A Christine McVie playlist
A haphazardly sequenced collection of favorites among the late Fleetwood Mac pianist's songs
You can sort of imagine a world where Christine McVie might have been bitter or resentful when, in 1975, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined Fleetwood Mac. McVie had been in the band since 1969; by the time of Heroes Are Hard to Find, the last album before Buckingham/Nicks, she had emerged as the group’s clear best songwriter. The addition of two good-looking California hippie freaks, charismatic and talented but clear interpersonal liabilities, is the kind of thing less secure and confident rock stars and songwriters throw fits and quit bands over.
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Not McVie. She and Nicks got along immediately, despite their different personalities; Nicks still talks fondly in interviews about a “pact” they made when they met:
“We will never be treated like second-class citizens. We will never be not allowed to hang out in a room full of intelligent, crazy rock and roll stars, because we’re just as crazy and just as intelligent as they are.” We just made that promise to each other that we would do everything we could do for women, that we would fight for everything that we wanted and get it. That our songs and our music would be equally as good as all the men surrounding us. And it was.
Nicks sometimes attributes McVie’s openness and confidence to her experience. By the time Nicks joined the band, McVie “been playing in bands since she was, like, thirteen and had, like, famous people carrying her books home for her,” Nicks told The New Yorker; she’d been a member of the English blues group Chicken Shack, and released an excellent solo album, The Legendary Christine Perfect Album -- Perfect was her maiden name; she changed it to McVie when she married Fleetwood Mac’s bassist, John McVie -- which had a hit single in McVie’s cover of Etta James’s “I’d Rather Go Blind,” which showed off McVie’s lovely alto voice.
But McVie also seemed to welcome the new members because she recognized -- correctly -- that they could take her songwriting to another level. As Buckingham has said:
I remember being in rehearsals with Christine and the rest of the band before we cut that first album (in 1974)... and it was so clear right away that she and I had this thing. Probably the first thing that hit me about being in Fleetwood Mac was being extremely aware that I had something to contribute to Christine's songs. She was open to me taking liberties with her songs and has been ever since.
Buckingham, Nicks, and McVie all did their best work in the first decade they were working together, but because McVie has the largest pre-existing body of work, it’s her songs through which you can really hear what was happening. If you listen to the difference between, for example, a 1971 McVie rocker like “Dissatisfied,” off Penguin —
— and a 1975 McVie rocker you might’ve heard before —
— you can hear the inventiveness in production and songwriting taking root in a band that was earlier only dabbling. (And the way that sound makes the difference between a pretty good song and a great song.) By 1987, McVie’s songwriting is both recognizable and transformed; the product of more than a decade of close creative collaboration with a handful of genius basket-cases. And a bunch of hairspray and Fairlight synthesizers.
As with Nicks and Buckingham, McVie’s post-Mac solo albums don’t reach the heights of her Mac stuff (they don’t even reach the heights of The Legendary Christine Perfect Album), but I have a soft spot for the 2017 album she and Buckingham did together, which is filled with still-great songwriting unfortunately washed out by the too-clean, boomerish engineering and production.
I put together a playlist of some great, somewhat less-heard McVie tracks -- from early stuff with Chicken Shack all the way through the late-life solo albums, running the gamut from bluesy 1960s English rock to 2000s studio balladry. For the sake of surprise and novelty, I left off most of the best-known tracks, which is agonizing -- imagine making a Christine McVie compilation without “Songbird”! -- but it’s not like most of us couldn’t sing “Everywhere” unprompted. It’s sort of vaguely sequenced, starting in the 1980s and then moving back in time; it ends with an incredible live version of “Over & Over.” I hope you like it: