At least today, in their grief, everybody can listen to Christine McVie's music.
It didn't used to be this way. First and foremost because the record stores immediately ran out of inventory, and it would take weeks for new records to be pressed and shipped.
But that makes the point that we owned a limited number of records in the pre-internet, pre-Spotify era. Which is all to say there were groups we were aware of that we owned no albums of, like Fleetwood Mac.
Of course I knew "Oh Well," it was an FM staple when most people were still listening to AM. FM addicts were hipper, clued-in on certain tracks and bands that were unknown to the hoi polloi.
And ultimately "Oh Well" was stripped into the band's 1969 album "Then Play On," which I saw all the time in the bins, it had that unique cover.
And then Santana had a huge hit with "Black Magic Woman," which the same FM acolytes knew was written by Peter Green and done by Fleetwood Mac, even though in many cases we'd never heard the original, which we eventually did, you'd think it would have gained contemporaneous airplay on these same FM stations, but it did not. But eventually we were at somebody's house who had "Then Play On." That was a feature of going to a friend's domicile, to not only comb through their albums, but to play certain tracks you loved that you didn't own and probably never would.
And then Peter Green left the band and not only was there an endless succession of guitarists, one left the group to join the Children of God, and then there was that fake band put out by the manager and...
This was all news, I knew all this, but most of the music meant nothing to me, I'd never even heard it.
And then came "Station Man." Christine McVie neither wrote it nor sang the lead vocal, after all she wasn't even a band member, but she was unmistakable in the background vocals, it was the first Fleetwood Mac track I cottoned to, that I wanted to hear again, that I turned up every time I heard it on the radio.
And then Christine joined the band. I read that she'd been in Chicken Shack, but that band meant absolutely nothing in the U.S. Cool that she was married to the group's bass player, John McVie, but...
It was the early seventies. You could make a number of albums for a major label and never have a hit. Which was the case with Fleetwood Mac. They'd promote the records, you'd see them in ads, in the store, but chances are you never bought them. I certainly did not.
And then, five albums after "Kiln House," which contained the aforementioned "Station Man," came "Heroes Are Hard to Find."
I'm talking the single, the opening cut, not the entire album. Like "Station Man," you heard "Heroes Are Hard to Find" on the radio and continued to hear it. There was that groove, but even more there was that recitation of the title in the chorus that was so magical, actually the same magic Christine brought to subsequent Fleetwood Mac albums, but this was the first time I remembered it shining, hearing it shine on the radio.
And then came "Over My Head."
"You can take me to the paradise
And then again you can be cold as ice"
Let's see, it was my second year in Utah. At the end of which I realized I had to leave or else I'd be there forever.
You see I'd made friends with the freestylers the previous May in Mammoth, we were all gonna compete on the tour the following year. Jimmy Kay had competed the year before.
But Jimmy got aced out the following December, I choked and Jimmy went back to New Jersey to lick his wounds with his family, Al went back to L.A. and I stayed in the apartment with "Chang," a Vietnamese student who hadn't heard from his family in years.
This is when it hit me, what was I doing here? I didn't even want to ski. It made no sense. When I was in college skiing was part of my overall life, now it was everything and I needed more.
Jimmy said I could sleep in his bed while he was gone (I'd been sleeping on the couch before this). And therefore I could play his 8-tracks, he had two brand new ones, that he'd recorded from albums he bought, "Fleetwood Mac" and "A Night at the Opera." This is when I fell in love with "I'm in Love With My Car." And "39." My favorite song on the album was and probably still is "Your My Best Friend," but when listening to the album these two tracks surfaced. As for "Bohemian Rhapsody," it was just a cool novelty song, a track dedicated radio listeners knew, not a classic on the level of "Stairway to Heaven," that would take years, really it was the "Wayne's World" movie that made it iconic, the same way "Don't Stop Believin'" was made iconic by its inclusion in the finale of "The Sopranos."
Now I first heard "Over My Head" on the radio, I found it infectious, because contrary to seemingly everything else, it was understated, a track that set your mind free. You know, the kind that made you think you too could be in love, maybe even with Christine McVie.
Yes, I knew who she was. Stevie Nicks was just another woman in the band, one who did not play an instrument, Christine's single came out first. And I'd say Christine was the star, but that's just the point, she was an anti-star, she wasn't dolled up to look like a model, she wasn't asked twenty questions in a dumb magazine article, she was one of the guys, a boys' girl, and there were very few of those in rock and roll. Bonnie Raitt is the only other one that comes to mind. You felt like you could hang with both of them, that there was something below the surface, that they spoke your language, that they weren't prissy, you didn't have to be on guard the entire time, you could just be yourself. and isn't that what we're all looking for?
And on Christmas Day, my parents called. Jews do this, even though the holiday does not apply. Usually we eat Chinese food and go to the movies, maybe two, at least that's what we used to do, well, when I moved to L.A. But before that, every Christmas Day I went skiing, and my parents were in Vermont doing same and I told my mother I was at loose ends and she castigated me and told me to get a job. My father said he didn't know what was going on, but he was gonna send me twenty bucks and I should go for a good meal, that I'd figure it out.
And then I got back into Jimmy's bed and fired up "Over My Head," listened to it over and over again, which ain't that easy to do on an 8-track.
Now you've got to know, the build of this latest iteration of Fleetwood Mac was very slow. "Over My Head" stayed on the radio and the band stayed on the road, I saw them at Anaheim Stadium opening up for Rod Stewart and the Faces and Loggins and Messina and the audience barely paid attention. And then came "Rhiannon."
That's right, it took more than a year for "Fleetwood Mac" to become dominant, to be everywhere, to whet the audience's appetite for a follow-up, ultimately released in March of '77. "Rumours."
Of course I owned "Fleetwood Mac," everybody did. But for me "Rhiannon" was just another cut, "Over My Head" was and remained my favorite, to this day. But the other tracks...
I loved "Crystal" and "Landslide," but this was back before Stevie Nicks became the famous twirling witch.
And then there was "Say You Love Me," which was just as big a hit as "Rhiannon." This was the second hit single written and sung by Christine McVie, why was Stevie always being singled out?
And "World Turning"...
"World Turning" was not a radio track, you heard it at home, and in concert, but it is these unheralded sleepers that hold albums together, that reach you in a way the singles often do not.
"I need somebody to help me through the night"
Yes, "World Turning" was a combo between Christine and Lindsey. But at this point Lindsey was still seen as an interloper, another replacement guitarist, most people didn't realize how talented he was until they saw him play "Oh Well" in concert, when he soloed at the show and blew people's minds. But at this point, most people had not seen the band, they were just another act with a number of hits, and then came "Rumours."
"Go Your Own Way" was the initial single, perfect intellectually if not music business-wise.
You see we expected one of the two girls' songs first. (Can we say "girls"? The guys in the band are always referred to as "the boys.")
But unlike with the previous LP, the first with Stevie and Lindsey, people bought "Rumours" when it came out and dove deep. It was different, albums were shorter, "Rumours" just under forty minutes, and they were more digestible, two sides, with an opening and closing cut on each. Albums, when done well, made sense.
And my favorite track on "Rumours" was and always will be "Gold Dust Woman," which no one ever even talked about until Courtney Love sang it for a movie years later.
But one thing you've got to know about "Rumours" is the sound is pristine. And I had a brand new studio that could reproduce all of it, especially Mick Fleetwood's kick drum in the break.
"Well did she make you cry
Make you break down
Shatter your illusions of love
And is it over now, do you know how
Pick up the pieces and go home"
And I was in a rocky relationship, we were on a down, these words resonated for me but then she came over one night and we embraced as we listened to this song, I can still taste her lipstick, we were back together, all was good.
The song I play second most on "Rumours" is "The Chain," which is funny, because it took me years and years to get it. It's a band song, and you can hear the three singing band members.
And the second single was "Dreams," which was not quite as magical as "Rhiannon," but what could be?
But just as big as Stevie's song was the Christine song that followed, "Don't Stop."
This was fifteen years before Bill Clinton adopted the song, had the band play it at his inauguration, "Don't Stop" was just an infectious number that made us feel good, something Christine seemed to be able to do at will.
But Christine could do slow and meaningful too. Ergo the first side's closer "Songbird" and "Oh Daddy" on the second side. Actually, other than their contributions on "The Chain," Christine McVie had four songs on "Rumours" and Stevie Nicks three. But somehow, Nicks ended up with most of the attention. But Christine didn't seem to care.
It was a different era. Fleetwood Mac were bigger than any act plying the boards today, any of them, including the Weeknd and Taylor Swift. Not only did everybody know the band's name, they knew the music too. It was ubiquitous, the soundtrack of life, when music still drove the culture.
And the band members got a lot of attention and lived the decadent life rock stars were entitled to.
