Audio and vinyl of the original album on 2-LPs. The collection comes housed in an elegant box reminiscent of the acclaimed Rumours Deluxe Edition with a booklet that has extended liner notes that feature new interviews with all the band members.
Deluxe Edition Track Listing
Disc One: Original Album Remastered
01. “Over & Over”
02. “The Ledge”
03. “Think About Me”
04. “Save Me A Place”
06. “What Makes You Think You’re The One”
08. “That’s All For Everyone”
09. “Not That Funny”
10. “Sisters Of The Moon”
12. “That’s Enough For Me”
13. “Brown Eyes”
14. “Never Make Me Cry”
15. “I Know I’m Not Wrong”
16. “Honey Hi”
17. “Beautiful Child”
18. “Walk A Thin Line”
20. “Never Forget”
Disc Two: Singles, Outtakes, Sessions
01. “Think About Me” – Single Version
02. “That’s All For Everyone” – Remix
03. “Sisters Of The Moon” – Remix
04. “Not That Funny” – Remix
05. “Sara” – Single Version
06. “Walk A Thin Line” – Song #3
07. “Honey Hi” – Alternate Version
08. “Storms” – Alternate Version
09. “Save Me A Place” *
10. “Never Make Me Cry”
11. “Out On The Road” (aka “That’s Enough For Me”) – Alternate Version *
12. “I Know I’m Not Wrong” – Lindsey’s Song #1 (Demo)
13. “I Know I’m Not Wrong” *
14. “I Know I’m Not Wrong” *
15. “I Know I’m Not Wrong” *
16. “I Know I’m Not Wrong” *
17. “I Know I’m Not Wrong” *
18. “Tusk” – Demo *
19. “Tusk” – “Stage Riff” (Demo) *
20. “Tusk” Outtake Track *
21. “Tusk” Outtake Mix *
22. “Tusk” – USC Version *
Disc Three: The Alternate Tusk
01. “Over & Over” *
02. “The Ledge”
03. “Think About Me” *
04. “Save Me A Place” *
06. “What Makes You Think You’re The One” *
07. “Storms” *
08. “That’s All For Everyone” *
09. “Not That Funny” *
10. “Sisters Of The Moon”
11. “Angel” *
12. “That’s Enough For Me” *
13. “Brown Eyes” *
14. “Never Make Me Cry” *
15. “I Know I’m Not Wrong” *
16. “Honey Hi” *
17. “Beautiful Child” *
18. “Walk A Thin Line” *
19. “Tusk” *
20. “Never Forget” *
Disc Four: Tusk Tour Live 1
01. Intro *
02. “Say You Love Me” *
03. “The Chain” *
04. “Don’t Stop” *
05. “Dreams” *
06. “Oh Well” *
07. “Rhiannon” *
08. “Over And Over” *
09. “That’s Enough For Me” *
10. “Sara” *
11. “Not That Funny” *
12. “Tusk” *
Disc Five: Tusk Tour Live 2
01. “Save Me A Place” *
02. “Landslide” *
03. “What Makes You Think You’re The One” *
04. “Angel” *
05. “You Make Loving Fun” *
06. “I’m So Afraid” *
07. “World Turning” *
08. “Go Your Own Way” *
09. “Sisters Of The Moon” *
10. “Songbird” *
TUSK will be available on December 4. Fleetwood MacTusk (Deluxe Edition 5CD/1DVD-A/2 Vinyl) £54.99, Fleetwood Mac Tusk (Expanded 3CD Digi-pack) £12.99, Fleetwood MacTusk (1CD Jewel Case – 2015 Remaster) £9.99
Fleetwood Mac builds on its formidable legacy as one of rock’s most legendary acts as they re-visit their most ambitious album with deluxe and expanded editions of TUSK. Originally released in 1979, the Grammy®Award-nominated, double-album sold more than four million copies worldwide, and reached number 1 in the UK album charts, and included hits like “Sara,” “Think About Me,” and the title track.
The announcement comes as the band – Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Lindsey Buckingham Stevie Nicks and now of course Christine McVie, – continues it’s acclaimed, “On With The Show” world tour which recently including 6 sold out shows at London’s 02 Arena.
To follow the historic, global success of 1977’s Grammy-Award winning Rumours, Fleetwood Mac chose to take a more experimental approach on Tusk. The most famous example has to be the unexpected and beloved inclusion of the University of Southern California’s marching band on the title track.
The DELUXE EDITION delves deep into the vaults with five CDs including the remastered original album, an alternate version of the complete album made up of session outtakes, most of which have never been released, as well as an additional selection of singles, demos and remixes, including an outtake of “Think About Me,” an early version of “That’s Enough For Me” called “Out On The Road,” plus several incarnations of “I Know I’m Not Wrong.”
Also included are two discs loaded with 22 unreleased performances from the band’s 1979 Tusk tour with selections from concerts in London, Tucson, and St. Louis. It includes live versions of album tracks like “Sara, “Over And Over” and “Save Me A Place,” as well as favorites like “Landslide,” “You Make Loving Fun,” “Rhiannon,” “Don’t Stop” and “Go Your Own Way.”
Completing the Deluxe Edition is a 5.1 surround mix of Tusk on DVD-Audio and vinyl of the original album on 2-LPs. The collection comes housed in an elegant box reminiscent of the acclaimed Rumours Deluxe Edition with a booklet that has extended liner notes that feature new interviews with all the band members.
The EXPANDED EDITION features 3 CDs including the remastered original album, an alternate version of the complete album made up of session outtakes, most of which have never been released, as well as an additional selection of singles, demos and remixes, including an outtake of “Think About Me,” an early version of “That’s Enough For Me” called “Out On The Road,” plus several incarnations of “I Know I’m Not Wrong.
How do you release a double album that goes multi-platinum, breaks the Top 5, spawns multiple hit singles and spends months in the Top 40 while still being widely regarded as an artistic folly and a flop? Ask Fleetwood Mac. After all, that’s exactly what they did with 1979’s Tusk.
Released Oct. 12, 1979 — just a few months shy of three years after their previous effort, 1977’s Rumours, began its march toward record-breaking success — Tusk made up for the long wait between LPs by packing 20 tracks into its expanded length.
But as the Mac giveth, the Mac taketh away: for fans expecting a set of songs that picked up where Rumours left off, Tusk proved a confounding listen, full of artistic left turns and sonic experimentation. Some found it daring and others accused the band of self-indulgence, but no matter how you felt about the album, it was obvious that Fleetwood Mac was refusing to rest on its laurels.
This is not to say that Tusk is without its radio-friendly moments. Six singles were released in all, starting with the Top 10 title track — one of the more willfully experimental cuts on the album — and including “Sara” (No. 7) and “Think About Me” (No. 20).
But it was obvious that rather than trying to recapture or outdo Rumours, the band members were willing to expend the huge amount of commercial capital they’d built up by putting together a sprawling, ambitious work that reflected many, if not all, of their wildest artistic whims.
Leading the charge was guitarist and singer Lindsey Buckingham, whose grip on the Tusk reins would later lead to some derisively referring to the record as “Lindsey’s Folly.” As he later took pains to explain, however, it wasn’t about satisfying his ego.
Like a lot of works of art once deemed too outre, Tusk earned a deeper measure of appreciation over time.
“I was losing a great deal of myself,” Buckingham later recalled of trying to create new music in the wake of Rumours. His solution was to cover as much musical ground as possible — to consciously avoid a Rumours II. “My thought was, let’s subvert the norm. Let’s slow the tape machine down, or speed it up, or put the mike on the bathroom floor and sing and beat on, uh, a Kleenex box! My mind was racing.”
The end result was a set of songs that replaced the burnished AM glow of its predecessor with a sonic landscape that was broader and more colorful — yet also more arid, and studded with sharper angles. Critics were quick to point to New Wave as an overriding influence, but Tusk wasn’t an attempt to latch onto trendy sounds. As evidenced by the stomping, marching band-backed title track, or the spiky “The Ledge,” or the fuzz-laced “Not That Funny,” or the reverb-soaked “That’s All for Everyone,” it found Buckingham on nothing more than a dizzying quest to capture the sounds in his own mind.
Although Buckingham described the positive aspects of upending expectations, engineer Ken Caillat recalled a fairly turbulent working environment, with Buckingham’s eccentric behavior setting the tone. “He was a maniac,” Caillat countered. “The first day, I set the studio up as usual. Then he said, ‘Turn every knob 180 degrees from where it is now and see what happens.’ He’d tape microphones to the studio floor and get into a sort of push-up position to sing. Early on, he came in and he’d freaked out in the shower and cut off all his hair with nail scissors. He was stressed.”
