Sunday, May 17, 2015

Fleetwood Mac 1970-1974

From 1966 to 1969, Fleetwood Mac was a blues-based rock band headed by Peter Green on guitar and vocals with Jeremy Spencer, also guitar and vocals, Mick Fleetwood's drums and John McVie on bass. Danny Kirwin's guitar and vocals were added to the line-up for their third LP Then Play On in 1968. Green left the group he founded in 1969. Between Green's departure and the 1975 arrival of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac went through multiple line-up changes, with different personnel on all but two of the six records they released during this middle period.

Kiln House 1970 was recorded by Kirwin, Spencer, Fleetwood and McVie, with an uncredited Christine Perfect/McVie on keyboards and vocals. Jeremy Spencer left after Kiln House, to be replaced by American Bob Welsh, and Christine McVie became an official member. Future Games 1971 introduced Welsh's spacey, mystical rock songs, and also premiered Christine McVie's romantic balladry, which would become a stable for the band, with Show Me A Smile. The record garnered Fleetwood Mac a fair amount of FM radio play in America, even while the English reaction to their new distance from the blues was not well received .

The same line-up completed Bare Trees 1972, and again the record was neglected in the UK, and made it's way into the top 100 in the US. Strong songs from all three writers (Welsh, Kirwin, McVie) help fortify the record. Future Games and Bare Trees both benefit from the guitar interplay between Kirwin and Welsh, some fine jamming and riffing going on.

1973 saw two relatively unfocused releases from the band in a period of transition. Kirwin was dismissed during the tour in support of Bare Trees, and for Penguin, Bob Weston on guitar and Dave Walker (ex Savoy Brown vocalist) were added to the line-up. Penquin is probably their weakest outing since the band's inception, and is only saved by two of Christine McVie's better love songs, Remember Me and Dissatisfied. After Dave Walker left, the remaining five made Mystery To Me, and it's another weaker one, but not without redeeming moments in Welsh's Somebody and Hypnotized (which got considerable FM radio play) and McVie's Believe Me.

Heroes Are Hard To Find 1974 was made by the quartet of Welsh, McVie, Fleetwood and McVie, and was their first record to break into the top 40 Billboard album charts. The album holds up pretty well even today, and is clearly the precursor to the so-cal rock lite classics that are right around the corner. Welsh and McVie each contribute strong material, and a successful tour helped sell the record more than any before it. The title track and Welsh's Silver Heels are standouts, as is Come A Little Bit Closer by Christine McVie.

We all know what happened next. Welsh quit, and very shortly after, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were added to the line-up. That band made two classic rock FM radio staples, Fleetwood Mac 1975 and Rumours 1977. The five are back together and touring again in 2015. Other than those classics from 1975 and 1977, their recorded output has been a mixed bag, with Buckingham, McVie, and Nicks each out of the picture at various times. In fact, these records from 1970-1974, especially Kiln House, Future Games, Bare Trees, and Heroes Are Hard To Find, are in my view much more interesting than any of their post 1977 output.