Fleetwood Mac after Rumours, the only way is Tusk?

Fleetwood Mac - Tusk Tour (Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Fleetwood Mac – Tusk Tour

Introduction

What can a band do when its last album is still in the charts selling millions of copies? Make another, of course. Bank accounts, record company, management, everybody’s happy. Right?

To Lindsey Buckingham, things weren’t that simple. That’s not what he was aiming for. A story about innovation after Rumours, the bestselling album at the end of the 1970s. Tusk was the successor, a double album no less.

Before Tusk

Fleetwood Mac - Rumours (nme.com)

The Fleetwood Mac line-up consisting of Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood had released two albums since 1975. The first, titled Fleetwood Mac served as a template for what was about to come in 1977. The divorce record of the 1970s, soft-rock, that sold over 10 million copies with a year in the US alone. Rumours smashed every record and catapulted Fleetwood Mac straight into the heart of the pop music landscape. The album was immensely beautiful, immaculately produced and filled with beautiful, moving and real songs about the loss of a partner, relationship and solid ground. Sorrow packaged in FM radio perfection.

With success came money, money and more money, immediately followed by (it was the 1970s after all) drugs and booze. The band dove right in. Maybe more importantly, the band had earned their freedom. Warner Bros., the company the band had signed a deal with, was okay with everything, as long as money kept rolling in, which it did, truckload after truckload.

In the studio

Fleetwood Mac - Tusk - Ad (kqed.org)

Fleetwood Mac – Tusk – Ad

So when the band went to work on the successor in the beginning of 1978, the band could do whatever they wanted. Well everything, Warner Bros. refused to pay for a Fleetwood Mac owned (new) studio, but gave the go-ahead for rebuilding/remodeling Studio D at the The Village Recorder in Los Angeles. The band would practically live there for 14 months. During that time no-one in the band had any contact whatsoever with Warner Bros. and costs escalated to over $ 1 Million, which made it the most expensive record of all time (according to Buckingham because “we happened to be in a studio that was charging a fuck of a lot of money”).

Relationship antics, again

Rumours had been a record with the troubling story of the collapse of the couples Christine McVie/John McVie and Lindsey Buckingham/Stevie Nicks, played out in public. However, little had changed surrounding the recordings of Tusk: Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood had a secret relationship, Mick Fleetwood’s wife had an affair with former band member Bob Weston, Christine McVie with a lighting designer followed by Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson and Mick Fleetwood hooked up with Stevie Nicks’ best friend (who happened to be married at the time). Meanwhile, cocaine and booze were available (and in use) in obscene quantities. To cut it short, one big happy dysfunctional family.

New music

Early on it was decided that Rumours‘ successor would be a double album. In the meantime, Buckingham wasn’t merely influenced by the workings of new bands like Talking Heads, he was obsessed. He wanted desperately to steer away from making Rumours II. However, he nearly lost his mind in doing so. Buckingham:

I was losing a great deal of myself. My thought was, let’s subvert the norm. Let’s slow the tape machine down, or speed it up, or put the mike on the bathroom floor and sing and beat on, uh, a Kleenex box! My mind was racing.

Producer Ken Caillat said:

He was a maniac. The first day, I set the studio up as usual. Then he said, ‘Turn every knob 180 degrees from where it is now and see what happens.’ He’d tape microphones to the studio floor and get into a sort of push-up position to sing. Early on, he came in and he’d freaked out in the shower and cut off all his hair with nail scissors. He was stressed.

The other band members weren’t too happy about it and were genuinely concerned for Buckingham’s mental health, who seemed to use Tusk to fight his demons. He cradled it like it was his own child (to be honest, so did the band). That’s probably one of the reasons the band were completely done with Tusk when it was finally finished. The sessions that went for hours and hours on end where Buckingham as looking for a sound that he couldn’t quite reach, were finally over.

Tusk

Fleetwood Mac - Tusk (amazon.com)

Fleetwood Mac – Tusk

On October 12th, 1979, the 12th studio album by Fleetwood Mac was released, the 3rd album by the most successful line-up of the band. I read somewhere that John McVie thought the album sounded like one album by 3 solo artists. He is not wrong, 5 songs are by Stevie Nicks, 6 by Christine McVie and 9 by Lindsey Buckingham. The Stevie Nicks songs are typically Stevie Nicks: dreamy, elf-like and from another, rather timeless, world. The Christine McVie songs resemble the ones on Rumours the most and are a bit predictable. The reputation the album holds is primarily attributed to the Lindsey Buckingham songs, which sound harsh and at time even angry and/or bitter.

