The soft-rock giants are masters at turning relationship turmoil into radio-friendly gold. But which song did Stevie Nicks only contribute one word to, which did Christine McVie claim was about a dog, and – crucially – which is their best?
30. Keep on Going (1973)
A fantastic curio from the Mystery to Me album. Written by Bob Welch, Keep on Going sets Christine McVie’s voice against an arrangement audibly influenced by the soul music coming out of Philadelphia International Records at the time: high-drama strings, dancefloor drums. It’s like nothing else Fleetwood Mac recorded.
29. Spare Me a Little of Your Love (1972)
If you want to trace the roots of Fleetwood Mac the multimillion-selling pop-rock phenomenon, start with the LP Bare Trees. Tellingly still in their live set long after Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined, McVie’s beautiful Spare Me a Little of Your Love has a relaxed mood at odds with that album’s rockier inclinations.
28. Sad Angel (2013)
Fleetwood Mac remain a stadium-packing live act despite lineup changes, intra-band strife and not having released a great album since 1987. But if you want evidence that the contemporary Mac aren’t a spent creative force, try Sad Angel – from 2013’s overlooked four-track Extended Play – a taut, catchy Buckingham rock song about his perennial subject: Nicks.
27. Black Magic Woman (1968)
Santana’s slinky, conga-heavy cover version is more famous, but Fleetwood Mac’s first Top 40 hit is darker, more raw and exciting. It feels live, as if someone pressed record during a rehearsal; the mood is ominous, and it’s punctuated with frequent pregnant pauses. Nevertheless, it’s commercial.
26. Only Over You (1982)
By far the least revered album of the classic Buckingham/Nicks-era Mac, Mirage has something of the holding pattern about it – Tusk’s experimentation is gone, expensive-sounding soft-rock abounds – but it contains some real hidden gems, including McVie’s luscious, lovestruck, small-hours paean to her soon-to-be-ex, soon-to-be-late fiance Dennis Wilson.
25. Man of the World (1969)
Mac’s original, increasingly troubled frontman Peter Green treats the listening public as a shoulder to cry on. Perhaps a more unsettling song in hindsight than it seemed at the time, the tune is beautiful, the arrangement almost ascetically stark and the lyrics full of dread: “I just wish I’d never been born.”
24. Future Games (1971)
Rescued from obscurity by the soundtrack of Almost Famous, the title track of 1971’s Future Games demonstrates how Welch’s arrival shook Fleetwood Mac up. Subsequently covered by MGMT, it’s a charming, sprawling, stoned summer’s afternoon of a song, thick with harmonies and lyrics of a laid-back hippy-mystic bent.
23. Come a Little Bit Closer (1974)
The standard line is that Nicks and Buckingham’s arrival transformed Fleetwood Mac, but on McVie’s majestic Come a Little Bit Closer – a hidden gem from 1974’s Heroes Are Hard to Find – the band sounded as if they were already preparing for a musical shift: it could have slotted on to Rumours with ease.
22. The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown) (1970)
Thunderous and eerie – Green sings in a chilling falsetto that he’s beset by forces “creeping around, making me do things I don’t wanna do” – The Green Manalishi is both a signpost on the route to heavy metal and, like Pink Floyd’s long-suppressed Vegetable Man, the sound of the psychological wreckage wrought by LSD washing up in rock music.
21. Little Lies (1987)
Many 70s superstars struggled in the 80s pop landscape. If Fleetwood Mac wobbled at the decade’s start, by 1987 they seemed almost as imperious as they had been circa Rumours thanks to songs such as Little Lies, co-written by McVie and her then-husband, Eddy Quintela. While the keyboardist-singer was keen to emphasise its blues roots, to everyone else it just sounded like impeccable pop music.
20. Seven Wonders (1987)
Bombed on prescription tranquillisers, Nicks was barely there during the Tango in the Night era: her credit on Seven Wonders was down to substituting one word on writer Sandy Stevens’s demo. But her vocal performance on the song, an 80s AOR masterpiece, is amazing, as if she’s fully identifying with the chorus’s intimations of mortality.
19. Hypnotised (1973)
The highpoint of the post-Green, pre-Buckingham/Nicks era, Hypnotised captures Fleetwood Mac in transition. A distinct blues undertow remains in the guitars and vocal, but the overall sound is smooth, cosseting and sunlit, at odds with the paranormally obsessed lyrics. Though still based in England, here they sounded as though they were already in LA.
18. Big Love (1987)
A vastly successful single, there’s a twinge of darkness and unease about Big Love that undercuts its breathy sampled voices and ostensibly lubricious nocturnal mood. For a swinging single on the prowl, Buckingham’s vocal sounds weirdly distressed; the acoustic guitar interjections and pattering electronics are fidgety; the guitar solo broiling.
17. Over My Head (1975)
The first single from 1975’s eponymous Fleetwood Mac was a refinement of the kind of luscious, mid-tempo song McVie had been quietly contributing to their albums for years. Her powers of prescience were still intact: she wrote it about Buckingham, far from the last time another band member would provide a songwriter’s subject matter.
16. Gold Dust Woman (1977)
As if the romantic entanglements depicted elsewhere aren’t emotionally wrenching enough, Rumours ends with a description of a cocaine overdose. Gold Dust Woman offers yet more evidence of the album’s ability to set bleak subject matter in a quite preposterously charming way; that said, the instrumental finale is powerfully dark.
