Well, I think throwing Fleetwood Mac on the same garbage pile as James Taylor and Carly Simon is ludicrous.
Fleetwood Mac began as a blues band; they never lost their edge, even during their sort of California period with Bob Welch, when he was singing all these songs about the Bermuda Triangle and stuff like that.
But in 1977, that’s the year that the Sex Pistols really break as an international act of terrorism. That’s the Sex Pistols’ year. And in some ways the toughest record of that year is “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac. And it was a flop; the single did not make it. It followed up the album Fleetwood Mac, which was a big hit; it was the first single off the album Rumours and it stiffed. It was as harsh and explosive and confusing a piece of hard rock as anyone had heard since the Who. After that, after Rumors then becomes a huge album, sells twenty million copies or whatever it sold, Fleetwood Mac comes along with Tusk. A two record set, the typical thing a big, mainstream rock band does after they’ve had a big hit; they get self-indulgent and sloppy. Tusk‘s first single is the title song “Tusk.” It was recorded with the UCLA marching band, sounds like they recorded backwards underwater. There’s just bits and pieces of tape loops flying around, and it sounds like this group of amateur musicians lurching toward a song that stays out of reach laughing at them, saying Can’t catch me, can’t catch me! This is what they released as a single? And they did what Nirvana is now trying to do; they said, “Can you keep up with us? Can we keep up with you? We’re gonna try something radical and different.” Lindsay Buckingham, who by that time was the real leader of Fleetwood Mac, had decided that what he was hearing in punk was what drew him to rock and roll in the first place, and here he was now a multimillionaire, a mainstream musician, who’s expected to do exactly what he did the time before, and he did his best to confound those expectations.
I find this particularly interesting because I know something about the world Lindsay Buckingham came out of. We went to the same high school. I went a number of years earlier; I went to school with his brothers. His brothers were swimming stars and class presidents; they were golden boys, and Lindsay Buckingham, though you may say he’s a golden boy, too—he’s made all this money, he’s rich and famous—he was not a golden boy in that family. He’s the one who stepped outside of the future that was prepared for him in that high school, as a class president which he didn’t become—this was a family dynasty, you have to understand—of the future in business, which he turned his back on and he became, for a number of years anyway, a failed, starving musician. That’s not what he was raised to be. So that same spirit, coming out of this very comfortable, very appealing, really good place to go to school and to grow up—Menlo Park, California; Atherton, California—this guy had a “no” in his soul already, and in a way what Tusk was about was his attempt to discover that “no:’ Whether or not he found it, I’m not sure. But it was a poke in the eye with a sharp stick to anybody who thought that they had this band pinned down. And I think that “we really don’t care” attitude was always there in the band.
Interview with Geoff Pevere included in Joe Bonomo’s Conversations With Greil Marcus
I suppose I’m splitting hairs here, but I’m not sure why Greil calls “Go Your Own Way” a commercial flop. If you follow their American chart placings, the singles from Fleetwood Mac went “Over My Head” (#20), “Rhiannon” (#11), and “Say You Love Me” (#11); “Go Your Own Way,” the first one from Rumours, made it to #10. So there’s improvement every time there. It wasn’t until the next one, “Dreams” (#1), that they really took off.