He wasn’t the only one. Drummer Mick Fleetwood later laughed about Warner Bros. chief Mo Ostin’s apoplectic response to the finished product, paraphrasing his remarks by saying, “You’re insane doing a double album at this time. The business is f—ed, we’re dying the death, we can’t sell records, and this will have to retail at twice the normal price. It’s suicide.” But in 1979, not even the head of Fleetwood Mac’s record company could stop them from doing whatever they wanted. Neither could they stop a troubled narrative from being woven around the album’s eventual success.
Given its length, its ambition, and its much clucked-over million-dollar cost — not to mention the mountains of rock-star excess that sprung up around Fleetwood Mac during an epic Tusk tour that included specially painted hotel rooms for singer Stevie Nicks and no shortage of on-stage tension — the record came to be regarded as a weird, costly tumble from the dizzying heights of Rumours.
Unsurprisingly, the band members took issue with this point of view. “In the context of the whole, Rumours took longer to make than Tusk. One of the reasons why Tusk cost so much is that we happened to be at a studio that was charging a f— of a lot of money,” Buckingham pointed out. “During the making of Tusk, we were in the studio for about 10 months and we got 20 songs out of it. Rumours took the same amount of time. It didn’t cost so much because we were in a cheaper studio. There’s no denying what it cost, but I think it’s been taken out of context.”
Fleetwood also insisted in a Trouser Press interview that change was part of the band’s legacy. “We’ve never stayed one way for very long, and I don’t think we ever will. We’ve always changed a lot whether or not players have changed,” he said. “Doing a double album didn’t make any business sense at all. But it meant a lot to us, artistically — whether we could still feel challenged. We really, really are pleased with it. We’ve also, I think, got enough discretion to know if the songs aren’t up to standard, in which case we’d have just put out a single album.”
Meanwhile, Christine McVie bristled during a 1982 interview with Sounds, pointing out that “Tusk sold nine million copies — so it can’t be too shabby, can it? But a lot of people gave us flak about that album. It’s very different, very different, very Lindsey Buckingham. I’ll have to say that. He was going through some musical experiments at the time.”
Still, the backlash took its toll, and when the sales came in considerably softer than those for Rumours — which was, it’s worth noting, one of the biggest-selling records of all time — Buckingham felt that the other members of the group turned on him, jaundicing his perception of his place in the band as well as its artistic limits.
“I got a lot of support from the band during the making of Tusk; everyone was really excited about it. Then, when it became apparent that it wasn’t going to sell 15 million albums, the attitude started to change — which was sad for me in a way, because it makes me wonder where everyone’s priorities are,” Buckingham later admitted to Record. “They changed their attitude about the music, after they realized it wasn’t going to sell as many copies. That’s not really the point of doing it. The point is to shake people’s preconceptions about pop.”
None of that helped curb Buckingham’s restless artistic appetites, and before the end of the ’80s, he was out of the band, temporarily off to pursue wilder (and less commercially friendly) solo vistas. But like a lot of works of art once deemed too outre, Tusk earned a deeper measure of appreciation over time. Today, it’s widely regarded as one of the more interesting and artistically sounding albums in Fleetwood Mac’s catalog, and all those out-there moments that perplexed Rumours fans have been hailed as influential by a widening circle of younger bands.In time, Buckingham would return to Fleetwood Mac, but the way it was perceived — and the lasting demand for Rumours-style Mac product — left a lasting impression on his career.
“For me, the Tusk album was the most important album we made, but only because it drew a line in the sand that, for me, defined the way I still think today,” Buckingham mused in a 2011 interview. “I was trying to pave some new territory for us, but another way of looking at it is that I was causing trouble. Had we all wanted the same thing for the same reason, I probably never would have made solo albums.”
The first two albums Fleetwood Mac released after Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham joined Christine McVie, bassist John McVie, and drummer Mick Fleetwood provided the pop soundtrack of the late 1970s. The tender nature of singles like “Landslide,” the mysticism of “Rhiannon,” and the bold confessional nature of “Go Your Own Way” and “The Chain” struck a chord with anyone with a radio and a pair of working ears. Rumours would go on to be one of the top ten selling albums of all time. It continues to resonate today as much as it did when it was first released in 1977, influencing musicians for generations to come, providing the soundtrack for ’90s presidential campaigns, and continuing to set itself upon the lofty perch of various “all-time best album” lists.
How did the quintet follow up such unprecedented success? By releasing Tusk, a double-album that in 1979 was one of the most expensive albums ever made. Tusk’s 20 experimental tracks felt like the disjointed work of three charismatic solo artists as opposed to five talented musicians. Despite the fact it sold two million copies in the United States, it was considered a costly failure, especially sitting in the long shadow cast by Rumours. Unless they’re Michael Jackson, how could any artist expect to come close to repeating the feeling and enormous popularity of an album that feels like lightning captured in a bottle?
Buckingham knew it couldn’t be done. It’s obvious in his studio work on the album (he took on most of the production duties for Tusk, and nine of the songwriting credits on the album are his) that it was time to move on and take a more contemporary and experimental approach to the music. This explains why 25 years later, history has been kind to the disc. It was an album that was not only a product of its time, with the album’s influences coming less from the soft rock era the band was leaving behind and more from the punk and new wave sounds that were emerging, but was also ahead of its time. Songs like “Think About Me” feel like they could come out of the indie rock music of today, chock full of rich layers that need to be peeled back with each listen to be fully appreciated. You can hear that influence — a desire to keep a song elegant in its simplicity — in songs like “Ask Me Anything” from The Strokes’ album First Impressions of Earth.
There are a lot of details that can be picked up on multiple listens of Tusk, which makes the album a far richer experience than the slick production on Rumours. On the strange, percussion-heavy, tribal title track (which supposedly refers to the euphemism Fleetwood has for his member), you can hear Buckingham give some studio direction, and then the drummer says “real savage like” as the USC Trojan Marching Band trumpets in. The one-off line isn’t repeated during any other live recordings of the song. “Here comes the night time looking for a little more/Waiting on the right time somebody outside the door,” a line on the raw and angry track “Not the Funny,” makes another appearance six spots down during “I Know I’m Not Wrong.” Then there’s Christine McVie’s quiet sultry repeat of the final line of “Never Forget,” the album’s lovely optimistic finale. It’s the perfect finish to an album that put everyone in the band through the emotional wringer.
It was the drama behind each of the songs that made Rumours so relatable to so many listeners. That album is infamous for chronicling the declining relationships and persistent addictions that took place, but on Tusk the music is much more heartbreaking, confessional, and personal. “What Makes You Think You’re the One,” just one of the many songs Buckingham wrote about Nicks, possibly addresses his former love’s cocaine habit by asking her if she is the one “who can live without dying.” Christine McVie sings to a lover (possibly McVie), who is cheating on her to “go and do what you want” as she waits for him to return on “Never Make Me Cry.” Last September, Nicks confirmed to Billboard that the urban rock legend about the song “Sara” was partially true: the song came from the name of the unborn child Nicks conceived with Eagles’ singer Don Henley while the couple were dating. As Nicks recalls:
“Had I married Don and had that baby, and had she been a girl, I would have named her Sara. But there was another woman in my life named Sara, who shortly after that became Mick’s wife, Sara Fleetwood.”
The most sonically thrilling aspect of the expansive Tusk is the harmonies of singers, thanks to Buckingham’s continued fascination with California bands like The Beach Boys. The background vocals on “Walk a Thin Line” mesh so well with the guitar virtuoso’s falsetto during the song’s chorus that you want to make that journey across the tightrope right along with him. The harmonies also shine on the heartbreaking “That’s All For Everyone,” as Buckingham “cries out for more” while trying to decide whether the band should continue on together considering all the personal turmoil their collaboration has wrought.
It was after this album that Buckingham, Fleetwood, and Nicks pursued solo albums. Buckingham went on to explore the experiments he started on Tusk with the album Law and Order. Nicks would grow into the role of the mythical diva she is today. The band as a whole went back to the formula they honed on Rumours with 1982’s Mirage, having spent their creative capital on an album that many see as an oddity, but holds up as a masterwork today.
Fleetwood Mac is scheduled to play US Airways Center on Wednesday, December 10.
Heroic drug abuse, physical violence, epic strops… Forget Rumours, Fleetwood Mac’s craziest album was Tango in the Night.
In December 2012, three members of Fleetwood Mac cried together. in public, at the memory of something that had happened all of 25 years previously. Singer Stevie Nicks, guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and drummer Mick Fleetwood were doing a round of media interviews to announce the band’s 2013 tour when they were asked about the events of 1987, when Buckingham quit the band following the release of the album Tango in the Night. Buckingham did not respond directly to the interviewer. Instead he turned to Nicks and Fleetwood and reiterated his reasons for leaving the group at a critical stage of their career: foremost among them, his sense that Nicks and Fleetwood had lost their minds and souls to drugs.
