Sure, thunder only happens when it’s raining, but what happened before the storm?
Nights are getting cooler. Bats are taking flight. Rosé is going on sale to make room for the cab. Jim Morrison’s crooning it: “summer’s almost gone.” With autumn and all its “fall vibes” playlists rolling in, we are about to be inundated with witchy queen Stevie Nicks and her Fleetwood Mac on all fronts! But much as I adore Stevie, I am a blues girl at heart. My heart belongs to the pre-1975 iterations of this band.
Fleetwood Mac has one of the richest and most fascinating histories of any band to ever do it. Here are 5 pre-Buckingham-Nicks tunes I feel just aren’t shown enough love. Take a tour of these picks for a brief history!
Pictured (above): The Fleetwood Mac lineup, circa 1969. Below, the band in 1971.
Fleetwood Mac’s First Words
Before there was Stevie, Lindsey, and Christine, there was founding member Peter Green and his right-hand man Jeremy Spencer. On Fleetwood Mac’s debut self-titled record – now known as Peter Green’s Fleetwood Macto avoid confusion with the white album – band leader and guitarist Green tag-teams lead vocal duties with slide guitarist Spencer. They were backed by John McVie on bass and Mick Fleetwood on drums. (Fun fact: the band was named after McVie in hopes that he would join!) Believe it or not, this early iteration of Fleetwood Mac was a blues rock group. It’s hard to believe considering the direction they’d take just a short decade later. But all the proof you need is in the opening track of Green’s Fleetwood. “My Heart Beat Like a Hammer” begins unassumingly enough. Some studio banter, noodling around, tuning up. "Take 2!"
Above: "My Heart Beat Like a Hammer," from Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac (1968.)
If that knocking noise in the booth is young, scrappy Fleetwood Mac knocking on your door, then the opening riff is your door being kicked in.
It seems like that slide guitar comes tearing in out of nowhere! Completely the opposite, dear reader, it very much came from somewhere. From the “king of the slide guitar,” no less. As the British blues men so often did, Fleetwood Mac interpolated an American blues standard as a show of respect to the greats. The slide part of “My Heart Beat Like a Hammer” comes from Elmore James’s “Dust My Broom.” It was clearly Spencer’s comfort riff – every guitarist has one! It crops up more than once in the early Fleetwood canon; my personal favorite being “Coming Home” off Mr. Wonderful. “Dust My Broom”’s appearance on “Heart Beat” is very much deliberate.
They say your first words as a writer are always someone else’s. Fleetwood Mac’s first words were the blues. And their first voice is such a far cry from those that would follow! If you’re anything like me, Jeremy Spencer’s vocals on “Heart Beat” will make your heart flutter. (Yes, you can absolutely crush on a voice.) And you could totally mistake him for an American if you’ve never heard him speak! Fleetwood Mac was a rare case amongst British groups of their time. They were relatively unaffected by the psych rock wave that had all the other British groups in a chokehold in the late ’60s. As you’ll hear in “My Heart Beat Like a Hammer,” American music has always had a vice grip on Fleetwood Mac’s sound.
A Crystal Ball
Above: Fleetwood Mac's recording of "Black Magic Woman," off The Pious Bird of Good Omen compilation.
This one is definitely the most well-known early Fleetwood tune on this list. It’s become a standard in and of itself, being covered by Eric Clapton and even Dennis Brown. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was a Santana original! Their take, a medley with Gabor Szabo’s “Gypsy Queen,” caught on like wildfire here in the States.
“Black Magic Woman” is a slinky groove; of which Green contributed many to Fleetwood Mac. But this one is the standout. For one, it’s practically a rewrite of another Fleetwood Mac song. “I Loved Another Woman” off Green’s Fleetwood bears the same chord progression and is set in the same key. Like the “Dust My Broom” reference in “My Heart Beat Like a Hammer,” “I Loved Another Woman” in and of itself was lifted from Otis Rush’s “All Your Love”; which Green had recorded with his former group the Bluesbreakers. For those of you playing along at home, that makes “Black Magic Woman” a rewrite of a rewrite of a cover! Very much in keeping with that blues tradition.
Tracing the family tree of “Black Magic Woman” from a standard all the way down to Santana (and even that reggae cover!) is beautiful. That’s why I love the blues! It’s a rock-and-roll family tree: the branches grow in different directions, but the roots are all the same. What makes “Black Magic Woman” so special isn’t just that it’s a branch. If you believe in manifestation or fate, then this song also dropped a seed. Witchy ladies have always been at the center of the Fleetwood Mac mythology. Just ask Peter Green – it’s clear he had one on his mind when he wrote “Black Magic Woman.” His lyrics were inspired by then-girlfriend Sandra Elsdon. Her nickname? Magic Mama.
“You got your spell on me baby, You're turning my heart into stone I need you so bad, Magic woman, I can't leave you alone.”
Fleetwood Mac of the late ’70s doesn’t seem so far-removed now, does it? When you flip through their back catalog with their muses in mind, it seems the band already had spells written into their lyrics long before “Silver Springs.” Forget the myth of Rhiannon, “Black Magic Woman” might’ve prophesized Ms. Nicks.
Fleetwood Grows Up
1970 was a strange and hectic year for rock-and-roll. Psych was on its way out. The Beatles, the biggest band in the world, did the unthinkable and broke up. Hard rock acts like Zeppelin were fast ascending the ranks, but there was still a vacuum in the space the Fab Four once held. It was a strange and hectic year for Fleetwood Mac as well. Founder Peter Green was becoming increasingly unable to lead but still very much present, triggering a power struggle for the band. Fleetwood has always been a supersized band with numbers rivaled only by Jefferson Airplane. Or maybe a family bluegrass band. And the Fleetwood clan was about to get bigger: a third guitarist and vocalist is now in the mix! Danny Kirwan was plucked from the Bluesbreakers and joined Fleetwood Mac full-time at just 19 years old. With his round face and mop of blond hair, he read like a cherubic younger brother next to Spencer and Green. Not unlike the music industry’s shift from whatever-the-Beatles-are-doing to whatever-Zeppelin-is-doing, Fleetwood Mac’s musical preferences were changing too. The influences were still there, but by 1970, gone were the days of being a straight-up blues band.