15. Tusk (1979)
Hypnotised by new wave, particularly Talking Heads, Buckingham steered Rumours’ follow-up down some unexpected paths, not least on its title track, a chaotic, paranoid melange involving a marching band, voices that whisper and shriek, and a leg of lamb being hit with a spatula. Both weird and weirdly compelling.
14. Landslide (1975)
One reason Fleetwood Mac exploded in the mid-70s was that their new songs chimed with fellow boomers, whose hippy optimism and youthful zeal had been eroded by other concerns: marriage, divorce, parenthood. “Can I handle the seasons of my life?” ponders Nicks’ stunning ballad Landslide. “Even children get older, and I’m getting older, too.”
13. You Make Loving Fun (1977)
To add to Rumours’ interpersonal chaos, You Make Loving Fun features McVie’s husband, John, playing bass on a song hymning her affair with the band’s lighting director. Her claim it was actually about her dog is among rock’s feeblest lies; it really doesn’t account for the chorus’s sighing, post-coital glow.
12. Albatross (1968)
Fleetwood Mac’s solitary UK No 1, Albatross has its roots in dreamy 1950s instrumentals – particularly Chuck Berry’s Deep Feeling – but its flawlessly becalmed atmosphere seems very 1969, fitting a post-psychedelic, 60s comedown mood. Moreover, it transcended its era, becoming a hit again in 1973, then a chill-out collection and ad-soundtrack perennial.
11. The Ledge (1979)
After McVie’s lovely opener Over & Over, Tusk’s second track plunges the listener into the album’s strangeness. Arranged differently, it might have sounded like Rumours’ acoustic Never Going Back Again; here, Buckingham’s fantastic melody proceeds at breakneck speed, accompanied by a downtuned, off-key electric guitar, the harmonies so drowned in echo they’re barely there.
10. The Chain (1977)
The Chain was famously spliced together from parts of old songs, including a track that had already appeared on Buckingham Nicks’ eponymous 1973 album. And yet its episodic structure works: the moment that celebrated bass riff appears never fails to feel exciting, no matter how many times you’ve heard it.
9. Gypsy (1982)
Begun in 1978, at the hedonistic height of Fleetwood Mac’s celebrity, Gypsy finds Nicks looking longingly back at her pre-fame life. By the time they recorded it on Mirage, her memories had been sharpened by the death of her high-school friend Robyn Snyder Anderson. The result is wistful, warm and affectingly heartbroken.
8. Oh Well Part 1 (1969)
In an imaginary alternative history of Fleetwood Mac, Green and guitarist Danny Kirwan keep their mental equilibrium, they refine the tough sound of 1969’s superb Then Play On, and ride a Zeppelin-esque wave of hard rock success in the US. The tumultuous, ultra-powerful riffing of Oh Well Part 1 suggests it could have happened.
7. Rhiannon (1975)
Rhiannon introduced one of Nicks’ characteristic songwriting tropes: the depiction of a mysterious but desirable woman for whom the adjective “witchy” might have been invented (also songs via which Nicks’ own shawl-twirling stage persona might be projected). The music is coolly understated and atmospheric, Buckingham’s guitar riff perfect.
6. Silver Springs (1977)
Dropped from Rumours due to time constraints, Silver Springs is nevertheless one of Nicks’ greatest songs, on which the mask of diffidence she affects on Dreams cracks, and jealousy, misery and dire imprecations gush forth, alongside a prescient warning to Buckingham: “The sound of my voice will haunt you.”
5. Sara (1979)
Sometimes Tusk’s experimentation involved weird sounds and marching bands; sometimes it was more subtle. Six-and-a-half minutes long, Sara is a Nicks ballad turned dreamily expansive. Entrancing, sensual and opaque, it’s apparently about Nicks’ friend marrying Mick Fleetwood, but could just as easily be about a passionate affair ending.
4. Don’t Stop (1977)
A glimmer of optimism amid Rumours’ romantic angst? Maybe. McVie’s Don’t Stop is actually the sound of a departing wife blithely telling her ex-husband to buck up, but its cantering rhythm and chorus are so impossibly, infectiously buoyant, the song so flawless, that it cancels out the unhappiness that provoked it.
3. Everywhere (1987)
With Nicks largely out of action, McVie’s songwriting went into overdrive on Tango in the Night. Everywhere is just an incredible song, its enduring power bolstered by the fact that, on an album with a very late-80s production, its sound still cleaved close to that of Rumours.
2. Go Your Own Way (1976)
Perfect pop distilled from passive aggression and, according to Buckingham, the Rolling Stones’ Street Fighting Man. The verses build tension, the choruses and the fantastic guitar solo are an angry, cathartic release. Nicks, however, was not pleased by her ex’s depiction of her: “I wanted to go over and kill him.”
1. Dreams (1977)
The crowning glory of Fleetwood Mac’s oeuvre and the apotheosis of a certain super-smooth 70s LA studio sound; supposedly rendered terminally unhip by punk, it has been endlessly imitated over the past 20 years. Of course, the melody is irresistible, but a chunk of Dreams’ lasting power comes from the way the lyrics, essentially Go Your Own Way told from a different angle, are at odds with everything else in the track – Nicks’ drowsy delivery, the laid-back rhythm, the hazy combination of acoustic strumming, spare lead guitar and electric piano – transforming their anger into a dismissive screw-you shrug, turning rancour and bitterness into something exquisite.