“What Lindsey said in that interview was very moving, ” Fleetwood says. “He told us: ‘I just couldn’t stand to see you doing what you were doing to yourselves. Did you ever realise that? You were so out of control that it made me incredibly sad, and I couldn’t take it any more.’ It was really powerful stuff. This was someone saying: ‘I love you.’ It hit Stevie and me like a ton of bricks. And we all cried, right there in the interview.”
It was a moment that Mick Fleetwood describes as “profound.” But even after all these years, his memories of that time in 1987 are still raw. For when Lindsey Buckingham walked out on Fleetwood Mac, he did not go quietly. When Buckingham told the band he was leaving, it led to a blazing argument that rapidly escalated into a physical altercation between him and former lover Nicks, in which she claimed she feared for her life.
“It is,” Fleetwood says, “a pretty wild story. It was a dangerous period, and not a happy time.”
And yet, for all the drama that came with it, Tango in the Night was a hugely important album for Fleetwood Mac. It became the second biggest-selling album of their career, after 1977′s 45-million-selling Rumours. Just as Rumours had done in the ’70s, so Tango in the Night deﬁned soft rock in the ’80s. Perhaps most signiﬁcant of all, it marked the third coming of the Mac, following the successes of the Peter Green-led blues rock Mac of the late 60s and the Buckingham/Nicks-fronted AOR Mac of the 70s. And for Mick Fleetwood, it represented a personal triumph. While he freely admits that his own drug-fuelled insanity was instrumental in Lindsey Buckingham’s exit, it was Fleetwood who kept the band together once Buckingham had gone. And this was key to the success of Tango in the Night.
“My motto” Fleetwood says, “was ‘the show must go on’. It was almost an obsessive-compulsive desire to not give up. And it worked.”
There is an irony about Tango in the Night that it began not as a Fleetwood Mac album but as a solo project by the man who would leave the band once it was completed. In 1985, Lindsey Buckingham was writing and recording songs for what was planned as his third solo album. Fleetwood Mac had been on indeﬁnite hiatus since 1982, following a world [North America] tour in support of their album Mirage. In that time there had been solo albums from the three singers: Nicks’ The Wild Heart sold a million copies; Christine McVie’s eponymous album yielded a US Top 10 hit with Got A Hold On Me; but, to Buckingham’s chagrin, his album Go Insane didn’t make the Top 40.
There had also been problems for them over these years. Nicks had been treated for drug addiction. More surprisingly, Mick Fleetwood had been declared bankrupt following a string of disastrous property investments. It was rumoured that Fleetwood Mac had split up. “At that time,” Buckingham later admitted, “the group was a bit fragmented.” By the end of ’85, Buckingham — working alone at his home studio in Los Angeles had three songs ﬁnished: Big Love, Family Man and Caroline. But while he was busy making music, Mick Fleetwood was busy making plans to get the band back on track. The wheels had been set in motion when Christine McVie recorded a version of the Elvis Presley hit Can’t Help Falling In Love for the ﬁlm A Fine Mess— backed by Mick Fleetwood and the band’s other remaining founding member, her ex-husband John McVie. She invited Buckingham to produce, alongside engineer Richard Dashut. “It was the ﬁrst time for nearly ﬁve years that we’d all been in a working environment together,” Christine said. “We had such a good time in the studio and realised that we still had something to give each other in musical terms after all.”
Mick Fleetwood was more forthright. “The reality,” he says, “is that Fleetwood Mac were intending to make an album. And Lindsey was in many ways pressured into it. ‘Hey, we’re making an album — let’s go!” Buckingham relented, partly out of a sense of duty, had a choice,” he said, “of either continuing on to make the solo record, or to sort of surrender to the situation and try and make it more of a family thing. I chose the latter.” That Fleetwood didn’t know is that Buckingham’s agreement was conditional. “I had the idea,” Buckingham said, “that that was going to be the last work with the group.”
For all that, Buckingham threw himself into the album. He either wrote or co-wrote seven of the twelve tracks on the album. He also acted as co-producer with Richard Dashut. And it was at his home studio that most of the recording was done. What was unusual about the recording of Tango in the Night was the absence of Stevie Nicks for much of the process. Nicks contributed three songs to the album, but was in the studio for only two to three weeks. “She was not hugely present,” Fleetwood says. ”I don’t remember why. And I don’t think we would remember — Stevie and me were nuts!”
Fleetwood says that he and Nicks were doing more cocaine during the making of Tango than when they were recording Rumours — an album on which they seriously considered thanking their drug dealer in the credits. “Actually” he admits, “it was way worse on Tango in the Night. For sure.”
“Certainly , I smoked a lot of pot. But I was never a big user of coke,” Buckingham notes. And by the mid-80s, he’d had enough. ” The subculture was pretty much at the point of burning itself out,” he recalled. “The ‘anything goes’ attitude that existed in the 60s had become something entirely different. But still, everyone thought you had to do certain things to play, and I don’t know that I ever thought about it that way.”
While Tango was being recorded at his home, he found a way of keeping the two cokeheads — plus assorted hangers-on — at a safe distance. “Lindsey had a Winnebago put in his driveway,” Fleetwood says. “And that’s where Stevie and I would go with our wrecking crew. With me, the party never stopped. I was like Keith Moon. And for Lindsey having that around his own house was a fucking nightmare. So he gave us our own house outside in the garden. It wasn’t until years later that I asked him: ‘What was all that about?’ And he said ‘I couldn’t stand having you punks in the house. You’d turn up at the studio with people that you’d met from the night before, and you’d start gooning around. You were too fucking crazy.’ Lindsey was never a drama queen, enjoying the ’80s drug culture like Stevie and me. It wasn’t his scene. He wasn’t comfortable being around that much craziness. And we were blissfully unaware — completely oblivious to things that needed to be addressed.” The drug taking was only one part of the problem. There were other things eating away at Buckingham.
For all the money and fame that Fleetwood Mac’s success had brought him, Buckingham felt compromised on an artistic level — pressured by what Mick Fleetwood calls a “this monolithic thing known as Fleetwood Mac.” There is, Fleetwood says, a “tortured side” to Lindsey Buckingham.
“Staying honest and staying creatively alive is very tricky in a commercial business,” Buckingham said. “You’re trying to hold on to a certain idealism, and not succumb to becoming a parody of oneself. Are you trying to ﬂex your muscles creatively, or are you trying to sell records? In my mind it was pretty much clear-cut. There wasn’t a lot of middle ground.” Buckingham felt he had won this battle with Tusk. The easy option for Fleetwood Mac would have been to make another Rumours. Instead, Buckingham spiked the Tusk album with weird, left-ﬁeld songs such as the new wave inﬂuenced Not That Funny and the bizarre title track. “A precedent was set by Tusk,” Fleetwood explains. “Lindsey could say: ‘I want to do this within the framework of Fleetwood Mac,’ without pissing everyone off.” Buckingham loved the dichotomy in Tusk: the contrast between his songs and Stevie’s and Christine’ s . “You got that sweetness and me as the complete nutcase,” he said. ”That ‘s what makes us Fleetwood Mac.” But he felt that the band’s next album. Mirage, was too lightweight, lacking the experimental edge of Tusk. And that nagging feeling returned to him as Tango in the Night was being completed.
Buckingham had written many oldie songs for the album. In addition, the songs he had recorded solo remained mostly untouched. “Those songs,” Fleetwood says, “were already very sculpted. All we did was rip some drum machines off and put drums on.” One trick of Buckingham’s, in Big Love, was especially brilliant. For the song’s climax, he used variable speed oscillators on his voice to create the effect of a male and female in a state of sexual excitement — the “love grunts,” as he called them. “It was odd that so many people wondered if it was Stevie on there with me,” he said, a little disingenuously.
Although there were other great songs on the album—slick pop rock tunes in the classic Fleetwood Mac style, such as Christine’s Little Lies and Everywere, and Stevie’s Seven Wonders — Fleetwood calls Tango in the Night “Lindsey’s album.” But for Buckingham himself, there was a sense that in the transition from solo album to band album, something had been lost. A perfectionist, intensely analytical, he felt that Tango in the Night was too predictable, too safe.
“For political reasons, I was pretty much treading water,” Buckingham admitted. “We sort of lost the moment, going back to try to ﬁnd that Rumours territory. I couldn’t do that as a producer and as a player. I was demoralised. Maybe I wasn’t even motivated to go back. I did the best I could.” Fleetwood also believes that Buckingham felt undervalued in his roles of producer and arranger of others’ songs. “He was going, ‘Shit, does anyone ever realise what I do?’ Insecurities, we all have them, and that was part of Lindsey’s personality. I have insecurity even about walking on stage and thinking I can’t play drums. I don’t blame Lindsey for thinking: ‘It would be nice if someone thanked me for all the fucking work I’ve done!”
