50 Years – Don’t Stop
by David Chiu
(Promo pic: Warner Bros. Records [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
Fleetwood Mac’s life and career has taken on somewhat mythic proportions for the last five decades: it’s an unlikely story how a British blues group from the late 1960s gradually transformed into a multi-platinum pop behemoth from the mid 1970s through the 1980s–and whose popularity continues to be reflected in successful record sales and arena tours. And yet through all these changes, the only constant is the founding rhythm section of drummer Mick Fleetwood and John McVie. As indicated on the title of this new 3-CD compilation, 50 Years-Don’t Stop, collects the both singles and key album tracks of the band’s entire career, from 1968’s “Shake Your Money Maker” from the group’s self-titled debut to 2013’s Sad Angel from the Extended Play release. Compared to previous Mac compilations, 50 Years (containing 50 tracks) is the most comprehensive and up to date.
Disc One is devoted to the Mac’s first incarnation as a blues outfit led by guitarist Peter Green, who stayed with the group until 1969’s Then Play On. He and Jeremy Spencer (and then later Danny Kirwan) formed a formidable guitar tandem on blues and roots-laden songs like “Black Magic Woman” (famously covered later by Santana), the ferocious “Oh Well (Part I)”, the serene instrumental “Albatross,” and “The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)”. With Green, Kirwan and Spencer’s departures, and the additions of Christine McVie and Bob Welch, Fleetwood Mac’s music shifted towards a more soulful and pop direction–as heard on tracks like “Sentimental Lady,” “Spare Me a Little of Your Love,” “Hypnotized,” and “Did You Ever Love Me”–though that didn’t necessarily translate into chart success.
Welch’s departure following 1974’s Heroes Are Hard to Find left Fleetwood and the McVies in a transitional period where the groups’ records sold somewhat respectably. But with the arrival twp relative American unknowns named Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, Fleetwoods Mac’s fortunes forever altered, starting with the 1975’s self titled album (with the hits “Rhiannon,” “Say You Love Me” and “Over My Head”) that defined the Southern California rock sound. But it was 1977’s Rumours that elevated the group from modest-selling act to a major rock juggernaut, when that record spent 31 weeks at #1 and yielded the beloed hits “Don’t Stop,” “Dreams,” “Go Your Own Way,” and “You Make Loving Fun.” For the next 10 years through 1987’s Tango in the Night album, this classic-lineup became a reliable hit machine with charting albums, singles and sell-out tours (“Gypsy,” “Hold Me,” “Big Love,” “Little Lies,” “Everywhere”), even as the American music scene survived disco, punk, New Wave, and pop metal; the group’s profile continued to be heightened by the solo success of Buckingham, Christine McVie, and especially Nicks.
Buckingham’s departure in 1987 was a blow to the band creativity, even after the Mac continued to record and tour without him , particularly for 1990’s Behind the Mask album (whose underrated song “Save Me” is included in Don’t Stop). Without Buckingham’s vision, production and songs, and then Nicks’ exit in the mid ’90s, the group entered a considerable decline in popularity. Fortunately, the 1997 live album The Dance brought back the classic lineup and not surprisingly revived Mac’s multi-platinum touch once again with “Landslide” and “Silver Spring.” From there on, Fleetwood Mac continued to record strong material in the last 15 years (“Peacekeeper” and “Say You Will” from the group’s last studio album Say You Will). Although Buckingham again is no longer with the group after a much-publicized and controversial split earlier this year, the Mac is still going–this time with Crowded House’s Neil Finn and former Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell in the fold–for the group’s current tour.
One can’t argue with the selections on the new compilation, even going so far to include two deep tracks from the 1980 Live album, “Fireflies” and “Never Going Back Again.” Overall, 50 Years is quite a satisfying best-of package. It doesn’t not substitute of course the key Fleetwood Mac albums of the classic lineup period (who doesn’t have Rumours in their music library at this point?). But for the uninitiated who not only want the hits but also something a little more like the blues songs, 50 Years is more than satisfactory. It is remarkable to listen to this set straight through and marvel how this band’s sound evolved and changed throughout all the different lineups: a testament of perseverance, musical instinct, and good fortune.