Once again, this article is effectively a rewrite and expansion of one I did for the blog a few years back which it now replaces.
The success of Fleetwood Mac after recruiting Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, the disintegrating relationships within the band that sowed the seeds of the million-selling Rumours, the ambitious double album Tusk and the way the line-up finally imploded with Buckingham’s departure in 1987 have been well documented elsewhere in countless books and magazine articles. In keeping with the theme of this series of articles I’m jumping across all that and straight to their 1990 effort Behind the Mask.
- Skies the Limit (Christine McVie/Eddy Quintela)
- Love is Dangerous (Rick Vito/Stevie Nicks)
- In the Back of My Mind (Billy Burnette/David Malloy)
- Do You Know (Billy Burnette/Christine McVie)
- Save Me (Christine McVie/Eddy Quintela)
- Affairs of the Heart (Stevie Nicks)
- When the Sun Goes Down (Rick Vito/Billy Burnette)
- Behind the Mask (Christine McVie)
- Stand on the Rock (Rick Vito)
- Hard Feelings (Billy Burnette/Jeff Silbar)
- Freedom (Stevie Nicks/Mike Campbell)
- When it Comes to Love (Billy Burnette/Simon Climie/Dennis Morgan)
- The Second Time (Stevie Nicks/Rick Vito)
MICK FLEETWOOD: drums, percussion
JOHN MCVIE: bass
CHRISTINE MCVIE: vocals, keyboards
STEVIE NICKS: vocals
BILLY BURNETTE: vocals, guitar
RICK VITO: vocals, lead guitar
STEVE CROES: additional keyboards and percussion
ISAAC ASANTE: percussion on Freedom
LINDSEY BUCKINGHAM: acoustic guitar on Behind the Mask
Produced by Greg Ladanyi and Fleetwood Mac
Released April 9th 1990
Unique selling point: Only album to feature Rick Vito
Tango in the Night (1987), Fleetwood Mac’s first album in five years had been a surprise smash hit, spawning a number of hit singles and spending five weeks in total atop the UK chart – even the hallowed Rumours had only had one. But its promotional tour had been borne out of the labour of guitarist/producer Lindsey Buckingham’s sudden departure after the album’s completion.
It took two men to replace Buckingham. Stepping in to play rhythm guitar was rock ‘n’ roll/country performer Billy Burnette, nephew of early rockabilly man Johnny Burnette and son of his bass player brother Dorsey. Burnette had seven solo albums under his belt, enjoyed a minor Billboard hit with Don’t Say No in 1980 and had written songs for the likes of Ray Charles and Jerry Lee Lewis as well as appearing on solo projects by Fleetwood and Christine McVie. Incidentally it was the combination of Burnette’s first name with that of his cousin Rocky (who opened for Mac on their Tusk tour) that had originally produced the term rockabilly.
On lead guitar was session man Rick Vito whose credits included work with Fleetwood and John McVie’s protégé John Mayall as well as the likes of Jackson Browne and Bob Seger whose 1986 hit Like A Rock had featured Vito’s slide playing. He was a fan of the original band as led by Peter Green and had seen them live in 1969. This meant that in the absence of Buckingham, the band played a number of old Peter Green numbers on their 1987/88 Shake the Cage tour. The tour was a great success and the new lineup recorded two new tracks for a Greatest Hits compilation and spent 1989 recording its first and, as it turned out, only album enjoying a restored democracy without any one member dominating proceedings and Grammy-winning engineer Greg Ladanyi at the helm producing.
Ladanyi’s production brings out the best in the core rhythm section. Whereas on Tango in the Night you could hear no shortage of electronic percussion, here Fleetwood and McVie once again play in a way that makes the band worthy of its name, gelling particularly well with Vito on his Love is Dangerous and Stand On the Rock, two of the strongest numbers on the album.
As far as writers went, the band seemed content to let the new lineup gel by collaborating more on composition than earlier band configurations had. Vito collaborated with Nicks on the rocker Love is Dangerous and accompanied her on acoustic for closing track The Second Time. He got to do some rockabilly with Burnette on When the Sun Goes Down which also featured killer accordion from Christine and shone in his own right on the brilliant Stand On the Rock.
Burnette also wrote and sang with Christine McVie on the ballad Do You Know. His remaining contributions were written with respected composers and producers, notably with Wind Beneath My Wings composer Jeff Silbar on the almost mock-classical Hard Feelings and Simon Climie of Climie Fisher on When It Comes To Love. His most notable contribution here is the ensemble piece In the Back Of My Mind featuring the spookiest intro and most psychotic lyric on a Fleetwood Mac record in some years, but even this was written with his frequent collaborator David Malloy. Burnette seems content to hide behind these hit-manufacturing types but nonetheless In the Back of My Mind and Hard Feelings add a particularly dark edge to the album despite weak lyrics in places. The band badly needed a break from the Spanish guitar sounds with an eighties sheen that had come to the fore on their previous two efforts and Burnette, Vito and Ladanyi between them gave them that.
Christine McVie churned out a couple of run-of-the-mill commercial numbers with then husband Eddy Quintela both enlivened by Vito and on her own contributed the haunting title track, one of her rare dark moments of sweetly dismembering the subject with a welcome one-off return by Lindsey Buckingham on acoustic guitar.
But Lindsey wasn’t quite friends with everyone again yet – Nicks seemed to be savaging him and exulting in his absence on Freedom with its driving guitar riff from Tom Petty sidesman (and future Fleetwood Mac member) Mike Campbell. Her only song here not co-written with anyone is the autumnal, melancholic Affairs of the Heart with harmonica from someone uncredited and Burnette featuring as the voice of conscience (“Ah but it’s better not to lose”).
In short the album is an excellent one, blending styles and moods and scenarios, recognisably Fleetwood Mac but with a shade of something new and bringing drums, bass and electric guitar back to the fore where they belonged. Rolling Stone called it the best thing since Rumours and the Los Angeles Times even viewed it as the best thing since 1972’s Bare Trees back in Mac’s wilderness period.
Also from this period
The Burnette-Vito line-up’s first two released pieces were Christine McVie’s As Long As You Follow and Nicks’ No Questions Asked on the 1988 Greatest Hits compilation. As Long As You Follow is a brilliant beautiful charming piece with Vito justifying his presence immediately on the guitar intro. No Questions Asked is pretty much run-of-the-mill Stevie and it’s a shame this track had to replace her first collaboration with Vito, Paper Doll which Fleetwood disdained. Paper Doll later appeared in 1992 on 25 Years: The Chain. As Long As You Follow went top twenty in various territories and Paper Doll made #9 in Canada. The simliar success of Save Me, released as the first single from Behind the Mask proved that this incarnation of Fleetwood Mac was no flop and could potentially have had more success.
The CD single of In the Back of My Mind featured Lizard People a spoken word track co-written and performed by Mick Fleetwood which is worth a listen on YouTube (or you could comb eBay etc).
So what went wrong?:
Another couple of albums from this lineup would have been great but sadly it was not to be. The resulting tour ended with Nicks and Christine McVie announcing their departures following the former experiencing a rift with Fleetwood and the latter needing time off following her father’s death. Vito would follow shortly after, citing a lack of creative freedom (wish I could remember where I read that) and a desire to be with his family.
And after that?
The band effectively went into limbo although Christine would return to feature on two new tracks for the 1992 compilation 25 Years: The Chain. This four-piece lineup with a Christine/Billy creative team was meant to record an album but Burnette also quit for a while to record a solo album.
It took Time (1995), recorded by an incohesive lineup featuring Burnette, ex-Traffic Dave Mason and Bekka Bramlett (daughter of Delaney and Bonnie), with a reluctant Christine recording separately with a session guitarist (she knew Mason from the Birmingham music scene of the 60s and didn’t want to work with him), to finally sink the band.
Two years later Mick Fleetwood did some playing with Buckingham for a track for his next intended solo album, one thing led to another and by May 1997, the five-piece line-up that produced Rumours was officially back together and the live album The Dance recorded for MTV topped the US chart and led to a short tour. Christine McVie quit the following year citing her dislike of touring but the remaining four members soldiered on and recorded the brilliant Say You Will (2003).
Whatever happened to… Rick Vito: Despite his short association with the group, Vito has kept a closer association with Fleetwood Mac than many of its other ex-members. His first solo album King of Hearts (1992) was released on Stevie Nicks’ label Modern Records and she duetted with him on the song Desiree. Many of his subsequent albums have either been highly praised by Fleetwood or McVie or featured covers of the old Peter Green numbers. In more recent years he has played with Mick in the Mick Fleetwood Blues Band. This has released two live albums with near identical track listings. I particularly recommend Lucky Devils (2000) and his mambo album Band Box Boogie (2003).
It was only while researching for the original version of this entry that I discovered that Greg Ladanyi died in 2009 after falling thirteen feet from a ramp prior to a stadium gig by an act he was managing. This piece is dedicated to his memory.
Next: Say You Will (2003)