Mac’s magic moments Part 4: Behind the Mask (1990)

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.

180px-Fleetwood_Mac_-_Behind_the_Mask

  1. Skies the Limit (Christine McVie/Eddy Quintela)
  2. Love is Dangerous (Rick Vito/Stevie Nicks)
  3. In the Back of My Mind (Billy Burnette/David Malloy)
  4. Do You Know (Billy Burnette/Christine McVie)
  5. Save Me (Christine McVie/Eddy Quintela)
  6. Affairs of the Heart (Stevie Nicks)
  7. When the Sun Goes Down (Rick Vito/Billy Burnette)
  8. Behind the Mask (Christine McVie)
  9. Stand on the Rock (Rick Vito)
  10. Hard Feelings (Billy Burnette/Jeff Silbar)
  11. Freedom (Stevie Nicks/Mike Campbell)
  12. When it Comes to Love (Billy Burnette/Simon Climie/Dennis Morgan)
  13. 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

also featuring
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

 

Coming together

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.

The album

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).

In memoriam

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)

Mac’s magic moments Part 3: Heroes Are Hard to Find (1974)

This article is reproduced somewhat from another blog post from six years ago. I hope longer terms readers will forgive me for seeming repetitive. I merely wish to look at the topic from a slightly different angle. BTA

Fleetwood Mac had recovered from the episode of having to fight for their own name. Now, as a four-piece, they made the collective decision to move to America at Fleetwood’s suggestion (because “all we ever do here is wash our cars”). This gave them closer contact with Warner Brothers . A letter from Fillmore mogul Bill Graham convinced Warners that this was the real Fleetwood Mac and they were teamed up with producer Bob Hughes. There had been no replacement for Bob Weston so Bob Welch was handling all the guitars himself for Heroes are Hard to Find (1974).

220px-Fleetwood_Mac_-_Heroes_Are_Hard_to_Find

  1. Heroes Are Hard to Find*
  2. Coming Home
  3. Angel
  4. Bermuda Triangle
  5. Come a Little Bit Closer*
  6. She’s Changing Me
  7. Bad Loser*
  8. Silver Heels
  9. Prove Your Love*
  10. Born Enchanter
  11. Safe Harbour

All songs written by Bob Welch except *Christine McVie

MICK FLEETWOOD: drums, percussion
JOHN MCVIE: bass
CHRISTINE MCVIE: keyboards, vocals
BOB WELCH: guitar, vocals

plus

SNEAKY PETE KLEINOW: Pedal steel guitar on Come a Little Bit Closer

Produced by Fleetwood Mac and Bob Hughes

Released September 13th 1974

Unique selling point: The one where Bob Welch does all the guitars

Bob Welch became very much the leading light of Fleetwood Mac on this his fifth album with the group. Seven of the eleven tracks are his and he features on all guitars (apart from a bit of pedal steel). Bob playing lead hadn’t happened very often with Mac before – Danny Kirwan or Bob Weston had done most of that while he played rhythm. But here he proves himself a highly capable jazz player, perhaps reflecting his work as the sole guitarist in the short-lived Head West before joining Mac. After the album opens rather uncharacteristically with Christine McVie’s Stax-influenced title track, we get Welch’s Coming Home which is almost completely instrumental apart from a brief sung stanza in the middle and some quasi-apocalyptic murmuring over the introduction. Bermuda Triangle, complete with flamenco playing and tom-toms, continued his fascination with the paranormal. In between comes Angel another number exhibiting Welch’s spooky vocal and far-out jazzy guitar, continuing the sound he pursued on Mystery to Me but with a brighter sound than Bob Weston’s lead playing. His attempt at country on She’s Changing Me is somewhat ill-advised however.

After an incongruous title track, Christine McVie redeems herself with the awesome Bad Loser – a scathing attack on the band’s disgraced manager Clifford Davis with Mick rattling the congas, foreshadowing his African-recorded project The Visitor (1981) – and Prove Your Love, an awesome ballad demanding a lover’s commitment in honeyed tones in true Christine style but with none of the contrived three-chord cliches employed in some of her better known work and an electric piano solo of the kind she was often denied when Lindsey Buckingham took the production helm. And who else can do “Ah-ah-ahh” with such style and elegance?

Bob ends the album in style with Born Enchanter, a twelve-bar blues number that again gives Christine the chance to show her chops with a (there’s that word again) jazzy solo and finally another almost instrumental in Safe Harbour. This is basically a two-chord number that eases the album to a close and ends with the brief line “Just to find a safe harbour and to talk with a friend”, reflecting an opportunity largely denied him while living in the UK and hinting somewhat at what would happen next.

So what went wrong?

