Many writers who list their top 10 Fleetwood Mac songs only focus on the time period centered around the Rumors album. The Fleetwood Mac songs from Rumors and their 1975 self-titled LP were so commercially successful, that they have blinded many other writers to the large body of work the band had recorded both before and after the late nineteen seventies time period. Of course, we all understand that the Rumors and 1975 albums were the records that made the band a household name. However, the band continued to record over the years with various lineup changes that presented fans with a tantalizing mix of well-written original Fleetwood Mac songs and exceptionally high levels of musicianship.
The one constant throughout the band’s career has been the anchor of Mick Fleetwood on the drums and John McVie on the bass. This list attempts to present a broad view of the band’s career starting in 1968 and leading through to the band’s last lineup before the Rumors lineup reunions began. It is a list of essential Fleetwood Mac songs that define the band’s various incarnations and the massive body of work that Fleetwood Mac has recorded throughout their illustrious and very successful career.
The Top 10 Essential Fleetwood Mac Songs.
# 10 – Oh Well
We open up our Top 10 Fleetwood Mac songs list with the killer tune “Oh Well.” The song opened with an explosive acoustic guitar blues riff that was soon doubled by an electric axe that just blew up speaker tweeters from coast to coast. Peter Green and Danny Kirwan were simply on fire on this smoking track. The song “Oh Well,” stands as one of the best Fleetwood Mac Songs from their early period. The song was released on the album Then Play On. The album was released in 1969.
# 9 – The Chain
Talk about a team effort. “The Chain” was the opening track on side two of the legendary Rumors album. This is the song that defined what the band was going through at the time on such a personal level. You can feel the anger, the hate, the pain, and, of course, the love. It’s all in this song. It’s not just in the lyrics; it’s in the vocal performances; it’s in the instrumentation. I have never heard a song so passionately performed by a group of musicians that were so messed up emotionally that resulted in such a brilliant album of songs
# 8 – Big Love
The Lindsey Buckingham song “Big Love” appeared on Fleetwood Mac’s 1987 album Tango in the Night. It was a song that Lindsey Buckingham had initially written for his solo albums but scrapped the plans for his solo outing, as he eventually used the songs for the new Fleetwood Mac album. The song “Big Love” was the first single off the Tango in the Night LP. It was later released as a 12-inch extended dance mix, which added Stevie Nicks vocals to the song. Stevie Nicks had not been present in the original recording.
The song “Big Love” seemed to define a band looking to modernize their sound with a recording that featured higher production values than the previous albums. As the new format of the CD gained tremendous momentum in 1987, all bands looked to capture the possibilities of the sonic enhancements that CDs delivered to the music consumer. Lindsey Buckingham’s “Big Love,” was a definitive representation of Fleetwood Mac in the Big 80’s and one of the essential Fleetwood Mac songs of the nineteen eighties.
# 7 – Say You Love Me
Well, it’s safe to say that this one was not ignored. Fleetwood Mac’s 1975 self-titled LP began the period of hits that would catapult the band into becoming one of the most popular groups in the world. Fleetwood Mac’s 1975 album hit number one on the Billboard album charts in 1976. The band released three singles off the album. The Stevie Nicks penned track “Rhiannon” was the second single released, while Christine McVie’s songs “Over My Head” and “Say You Love Me” were released as the first and third singles from the album.
Christine McVie’s composition “Say You Loved Me,” opened side two of the record. With a great chordal piano riff opening, the song is easily one of the band’s most enjoyable. Great lyrics, captivating melody, and chord changes, all topped off by a superb vocal performance by Christine McVie.
# 6 – Hypnotized
In 1971, Bob Welch joined the band as the rhythm guitarist. At the time, Danny Kirwan was still playing lead guitar. Peter Green left the band after the release of Then Played On. Bob Welch helped further steer the band away from their blues beginnings with his radio-friendly voice and pop melodic sense. Most of the songs on the album were written by Bob Welch and Christie McVie. The Mystery to Me album was the band’s eighth release.
The song “Hypnotized” was not a hit single, but it received a great deal of radio play on early FM radio. Bob Welch’s songwriting style differed from Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer’s blues-inspired melodic ideas. Bob Welch’s vocal style was to sing up close to the microphone which created a more personal and intimate sound that was in marked contrast to the screaming blues vocals of early Fleetwood Mac Songs.
# 5 – Sentimental Lady
The song “Sentimental Lady” was written by the late Bob Welch and appeared for the first time on the Fleetwood Mac LP, Bare Trees. The Bare Trees album was released in 1972 and featured Bob Welch and Danny Kirwan on guitars, Christine McVie on keys and vocals, John McVie on bass, and Mick Fleetwood on drums. Although the song ”Sentimental Lady” was not a hit in 1972, it was later re-recorded for Bob Welch’s first solo album, French Kiss, in 1977. When the song was released as a single in 1977, it reached No.10 on Billboard magazine’s top 40 charts.
This is the second song written by Bob Welch that is represented on the Top 10 Essential Fleetwood Mac Songs list. The song “Sentimental Lady” featured a much softer vocal and sweeter, more pop-oriented melodic line than Bob Welch’s bluesy song “Hypnotized.” However, the song’s pop orientation set against a smooth folk-rock groove was unique for the period in 1972.
Most rock-oriented music in 1972 fell into the rock, pop, or folk rock categories. The 1977 version had a much heavier arrangement than the 1972 Fleetwood Mac recording. Nonetheless, the 1972 version is the choice here as another classic Fleetwood Mac song that defined an early period of great artistic merit and accomplishment for the band.
# 4 – Sara
In 1979, Fleetwood Mac released a two-record set entitled Tusk. During a period when new wave and punk music were influencing many of the current bands on the scene, Fleetwood Mac stayed true to the formula that brought them great success just two years earlier. Some critics may argue that the album Tusk, demonstrated some of the influence of the punk movement, but it would be hard to prove that point by listening to Stevie Nicks’ mesmerizing ballad “Sara.”
As the writer of “Dreams” and “Rhiannon,” two of the band’s biggest hits, it would be hard to imagine having to write a follow-up to those iconic songs. However, Stevie Nicks’ composition “Sara” was a complete progression in the songwriting process. Within the song “Sara,” Stevie Nicks displayed an incredible talent for fusing the connection between lyrical ideas, melody, chord changes, and arrangement.
The song embraced many listeners on a cinematic level that only a few songs in popular music have attained. Sadly, the song’s slow emotional buildup that led to such a dramatic and emotionally filled ending was edited as a single for radio play. While the shortened version still revealed the beauty of the song, it was the unedited album version that displayed the arrangement of a song that stands as some of Stevie Nicks’ finest work of her career.
# 3 – Dreams
The mesmerizing “Dreams” is one of Stevie Nick’s most memorable compositions and performances. At the heart of the song “Dreams” was Stevie Nick’s vocal performance that fueled a song based on a simple two-chord structure. It was a true testament to the concept that great songs do not have to be composed of complex and substantive chordal structures. As the old blues saying goes, “Less is More” was proven by Stevie Nicks ten times over.
The song “Dreams” was released on the classic 1977 Rumors album. It was the second single released from the album after “Go Your Own Way.” The single release of “Dreams” hit the Number One spot on the Billboard Hot 100 music charts the week of June 17th, 1977. The song sold over a million copies and is the band’s biggest-selling single.
# 2 – Go Your Own Way
When first writing about the Fleetwood Mac song, “Go Your Own Way,” one must obviously give mention to the monster album that delivered that great song to the public. Released in 1977, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors album went on to become the band’s most successful album of their career. The album is often mentioned on most critics’ lists as being one of the most essential albums of the 1970s.
Hands down, and simply put, it is the band’s greatest recording. Most Top 10 Fleetwood Mac Songs lists feature half the songs on the Rumors album in their Top 10. If this list had been written with the intent of mentioning the best songs of Fleetwood Mac’s career, the list would have included songs like ” You Make Loving Fun, Gold Dust Women and Second Hand News.” However, the goal of our Top 10 Essential Fleetwood Mac Songs list was to paint an overall perspective of the band’s entire career without focusing on one single album
Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” was such a compelling song that contained all the elements of what a great rock and roll song delivers. The melody and chord changes were completely original sounding. Furthermore, it was one of those songs that turned heads instantly on first listen. The excellent guitar work of Lindsay Buckingham complimented the powerful groove that Mick Fleetwood and John McVie laid down. The vocal harmonies on the song represented Fleetwood Mac at their finest hour. The studio recording had a great live feel, but it also maintained the polish and high production values that turned it into a staple of sonic joy on FM radio.
