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Yuppie Music II:
Fleetwood Mac


Ross M. Miller
Miller Risk Advisors
August 10, 2009

Fleetwood Mac finally hit the big time in 1975, but the "cool kids" that I hung out with were playing Mac LPs back in the late 1960s. The group started as an all-Brit blues group that spun off from John Mayall's blues band. Its early superstar was the doomed and prematurely deceased Peter Green, a guitarist of truly Claptonian proportions. Legend (and Wikipedia) has it that Green named the new group Fleetwood Mac to get Mick Fleetwood and John McVie to come with him. Mac would morph several more times, loosing Green and several others along the way, before Silicon Valley kids Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks gave the group a new start with its second eponymous album in the summer of 1975. Buckingham and Nicks, who recorded a highly-collectable LP on their own before joining Mac, were not the first to give the group a decidedly pop rather than blues sound. Bob Welch, who Buckingham replaced (on the condition that Nicks come along with him), was even poppier. Welch big pop songs with the group, "Sentimental Lady" and "Emerald Eyes," are undoubtedly in heavy rotation throughout the dentists' chair circle of hell.

As fellow mellow musician Billy Joel later sang, Fleetwood Mac didn't start the fire. They were, however, the group that gave soft rock the critical mass that would soon launch hundreds of FM (frequency modulation, not Fleetwood Mac) radio stations that played only "soft rock." I can remember almost vomiting the first time I saw the billboard in Porter Square that said "Billy Joel … without losing control." The soft-rock format Boston's WEEI-FM started in the late 1970s would spread throughout the country and then mutated into the dreaded adult contemporary format, which is yuppie music became.

The target of my previous commentary, Jackson Browne, must be considered the dean of self-involved rock. But, like his vastly more successful compadres, The Eagles, he did not look favorably upon the self-involved, despite being one of them. Fleetwood Mac were different; they made self-involvement fun and gleefully sang of their own self-involvement. This introspection reached its peak with the 1977 album, Rumours, the second Mac album lead by Buckingham, Nicks, and John McVie's wife, Christine. Many of this album's tracks had their roots in the disintegration of the relationship between Buckingham and Nicks and the marriage of John and Chrisine McVie. Rumuors was not only a massive critical success, even the crusty Robert Christgau at the Village Voice gave the album a straight-A rating, it topped the Billboard album charts for an astounding 31 weeks, tying it at third for the most weeks at number one after the West Side Story soundtrack and Michael Jackson's Thriller. Compilations of the best rock albums of all times consistently place Rumours high on their lists, up there with the likes of The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd.

The new, improved Fleetwood Mac hit Boston about the same time that I did back in the summer of '75. I was sleeping in Howard Stern's Brookline bed (he was gone at the time) during the early August heat wave that set the all-time August high of 102 degrees on August 2nd  My Brookline buddies were anything but future yuppies, so my musical memories of the time are the blossoming of disco ("Do the Hustle") and some residual Elton John. After sweating through August in Brookline, I returned the following month to what would become a nearly ten-year stint in Cambridge (with two years off in the middle to explore the West). I lived four places during that time, all of them within a half a mile of one another that formed a perfect cross with the long side on Oxford Street and the short side on the street called Chauncy on one side of Mass Ave and Hammond on the otherside . I was not only surrounded by yuppies, it is entirely possible that I became one of them myself.

As I noted last time, Pasadena had fondue. Cambridge had frozen yogurt (Elsie's) and, just across the Somerville border, super-premium ice cream (Steve's). I could not even begin to count the hours, days, weeks, whatever, that I stood in line waiting for amazingly real hot fudge sundaes at Steve's. The line itself was la party unto itself because Steve's habitués tended to travel in similar circles.

Within months of my arrival in the city on the Charles I was introduced to Grendel's, The Blue Parrot, Casa B, Algiers, and Joyce Chen, among others. As with fondue at Pasadena's Peppermill, the XX-folk were again responsible for my journey into a new realm of being. Central to this realm was the music of Fleetwood Mac, particularly that of Stevie Nicks. It would take the mainstream media (then simply known as "the media") a good seven years to recognize yuppies as a phenomenon, but all the ingredients were in place when the new Fleetwood Mac hit the scene in 1975.

Rumours has stood the test of time. While I am in no way a Stevie Nicks fan, I must say that "Gold Dust Woman" is the best song of the album. "Never Going Back Again" would later achieve greatness when Lindsey Buckingham would play it live, but his reinterpretation of the song only shows just how much better the original album  version, good as it was, could have been.

The backlash to Fleetwood Mac was swift and persists to this day. The Mac had the misfortune to come along at the same time as punk rock, and so songs such as "Sit on My Face Stevie Nicks" by the Rotters (NSFW and not in particularly good taste either) were inevitable. I know that if I were twenty years old now I would think that Fleetwood Mac of any vintage was simply horrible, and that's even overlooking the adoption of the group by Bill and Hillary. For one thing, all of the effort that Lindsey Buckingham expended to give Rumours such great sonics are wasted on a stock iPod. Moreover, taking the album out of the context of its time pretty much misses the whole point of it. A 2009 grande skinny latte in a bright and cheery Starbucks is a far cry from a thick Turkish coffee in the dungeonesque Café Algiers circa 1975. You just had to be there.

Copyright 2009 by Miller Risk Advisors. Permission granted to forward by electronic means and to excerpt or broadcast 250 words or less provided a citation is made to