But the biggest problem for Lindsey Buckingham was, of course, Stevie Nicks . “I’ve known Stevie since I was 16 years old,” he said. “I was completely devastated when she took off. And yet I had to make hits for her, I had to do a lot of things for her that I really didn’t want to do. And yet I did them. So on one level I was a complete professional in rising above that, but there was a lot of pent-up frustration and anger towards Stevie in me for many years.” That frustration had ﬁrst become evident on Rumours. Nicks wrote about Buckingham in the song Dreams, in which she sang the line: ‘Players only love you when they’re playing.’ Buckingham responded with Co Your Own Way, in which he claimed uncharitably, ‘Shacking up’s all you want to do.’ And over the years, things had only got worse.
“He got very angry with me,” Nicks said. “He tossed a Les Paul across the stage at me once and I ducked and it missed me. A lot of things happened because he was so angry at me.”
During one Fleetwood Mac show, Buckingham kicked out at Nicks. “it was just a little something coming through the veneer,” he said later. “There has been a lot of darkness. There was a time when I felt completely unappreciated by her.” Buckingham’s frame of mind was not helped by the not inconsiderable success that Nicks enjoyed in her solo career. In 1981, her solo debut, Bella Donna, went to No.1 in US. Other hit albums and singles followed. Buckingham’s solo records sold next to nothing. “Jealousy is the wrong word,” Fleetwood says. “But it was hard for Lindsey. The reality is, she’s Stevie Nicks! And Lindsey I think felt left out. That was his cross to bear.”
Despite the hostility. Nicks tried to retain sympathy for Buckingham.” Lindsey and I were really breaking up when we joined Fleetwood Mac. We’d lived together for ﬁve years. It’s one thing when you break up for that person to go their way and you to go your way, quite another to break up and have to sit together in the breakfast room of the hotel the next morning. Not easy.”
But neither Nicks nor Fleetwood saw what was coming. “We just didn’t realise quite how unhappy Lindsey was,” Fleetwood says. “He had to get out. And of course he did.
Tango in the Night was released on April 13, 1987. The first single from the album, Big Love, was already a Top 10 hit on both sides of the Atlantic, and a tour was scheduled to begin in Kansas City on September 30. But when the band gathered at Christine McVie’s L.A home to discuss plans for the tour, Buckingham told them he was out. And at that moment, it turned nasty.
It was Nicks who landed the ﬁrst blow. “I ﬂew off of the couch and across the room to seriously attack him,” she recalled. “And I did. I’m not real scary but I grabbed him which almost got me killed.” Nicks ran out of the room with Buckingham in pursuit. “He ended up chasing me all the way out of Christine’s maze-like house,” she said. ‘Then down the street and back up the street. And then he threw me against a car and I screamed horrible obscenities at him. I thought he was going to kill me, and I think he thought he was probably going to kill me too. And I said: ‘If the rest of the people in the band don’t get you, my family will – my dad and my brother will kill you.”
Buckingham walked away. “We were all in shock,” Fleetwood says. “It was very upsetting for all of us, Stevie most of all.”
But in this crisis, Fleetwood acted quickly. “Most people would go: ‘You’ve just made an album and one of your lead components is not there? You’d better retreat rapidly, lick your wounds and reassess what the hell you’re gonna do.’ Well, that was not what my mind told me to do. I went: ‘We’re not stopping.’ And literally within a week, I convinced everyone that we should not stop and have this be a catastrophic non-event and have no promotion for the album.” Fleetwood was able to remain calm and pragmatic because he, and also John McVie, had been in this situation before – ﬁrstly, and most traumatically, when Peter Green, the original Fleetwood Mac’s guitarist, quit the band and the music business in 1970 after one too many bad acid trips. “When we lost our mentor, Peter Green, we felt completely adrift,” Fleetwood recalls. “We went: ’What the fuck are we going to do now?’ Seriously, I thought we’d never get over losing Peter. But we got through it. And then it became: there’s no such phrase as ‘the band’s going to break up’. And that became habit-forming. So when Lindsey left, we already had a blueprint.”
For the tour, Fleetwood brought in not one but two guitarists to replace Buckingham, a measure of Buckingham’s high calibre. Billy Burnette, the son of rockabilly singer Dorsey Burnette, was a country artist of minor repute. Rick Vito had worked with John Mayall, Jackson Browne and even David Soul. Fleetwood knew he was taking a risk. “On paper,” he says, “it was sort of insane. But it worked.”
It had to. “We still did that tour,” Nicks said, “because we we’d signed the contracts. We couldn’t call in and say: ‘Oh, we can’t do the tour.’ We had to do it. Or Fleetwood Mac would have been sued forever.”
The tour was a huge success. It wasn’t the same without Buckingham. Fleetwood accepts that. But the numbers including eight sold-out shows at London’s Wembley Arena – spoke for themselves. And with the new-look Fleetwood Mac out on the road, sales of Tango in the Night went above and beyond Fleetwood’s expectations. In the UK the album went to Number One on three separate occasions, and three singles went Top 10: Big Love, Little Lies and Everywhere. In the US those three tracks reached the Top 20, along with Seven Wonders , and the album sold three million copies in a year.
“The album was well received,” Fleetwood says. “Somewhat sadly, the kudos of that was never really fully attributed to Lindsey because he wasn’t present. But on the other hand, there’s a comedic sense to it — that we were promoting an album that was mainly his body of work. It was like Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys: ‘I’ve made the album, but now I’m staying at home.’
“But also, when I look back, I see another example of how desperate Lindsey was to be heard. Basically, he was coerced and persuaded to do that album – mainly by me. And to his credit, he put aside everything that he’d dreamt of doing, including making his own album, for Fleetwood Mac. But then realised that he’d made a mistake and went: ‘Oh my God – I’ve got to get Out.’ Lindsey was not being heard. We just didn’t get it. And really, I think that excuses him for letting the side down.”
Mick Fleetwood is not sure it is simple coincidence that Fleetwood’ s two biggest-selling albums, Rumours and Tango in the Night, were made when the band was at its most dysfunctional. “Also,” he says, “I’m not sure I should be so proud of it.”
Equally, Fleetwood has reservations about Tango in the Night. “It’s an interesting album,” he says. “But it’s not my favourite Fleetwood Mac album sonically. We got a little too involved in electronic-y ways of doing things.” But that album is undoubtedly a classic of its time. With it, Fleetwood Mac were reinvented for a new era. One of the biggest bands of the 70s became one of the biggest bands of the 80s. And from an album created amid chaos came some of the best songs of the band’s entire career. Even Lindsey Buckingham conceded this much. “On the whole, that album is lacking in direction,” he said. ”But there’s good stuff on there.”
In the 90s, Buckingham rejoined Fleetwood Mac, and, more importantly’, made his peace with Stevie Nicks. They have both come a long way since that dark day in 1987: Buckingham now married and a father of three, Nicks happily drug-free. And every night that Buckingham and Nicks go on stage with Fleetwood Mac, all that remains between them is what Mick Fleetwood calls “the good stuff”.
“Stevie and Lindsey are not ‘in love’ but they love each other,” Fleetwood says. “And that’s why they’ve been able to get through some awful situations. There’s something I was asked recently: ‘What’s the most misconstrued thing about Fleetwood Mac?’ I said ‘I don’t want to sound over-sentimental, but I think that people don’t actually understand that we really do love each other — a lot.’ And you know, sometimes that’s been lost amid all the fear and loathing. But, to say the least, it’s been an interesting journey.
Carol Hinton claimed the rock band used her poem without permission.
A woman who brought suit against the rock group Fleetwood Mac for using the lyrics of her poem in the hit song ‘Sara’ has agreed to drop her complaint for an out-of-court settlement.
Carol Hinton sent the poem, written about her youngest child and titled ‘Sarah,’ to Warner Bros. Records Inc. in hopes of receiving rights and royalties if the poem were used in a song.
In her lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court 14 months ago, Mrs. Hinton claimed the group used portions of the poem without permission, and sought royalties from the record and acknowledgement as author of the song.
She dropped the suit last week, however, after agreeing to settle out of court for an undetermined sum that sources estimated at about $1,500.
Stephanie “Stevie” Nicks, Fleetwood Mac’s lead singer, said the similarity between the poem and the hit song was just a quirk — “karma.”
Fleetwood Mac explores leaner sound on double album Tusk.
In a world of pedestrian rock stars, Fleetwood Mac has long been in the top of the line.
In the mid-70s, the five-member group strung a series of hits whose lush romanticism spellbound the record-buying public. Released in 1977, their album Rumours became one of the most owned records in history, selling 13 million copies nationwide.
Now, as rock music fragments into New Wave and three-chord Beatles nostalgia, Fleetwood Mac seems to typify the struggle of established stars to learn from the new music, yet maintain an old identity.
At a post-concert press conference, band founder Mick Fleetwood hunches his 6-foot-6 frame into a folding chair, squints at the TV lights, and explains yet again why the group abandoned the profitable mellowness of Rumours for a leaner sound.
“We felt like it,” he says.
Lead guitarist Lindsey Buckingham, a stylish dresser who looks like a trendy young architect adrift in a sea of blue jeans, is more specific. “The record is an expression of three years’ growth,” he says. “It’s a part of what’s been happening with us. We can’t separate part of ourselves and say, ‘Hey, this is what made us change.’ It just is.
Fleetwood Mac has never been a group to stand still. Originally founded in 1967 by Fleetwood, bass guitarist John McVie, and several refugees from John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, the band has since shuffled enough members to staff a small orchestra. Its latest incarnation dates back to 1975, when Buckingham and lead singer Stevie Nicks joined Fleetwood, McVie, and McVie’s then-wife Christine, to produce an album called, logically, Fleetwood Mac.
That album sold 7 million copies, and was followed two years later by Rumours. Despite the breakup of the McVies’ marriage, it appears the current Mac lineup will survive into the ’80s.
“We play well because we appreciate each other’s attitude,” Fleetwood says. “That’s what keeps us together.”
Stevie Nicks casts a sidelong sly glance. “It pays well, too,” she says.
If there is a soul to the Mac magic, it lies in Stevie. A beautiful woman with wild hair and delicate porcelain features, she is the band’s centerpiece on stage. Her soaring, starchild voice is largely responsible for their romanticism. The songs she composes are the group’s mellowest material.
In contrast, Christine McVie plays thumping keyboards, writes earthier songs, and looks as if she hasn’t been getting enough sleep. She sits behind the others, trading inside jokes with roadies. Laughing, she comments on the name of the group’s latest album.
“‘Tusk,’ It’s just a nice-sounding word,” she says.
Fleetwood tries his best to look like a misunderstood artist. “It’s got nothing to do with elephants,” he claims.
Still, “Tusk,” the album’s title cut, sounds distinctly tribal. The song features the entire University of SC marching band, remixed to sound like Zulu warriors.
“I tend to look over my shoulder when I’m singing it,” Nick giggles, “like I’m waiting for the cannibals to come.”
The rest of the double album is less bizarre. It seems, at least partly, a response to the primitive rhythms of New Wave rock. A financial as well as artistic gamble (it cost over $1 million to produce, and carries a $15.95 list price in period of falling record sales), Tusk started fast but faded quickly, a moderate success in a business where “moderate” often means failure.
But the members of Fleetwood Mac still travel with the aura of legendary success.
Peter Grier / Christian Science Monitor (Boston, MA) / July 9, 1980
OF COURSE, Fleetwood Mac is the American Dream. The band’s success story is the stuff of which the mythology of modern day America is made: Mick Fleetwood, John and Christine McVie, down on their luck in the Oulde Country, make the decision to move to the Promised Land. Traveling as far west as possible, these humble immigrants settle on the most advanced technological frontier in the world, Los Angeles.
Operating within rock ‘n’ roll’s picaresque tradition, a surprise encounter teams up the three Britishers with two down-and-out American natives, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. Within a year, following closely the WASP work ethic, their fortunes change for the better.
Within three years of moving to America they have become part of the aristocracy to which you are granted entry in the United States by virtue of your material rather than your blood. In Washington Fleetwood Mac is invited to the White House for social chit chat with President Jimmy Carter.
By now they are so rich that Mick Fleetwood tells a friend he knows he need never work again in his life.
It’s like a good made-for-TV movie!
Rumours was a musical soap opera detailing the emotional chaos within the group following the breakthrough Fleetwood Mac album. The romantic traumas it dealt with, though, were those of wealthy, Beautifully Tanned People. A very glamorous record really, a sort of musical Dallas.
Incorporating as many emotional buzz-words and buzz-areas as possible. Rumours rather simply discussed the romantic problems of many people in their late twenties or early thirties. By doing so, it established once and for all the viability of what now has become known as AOR-Adult Oriented Rock.
Appropriately enough for Me Generation mid-’70s California-the state with the highest divorce rate in the world-Fleetwood Mac’s position became something like the group-as-group-therapy. Easier than est, safer than Synanon, Rumours seemed as Californian as the new quasi-religious texts like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance or the collected works of L. Ron Hubbard.
That was not the sole factor, of course, behind Rumours selling close to 20 million copies. That was just the in-depth back-up team, really. The real reason Rumours sold so many copies-that it became bigger than life itself-was because, in the words of Warner Brothers’ Derek Taylor, “It’s just a very, very good double-sided pop record.”
Fleetwood Mac’s music is rock ‘n’ roll-the rhythm section alone would insure that-but it’s very poppy rock ‘n’ roll, closer to Abba than Elmore James (the inspiration of the band’s original guitarist).
But can you imagine what the vibes must’ve been like in the studio during the making of Rumours? Fleetwood Mac probably shouldn’t be begrudged a single cent of their wealth.
Even now – perhaps more than ever – there is something indefinably sad about Fleetwood Mac, especially about the three English expatriates. So it appears in San Francisco, where they are playing two dates at the Cow Palace to end their American tour.
Mick Fleetwood, for example, besides apparently still in love with Jenny (sister of Patti) Boyd, his ex-wife of two divorces, suffers from both diabetes and a related condition the exact opposite of diabetes; Fleetwood mustn’t eat sugar and must eat a lot of sugar. One wonders at the possible cause of such an imbalance within his body. Meanwhile, remarried John McVie (the band’s “Penguin” logo stems from the bassist’s fascination for the bird – he even has one tattooed on his forearm), for many the definition of a Good Bloke, continues to seem happiest with a glass in his hand. Christine McVie, who has taken up with recently fired Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, seems to epitomize the paradoxes scattered throughout all aspects of the group: a Cancer, with all its mother (Earth) implications, she had herself sterilized, a very Californian thing to do.
Regally named Lindsey Buckingham, the youngest group member at just 30, is the one F. Mac person very much in sympathy with newer ways of thinking. There’s obviously a link between this and the fact he has nine songs on the new album, as opposed to Christine McVie’s six or Stevie Nicks’s five.
When we meet for a formal interview session Buckingham quizzes me about the English music scene, and reveals a fair knowledge of Talking Heads and the Gang of Four. By contrast, the tapes playing in Stevie Nicks’s suite are Derek and the Dominoes and Steve Miller. Her tastes, though, are probably more representative of what the band listens to than Buckingham’s. Fleetwood Mac is essentially conservative in their outlook and not just as regards music, either: John McVie has a hard time relating to my pink socks.
At a time when most younger bands are trying to destroy the once assumed divinity of the massive studio bill, it’s hardly surprising that the production costs of Tusk, the Rumours follow-up, should make it the first million-dollar album. Tusk seems closer to a Hollywood movie production than good ol’ funky rock ‘n’ roll. With their homes in Bel Air, Beverly Hills and Malibu, Fleetwood Mac is part of the new Hollywood.
No one will admit it, but part of Tusk‘s expense must have been (unconsciously, perhaps) justified within the band as fighting uncertainty and insecurity about following as huge a success as Rumours.
According to Buckingham, the record’s cost has become a little overstated. Basically, Tusk cost so much because someone cocked up. Partially as an investment, no doubt, F. Mac was going to have its own studio built; they were strongly advised against it by people at Warner Brothers, who told them costs would be prohibitive. If they’d listened to their own advice-a rare slip for this self managed outfit-they’d have something more to show for all that money spent.
“In the context of the whole,” Buckingham’s high metallic voice tells me, “Rumours took longer to make than Tusk. One of the reasons why Tusk cost so much is that we happened to be at a studio that was charging a fuck of a lot of money.
“During the making of Tusk we were in the studio for about 10 months and we got 20 songs out of it. Rumours took the same amount of time. It didn’t cost so much because we were in a cheaper studio.
“There’s no denying what it cost, but I think it’s been taken out of context.”
In addition, the much touted digital recording hardly affected the band at all. Its real use was to preserve the quality of the master tape and the records that are pressed from it.
Tusk is a fine traditional pop/rock record. It’s only when Fleetwood Mac plays it onstage that you become aware of it’s deficiencies; the band did spend too long in the studio. Live, Tusk songs have a freshness and vital spirit which was muted during all that studio time. “You’ve got to play it a lot,” says John McVie. “It keeps getting better.” Yeah, unless you reach saturation point (as happened with Rumours, an inferior record to the preceding Fleetwood Mac).
Warner Brothers was anxious that the delay between Rumours and its successor was too great. For a while they wanted to release the first record of the two-LP set as soon as it was completed. That was nixed. So was a heavy advertising campaign the company had a New York agency present to the band. Mick Fleetwood: “The record company let this agency try something and when we saw it, it was…just nothing…It was scrapped immediately.
“I said I didn’t think they’d be able to do it, because for pretty obvious reasons we’re pretty preoccupied with not overselling ourselves. I think it’s very unfortunate that someone like Peter Frampton let his music be cheapened by doing things like putting adverts for Peter Frampton watches in his albums. That just shouldn’t happen. I think it’s real crass. A record’s supposed to be there to listen to.”
All this balance sheet stuff aside, it may interest fans of the original Fleetwood Mac to learn that none other than Peter Green himself plays on the album. “That’s right,” confirms Fleetwood, “he plays literally about eight notes at the end of one of Chris’s songs – ‘Brown Eyes’, I think it is. He just wandered into the studio while the track was being done.
“But,” Fleetwood continues with sudden despondency, “I’ve given up with Peter. I’ve totally given up. He’s just given up where anything to do with money is concerned. After a while it just wears me down.” The drummer confirms that on the recently released Peter Green solo album the guitar hero actually handles very little of the work on his chosen instrument: “A lot of the guitar is done by a friend of his. He told me that he’d handed over the guitar duties to someone else. Ridiculous.”
It was Mick Fleetwood – a good-natured fellow who presumably wanted to hand some of his new fortune to Green the same way he’s assisted former Mac guitarist Bob Welch – who set Green up with a Warners contract worth nearly a million dollars. “The day he was supposed to sign it he freaked out. I looked a bit stupid. After all, who would believe that he didn’t want to sign a contract because he thought it was with the Devil?” (Well, quite a few chaps, actually…)
Fleetwood Mac may be part of the New Hollywood but they’re not taken in by all the LA bullshit – three of them are British, after all, and all old lags in this rock ‘n’ roll circus; they’ve seen it all before.
Buckingham, meanwhile, would rather live in his native San Francisco than Los Angeles. Nicks would probably favor living on a flying carpet.
“America is my home,” Fleetwood says, “but I don’t plan to live in Los Angeles much longer; none of us do, in fact. There is definitely going to be an earthquake. LA will be flattened. I’ll have no regrets at all about moving.”
He claims that Hollywood’s flakiness hardly affects him. “We work a helluva lot so we don’t get much chance to think about it.”
Fleetwood Mac tours a lot for a band of its status (and age). “Out of the next 13 months,” Fleetwood adds, “we’re spending nearly nine months on the road. That is the sort of commitment to what we do. It’s not that we just want to throw out an album and say, ‘Oh, it’ll do alright!'”
As the new royalty, of course, it’s necessary for the band to occasionally hold court to meet local media dignitaries. These press conferences are fairly appalling affairs; in San Francisco the local press, TV and radio field their questions with strained, reverential smiles. Held in a bland conference room at the San Francisco hotel in Union Square, the event was strictly showbiz Presidential. The band – except Buckingham, who’d gone to visit his mother – sat at a dais at one end of the room as questions like “Who is Sara?” and “Mick, do you ever sneak out at night and go to clubs?” were put to the tolerant Mac. The killer was when some mutant got up and asked Nicks what she was doing for dinner that night.
In the middle of 80 minutes of this nonsense Mick Fleetwood’s whole body appears to go into spasms. Christine McVie, sitting next to him, massages his shoulders and arms with thoughtful concern. Fleetwood’s having one of his diabetes attacks. He’d been late arriving at the press conference because he’d felt so lousy he thought he might have to blow it out altogether.
At times like this one wonders: Is it worth it?
Onstage Fleetwood Mac is a great rock band.
Whatever Mick Fleetwood may say about Tusk attempting stepping away from the LA soft-rock sound, the band hasn’t gone far enough-or maybe they just stuck around too long in that overpriced studio blowing their Rumours bread on overdubs. Onstage, though, they really burn. Newly shorn Buckingham-the somewhat camp shots of him on the Tusk sleeve were only stage one of a metamorphosis into Beverly Hills new waver-spurs the band on from center stage. By the third number sweat’s running down his face and neck like a waterfall.
John McVie, who with Mick Fleetwood makes one of rock’s hardest, most inventive rhythm sections, adopts a most unusual stance for a bassist by moving about a lot and entering into duelling partnerships with Buckingham, himself a feisty rather than academic or soulful guitarist.
On stage right Christine McVie provides the Mother Earth image she is so keen to renounce, an anchor behind her keyboards.
Stevie Nicks has, as you might expect, six or seven dress changes. Her real strength is a superb deep voice – maybe deeper than Buckingham’s, even-resonant and clear, as though she’d been gargling with redwood sap. Mick Fleetwood looks very late-’60s and Jethro Tull-like in boots and waistcoat.
Each individual’s instrumental and vocal accomplishments aside, what really makes this show work is the number of great songs in the set, since the release of Tusk. Fleetwood Mac has effectively doubled the songs at their disposal.
Backstage at the Cow Palace (a mere 12 or 13,000-seater) there is a very good vibe. There is an undeniable elegance about the benchwood furniture and potted palms that fill the dressing rooms. John McVie is very happy. He is slumping around in an old army fatigue jacket, looking to put something in his empty glass. “This is a great band,” he nods to himself, and picks up a bottle of vodka.
Christine McVie and Dennis Wilson sit on a couch, spooning like teenagers at a drive-in movie. Dennis seems pretty drunk; at least that’s my interpretation of the near-total failure in communication we experience when we try to talk to each other. Maybe it’s just a bad case of culture gap. What seems like the entire Buckingham family tree is also present.
Mick Fleetwood and myself end up sitting around a tape recorder in the middle of the dressing room, the one that has urinals and toilets. It also has the F. Mac oxygen cylinder and mask. If all you breathe is conditioned air from hotels and limos, you probably need a drop of the bottled stuff now and then.
Mick Fleetwood was the original founder of Fleetwood Mac, in July, 1967. He had been kicked out of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers after only a couple of months for drinking too much. Other Bluesbreakers were John McVie, who’d played with Mayall since the beginning of 1963, and Peter Green. Green followed Fleetwood shortly afterwards and an initially reluctant McVie joined in September of that year.
Prior to the Bluesbreakers, Fleetwood had been working as a decorator for a few weeks following the break-up of white soul roadshow the Shotgun Express (also featuring Rod Stewart). He is a man with an absurd sense of humor rarely revealed in interviews. He seems keenest to play political spokesman, a role presumably due to his also managing the band; he took over after former manager Clifford Davis, claiming to own the name “Fleetwood Mac” and the right to use it as he saw fit, sent a bogus F. Mac on the road in America in January, 1974.
Fleetwood loathes the idea of managers now, and thinks no band or artist should need one: “A good accountant and lawyer and a good tour manager – an old roadie can do that – are all you need.”
Along with John McVie, Fleetwood’s the real backbone of Fleetwood Mac. He’s a formidable drummer, which is why it’s so puzzling that his actual drum solo – with handheld “talking” drum – should be so duff.
“We’ve never stayed one way for very long,” he says in not too practiced a manner, “and I don’t think we ever will. We’ve always changed a lot whether or not players have changed. We’re actually afraid to, I think, of getting into a rut, which can be very easy to do, and very awful, too –especially when it’s just so you can make a lot of money. Doing a double album didn’t make any business sense at all. But it meant a lot to us, artistically – whether we could still feel challenged. We really, really are pleased with it. We’ve also, I think, got enough discretion to know if the songs aren’t up to standard, in which case we’d have just put out a single album.
“We’ve got a great advantage, though, in having three songwriters. We’re very lucky. When Danny, Peter and Jeremy were in the band they all wrote and played very different stuff. So in a way we’re back to that sort of situation; again we have the advantage of three very different styles. So it’s come something like a full circle.”
Were you aware of just how strong the punk/new wave had become in England?
“No-o-o-o,” Mick Fleetwood shakes his head, perhaps with no great passion. He shrugs his shoulders, continuing in the slightly slurred, drawn-out Home Countries accent first popularized by near-contemporaries like Mick Jagger. “We’re not physically there…But I know there’s a whole social thing going on.
“The good musical things,” he continues, more confidently, “will stay behind. Most bands that I know of didn’t really have any great master-plan. They just started off listening to the blues and the Rolling Stones and Chuck Berry records, played the school dance or whatever and went on from there. Just went off and did it – and developed.
“It’s not that evident over here. England’s such a tiny place; all those great bands always come out of it. England brings out some kind of hardcore staying power. I don’t think this country has that, because it genuinely isn’t as hard here. I’m not saying people don’t have a hard time here. Stevie and Lindsey certainly did.”
With Jungian synchronicity, or maybe just good timing, Stevie Nicks sticks her rather shattered-looking head round the door with all the experience of someone who’s done a lot of waitressing. “Cheeseburger, fries, kidney pie, potatoes and starch…Well, anyway, I’m sorry I broke in your little tea party.”
She disappears. The door closes. Mick Fleetwood scratches his head, as though bewildered at this display of rock star looning. “Gosh,” he says, just like that.
Enough of this frivolity. On with the questions. One of the reasons Fleetwood left England in 1974 was his dissatisfaction with living there.
“We were just pissed off with the whole thing, because basically Fleetwood Mac didn’t mean a shit then in Europe. The band had changed, whatever we played wasn’t appealing-the balls of the band, namely Peter, had gone. At that point, anyway, we were playing more over here.