You know, sex, drugs, planes... The highest goal was to be a rock star. There were no billionaires, techies were nerds, it wasn't about ones and zeros, but your emotions. The bands expressed them for you. You might be too uptight to vocalize them, but with the band and its music you felt understood, their music got you through, their lyrics got you through.
Mania. Not like the Beatles the decade before, it was more intellectual. And everybody in Fleetwood Mac was an adult.
And the band couldn't follow up the magic of "Rumours" with "Tusk" and then every once in a while the band would drop an LP and it was Christine who delivered the hit singles, she was the glue that kept the band together. "Gypsy" might have been an iconic hit, satiating the public's desire for more Stevie, but my favorite song on "Mirage" has always been the opener, Christine's "Love in Store," but let's be clear, Stevie Nicks' background vocals are an indelible element of that track.
And Christine's "Hold Me" was actually a bigger hit single than "Gypsy."
And on 1987's "Tango in the Night," once again it was Christine who had the big hit single, with "Little Lies."
But Fleetwood Mac had morphed from Mick and John's band to Stevie's. They were subject to the whims of Stevie, whether she wanted to work with the group or not, you see she was a gigantic solo star.
"Just like the white winged dove"
The public could not get enough of Stevie Nicks, and with "Bella Donna," she delivered. "Edge of Seventeen" burst out of the speaker in the dashboard and the duets "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" and "Leather and Lace" were even better. People bought "Tusk," and were not as disappointed as they were with Peter Frampton's "I'm in You," but one wondered whether the band had lost the formula and then Stevie evidenced that she still possessed it, in spades.
And I bought "Bella Donna," but Christine McVie didn't release her solo LP until almost three years later, after the Mac had reformed and had hits with "Mirage," but I bought "Christine McVie" immediately too.
Actually, there was a hit on the album, "Got a Hold On Me," but in truth "Christine McVie" was seen as a disappointment. You see Christine did not trade on charisma, as a matter of fact, we weren't sure who she really was. Stevie Nicks was interviewed all the time, but Christine's words were sparse. Her music spoke for her, in reality she was an enigma, to this day. It seemed she was happy for Stevie to get the attention, to handle the press, Christine seemed to be more interested in being a musician than a star.
But some of Christine's lifestyle, or love style... She was involved with Dennis Wilson? Not only the coolest Beach Boy, but one of the coolest guys in Los Angeles, a renegade who'd stunned everybody with his chops on his solo album "Pacific Ocean Blue," and then on "L.A. (Light Album)" too. I mean who exactly was this chick?
Oh, I mean "bird."
Yes, that's what they call chicks in England. And of course I know you can't use the word "chick" these days, but you've got to know the code of the road, it's a boys world, and it was clear Christine could hold her own with them. And her look... Not classically beautiful, but that made her even more attractive, she was the one you wanted.
And then we have the messiness of the band going through multiple incarnations, and then Christine retiring while the rest soldiered on without her and then her ultimate return.
Yes, Fleetwood Mac could sell out arenas with Stevie fronting the act, but it wasn't the same band without Christine. And when she came back balance was returned, it all made sense once again.
The war between Stevie and Lindsey bubbled over and he was exiled from the band, which wanted to work when he didn't. And we always wondered whether they'd reunite, but now we know that will never happen. Stevie has no desire to work with Lindsey, the enmity remains, and it makes no sense for her to work with Mick and John, share the dough, when in truth she can sell just as many tickets all by her lonesome.
It's truly the end of an era, a finality we did not foresee. But now it's over, creepy.
Actually, there are two killers on "Christine McVie," and "One in a Million" is pretty damn good too.
Let's start with "Ask Anybody."
"He's a devil and an angel
Ooh, the combination's driving me wild
Drives me wild"
He's out of control. She's the one trying to grab hold of the reins and make it right.
"He's a saint and a sinner
Ooh, somehow he acts just like a beginner
I guess he's still a child"
This is what the guys sing, not the girls. I mean she's got all her wits, but she just can't control this guy, and all her friends say to break up, but she can't let go.
They'll say I'm going wrong
They say I should walk out
But that's not what I want
Ask anybody and they'll all say the same"
It takes two people to break up. The leaver and the left. And no matter what anybody tells you, a breakup is never mutual. It takes a lot of effort to hang in there, to try and make it work, but it also takes a lot of effort to break up, to let go of someone you know so well and start over.
Actually, "So Excited" comes before "Ask Anybody" on the album, it's optimistic as opposed to negative/in denial. And if I really thought about it, "Ask Anybody" is a better cut, but there's magic in "So Excited" I return to all the time, that goes through my head, you see Christine nails the excitement of making a connection, waiting to see them again, the anticipation.
"Well I'm so excited
My baby is on his way
I just can't wait
I can't wait another day"
The track starts off on a tear. There's a strummed acoustic, and Christine evidences that elation where nothing else can enter your brain, except them.
"Since the first time I saw you
Somebody tell me
What's a poor girl supposed to do"
This is what we live for, all human beings. And this feeling cannot be captured in a movie, no for this you need a song, Christine is channeling raw human emotion and it floors me.
Boxed sets used to be a thing, when CDs killed vinyl and you wanted all the songs in one place and a few rarities.
Actually, Fleetwood Mac was late to this paradigm, "25 Years - The Chain" was released in 1992. And their box...literally came in a box, the size of a CD, albeit with four discs.
And all the hype was about the release of Stevie Nicks' "Silver Springs" on an LP, previously having been released only as the b-side of "Go Your Own Way." But "Silver Springs" was not rare, you'd heard it, at least if you were a hard core fan, but not "Love Shines."
You know these retrospective packages, they find some unreleased product to stick on and promote and it always leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth, but not "Love Shines."
"You've got a sweet heart
Never will you be replaced"
This is a slightly mellower "So Excited." They're in a relationship, the newness has evaporated, but the magic is still there.
"Love shines when I think of you
You make it happen
You make it true
Love shines there can be no doubt
What this feeling is all about"
I was positively stunned. Here was this smash single that nobody had never heard, it deserved to be on the hit parade, Fleetwood Mac fans would eat it up. But by 1992 radio was completely different from the seventies, a land of independent promotion, priorities, and "Love Shines" went unheard. Truly.
I'd tell people about it, but they couldn't hear it. I got the boxed set for free, were people really going to lay out all that bread just to hear one track?
But now through the magic of streaming, "Love Shines" is readily available.
"After all the reckoning
After all the promises
All the darkness in my heart
Has gone away
Has gone away"
Come on, you've been there. Unless you're the type who just can't handle being alone and jumps from relationship to relationship, and then you've got your own problems. The truth is, especially as we've gotten older, we know what love is, we want it, but we just can't find it, and then when love shines...
Christine McVie triumphs again.
It was a surprise. Often they're on life support, they're on the way out, they're sick and we know about it.
But not Christine McVie.
But it's different than it used to be, it's not quite the same tragedy as those in the 27 Club. I mean Christine McVie lived to 79, pretty good, but these days everybody expects to live into their nineties. Hate to disillusion you, but odds are you won't. You may even be living healthily, but the Big C can sneak up on you and cut short your life, make you dead.
And dead is dead. As in over. No more. Even if you believe in the afterlife, there aren't going to be anymore Christine McVie records, the book has been written.
But what is that book?
Well, the music was primary in her life. She didn't have any kids. She gave it all for rock and roll. And I don't know, maybe she wanted children and tried or had regrets but...
Rock is a hard life. It looks glamorous, but it's not. Not only the road work, but coming up with the tunes that fuel the whole enterprise. That's what the average person can't do, that's what makes the stars special. And not only do they do this, how can they do this?
And we live in an era of self-promotion. Even people with no talent, no CV, hype themselves on social media. Word is the work is not enough. You have to give it a push.
And to a degree that's true, but most of what's produced is not worthy of consumption.
But it used to be different.
Christine did not cut records when she was prepubescent, she wasn't busy becoming a brand, she didn't even join Fleetwood Mac until she was almost thirty. And if not for the pictures, we'd say she was faceless. She was the opposite of those self-revealing, slum in the gutter whores who try and gain fame and fortune...
But unlike those of today's era she wasn't gone while she was still alive, on the scrapheap with miles to go, famous but working at McDonald's or making porn.
The music was enough. No perfume was necessary.
You see the songs were Christine McVie.
And they're still here.
No disrespect to Stevie Nicks, she's very talented and deserves her success, but Christine McVie was every bit her equal, and those who bought all the albums and went to the shows know.
And that's all that's truly important. Not the starmaking machinery, but what you feel inside. And what made Christine McVie's music so powerful, so meaningful, is it touched our insides, in a way we couldn't even articulate. All these years later I'm still over my head when I think of her and her music.
She was a giant.
And still is!
- Bob Lefsetz