Considering this great upheaval, it’s easy to see Kiln House as a weird transitional album in the Fleetwood Mac discography. The growing pains are apparent, I won’t lie. But a shining light in the chaos is “Jewel Eyed Judy.”
Above: “Jewel Eyed Judy,” from Fleetwood Mac’s Kiln House (1970.)
The strongest asset to this lineup of Fleetwood Mac was Danny Kirwan’s vocals. “Jewel Eyed Judy” is a wonderful showcase of what he had to offer! His falsetto is angelic on the verses. It lulls you into a false sense of security. Then, the chorus. The guys plug in and crank up the volume, just in time for Danny to wail:
“Jewel-eyed Judy, please come home, Jewel-eyed Judy don’t leave me alone!”
The song’s structure feels like something Lennon-McCartney would’ve dreamed up: “Martha My Dear” on the verses, uptempo “Yer Blues” for the chorus. Their blues roots are on full display, plus a hint at their future soft rock direction. Simply put, it’s catchy as hell! “Jewel Eyed Judy” is Fleetwood Mac post-Green, pre-Buckingham-Nicks at their finest.
Muse Becomes Artist
Above: Fleetwood Mac’s “Purple Dancer.” There’s a few different recordings of this one, but my personal favorite is the long version on the Preaching the Blues compilation.
The women of Fleetwood Mac have always been integral to its history: Stevie Nicks of course, Christine McVie, the Black Magic Woman herself Sandra Elsdon. Fleetwood Mac simply would not be Fleetwood Mac without them. But what if I told you there was a fourth Fleetwood lady?
“Purple Dancer” is the ultimate Fleetwood Mac oddity. It’s the only song with both Jeremy Spencer and part-time member Christine McVie on it. This would be Spencer’s last official recorded contribution (we’ll get to that later) to the group. Strangest of all, this song wasn’t even written by a member of Fleetwood Mac.
“Purple Dancer” was written by Mick Fleetwood’s then-wife, Jenny Boyd. Yes, Jennifer Juniper herself – and Layla’s sister. Oh, to be a Boyd sister in the late ’60s! “Purple Dancer” wasn’t Boyd’s first time writing for the group; she also co-wrote the lyrics of “Jewel-Eyed Judy.” She met Mick Fleetwood in her teens and married and divorced him not once, but twice. Though not quite as integrated into the group as another Fleetwood Mac wife, she certainly made her mark as a songwriter. “Purple Dancer” paints a picture of another mystical lady:
“Must I stay a minute longer? Eyes bewitching me does more. Tries to keep me from my wonder, Knowing her, now I must go”
Jenny Boyd’s lyrics follow Fleetwood’s tried-and-true formula: simple, mystical, beautiful. Even without Peter Green at the helm, Spencer really pulled out all the stops on his slide work. While the former were a damn good tag team, the new (and short-lived) Spencer-Kirwan duo prove themselves to be worthy. This is the closest to psychedelia Fleetwood ever got. With “Purple Dancer,” the role of artist’s muse has been turned on its head. The vision became the visionary.
Pictured: You’d be forgiven for mistaking her for Pattie (or me,) but this is Jenny Boyd!
The Crown Jewel
Fleetwood Mac has an awful lot of pretty songs. “Storm” is achingly delicate, so is “Future Games.” “Albatross” is wistful like a late summer nights’ breeze. And “Landslide” will make you cry at least once in your life. (If not: how does it feel to have a wilted bag of spinach where your heart should be?) But if you ask me, the prettiest song in Fleetwood’s discography is a true deep cut.
“Dragonfly” is another oddity. Peter Green had long since departed. Both Green and guitarist Danny Kirwan had been permanently altered by their time at a German acid house. Green had a grand old time. Kirwan did not. And Jeremy Spencer was on his way out...to join a fucking cult. (I wish I was joking!!) Although it’s billed a Fleetwood tune, in reality “Dragonfly” is a Danny Kirwan song. The rest of the group hopped on the track and packaged it up as Fleetwood Mac to help him out. And it’s just gorgeous.
Kirwan’s riff twinkles in the sunlight, not unlike the wings of the insect for which this tune is named. It flutters in the breeze, lingering on each note just long enough to leave you wanting more. And although “Purple Dancer” was technically Jeremy Spencer’s last Fleetwood recording, I’m almost certain he’s on “Dragonfly.” You can hear his playing buried in the depths of the mix, bubbles rising to the surface in the form of stray slide notes. Christine McVie had been woven into the fabric of Fleetwood Mac for a long while. But by now, she’d joined the band full-time on keys and backing vocals. Curse this song for being devastatingly short. At just 2 ½ minutes in length, it’ll have you replaying endlessly. Once is never enough. Without Danny Kirwan and his delicate “Dragonfly,” Fleetwood Mac never would’ve became a pop group.
Above: “Dragonfly” by Fleetwood Mac (1971.) Listener beware: you’ll be replaying this one endlessly.
That’s the story of how Fleetwood became the pop-rock tour-de-force we know and love today; in just 5 songs. There’s so much history I missed, so I urge you to dig into the early Fleetwood stuff if you haven’t already! There’s so much to love, and if you know where to look, you’ll see Buckingham-Nicks coming from a mile away. I hope some of these picks make it into your spooky playlists alongside “Gold Dust Woman.”