“Also, I thought England was very grey and full of depressed people. All those kids were just reacting to that. I know that. We just got out. But it can never have that same effect here, simply because of the size of the country. You can go through the whole Midwest and it’s just not there.”
There’s a colossal sense of history in the band’s songs.
“Yeah,” agrees Fleetwood, pleased. “Before I went on tonight I shouted out, ‘You know what this is? This is the last three gigs of the decade.’ Then while I was playing I was trying to count the years I’d been with John. I thought, ‘God! Not so long now and it’ll be something like 20 years!’ There’s a lt of feeling up there, of people that have developed together.
“There’s a lot of waste of talent that starts up and just fizzles out. You just see the spark of something and then they all start throwing TVs out of windows and showing they’re a load of bastards.”
You had the Youth Success thing…
“Yeah. But we held it together as a band. We were lucky; because of the people in the band we became involved in the thinking process of what we were trying to do. For ourselves. Selfishly, if you like. And were stilling doing that. It’s not just a ‘crank it out and let it roll in until it stops rolling in’ number. ‘Oh, I’ll just do it for a few years and clean up.’ This is a career. This is what we do.
“It’s just a question of having some integrity about what you do, and we definitely try to have that. I suppose when we stop having that feeling it will be time to stop altogether, rather than just ‘Oh, we’ll do a quick tour and rake it in.'”
After Rumours came out it was assumed the next F. Mac record would be a live album, after which the band would retire.
“We’ve recorded some gigs on this tour. We do it every tour and they just get put away. They might be used some time. Who knows?”
At one stage, though, wasn’t there talk of this double album being half live and half studio?
“I don’t remember that. We thought of the possibility of going into a concert hall and cutting these songs literally live. Live, these songs are very different. Without all the overdubs they really kick ass.
“I think it’d be interesting to go in an empty hall and develop the number the same way you have to play it onstage. We don’t do a lot of the stuff onstage. You can’t get all those little tinkles and cymbals and tom-tom overdubs. You play the gut of the number. To approach new tunes in that way could well be an interesting thing to try.
“A good live album can be great, but it’s often treading water a bit, and a very easy thing to do. People say we must be crazy that a band as big as we are haven’t put out a live record or a “Greatest Hits” in between Rumours and Tusk. But it takes the freshness away of what we’re trying to do. Of course, there’ll be a “Greatest Hits” sometime. One day. As a final curtain, perhaps.
“Certainly now the intention is to keep on recording new stuff. The next album should be out quicker than people think. I think we’ll just go for a quick one.”
Did Rumours do your heads in?
“Just the colossal success? We were working a lot of the time on the road. Again, I just think we’re lucky.” Fleetwood is very matter-of-fact. Didn’t he feel the band was becoming a commodity?
“No. Because we don’t let that sort of thing happen. If we wanted to utilize all the marketing resources we could make a lot more money, a lot more cash-in stuff. But” –derisively – “that’s going for a real cheap one. You shoot your integrity out the window. We’re internally very – well , we look after our own affairs for a start, so we don’t have anyone feeding us a load of bullshit on how great we are. We’re constantly having to make our minds up ourselves, which keeps us open-and relatively sane.
“Of course, there is pressure. You just have to hang on to the same thing you’ve hung on to for the last however many years it is. You just don’t presume that you’re anything special, ever. As soon as you do that, then forget it.
“There’s a lot of natural energy in this group. Without it it wouldn’t work. It’s apparent to me that onstage there’s genuine rapport. We know what numbers we’re going to play nest, but in point of fact it is relatively different every night. We need the subtleties that go on between us onstage. We need to look at each other and know you’re looking at someone and it feels good. I enjoy myself as much now as I ever have. It has nothing to do with how much money you’ve made or how well you’re doing.
“I really don’t think we’d be doing it if we weren’t enjoying it. And equally I know there are lots of people that make the choice to continue doing it, presumably because they’re making a lot of money.
“This band,” he adopts a Mancunian accent, “has got guts in it!”
Warners presumably wanted to do a huge ad campaign on Tusk to equal Rumours.
“I think with any record company you have to acknowledge that they want to make the record successful. And their measure of success is money. It would be naïve of me to say we’re totally oblivious to how much money you can make. But the music comes first, every time. Then maybe you can make some money. A lot of people approach it with, ‘This is the sort of music we’re going to do to make money.’ Shit on that! Because then the point of the music is lost. Gone. Totally.
“To me an artist with a huge amount of integrity is Neil Young. He’s doing exactly what he wants to do, he’s always done that, and-you know what? – he’s still bloody successful, too. People acknowledge that he has artistic integrity, period. I remember talking to him and he was absolutely intrigued – he’d even been to England – by all the punk rock things. You should be open to all influences. In turn you can then put out something which is really yourself-because everyone has influences: it doesn’t just come from out of the sky. There are always reasons for everything.
“Music is a development of a whole load of things. As soon as you stop developing, then forget it. I mean, all our recent success has been very, very gratifying. It’s also really nice to know you’re not just jacking yourself off-that other people really enjoy it, too, for however long they enjoy it. It means a lot to all of us.”
An hour or so later I’m sitting in the living room of Stevie Nicks’s mock Regency suite.
Stevie is drinking large Remy Martins and appears to have something of a bad head cold. I ought to tell you what she’s wearing but I can’t remember; I can’t keep up with all these clothes changes. Certainly the loopiest member of the band, she suffers from having lived for too long on the West Coast. Her patriotism and belief in America is quite absurd, though I’m sure she’ll never see that, and wouldn’t think of it in those terms anyway. She’ll be good on TV chat shows in a few years’ time.
On the Buckingham-Nicks album, released by Polydor in 1973 to no great success, there is a dedication to “A.J. Nicks, the grandfather of country music.” A.J. Nicks was also Stevie’s grandfather.
“He was a country singer and songwriter,” she explains, “very into it. He wanted to take me on the road when I was four. But my parents wouldn’t let him and he wouldn’t speak to them for years. We actually sang together when I was that tiny. He was definitely the one who got me interested in music.”
With her penchant for writing numbers like ‘Rhiannon’ and Isadora Duncan-like stage moves, Stevie Nicks is always (often not without irony) referred to as “the mystical member of Fleetwood Mac.” No doubt this is why-before we begin the interview-she drapes all the lamps with antique shawls or scarves.
“There’s always been a very mystical thing about Fleetwood Mac.” She responds. “When I first joined Fleetwood Mac I went out and bought all the albums – actually, I think I had asked Mick for them because I couldn’t possibly afford to buy them – and I sat in my room and listened to all of them to try to figure out if I could capture any theme or anything. What I came up with was the word ‘mystical’. There is something mystical that went all the way from Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac straight through Jeremy, through all of them: Bob Welch, Christine, Mick and John. It didn’t matter who was in the band; it was always just there. Since I have a deep love of the mystical, this appealed to me. I thought this might really be the band for me because they are mystical, they play wonderful rock ‘n’ roll and there’s another lady so I’ll have a pal.
“I am mystical, with or without Fleetwood Mac or Lindsey, and that’s just me. I’m a Gemini; a Gemini has two very opposite personalities. I have the moving furniture, cleaning-up-the-room-quickly side and the cream-colored chiffon personality. I majored in speech communication and psychology at college. I am a communicator. When I stop doing this I want to be a writer. I’m writing a book. A whole album and all the last tour are typed up.”
There has been talk for some time about the possibility of Nicks quitting Fleetwood Mac to make a solo album and film based on Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rhiannon’; she is said to have been made a number of highly lucrative offers. Mick Fleetwood dismissed such reports as nonsense. “Both Stevie and Christine definitely are going to make solo albums. I want to make one as well-in Africa. But if we can’t do that without having to split the band up, then it’s a bit of a pity.”
Nicks is equally scathing, claiming not to know where such reports come from. “I don’t talk about it. If someone’s saying these things, they’re not coming from me.”
She is very caught up in the legend of Rhiannon, though-the goddess of steeds and maker of birds. “‘Rhiannon’ is as much mine as I want. There are many connections. The last woman that wrote about her is Evangeline Walton, who lives in Arizona and must be about a hundred years old-or at least 80 or 90. She started her work on Rhiannon in 1934 and finished in 1974. I wrote ‘Rhiannon’ in October 1974 when she’d finished. Walton is a tiny old lady with intense grey hair.” Nicks likes the word “intense,” often using it at inappropriate moments. “She never married. She lives in a tiny little house in Arizona which is all pink satin-very much like me. She’s very intelligent.”
If there were any of it around I’d suggest Nicks had been smoking too much dope. As it is, though, Stevie’s (un) enlightenment seems very much a product of the Guru of the Month Club.