As great as the studio recording of “Go Your Own Way” was, the live performances of the song elevated the track to become a concert favorite. I saw the band perform “Go Your Own Way,” at Madison Square Garden in New York City during the Rumors tour in 1977. The band’s performance that night in New York City of the song Go Your Own Way was utterly jaw dropping. The band was on fire all night, but “Go Your Own Way,” was an extreme highlight of the show. Only one other song had a bigger impact that night on moving the crowd in a fashion that had nothing to do with rhythm or volume. It was a performance of a song by an artist that has become larger than life in a mystical fashion that I have never seen any other rock and roll artist achieve.
# 1 – TIE – Rhiannon / Landlside
While Stevie Nicks’ songs “Rhiannon” and Landslide were not the band’s highest charting songs, it was by far, without argument, at least on these pages, the group’s most essential songs in their catalog. Multiple factors can be easily defined to support the argument for the importance of the songs. “Rhiannon” was released in 1976 on the self-titled Fleetwood Mac album. The song Rhiannon failed to make the U.S Billboard Top 10 charts. However, it came very close as the song reached No. 11 in 1976. But historical chart information can be deceiving. The disco era and the domination of the Bee Gees, K.C. and the Sunshine, and other disco artists heavily influenced the Billboard charts in 1976. The importance of the song “Rhiannon” was not based on sales (although it eventually sold millions of copies) but rather on the legacy the song created and the legend born of the songwriter and singer behind the composition. The same holds for “Landslide,” which has just gained popularity over the years.
Before releasing the songs “Rhiannon and Landslide,” it’s probably safe to say that very few people had heard of Stevie Nicks. The first album she released with Lindsay Buckingham, appropriately titled Buckingham Nicks, failed to generate much interest and went quickly out of print. The band Fleetwood Mac had been well known worldwide, although not on the mass cultural level that would eventually embrace the group. Warner Brothers Records did not release “Rhiannon” as the first single. The Christine McVie penned composition “Over My Head” was marked as the first single of the LP.
During the late seventies, there were very few outlets for bands to be seen except the concert hall. And so it was in the concert hall where Stevie Nicks became the front person of Fleetwood Mac. No matter how many great performances Christine McVie and Lindsay Buckingham generated, Stevie’s performances shook the concert halls. I first saw Fleetwood Mac perform at Madison Square Garden in New York City during June in the year 1977.
It was at a time when the Rumors LP ruled the airwaves, and the band was at the height of their popularity. Fleetwood Mac was incredibly tight on stage as the connection between John McVie’s bass playing and Mick Fleetwood‘s drumming displayed the years of experience they had shared playing together as a rhythm section since 1968. Christine McVie’s warm voice and articulate yet soulful piano playing perfectly complemented Lindsay Buckingham’s dynamic guitar playing and singing. If you saw Lindsay Buckingham perform live, you would undoubtedly argue that the musician had not gotten the credit he deserved for his guitar skills and vocal ability. And it was probably for one simple reason: he was standing next to Stevie Nicks on the concert stage.
On that early New York City summer evening in 1977 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Stevie Nicks stepped to the front of the stage and began to sing the words to “Rhiannon.” The lights were brought down low. The enchanted forest-stylized backdrop set the scene for Stevie Nicks to almost seemingly float across the stage in that dark, long outfit she wore. As she sang the words to Rhiannon, the audience became captivated in an almost spell-like trance in an attempt to mimic the emotion pouring out of the singer’s performance. As the song steered toward the end, Stevie herself seemed to become so overwhelmed by emotion that she became absorbed by an out-of-body experience.
The description of Nick’s performance may sound crazy and overly dramatic, but I was there and saw it happen. There are videos of Stevie Nicks performing “Rhiannon” during that time period that, in some small way, defined those concerts, but they do not portray in earnest what it was like to see those “Rhiannon” performances live and up close. If you had seen those shows and witnessed Stevie Nicks perform “Rhiannon” and how the band wrapped around her in those magical moments, then you would completely understand the reason behind the choices of “Rhiannon” and Landslide as our favorite Fleetwood Mac songs of all time.
Photo: “Fleetwood Mac” flickr photo by Steffane Lui https://flickr.com/photos/steffanelui/15883204261 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license
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