Quite simply, Bob Welch had had enough. Being back in his home land must have increased his desire for a break from it all. He had endured Danny Kirwan’s disintegration, Bob Weston’s dismissal, the fake Mac episode and by the time they got to Heroes Are Hard to Find, he remained the only member of the group apart from the three English musicians who had kept Fleetwood Mac going for so long before his arrival – it should be remembered that Christine McVie had been sessioning and/or hanging out with the group for some time before becoming a member. These four had kept the group going through the leanest and most difficult time in their history

December 15th 1974 marked Welch’s last appearance with the band in a televised gig at the Record Plant in Sausalito (where Mac would later record Rumours), only three months after the album’s release.

December 31st 1974 saw Fleetwood and the McVies meeting their first choice of replacement Lindsey Buckingham and his romantic/professional partner Stevie Nicks with a view to them joining the group. The rest, as they say, is history.

Whatever happened to… Bob Welch: Ironically, Bob Welch’s departure from Fleetwood Mac caused both him and them to start having hits. After a short-lived power trio, Paris, with original Jethro Tull bassist Glenn Cornick had disbanded, he recorded the album French Kiss (1977) which gave him a hit with a rerecording of Sentimental Lady (from Mac’s 1972 album Bare Trees) which Mick Fleetwood, Christine McVie and Lindsey Buckingham played on. A few further hits followed in Ebony Eyes, Hot Love Cold World and, from Three Hearts (1979), Precious Love and Church. Members of Fleetwood Mac played on tracks on both albums and also for a few reunion tracks at Welch’s legendary Roxy concert in 1981, not released on CD till 2004. Four more albums saw success decline for Welch and he spent most of the 80s and 90s working on movie soundtracks and writing for other artists. He returned with Bob Welch Looks at Bop in 1999 and two albums of rerecorded songs followed as well as an EP and another album of covers. But after neck surgery left him in terrible pain, the medication he was prescribed proved depressive and he shot himself in 2012*. Fleetwood Mac paid tribute to him at some of their 2018 shows by including his song Hypnotized.

*Special thanks to the late Wendy Welch, Bob’s widow, for additional information on this painful topic for her.

Next: Behind the Mask (1990)

Mac’s magic moments Part 2: Mystery to Me (1973)

By 1973 Fleetwood Mac had lost all three of the singer-songwriters who had played on their late 60s recordings. A short-lived experiment with a full time lead singer was followed by one of their least well remembered yet most highly regarded albums

220px-Mystery_to_Me_cover

 

  1. Emerald Eyes (Bob Welch)
  2. Believe Me (Christine McVie)
  3. Just Crazy Love (Christine McVie)
  4. Hypnotized (Bob Welch)
  5. Forever (Bob Welch/Bob Weston/John McVie)
  6. Keep On Going (Bob Welch)
  7. The City (Bob Welch)
  8. Miles Away (Bob Welch)
  9. Somebody (Bob Welch)
  10. The Way I Feel (Christine McVie)
  11. For Your Love (Graham Gouldman)
  12. Why (Christine McVie)

MICK FLEETWOOD: drums, percussion
JOHN MCVIE: bass
CHRISTINE MCVIE: keyboards, vocals
BOB WELCH: rhythm guitar, vocals
BOB WESTON: lead guitar

Produced by Fleetwood Mac and Martin Birch

Released October 15th 1973

Unique selling point: Only album to feature Bob Weston on lead guitar (apart from a few tracks on the previous one)

Coming together

After the firing of Danny Kirwan, Fleetwood Mac recruited two new members in guitarist Bob Weston, who had worked with the likes of Graham Bond and Long John Baldry, and frontman Dave Walker, recruited from Savoy Brown. Mac had always been a band that shared lead vocals but their manager Clifford Davis insisted “We need to get a lead singer out there who can start boogieing”. The resulting album Penguin only featured Walker on two tracks and closed with a nondescript instrumental from Weston who had only featured on a few tracks himself. Walker’s post was made redundant shortly afterward and the band returned to the studio as a five-piece to record the follow-up.

The album

Bob Welch, previously a very minimal contributor in terms of songwriting, emerges as the album’s star here, contributing half of the twelve tracks. One of these, Forever, was a reggae jam with Weston and John McVie. Another, Keep On Going, featured Christine McVie on lead vocal. Hypnotized exemplified his fascination with the paranormal (I wish I could look at that strange strange pond on Google Earth) and gave Fleetwood the chance to do a top notch jazzy drum intro. This number continued to be performed for a short while after Welch was replaced by Lindsey Buckingham and the band revived it again for a short while after the recruitment of Neil Finn and Mike Campbell in 2018. Fleetwood sounded like a man unleashed playing that intro again. Elsewhere, Miles Away hung on a John McVie bass riff to rival his famous Formula One solo on The Chain. A seventh Welch number Good Things (Come To Those Who Wait) was dropped at the last minute and replaced with a cover of the Yardbirds’ 1965 hit For Your Love with some killer harmonics from Weston. Clearly Welch was very much part of the team, having already held firm through two line-up changes.

