Every Wednesday, Douglas Wolk explores the people, places and coincidences that tie disparate musicians together.
This week’s big news in the intersection of new-breed pop musicians and old-school pop musicians is Just Tell Me That You Love Me: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac, a tribute album that finds the transcontinental classic-rock band’s songs covered by the likes of Best Coast, the New Pornographers, MGMT and the Kills. Fleetwood Mac songs have actually been in the repertoire of some of those bands for a good long while – here’s a live performance of “Silver Springs” that Lykke Li recorded earlier this year.
Fleetwood Mac has always been pretty deeply involved in cover versions, from both directions. The better part of Just Tell Me That You Love Me draws on the records they made between 1975 and 1987 with their best-known lineup — Lindsey Buckingham, Christine McVie, Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie. But their commercial breakthrough, the self-titled 1975 record that debuted that lineup, was actually something like Fleetwood Mac’s twelfth album; they’d been in a state of near-constant flux since they’d formed eight years earlier. Even their first single, 1967’s “I Believe My Time Ain’t Long,” was for all practical purposes a cover.
It had a slightly altered title, but it was basically just Elmore James’ immortal, endlessly recycled blues standard “Dust My Broom,” heard here in its 1951 incarnation.
Their second single was another Elmore James cover, “Shake Your Moneymaker.” Singer/guitarist Green started writing his own songs pretty soon, though, and their third single, in 1968, was his original blues composition “Black Magic Woman.”
Fleetwood Mac’s “Black Magic Woman” barely scraped the U.K. Top 40, and didn’t chart at all in the U.S.; it took Santana’s cover of it, two years later, for the song to become a gigantic hit.
Another singer/guitarist, Danny Kirwan, joined Fleetwood Mac in 1968; his song “When You Say” turned up on their 1969 album Then Play On.
It was promptly covered as the debut solo single by Christine Perfect, a singer and piano player who’d fronted the very popular British band Chicken Shack. (Kirwan and John McVie backed her up on her version.) Perfect also married McVie in 1969; as Christine McVie, she joined Fleetwood Mac as their new keyboardist in 1970.
The third singer/guitarist in the early years of Fleetwood Mac was Jeremy Spencer, who was apparently their resident Elmore James fanatic. His other specialty was parodies of ’50s rock ’n’ roll, although his best-known original song extended its tendrils in the other direction. He wrote and sang a 1969 Fleetwood Mac b-side, “Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonite,” for which the band was listed as “Earl Vince and the Valiants.”
It’s basically an Elvis parody, but it sounded better as a punk song nine years later, when the Rezillos recorded their cover of it (which later appeared in the Jackass movie).
Peter Green was getting into darker and darker psychological states by the end of the ’60s. His last single with Fleetwood Mac was 1970’s “The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown),” a terrifying vision of loss of control with a king hell of a riff.
Judas Priest heard it as a metal song, and introduced it to their repertoire in the late ’70s–they even played it as part of their three-song set at 1985’s Live Aid festival.
For most of the early ’70s, Fleetwood Mac’s lineup was seriously unstable. Jeremy Spencer disappeared one day on tour, and was later discovered to have joined the Children of God; Peter Green replaced him briefly, then quit again; Danny Kirwan left under unpleasant circumstances in 1972. (The band kept recording covers, too, though not so much in the blues vein: the Yardbirds’ “For Your Love,” Jr. Walker’s “(I’m a) Road Runner,” Fats Waller’s “Hi Ho Silver.”) They also picked up a few other members for relatively short stints, notably singer/guitarist Bob Welch. He wrote the first single from Fleetwood Mac’s 1972 album Bare Trees, “Sentimental Lady,” which went nowhere on the charts, like all the other singles they released between 1971 and 1974.
Bob Welch left the group in late 1974 (and was replaced by a duo who’d made an album under the name Buckingham Nicks). When he made his first solo album in 1977, he cut “Sentimental Lady” down to three minutes and re-recorded it, backed up by Mick Fleetwood, Christine McVie and Lindsey Buckingham. This time, it was a Top Ten hit in the U.S. Does it count as a cover if it’s played by current and former members of the original band?