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 wide 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 defines the various incarnations of the band, and the massive body of work that Fleetwood Mac has recorded throughout their illustrious and very successful career.
A brief history of the early Fleetwood Mac albums.
“Fleetwood Mac” 1968
The first three Fleetwood Mac albums were blues-infused recordings that featured the legendary Peter Green, on guitar and vocals. These albums were released during the late 1960s and bare very little resemblance to the Fleetwood Mac era of the late 1970s that featured Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. Their first album was released in 1968 and was titled simply, Fleetwood Mac. The album featured Peter Green, on vocals and guitar, Jeremy Spencer also on vocals and guitar, John McVie on bass, and of course Mick Fleetwood on drums. Most of the songs on the album were written by Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer. However the album did feature some classic covers of well-known blues songs such as Robert Johnson’s “Hellbound on my Trail,” and Elmore James, “Shake Your Money Maker.”
“Mr. Wonderful” 1968
Fleetwood Mac’s second album Mr.Wonderful was also released in 1968. The album’s lineup included the original four Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer, John McVie, and Mick Fleetwood. However, the band also added a horn section consisting of two alto saxophone players and two tenor saxophone players. Pianist Christine Perfect also played on the album. Later on, Christine Perfect would become known to Fleetwood Mac fans as the legendary Christine McVie.
The record consisted of original blues songs and classic blues covers. On the album, the band had recorded a version of “Dust my Broom,” which had been written by Robert Johnson in 1936. In 1949. “Dust My Broom” was recorded on vinyl by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup. I used to own the original 45 record, but I auctioned it off in 2012. The record was brought from me by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio The Hall of Fame’s winning bid signified to me the importance of songs like “Dust My Broom,” in the history of classic rock and roll. The inclusion of songs like “Dust My Broom,” on the Fleetwood Mac, Mr. Wonderful album defined the band’s origins in classic blues traditions and their own role in the development of rock and roll and blues within popular music culture.
“Then Played On” 1969
Fleetwood Mac’s third album “Then Played On,” is represented on the Top 10 Essential Fleetwood Mac songs list by the inclusion of the great song “Oh Well.” The album was released in 1969 by Warner Brothers’ Reprise records. The non-LP hit single “Oh Well,” was not on the original release of the album. However, the label reissued the album later in 1969 and included the hit single “Oh Well.”
Their third album displayed significant changes for the band. Although the blues element still played a large role in their sound, the album featured no covers of famous blues songs. All the songs on the LP were written by Peter Green, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, and the newest member of the band Danny Kirwan. Then Play On may be the most important album in the band’s career as far as historical value. The album was still entrenched in blues solos and grooves by way of Peter Green. Nonetheless, the inclusion of Danny Kirwan began the move towards the popular music sound that would eventually land the band one of the biggest selling albums of all time eight years later.
The Top 10 Essential Fleetwood Mac Songs.
# 10 – “TIE” Oh Well / The Chain
We cheated just a bit on this 10 Essential Fleetwood Mac songs list because it was just impossible to cover the band’s entire catalog and include all of the most important songs with a few lesser-known gems. So we begin our top 10 Fleetwood Mac songs list with a tie. Two big songs from two completely different Fleetwood Mac lineups. “The Chain,” from the Rumors days and the great early song Oh Well. This great one-two punch opening clearly defines how different this band sounded at various points in their history.
Many people have heard the song “Oh Well,” on the radio over the past forty five years and had no idea it was Fleetwood Mac. Everyone knows “The Chain,” is Fleetwood Mac. The song “Oh Well,” 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.
# 9 – Love is Dangerous
The Fleetwood Mac song “Love is Dangerous,” appeared on the 1990 LP Behind the Mask. The album Behind the Mask was largely ignored by those writing the ultimate top 10 Fleetwood Mac lists, such as was pretty much every other Fleetwood Mac album besides Rumors and the 1975 LP. The album actually proved to be an interesting record with the additions of guitarists Rick Vito and Billy Burnett.
The two guitarists brought a unified sound to the band that sort of resembled the early Fleetwood Mac albums of the 1960s. It had nothing to do with the blues, but rather the interplay between two virtuoso guitarists and a songwriting effort that seemed more shared among the band since the departure of Lindsay Buckingham. The song “Love is Dangerous,” presented fans with a great virtuoso guitar-oriented groove and iconic Steve Nicks vocal. While the song “Save Me,” was released as a single, the track “Love is Dangerous,” was the far more interesting choice.
# 8 – Blow by Blow
The only album possibly ignored more than 1990’s Behind the Mask LP was the 1995 Fleetwood Mac album Time. It was the band’s weakest selling album and actually did not even make the Billboard Top 200 sales charts. Stevie Nicks left the band before the album was recorded. The album featured Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Christie McVie, Billy Burnett and country vocalist Bekka Bramlett. What most rock fans would find very surprising was that the legendary Dave Mason also joined the band for the recording of the album and tour.
The Dave Mason song contributions “Blow By Blow,” and “I Wonder Why,” were the standout tracks on the LP. The song “Blow by Blow,” is presented here on the Top 10 Essential Fleetwood Mac Songs as a unique addition to the band’s catalog and a very enjoyable Fleetwood mac song from the least popular time period of the band’s career. There are by far so many stronger songs in the Fleetwood Mac catalog than “Blow By Blow,” but it is an essential addition to this list because it’s so rare.
# 7 – Say You Love Me
Well, its 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. The Fleetwood Mac 1975 album Hit No 1 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 songs. Great lyrics, great melody, and a superb vocal performance by Christine McVie lands this one at No. 6 on the Top 10 Fleetwood Mac Songs list.
# 6 – 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 originally 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 on 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 had been gaining tremendous momentum in 1987, all bands looked to capture the possibilities of the sonic enhancements that CD’s 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.
# 5 – Hypnotized
In 1971, Bob Welch joined the band as the rhythm guitarist. At the time Danny Kirwan had still been 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 was distinctively different 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.
# 4 – 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, the song 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 all the way to 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 rather unique for the time period in 1972.
Most rock oriented music in 1972 either 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.
# 3 – Sara
In 1979, Fleetwood Mac released a two record set entitled Tusk. During a time 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,” which were 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 idea, 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 Stevie Nicks’ finest work of her career.
# – 2 Go Your Own Way / Dreams
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 important 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 an incredibly powerful 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 powerful groove that was laid down by Mick Fleetwood and John McVie was complimented by the great guitar work of Lindsay Buckingham. 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 You 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 large than life in a mystical fashion that I have never seen any other rock and roll artist achieve.
Tied in second place, 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 just 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 of their career.
# 1 – Rhiannon
While Stevie Nicks’ song “Rhiannon,” was not the band’s highest charting single, it was by far, without argument at least on these pages, the group’s most essential song in their catalog. There are multiple factors that can be easily defined in order to support the argument of the importance of the song “Rhiannon.” 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 Billboard charts in 1976 were heavily influenced by the disco era and the domination of the Bee Gees, K.C. and the Sunshine, and other disco artists. The importance of the song “Rhiannon,” was not based on sales, (although it eventually sold millions of copies) but rather the legacy the song created and the legend born of the songwriter and singer behind the composition.
Before the release of the song “Rhiannon,” 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 Brother’s Records did not even 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 with the exception of the concert hall. And so it was in the concert hall where Stevie Nicks clearly became the front person of Fleetwood Mac. No matter how many great performances Christine McVie and Lindsay Buckingham generated, it was Stevie’s performances that shook the concert halls. I first saw Fleetwood Mac perform at Madison Square Garden in New York City during the month of 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. The band 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, was perfectly complemented by 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 floating 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 towards the end, Stevie herself seemed to become completely overwhelmed in 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 I 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 choice of “Rhiannon,” as the most essential Fleetwood Mac song 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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