Going by the songs on the album it turned into a post-punk, soft East coast rock album. It’s the problem and the beauty of it, all at once. A number of songs are tear inducing good, but unfortunately the album also contains songs that shouldn’t have made the cut, even though they are only a few.

The album starts off with Over & Over, that fits the Rumours path like a glove. However, the next song, the jagged, fast The Ledge proves this is not that album. The better songs on the album would have made one killer-album, almost the standard issue when it comes to double albums. There are only a few double albums that are of a constant level from start to finish (The Clash’s London Calling and Prince’s Sign O’ The Times are exceptions).

For me, the problem lies with the Christine McVie songs, that don’t add too much to the band’s body of work and fit the Rumours mold too much. When half of the songs are omitted, a truly perfect album remains, arguably even better than Rumours. Make a playlist in Spotify (or some other streaming service) containing The Ledge , Save Me A Place, Sara, That’s All For Everyone, Not That Funny, That’s Enough for Me, I Know I’m Not Wrong, Beautiful Child, Walk A Thin Line and Tusk and experience the definite Tusk tracklist.

Fleetwood Mac - Tusk - Singles (dutchcharts.nl/apoplife.nl)

Fleetwood Mac – Tusk – Singles

Singles

No less than 6 singles were culled from the album:

  • Tusk
    (released: September 1979)
  • Sara
    (released: December 1979)
  • Not That Funny
    (released: February 1980)
  • Think About Me
    (released: March 1980)
  • Sisters of the Moon
    (released: June 1980)
  • Angel
    (released: July 1980)

Sara in particular was a global hit, which more or less had the potential of selling a large quantity of albums as well.

Songs

  • Over & Over *
  • The Ledge ^
  • Think About Me *
  • Save Me A Place ^
  • Sara #
  • What Makes You Think You’re The One ^
  • Storms #
  • That’s All For Everyone ^
  • Not That Funny ^
  • Sisters Of the Moon #
  • Angel #
  • That’s Enough For Me ^
  • Brown Eyes *
  • Never Make Me Cry *
  • I Know I’m Not Wrong ^
  • Honey Hi *
  • Beautiful Child #
  • Walk A Thin Line ^
  • Tusk ^
  • Never Forget *

* Christine McVie
^ Lindsey Buckingham
# Stevie Nicks

Fleetwood Mac - Tusk - Press kit (glidemagazine.com)

Fleetwood Mac – Tusk – Press kit

Reception

Tusk fared rather poorly when compared to Rumours, and didn’t reach the number 1 position in the (American) charts. Many reviewers subscribed to John McVie’s view that it resembled an album by three solo artists. The reception of the Lindsey Buckingham songs versus the Stevie Nicks/Christine McVie songs was a tie at 50-50 preference amongst reviewed. The album’s production received many accolades.

Apart from the fact that Tusk didn’t cut it commercially the way Warner Bros. had hoped, the music industry as a whole had reached an impasse. Sales number were declining and hopes for better times (or less worse times) for the new Fleetwood Mac were imminent. So when the band presented Tusk, Warner Bros.’ president Mo Ostin told Mick Fleetwood:

You’re insane doing a double album at this time. The business is fucked, we’re dying the death, we can’t sell records, and this will have to retail at twice the normal price. It’s suicide.

I remember reading that the downfall of the music industry at the end of the 1970s was partly blamed on Fleetwood Mac, and Lindsey Buckingham in particular.

Review

So, how bad was Tusk? Well, not at all. It did sell millions of copies and earned the band some hits. And most importantly, half of the songs were magnificent and about 5 songs were instant classics and highlights within the band’s body of work. Not bad for a band that was high on cocaine, filled with in-between relationship turmoil and faced an impossible task upon starting the Tusk project: make the world forget about Rumours.

With songs like Sara and Save Me A Place this album deserves all the praise it can get. Both songs are beautiful and moving and will stay with me forever.

Following Tusk

Fleetwood Mac - Live (amazon.com)

Fleetwood Mac – Live

Even though the band had had enough of each other when recordings for Tusk were done, the band went on a 9 month trek all over the world. While on tour, shows were recorded and parts were released on the Fleetwood Mac album Live, which was released on December 8th, 1980.

In closing

What do you think of Tusk? Let me know!

Video/Spotify
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Fleetwood Mac after Rumours, the only way is Tusk?. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.

2 comments

    • Edward Gubbels on 10/13/2019 at 9:09 AM
    • Reply

    Thanks for this article. I 💟 The Mac.
    1979: I can still remember intense & lively discussions at school parties. