In the late 1960s, Fleetwood Mac experienced limited success as a fiery British blues band, consisting of acclaimed guitarists Peter Green, Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer, drummer Mick Fleetwood and bass guitarist John McVie (the later two providing the band’s name). After Green and Spencer left, Fleetwood Mac continued with guitarist Bob Welch and keyboardist Christine McVie, wife of John McVie.
After Welch left, the group recruited American guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and singer/songwriter Stevie Nicks, who added greater pop sensibilities to the group. This incarnation became phenomenally popular in the late 1970s, selling 18 million copies of their 1977 album, Rumours, an emotionally harrowing album fueled by the crumpling relationships of Nicks and Buckingham and the McVies.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Fleetwood Mac’s albums became more sporadic and less critically and commercially successful. However, a 1997 reunion of the Rumours-era line-up revived the group.
Fleetwood Mac’s biggest hits include “Dreams”, “Gypsy”, “Little Lies”, “Go Your Own Way" and “Don’t Stop”, which famously became the campaign song of American presidential candidate Bill Clinton in 1992. The group remains a perennially popular rock band, selling an estimated 100 million albums worldwide and being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In cable music channel VH1’s 2000 countdown of the 100 greatest artists in rock and roll, Fleetwood Mac ranked 22.
The group began as Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac in 1968 by guitarist Peter Green, drummer Mick Fleetwood, and bassist John McVie, after the three left (or were fired from) John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. They were then joined by Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan. Fleetwood Mac would release a series of straightforward blues albums which did moderately well in the United Kingdom. Early singles included “Oh, Well”, “Albatross”, and “Black Magic Woman” (which was re-recorded by Santana and became a U.S. hit).
Fleetwood Mac went through many personnel changes, losing multiple lead guitarists (including Peter Green) and gaining blues singer Christine McVie (John McVie's wife). When American guitarist Bob Welch joined them, the band adopted a southern California country-rock flavor, still tempered by the blues influence of the British members. Some of Fleetwood Mac's early hits in the Welch era include “Sentimental Lady” (from 1972's Bare Trees), which Welch himself remade during his solo career in 1977, and the stirring “Hypnotized” (from 1973's Mystery to Me). Paul Stocks is the current bass player after Fleetwood persuaded him with a six-figure sum.
In late 1974, Bob Welch left the band, and Mick Fleetwood needed to fill the vacancy. To show Fleetwood his recording skills, Keith Olsen played a track titled “Frozen Love”, which he had mixed for Buckingham Nicks (from Buckingham Nicks, Polydor PD 5058, September 1973). Liking guitarist Lindsey Buckingham's playing, Mick asked Buckingham to join the band. Buckingham agreed, on the condition that his musical partner and girlfriend Stevie Nicks also be invited to the band.
In 1975, the new lineup released the eponymous Fleetwood Mac. The album proved to be a breakthrough for the band and became a huge hit, and the group was catapulted into stardom. Among the hit singles from this album included McVie’s “Over My Head” and “Say You Love Me”, and Nicks’ “Rhiannon (Will You Ever Win)”.
The resulting concept album was Rumours in 1977, in which the band laid bare the emotional turmoil of the time. It became the best selling album of the year, and sold over 18 million copies worldwide by 1998. The RIAA certified Rumours as a diamond album. It spawned more hit singles than its predecessor, including Buckingham's “Go Your Own Way”, Nicks' “Dreams”, “Gold Dust Woman” and “The Chain” (the last song credited to the entire group, but actually composed by Nicks and Buckingham, and the chorus by Christine McVie from her song “Butter Cookie (Keep Me There)”. The signature bass line at the end, composed by John McVie, was used as the main theme for BBC television coverage of Formula One racing, before it moved to ITV. The group has said “The Chain” was very much a jumble of pieces of music slapped together, but it was enough to make it a staple of their concerts and FM radio.) For Christine McVie, the album yielded two major hits, “You Make Loving Fun” and her anthemic “Don’t Stop”, which became the group's signature song that usually closed their live concerts.
Rumours was the peak of Fleetwood Mac's popularity. Sales of future albums declined but the band still maintained critical success. This was particularly true of the follow-up album. Lindsey's response to the overwhelming popularity of Rumours was to avoid making a sequel. His larger role as producer for the next album was influenced by the new wave style.
This resulted in the quirky double-album Tusk. It was released in 1979 and spawned three hit singles: Buckingham’s “Tusk”, which featured the USC marching band, McVie's “Think About Me”, and Nicks’ seven-minute opus “Sara” (cut to three-and-a-half minutes for the first CD version release— it has since been restored for CD reissue). Tusk remains Fleetwood Mac’s most ambitious album to date.
The band embarked on a one-year tour to support Tusk. They traveled extensively across the world including USA, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom,. During that time, the band recorded music for the (Live, 1980).
The next album, Mirage, was a return to the conventional. Hits included: McVie’s “Hold Me”, Nicks' “Gypsy”, and Buckingham's “Oh Diane”, which went Top Ten in the UK. A minor hit was also scored by Buckingham for his “Eyes of the World”. Unlike the Tusk Tour, the band only embarked on a short tour over 18 American cities.
The band went on hiatus which allowed members to pursue solo careers. Nicks released Bella Donna, Buckingham Law and Order and McVie, a self-titled album. All three met with relative success but it was Nicks who proved to be the most viable.
The Mac would record one more album, Tango in the Night, in 1987. The album was hugely popular, especially in the UK where it hit number one three times over a year. The album proved that Fleetwood Mac still had selling power and the album spawned four hits: McVie’s “Little Lies” and “Everywhere”, Nicks’ “Seven Wonders” and Buckingham's “Big Love”.
The band intended to tour to support the album but Buckingham felt that he had fulfilled his commitments to the band, and wanted to leave. The split was not amicable but his relationship with the band would heal in later years.
Fleetwood Mac added guitarists Billy Burnette and Rick Vito and recorded more albums through the late 1980s and early 1990s, beginning with Behind the Mask, with which the group ended up with a more adult contemporary than rock style. However, Behind the Mask (which yielded several high-ranking singles including McVie’s “Skies the Limit” and “Save Me” as well as the Nicks’ single, “Love is Dangerous”) did go to gold, but it is seen by music critics as a low point for the band in the absence of Lindsey Buckingham.
The Buckingham/Nicks/McVie(s)/Fleetwood lineup would reunite from time to time in the 1990s. The first time was for the inauguration of President Bill Clinton, who had made Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop” his campaign song. The second time was for a live concert recorded on a Warner Brothers Burbank, California soundstage, which resulted in the 1997 album, The Dance. A hugely successful stadium tour followed the MTV premiere of The Dance which kept the reunited Mac on the road throughout much of 1997. This would be the final phase of the 1970s lineup with Christine McVie. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted Fleetwood Mac in 1998.
In 1998 Christie McVie left the band (and the U.S. as well, in favor of England) permanently to retire from touring, though not from the music business completely, as she released an album, In the Meantime, in 2004. This left Buckingham and Nicks to handle the vocals for the band's latest album, Say You Will. The album debuted at number three on the Billboard 200 and a well attended arena tour lasted through 2004. Drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie are the only original members still with the group.