Let’s be clear. What makes a great band are great songs. And what makes a great song is a great band. Powerful, headstrong artists who know what they want but are willing to bend. Musicians not afraid to break up or make up over what they see as musical truth.
One of those great bands is currently in the midst of their Canadian dates on what will likely be their farewell tour. They played Calgary last night and Vancouver tomorrow with a final date in Montreal mid June.
I spent most of 1979 in Los Angeles, where their 2 year old and maybe best album, “Rumours”. was still in heavy rotation on virtually every radio station. It was a record which perfectly captured a time of big hair, velvet pants, pirate shirts and leather.
“Rumours” has been described as a diary of the personal disintegration of a great band and the death of the 60’s. Band member marriages collapsed and professional relationships fragmented during its creation. A creation that coincided with the Manson murders and a growing realization that the counterculture dream had spawned something darker as well.
When most people reflect on Fleetwood Mac today, what they recall are the gentle love songs and ballads. “Landslide”, “Silver Springs”, “Sara”, “Rhiannon” and “Go Your Own Way”.
But despite the rumours of their death, Fleetwood Mac were not quite finished. Great artists overcome.
Kris Kristofferson, also at the height of his career in 1979, once said that the ability to overcome is what differentiated artists from the rest of us. “When most guys get dumped by their girlfriend or their dog dies all they got is loss. I get a song.”
And thus in late 1979, Fleetwood Mac released a new album entitled “Tusk” whose title track might just be the strangest song ever to crack the Top Ten.
Mick Fleetwood, the band’s drummer, claimed the signature riff was one the band had used for years to prime themselves before going onstage. Its infectious, driving, tribal rhythm was combined with an accordion and what can only be described as a bizarre vocal performance from Lindsay Buckingham.
What’s more, in a moment of either sheer genius or desperation, Fleetwood and Buckingham decided to include the USC marching band in the final mix, solidifying the former’s Drum God cred and the latter’s reputation as a brilliant studio producer.
The result was an earworm tune of the highest order, one that is nigh impossible to escape.
I hope you get a chance to see “Fleetwood Mac” live. They are a magnificent experience and a chance to hear music that for reasons good or bad doesn’t get made much anymore.
And if you don’t, may what follows inspire you to rediscover one great band.
Enjoy Your Sunday.