During 1968, the group expanded to a quintet with the addition of Danny Kirwan. A third lead guitarist, vocalist, and (like Green and Spencer), a songwriter, he was featured on the second LP issued in the U.S., English Rose, released on Epic. (Before that, the band put out Mr. Wonderful, issued in Britain only on Blue Horizon in November 1968.) English Rose contained an impressive series of originals by band members: "Albatross" and "Black Magic Woman" by Green, 'I've Lost My Baby" and "Evenin' Boogie" by Spencer, and "One Sunny Day" and "Something inside of Me" by Kirwan.
In 1969, the band had three of the best-selling singles of the year in England. Oddly, they came out on three different labels: "Albatross" on Blue Horizon, "Man of the World" on Immediate, and "Oh Well" on Reprise. (This reflected, first, the band's moving around to several different labels in its first phase and, second, some of the tensions both internally between group members and externally with record company management.) Album releases in 1969 were The Pious Bird of Good Omen (issued in England on Blue Horizon in March) and Then Play On, issued in both England and the U.S. on Reprise in October.
Most observers expected 1970 to be Fleetwood Mac's premier year. However, before the year was half over, the group was shaken by the departure of Peter Green for a religious commune. The band didn't break up, but righted itself by bringing in the talented Christine McVie, John's wife, who had been a member of Chicken Shack before taking up a housewife's role for a while. On tour in California, however, another blow occurred. Jeremy Spencer became a member of a religious sect that required denial of all other ties. Bowing to the demands of the order, he quit the band. While all this turmoil ensued, the act was represented by several live or reissued, LPs in 1970-71, including Blues Jam in Chicago, Volumes 1 and 2 (issued on Blue Horizon, 1970), and Kiln House (Reprise 1970).
For many months after Spencer's departure, the remaining members tried to keep the band going. It finally brought in the first non-Englishman, Bob Welch, in Spencer's place. Born and raised in California., Welch played much of the late 1960s with a show band in Las Vegas that backed such artists as James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Fontella Bass. The band broke up in mid-1969 and Bob and two other members moved to Paris, France, from where they sallied forth to play engagements in many parts of Europe. A mutual friend recommended him to Fleetwood Mac. Almost effortlessly, the reorganized group took off from where it left off, winning renewed acclaim for the Reprise LPs Future Games (1971) and Bare Trees (1972). Reprise also put out the somewhat less effective Penguin and Mystery to Me (1973) and Heroes Are Hard to Find (1974). Reissues of those years included Epics two-disc Black Magic Woman (a 1971 repackage of the first two U.S. LPs) and Fleetwood Mac/English Rose (1974). Sire also issued the retrospective Vintage Years in 1975.
During 1974, with the majority of members now calling Los Angeles home, new problems caused another reorganization. John, Mick, and Christine kept a stiff upper lip while riding out management difficulties that so depressed Welch that he resigned at the end of 1974. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the band (though Welch had contributed many fine songs to that phase of Mac's history, such as "Revelation'; "Night Watch'; and "Hypnotized") because it led to the introduction of the musical and songwriting artistry of two other Americans, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, who as a duo had released Buckingham Nicks on Polydor.
Welch himself agreed the change played a key role in the band's transition from a middle-level group to a supergroup. "I don't think the band would have had the success it had had I stayed with it. I felt they became successful for very apparent reasons. First of all, the music they were writing; I never wrote music that was as accessible and commercial as Stevie and Lindsey wrote ... The other reason is the stage show. When I was with the band, the stage show was never as dynamic or exciting as it is with Stevie and Lindsey with the band. And everybody else too. Those two people combined to make the package just that much more appealing".
The truth of that was demonstrated with the new alignment's first Reprise album, Fleetwood Mac (1975). It had such notable songs as "Over My Head" (the first single release) and "Say You Love Me". Stevie's composition "Rhiannon" not only emphasized her writing skills, but became a highlight of concerts where her vibrant, emotionally compelling renditions confirmed her as one of the first-rank female rock singers of the decade. Buckingham's contributions came into strong focus on the Rumours album (issued on Warner Brothers in 1977), where his "Second Hand News" and "Go Your Own Way" (two of a series of songs reflecting the emotional problems besetting the band's two couples then) were highlights, though no more so than Stevie's "Dreams" and Christine McVie's "Songbird" and "You Make Loving Fun". The tone of Christine's contributions was surprisingly positive, considering the breakup of her marriage to John: At the same time, Nicks and Buckingham had to cope with the end of their long relationship.
Facets of those situations were explored and interpreted with telling impact in Rumours. As John McVie said after accepting the Grammy for the LP in early 1978: "A lot of our personal lives came through on the disc. The theme, perhaps, was one of pain". Through their tears, the band members could smile about the tremendous commercial and critical impact of the album. It remained on the charts for several years. "Dreams" rose to number one on Billboard singles charts the week of June 18, 1977. (... to be continued.)
Reprinted from The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock and Soul by Irwin Stambler by kind permission of MacMillan (London) Ltd.
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Fleetwood Mac - Behind The Mask
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