I wonder what it must have been like to be in Fleetwood Mac in the 1970’s.
The band Fleetwood Mac began in England in the late 1960’s as a blues/rock fusion group. Without any major hits, musicians came and left as they tried to find their footing. When scouting L.A. studio locations in the early 1970’s, founding drummer Mick Fleetwood invited guitarist Lindsay Buckingham to join the band as lead guitarist. Buckingham would only join if his girlfriend, vocalist and songwriter Steve Nicks could join as well. Now, this once rough-hewn English blues outfit suddenly became a smooth sounding Southern California folk, rock, Top-40 band.
This band that once had trouble finding any hits at all suddenly became one of the top selling bands in the history of rock and roll.
What was once a hodgepodge collection of musical journeymen, gypsies and vagabonds was now firmly ensconced in Southern California, and consisted of five people. Mick Fleetwood on drums. Christine McVie on keyboards and vocals, and John McVie on bass (they were married). Lindsay Buckingham on guitar, and Stevie Nicks on vocals (they were dating). Two couples with a tall, British drummer and lots of money, drugs and success.
What could possibly go wrong?
Fleetwood Mac’s 10th studio album was the first album with Buckingham and Nicks, and it was titled, simply, Fleetwood Mac. Released in 1975, the album was a monster, featuring such hits as “Rhiannon,” “Say You Will,” “Over My Head,” and most notably “Landslide.”
Written by Steve Nicks while looking at the mountains from a house in Aspen, “Landslide” perfectly captures a young woman taking a serious look at her life. Reflecting on her musical partnership and relationship with Lindsay Buckingham, Nicks wonders if she should return to school or stick with her music career. Then 27 years old, Nicks sings:
“Well, I’ve been afraid of changin’
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m getting older, too
Oh, I’m getting older, too”
The song is simple. Pristine. Only Nicks’ voice accompanied by Buckingham’s double tracked acoustic guitar, with a quiet, sweet electric guitar solo in the middle. There are no plot points here, only questions, curiosity and dreams.
“I took my love, I took it down
Climbed a mountain and I turned around
And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills
‘Til the landslide brought it down
Oh, mirror in the sky
What is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changin’ ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?”
Even though I may really love a song, I find myself often skipping past it when it comes on the radio. I never skip by “Landslide.” It’s beautiful. It brings peace and calm. Nicks’ gruff voice. Buckingham’s sweet guitar. Questions we all ask ourselves in one way or another. I always listen.
I think the great songs, the truly great songs, are either covered by other artists a lot, or they are rarely covered at all. “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix. “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan. “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen. Sure, someone may take a stab at these rock and roll classics from time to time, but largely people steer clear. The artistic statement has been made. There is nothing new to be added.
Other times, though, the great songs give invite interpretation, and other perspectives. “Landslide” is covered repeatedly, and usually the covers are wonderful. Whether it’s the Dixie Chicks, Smashing Pumpkins or just an anonymous busker doing a killer version of the song on a Chicago subway platform, this is a song whose truth is readily accessible, and easily shared.
The relationships would end. The McVie’s divorced, and Nicks and Buckingham broke up. The pain and discord amongst the group led them to record and release the brilliant Rumors album two years later, still one of the biggest albums selling albums of all time.
But “Landslide” remains perfect. Perfect for what it is and what it has become. Don’t change the channel. Just listen.
Written by Stevie Nicks
Performed by Fleetwood Mac