I attempt to relate all this to possibilities of apocalypse and F. Mac’s living in Los Angeles. Before I can formulate what I’m saying, though, Nicks is glugging the old brandy down and into a serious bit of communicating.
“With all that’s been going on in the world of late,” she free-associates, “I have to admit to myself that for the first time in my life I have felt a little bit of fear about the world. And my world has always been wonderful.
“I joined the band on New Year’s Eve, 1974,” Nicks reminisces. “We started the Fleetwood Mac album in February of 1975; that took three months. We went out for a few gigs in the summer, which was no big deal. Then we did a tour starting September 9 and coming back December 22. Four gigs in a row, one day off. No limousines. We didn’t exactly play teen clubs but we might as well have.
“We sold Fleetwood Mac. We kicked that album in the ass. Christine slept on amps in the backs of trucks. I hadn’t a clue! But I decided I was going to make it alright. There was no one going to say, ‘She can’t cope. She should give it up.'”
No one can accuse Nicks and Buckingham of not paying dues. “In 1971 I was cleaning the house of our producer Keith Olsen for $50 a week. I come walking in with my big Hoover vacuum cleaner, my Ajax, my toilet brush, my cleaning shoes on. And Lindsey has managed to have some idiot send him eleven ounces of opiated hash. He and all his friends – Warren Zevon, right? – are in a circle. They smoked hash for a month, and I don’t like smoke because of my voice. When you don’t smoke there’s something about that makes you really dislike other people smoking. I’d come in every day and have to step over these bodies. I’m tired; I’m pickin’ up their legs and cleaning under them and emptying out ashtrays. A month later all these guys are going, ‘I don’t know why I don’t feel very good.’ I said, ‘You wanna know why you don’t feel very good? I’ll tell you why-because you’ve done nothing else for weeks but lie on the floor and smoke and take my money.
“Lindsey and his friend Tom used to go into every coffee shop in Hollywood, write hot checks and never go back again. The Copper Penny, Big Boy’s…We fell into the American Dream out of nowhere. We were just nowhere.”
The night after the show I again find myself in the middle dressing room with urinals, toilet bowls and Lindsey Buckingham.
Brought up in Palo Alto, 30 miles to the south of San Francisco, Buckingham was turned onto rock ‘n’ roll-Elvis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran – by his elder brother. He started playing guitar when he was seven.
Pausing frequently for breath-obviously the oxygen tank doesn’t work for him –he talks about the new, stronger role he has on Tusk.
“When we started the album we had a meeting at Mick’s house. I said I had to get some sort of machine into my house as an alternative to the studio. The trappings and technology of the studio are so great – the blocks between the inception of an idea and the final thing you get on tape are so many – that it just becomes very frustrating.
“That was why my songs turned out the way they did: the belief in a different approach. For me it wasn’t really a question of changing tastes, but of following through on something I’d believed in for a long time and hadn’t had a means of manifesting. For a number of years it’s been a process of being in the back without – I mean, making the choice of joining Fleetwood Mac was a very strange decision. It’s been a very human sort of journey.”
ALMOST EVERYONE, barring the inevitable elitist bores blinkered by their own super-hipness, seemed to have a soft spot for Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. In late ’77, Rolling Stone even ran an absurd piece attempting to work out the whys and wherefores for the album’s astounding success, only to waste several thousand words of piffle concluding that it was, in the words of Warners’ Derek Taylor, “simply a very, very good two-sided pop record.”
Tusk, a long time in the making, is by and large a good four-sided pop record. It’s no untarnished masterpiece, of course, but a highly adventurous gamble for much of its playing time, and certainly not just another coldly precise and pristine work.
In retrospect, although the fact didn’t impinge on the listener, the contents of Rumours were housed within a framework, that being the very real breakdown of relationships within Fleetwood Mac, the traumas experienced thereby and the need to come to terms with a then newly gained independence, all of which were apparently occurring during the album’s recording. But now some three years have passed since then and Tusk, bereft of such a stormy emotional centrepoint, can clearly zero in on the diverse compositional talents of the group’s three songwriters, Christine McVie, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham.
When this incarnation of Fleetwood Mac was ushered into the public eye with the Platinum ice-breaker Fleetwood Mac, of the three composers involved in the enterprise it was the two ladies who shone. Although prolific, Buckingham seemed unable to match their standards, to the point where his songs lacked clout, sounded anonymous and appeared mere fillers.
But Buckingham mustered his resources for Rumours and cuts like ‘Go Your Own Way’ were amongst the album’s high-points. Now on Tusk he’s become responsible for the largest output, clocking in a sturdy nine songs to McVie’s six and Nicks’ five. A ‘Pure pop’ purveyor, his work reeks of the influences of The Beatles, Beach Boys and Byrds, although he does manage to twist these tips of the pen to forceful effect.
After the set’s opener, McVie’s sparsely melodic “Over And Over,” Buckingham artfully breaks the potential preciousness of mood by throwing in a naggingly jaunty hoe-down of a rocker in the Carl Perkins tradition replete with effective loopy tweaks and a thick buzz-saw guitar sound worthy of Dave Edmunds entitled “The Ledge,” which could easily fit into Rockpile’s repertoire. McVie immediately responds with a smooth rocker, ‘Think About Me’, which, with Buckingham’s raunchy guitar phrasing very much in the Keith Richards tradition, is to pop what ‘Tumblin’ Dice’ was to rock.
Buckingham is all over the album, in fact, and his presence as a composer, producer and/or guitarist continually helps to keep everything diversified yet unified in its buoyancy. “What Makes You Think You’re The One” is an effective, lightweight and jokey slice of raucousness, not unlike some of The Beatles White Album frivolities. His Beach Boys debt is all too obvious in “That’s All For Everyone,” which features a gorgeously floating and incandescent coda that makes for the finest Brian Wilson music never written since “Sail On Sailor.” “Not That Funny,” on the other hand, is a Cajun-style bruising thump-up with a fade-out all too redolent of more White Album idiocies.
Buckingham’s finest moments occur on side three with “That’s Enough For Me,” a thrillingly dervish-fast blues rocker powered by Mick Fleetwood’s wicked bass drum mule kick and Buckingham’s sawing electric rhythm guitar underpinning a dazzling display of ragtime guitar picking. Finally, at the end of the side, Buckingham reshapes all the melodic power of “Go Your Own Way” into “I Know I’m Not Wrong,” a driving piece of rock action building to an infectious climax that mates The Byrds’ “Lady Friend” coda with all the bollocks of Sex Pistol-like multi-guitar power.
As important as Buckingham’s compositions are to Tusk, his production work helps to maintain an ever-effective spartan feel – only the essentials, with the odd embellishment carefully etched in for maximum impact – whilst his guitar playing continually impresses by dint of its virtuosity without ever being too flashy.
This feel is of paramount importance, particularly when faced with Nicks’ songs. If Patti Smith didn’t so desperately want to be a man and had a real comprehension of what makes for good musical structure, then she might well be Stevie Nicks. More to the point, even when her songs are obviously well constructed and lyrically intriguing, one continually gets this distinct image of Nicks as a young woman who played Ophelia at some high school production of Hamlet and never quite recovered from the experience. With “Rhiannon,” her dalliances with the supernatural were interesting and musically potent, but since then this infatuation with her dream-like enigmatic self as some extra-terrestial being touched by the whims of the muse’s wand has become just too precious to stomach.
“Sara,” for example, is a perfect example of this aspect of her writing and it’s becoming overbearing. Blessed by an ability to build attractive chord progressions, Nicks walks a thin line between what’s beguiling and what’s babble. Fortunately she has the musical wherewithal to paint an aural landscape on “Storms” that is genuinely affecting due mainly to the intimacy of the production at hand, whilst ‘Angel’ has a kick to it, a verve that keeps it lively and listenable. Her obvious piece de resistance “Sisters Of The Moon” is more heavenly wanderlust, made palatable by Buckingham’s blazing guitar holocaust.
Christine McVie is far more earthbound, and her six love songs are simple, pleasing paeans to the tender trap. Hers are woman’s songs that lack the self-consciousness of Joni Mitchell’s former odes to sweet surrender, say, and at their best, as in the hauntingly beautiful “You’ll Never Make Me Cry” and the seductive coda of “Brown Eyes,” make for quintessential adult pop music.
Dealing with the three composers separately, it’s all too easy to forget Fleetwood Mac as a group which, if nothing else, Tusk is testament to. Fleetwood’s drumming is an exercise in precision and sympathy, whilst bassist John McVie is so good you don’t even notice him.
Ultimately it’s time to stop bracketing Fleetwood Mac alongside Foreigner, Boston, Linda Ronstadt, The Eagles, etc, in the same way that reactionaries bracket together The Clash, Human League, pragVec, The Slits and Elvis Costello.
Fleetwood Mac make good, adventurous “pop.” As Charles S. Murray said of Joe Jackson, if you reckon you’re too hip for Tusk, then you’re simply too hip.