In fact it’s partly Weston who really lifts the album above the average, his slide brightening up Emerald Eyes and Why and a flamenco solo adorning Keep On Going. It’s a shame that he didn’t contribute any songs as by his own admission he felt unworthy in the presence of Welch and Christine McVie’s contributions. He balances perfectly against Welch’s jazzy rhythm chords and it’s a shame that ultimately things went the way they did (see below).

Christine McVie continued to emerge as the purveyor of sweet love songs she would later gain fame as although you can’t help wondering if some of them aren’t inspired by the album’s co-producer Martin Birch whom she was seeing at the time (she would divorce John in 1977) and who clearly knew that The Way I Feel would benefit from an acoustic guitar basis. But her real gem her is the bittersweet closer Why, adorned by a lengthy bottleneck solo from Weston and melancholy acoustic chords from Welch. This song also continued in the live set for a few years after Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks had joined the band.

The album continues to be held in high regard by Mac fans as well as the band themselves. It went gold in 1976 after the success of the band’s self-titled 1975 album made new fans hungry for more. Christine McVie would later say that it was her third favourite Mac album after the million-selling Rumours and Fleetwood Mac.

So what went wrong

By the time the album was released, Bob Weston was in a pretty full-flung affair with Mick Fleetwood’s wife Jenny. While never consummated, the affair was nonetheless a passionate one. Fleetwood did not discover what was going on until the band’s US tour. He endured it for a short while before demanding that Weston be fired which duly happened.

And if that wasn’t enough

The band refused to complete the tour and manager Clifford Davis, claiming ownership of the Fleetwood Mac name, assembled another group of musicians to complete the dates. Mick Fleetwood was expected to join the tour but when he didn’t, the band billed as Fleetwood Mac featured no-one who had previously recorded or toured with the band. When audience members realised, there was an uproar. The band took out a lawsuit against Davis which took five years to win. Mick Fleetwood understandably claimed ownership of the name and ensured that no line-up of musicians not consisting of both himself and John McVie could ever perform under the Fleetwood Mac name again.

Whatever happened to… Bob Weston

“It cost me a career” Weston later said of his affair with Jenny Fleetwood (which didn’t last). Well, not quite although he spent most of the rest of his working life as a session musician, mainly with erstwhile West End star Murray Head. He did do a notable star turn on Sandy Denny’s final album Rendezvous (1977) and released three solo albums between 1980 and 1999 although these are long out of print. Surprisingly one of them featured a guest drum spot by Mick Fleetwood who had in the end nailed his own marriage to Jenny by his affair with Stevie Nicks perhaps leading him to feel he no longer had any moral high ground in the matter.

Weston was found dead at his flat in London in 2012 from a gastrointestinal haemorrhage. He was 64.

Next

Heroes Are Hard to Find (1974)

Mac’s Magic Moments Part 1: Then Play On (1969)

In this little series, barttheanorak takes a look at moments in the career of Fleetwood Mac where a short-lived line-up produced a world-class album.  We look at how the line-up coalesced, what made the album great and why, ultimately it didn’t last.

We begin in 1969 with Mac’s third album Then Play On

Then_Play_On.jpg

  1. Coming Your Way (Danny Kirwan)
  2. Closing My Eyes (Peter Green)
  3. Fighting for Madge (Mick Fleetwood)
  4. When You Say (Danny Kirwan)
  5. Showbiz Blues (Peter Green)
  6. Underway (Peter Green)
  7. One Sunny Day (Danny Kirwan)
  8. Although the Sun is Shining (Danny Kirwan)
  9. Rattlesnake Shake (Peter Green)
  10. Without You (Danny Kirwan)
  11. Searching for Madge
  12. Like Crying (Danny Kirwan)
  13. Before the Beginning (Peter Green)

PETER GREEN: vocals, guitars
DANNY KIRWAN: vocals, guitars
JOHN MCVIE: bass
MICK FLEETWOOD: drums

Produced by Fleetwood Mac

Released September 19th 1969

Unique selling point: Only album to feature both Peter Green and Danny Kirwan

Coming together

1968 had been a good year for Fleetwood Mac. The lack of new albums from the Beatles and Stones until the latter months of the year meant Mac outsold them both with their first two. They were top of the UK blues boom but really were functioning as two bands as founder Peter Green’s guitar sidekick Jeremy Spencer only played on tracks where he sang lead, leaving the founding trio of Green, Mick Fleetwood (drums) and John McVie (bass) to carry Green’s highly praised original material without him.

This was to change when Green added a third guitarist to the team of frontmen. Danny Kirwan was 18 and had been fronting a band called Boilerhouse. He brought with him a musical ear that extended beyond the blues and helped propel the instrumental Albatross to the top of the UK chart.

At around this time the band’s deal with Blue Horizon expired and after a brief dalliance with Immediate which produced the tortured Man of the World (held at #2 by the Beatles’ Get Back) the band signed with Warner Brothers in a deal which continues to this day.

The album

The resulting album saw Fleetwood Mac solidify into a fully fledged studio outfit. Kirwan was the perfect foil for Green – Spencer did not feature at all, remaining chiefly for the purposes of enlivening shows with his Elvis imitations and milk-filled condoms hanging from his tuning pegs.

Right from the opening guitar salvos of Kirwan’s Coming Your Way giving way to Fleetwood’s manic conga-rattling then giving way to the melancholy of Green’s Closing My Eyes the album was bound to be a winner.

Closing My Eyes was just one hint of Green beginning to disintegrate as he wondered what to do with his life and looked forward to the day of dying and being with God after a lifetime of “feeding your smile”. Showbiz Blues ranted at an audience whose adulation and lack of empathy for his mental state he could not handle while the ironically titled closer Before the Beginning was a tear-jerking confession of anxiety to rival the later Lindsey Buckingham classic I’m So Afraid. Only the playful ode to masturbation Rattlesnake Shake saw him chill out (and Mick get to have some tambourine fun).

Kirwan was still finding his feet as a songwriter but showed promise on Although the Sun Is Shining while When You Say was covered by future Mac member Christine Perfect with both Kirwan and John McVie featuring. Two of his tracks here, One Sunny Day and Without You had already featured on the US only Blue Horizon compilation English Rose while Like Crying, sung in duet with Green, had already been demoed while the band were at Blue Horizon. A recent BBC compilation of footage of blues artists featured a rare clip of the band performing Like Crying though one suspects the line “Her best friend’s a woman – how can a woman help her?”

The album was completed with Underway, a rumbling Green instrumental, later rerecorded by Green, and two extracts from an extended jam dedicated to superfan Madge and credited respectively to each half of the rhythm section though clearly they’re both very much group efforts. The full Madge jam finally appeared on the compilation album The Vaudeville Years in 1968.

Also from this period

A week after the album came out, Fleetwood Mac released Oh Well, a two-part piece covering both sides of a single. Part 1 was based around riffing by Green and Kirwan and featured only two very brief verses both of which ended with Green urging listeners not to ask his opinion of them for fear of it being a negative one. Part 2 was a lengthy classical style instrumental based around flamenco guitar and featuring Jeremy Spencer on piano and Green’s then girlfriend Sandra Elsdon on recorder. Like Man of the World this went to the UK’s No 2 position, this time held off by the novelty record Sugar Sugar by cartoon group The Archies. The single also marked the group’s US Billboard debut peaking at #55.

So what went wrong?

In late 1969 while the band were on tour in Europe, Green was invited to a commune in Munich where he took some LSD. Accounts vary but according to most sources he was never the same afterwards. According to Fleetwood he wanted all the band’s royalties to go to charity. His disintegration continued and after one more single in a hard rock vein The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Prong Crown) Peter Green dropped the bomb on the tour bus by announcing he was leaving the band he had founded, written all the hits for and named after its rhythm section.

But the band, spurred on by Fleetwood, carried on, moving together into a communal home in Hampshire which gave the next album Kiln House its name. Despite bringing Spencer out of his shell and seeing him collaborate with Kirwan in bringing the album to life, Kiln House was an average work and its poor chart status reflected this.

The band made the wise move of recruiting McVie’s wife Christine, formerly with Chicken Shack, to sing and play piano with them. This freed Spencer up to complete the two guitar line-up at the front of the stage. But even this did not last long as Spencer went missing before a gig in Los Angeles in 1971 and was later found to have joined religious sect the Children of God (now called the Family) which he remains with to this day. By the time Future Games was released later that year, the rhythm guitar spot was filled by American Bob Welch.

What happened to… Peter Green

Green’s solo debut The End of the Game (1970) was basically just a series of jams and did not fulfil on promise. He drifted away from the music scene, working for a while as a gravedigger and on one occasion reportedly threatening his accountant with a shotgun. He returned to recording between 1979 and 1983 but wrote progressively less material, ultimately relying on his brother Mike who had first taught him guitar. By the late 1980s he was wandering around Richmond scaring the locals with his long straggly beard and uncut fingernails. It looked like it was all over for the former Peter Greenbaum. But eventually after switching medication to something less exacerbant of his problems at the advice of his biographer Martin Celmins, Green returned to recording and performing with his Splinter Group although this consisted largely of blues covers with any new material being written by other group members. Green ultimately felt he was being used as a figurehead for the group more than anything and left in 2003. He occasionally returned to performing and was last heard of living in Switzerland with a girlfriend. It’s apparent that the Munich incident ultimately destroyed Green in many respects. But even if he never records, performs or writes again, at least we know he’s happy.

What happened to… Danny Kirwan

Kirwan lasted until the 1972 album Bare Trees. During his time in Mac he did some beautiful guitar work and set poems by W H Davies and Rupert Brooke to music. But Danny buckled under the strain of being lead guitarist and main songwriter having watched his predecessor in both roles endure mental collapse and duly underwent one himself. Ultimately he lost it one night, smashing his guitar against the wall and refusing to play the show. He was fired pretty much on the spot, leaving Fleetwood Mac with none of the three frontmen who had helped their rise to fame. He had two replacements neither of whom lasted very long. He released three albums between 1975 and 1979 but none were successful and eventually he endured a period of homelessness and spent time in a mental hospital. He saw out his days living in a hostel and at one point was visited by Jeremy Spencer but although he returned to playing guitar he never returned to professional music and apparently would get very cross when Fleetwood Mac was mentioned. He died on June 8th 2018 after suffering from pneumonia. He was 68.

Next: Mystery to Me (1973)

A career-defining classic: Queen – A Night at the Opera

You may prefer the heaviness of the first three albums or the commercialism of the mid-eighties but with their fourth album, Queen burst into the mainstream and created (in my opinion) their masterpiece.

Image imported from Wikipedia based on their fair usage guidelines. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

Image imported from Wikipedia based on their fair usage guidelines. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

  1. Death on Two Legs (Dedicated To…) (Mercury)
  2. Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon (Mercury)
  3. I’m In Love With My Car (Taylor)
  4. You’re My Best Friend (Deacon)
  5. ’39 (May)
  6. Sweet Lady (May)
  7. Seaside Rendezvous (Mercury)
  8. The Prophet’s Song (May)
  9. Love of My Life (Mercury)
  10. Good Company (May)
  11. Bohemian Rhapsody (Mercury)
  12. God Save the Queen (Trad arr May)

FREDDIE MERCURY: lead vocals, piano
BRIAN MAY: guitars, stringed instruments, vocals, lead vocals on 5 and 10
ROGER TAYLOR: drums, percussion, vocals, lead vocal on 3
JOHN DEACON: bass, electric piano on 4

Produced by Queen and Roy Thomas Baker

Queen had arrived. Two hit albums and three hit singles meant they were a fixture on the scene but it took a multi-genre epic and its equally eclectic parent album to make them truly major and guarantee that they’d be staying in the public consciousness for longer than the likes of Bad Company or Mott the Hoople.

The release of Bohemian Rhapsody as a single on October 31st was one the band had had to fight for – running at just under six minutes and alternating between opera and hard rock with three or four different sections it wasn’t the kind of thing a record company chose as a single and only when Capital Radio’s Kenny Everett played short snippets did demand arise to hear the whole thing and for a single release. Four weeks later, it peaked at number one just as the album made its chart debut. But we will analyse the song and its success further down.

The album too showed a stylistic branching out. Queen had never been just any old band in terms of songwriting and had already proved themselves just as capable of writing two-minute vignettes as side-long epics but now the eclecticism that had only come out in brief gasps on songs like Bring Back That Leroy Brown was reigning supreme. Freddie Mercury’s songwriting was becoming so naturalised to English whimsy that you could barely guess that for the first 17 years of his life he had divided his time between Africa and India as Farokh Bulsara (he adopted the name Freddie at his Anglophone boarding school in India). Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon summarised a week in the life of a Victorian socialite while Seaside Rendezvous saw Mercury and Roger Taylor playing rather more than just “tiddly-om-pom-pom” on scat brass, though the opener Death on Two Legs proved he could still tear into his former manager in true rock n roll style and the piano-driven Love Of My Life, though tender, sounds like it’s being sung by a man not taking himself too seriously, a recurring hallmark of Mercury’s vocal work.

Brian May too was truly multi-faceted here providing straight-down-the-line hard rock in Sweet Lady but getting totally poetic too (“You call me sweet like I’m some kind of cheese”) and keeping to the band’s prog-metal roots in the epic Prophet’s Song. I do however find his self-sung acoustic contributions here to be somewhat ill-advised – ’39 is pretentious sci-fi under a pseudo-WW2 title (though it became a live favourite) and the ukulele-led Good Company has a somewhat throwaway feel to it.

But even Roger Taylor and John Deacon shine brighter than usual here – you wonder what producer Roy Thomas Baker was putting in their tea. Taylor’s I’m In Love With My Car took his obsession with fifties paraphernalia to a whole new level as he hollered his hymn to hubcaps and carburettors which became his live anthem and best known song for some years (the first Taylor track to make a Queen A-side was Radio Ga-Ga in 1984).

But it was bassist John Deacon who came up with the biggest surprise. You’re My Best Friend was only the second song he had contributed to a Queen album but this simple electric piano-driven tribute to his newlywed bride (forty years later they’re still together and have six children) is just that. With Deacon you often got the impression he’d really rather be off watching his kids compete in the sack race but his writing here is so unpretentious that it provides the perfect contrast to Mercury’s vocal. The fact that it was chosen as the follow-up single to Bohemian Rhapsody and followed it into the top ten speaks volumes.

Bohemian Rhapsody itself needs no introduction. Opening with a three-part harmony by Mercury, May and Taylor it laces neatly into a  two-verse piano ballad before a frenetic guitar solo showers over the sound, giving way to disconnected but highly enjoyable bits of faux-opera (perhaps this gave the album its title) then a rock anthem with more guitar than vocal finally leading back into a reprise of the piano ballad melody and the sentiment that “Nothing really matters” before a final short piano and vocal gives way to the clash of a gong.

On the album, the perfect way to follow this was with May’s guitar arrangement of the UK national anthem which was played over the speaker systems at the end of Queen concerts and which May had the privilege of playing on the roof of Buckingham Palace in 2002 at Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee rock concert.

1975 left many fine albums that have stood the test of time:

  • The Eagles’ One of These Nights where country and rock had never been so well wed.
  • Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks where the collapse of his marriage appeared to have given his creativity a long-overdue second wind.
  • Fleetwood Mac‘s self-titled first effort with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks which brought them back to success and still sounds fresh long after you’ve played Rumours to death.
  • Little Feat’s The Last Record Album which proved that although Lowell George seemed to be losing inspiration as a writer, he could still produce a fine album that brought out the best in the eclectic six-piece.
  • Thin Lizzy’s Fighting where the twin guitar sound of Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham gelled perfectly with Phil Lynott’s folk sensibilities.

But A Night at the Opera still tops them all for sheer eclecticism and colour.

SINGLE STATS: Bohemian Rhapsody pushed Billy Connolly’s parody of Tammy Wynette’s D.I.V.O.R.C.E. off the top spot on November 29th. It remained there for nine weeks tying with Paul Anka’s Diana for the most consecutive weeks at No 1. Ultimately the song with the line “Mama Mia let me go” was toppled by ABBA’s Mamma Mia with its line “Why why did I ever let you go”. Just one of life’s little ironies.

ADDITIONAL STAT: Only two other singles tied with the nine-week record before Bryan Adams broke them all with his 16-week run in 1991. They were Wings’ Mull of Kintyre and John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John’s You’re The One That I Want.

ALBUM STATS: The album topped the UK chart for the last two weeks of 1975 supplanting Perry Como’s 40 Greatest Hits. Perry briefly got his own back the following week only for A Night at the Opera to topple him once again for another two weeks only to be supplanted for good by The Best Of Roy Orbison.

50 years on: The Beatles – Rubber Soul

On 3rd December 1965, the Beatles unleashed an album that literally changed everything.

 

Rubber_Soul.jpg

Image imported from Wikipedia based on their fair usage guidelines. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

  1. Drive My Car (McCartney/Lennon)
  2. Norwegian Wood (Lennon/McCartney)
  3. You Won’t See Me (McCartney/Lennon) ORGAN: Mal Evans
  4. Nowhere Man (Lennon/McCartney)
  5. Think For Yourself (George Harrison)
  6. The Word (Lennon/McCartney) HARMONIUM: George Martin
  7. Michelle (McCartney/Lennon)
  8. What Goes On (Lennon/McCartney/Starkey)
  9. Girl (Lennon/McCartney)
  10. I’m Looking Through You (McCartney/Lennon)
  11. In My Life (Lennon/McCartney) SPEEDED UP PIANO: George Martin
  12. Wait (McCartney/Lennon)
  13. If I Needed Someone (George Harrison)
  14. Run For Your Life (Lennon/McCartney)

JOHN LENNON: vocals, rhythm guitar, keyboard on 5
PAUL MCCARTNEY: vocals, bass, piano, additional guitars
GEORGE HARRISON: lead guitar, guitars, vocals
RINGO STARR: drums, percussion, lead vocal on 8, Hammond organ on 10

with additional musicians as detailed above

Produced by George Martin

The Beatles’ sixth album was only their second to feature no cover versions. The first to achieve this feat was A Hard Day’s Night where John Lennon had done most of the writing and pretty formulaic it sounded too in places. After that, Beatles For Sale had regressed back to the 8:6 originals to covers ratio but Help! was a massive improvement showing a jump in quality of writing and the inclusion of no more than two covers.

But Rubber Soul showed a band in full gear with all members contributing songs and a richer and more textured sound was emerging. While the full on psychedelic sounds of Revolver and Sgt Pepper were still to come, the influence of Bob Dylan and the emergent folk-rock genre was unmistakable but while Dylan was by now applying liberal sprinklings of organ and leaving out acoustic guitar almost entirely, acoustic rhythm and electric lead complement one another to perfection on Nowhere Man, Michelle, I’m Looking Through You and In My Life while George Harrison switches to sitar for Norwegian Wood.

Many of the songs are well known enough that they need little introduction, not least because no fewer than six were included on the legendary ‘Red Album’ compilation (Beatles 1962-66).

The punning humour of the title appears to apply to songs like Drive My Car and You Won’t See Me where the bass-driven rhythms owe much to the sound of the newly formed Stax label, home to the likes of Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding. The rest of the album shows more influence from Bob Dylan’s recent folk-rock crossover album Bringjng It All Back Home not only in the acoustic-electric interplay described above but also in the move away from what Lennon described as the “I love you, you love me” themes of earlier songs and towards a more narrative style. Drive My Car and Norwegian Wood are both first person narratives, the latter referencing the interior decor popular at the time while Nowhere Man sees Lennon deprecate himself in the third. Previously the only sense of geography or time generated by a Beatles song was in reference to a night out, mostly either getting stood up or betrayed by some lady or other.

The rest of the rock market had already caught up with the story song approach. The Rolling Stones, though their albums still consisted predominantly of cover versions, were coming out with songs like Play With Fire and The Under-Assistant West Coast Promotion Man and the Kinks’ A Well Respected Man pointed the way ahead more clearly than anything. The Beatles knew they had to catch up and do it magnificently here with the opener Drive My Car setting the tone straightaway.

A multi-national feeling is created by the inclusion of sitar played by George Harrison on Norwegian Wood – again the Kinks had overtaken the Fabs here with See My Friends – Parisienne cafe style plucking on Michelle, and Girl sounding highly Greek in its solos. Bob Dylan, the big influence behind much of the change on the British music scene at the time, dismissed Michelle saying that there were plenty of songs like them on Tin Pan Alley. True but the Beatles and producer George Martin were proving here that styles beyond rock n roll and from nations beyond the Anglophone countries could be fused with it to perfection. The Byrds had already proved it with American folk songs but now it was happening with other styles and nothing could ever be quite the same again.

Shades of the future appear on The Word with John getting all quasi-guru (“Say the word and be like me”) and advocating love while hinting at hinted at his lingering pain at the deaths of his mother and original Beatles bassist Stu Sutcliffe (In My Life) pre-Yoko adultery (Norwegian Wood) and deep frustration with writers block (Nowhere Man). The Lennon everyone thinks of and remembers now was beginning to emerge more fully.

Paul made it abundantly clear all wasn’t well between him and Jane Asher on You Won’t See Me and I’m Looking Through You but Wait (a leftover from the Help! sessions) is an underrated anthem just as much about homecoming as All My Loving was about departure and sounds for all the world like a sequel to the latter.

George Harrison contributed a song on each side here just as he did on Help! Think For Yourself was as dour and even more scathing than Don’t Bother Me and McCartney’s fuzz bass is to die for while If I Needed Someone, though it confined its lyrical flair to one line (“Carve your number on my wall”), earned the accolade of being the first Harrison number to be released as a single albeit by Mancunian beat group the Hollies on the same day as Rubber Soul’s release, peaking at No 20. It also had the distinction of being the only Harrison number that the Beatles ever played live. Harrison revived it on his 1991 tour of Japan with Eric Clapton while Clapton himself took the lead vocal on it at the posthumous Concert for George.

The only inadvisable inclusions here were the Ringo-led What Goes On (where he actually got a credit for writing “about eight words” as he put it) which sounds like a leftover from Beatles For Sale with its Carl Perkins-style jangle, and closing track Run For Your Life which relies on an opening line nicked from Elvis and a misogynistic lyric – John later said he always hated it and it’s not hard to see why.

But neither song merits hitting the track skip button or detracts from a fine album which showed a group hitting a high, not only catching up with but improving on the work of their contemporaries and saw Lennon, McCartney and Harrison harmonising more and better than ever before or since. The Stones may have had the edge on scathing and the Kinks may have held the lead on social satire but the Beatles had mastered the art of the classic album, self-composed, hanging together and undimmed with the passage of time.

ACCOMPANYING SINGLE: On the same day two tracks from the same sessions were released as a single: John’s Day Tripper and Paul’s We Can Work It Out. This was marketed as “the first ever double A-side” although similar double billings appear on earlier releases by the likes of Elvis Presley. This topped the UK chart for five weeks between The Seekers’ The Carnival Is Over and the Spencer Davis Group’s Keep On Running. It was the band’s third UK Christmas No 1 in a row and marked their sixth consecutive US No 1 – a record not tied with until the Bee Gees’ Love You Inside Out in 1979.

US VERSION: The American edition of the album omitted four tracks – effectively one from each member in Drive My Car, Nowhere Man, What Goes On and If I Needed Someone, all of which were held over for the following US LP Yesterday and Today. Two songs from the UK Help! album appeared in their place in John’s It’s Only Love and Paul’s I’ve Just Seen A Face, the former fitting the set particularly well with acoustic-electric interplay.

CHART STATS: In the UK, Rubber Soul peaked at #1 on Christmas Day 1965 remaining for an eight week period between two ten-week holds by the seemingly unstoppable soundtrack from The Sound of Music.

 

Thin Lizzy – Fighting

In the three years between Whiskey in the Jar and The Boys Are Back in Town, Thin Lizzy seemed in danger of becoming one-hit wonders. There was a chart album in between though…

220px-ThinLizzyFighting

Original cover, still used for reissues. The band hated the photograph though personally I think this has the more suitable colour scheme.

Thin_Lizzy_-_Fighting

DISCLAIMER: Images imported from Wikipedia based on their fair usage guidelines. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

  1. Rosalie (Bob Seger)
  2. For Those Who Love to Live (Lynott/Downey)
  3. Suicide (Lynott)
  4. Wild One (Lynott)
  5. Fighting My Way Back (Lynott)
  6. King’s Vengeance (Lynott/Gorham)
  7. Spirit Slips Away (Lynott)
  8. Silver Dollar (Robertson)
  9. Freedom Song (Lynott/Gorham)
  10. Ballad of a Hard Man (Gorham)

PHILIP LYNOTT: lead vocals, bass, acoustic guitar on Wild One
SCOTT GORHAM: lead guitar
BRIAN ROBERTSON: lead guitar, background vocals
BRIAN DOWNEY: drums, percussion
also featuring
IAN MACLAGAN: piano on Silver Dollar

Produced by Philip Lynott

When Thin Lizzy expanded to a four-piece in 1974 with the addition of guitarists Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson they were a band still trying to live down the stigma of one-hit wonders following the runaway success of their reworking of the traditional Irish ballad Whiskey in the Jar. To make matters worse, the four-piece lineup’s maiden voyage Nightlife suffered from poor production and, like their previous three efforts, was a commercial failure. Bassist/frontman Phil Lynott decided to take matters into his own hands and produce the next album himself.

Fighting turned out to be the perfect balance between driving twin guitars and folk rock. Engineer Keith Harwood, who had cut his teeth working with Bowie and the Stones, really did the production work here according to Brian Robertson with little bits of input from Lynott but either way the effect is undeniable for the twin guitars are given so much more to do than clash like two swords, Gorham in particular turning in some folky rhythm work that surpasses any Byrdsian jangle I’ve heard on For Those Who Love to Live, sounding almost speeded up on King’s Vengeance and salty and chunky on Silver Dollar. Lynott’s lyrics had regained some focus and Celtic spirit that they had lacked on Nightlife where Lizzy sounded more like a cocktail band, his newer numbers including tales of the downtrodden making their stand in the streets (Fighting My Way Back, King’s Vengeance), martyrs making their final declarations (Freedom Song) and even begging clemency for his drinking buddy George Best (For Those Who Love to Live) while Spirit Slips Away bids adieu to the dying with a sombre bass intro and Wild One is folk-metal if ever I heard it, an out-of-time call for the return of the legendary Wild Geese who left the Emerald Isle to join European armies in centuries past.

One number slipped in from past times however. Suicide had been performed by the original three-piece line-up with Eric Bell as far back as 1972 and while a little lyrical depth has been lost (“Don’t that make you wanna boogie” taking the sting from the tail just to lead into a guitar break) somehow it works better without Bell’s high-pitched sliding.

The album also features three non-Lynott compositions. Gorham’s Ballad of a Hard Man is best forgotten but Silver Dollar, Brian Robertson’s first composition credit, benefits from an infectious rhythm guitar track and refrain and a sprinkling of piano by Ian MacLagan from the not long disbanded Faces. But as sometimes befalls albums, the track that became the best known was a cover version. Rosalie would later become a hit for the band when released in a live version but at the time, its composer Bob Seger was, like Thin Lizzy trying desperately hard to live down a one-hit wonder reputation – success had largely eluded him even in his native US . Like Lizzy, he finally broke big in 76 but would leave most of his earlier work in mothballs, little of it even coming out on CD (unlike Lizzy all of whose albums have been digitalised) and his only commercially available recording of Rosalie now being a retrospective release of a radio broadcast. But the song remained a staple of Lizzy’s repertoire for years to come.

Fighting offered a ray of hope for Thin Lizzy when it pranged the UK album chart at #60. It was only on the chart for a week but at least it got them there unlike the first four. Musically it was a far more natural progression than its predecessor was from the folk-tinged heavy rock of Vagabonds of the Western World (1973) and set the stage for greater things to come with Jailbreak the following year.

FOOTNOTE: Keith Harwood would never sit in the producer’s chair again. He died when his car went off the road in 1977, ironically at the same spot where Marc Bolan would suffer the same fate a fortnight later.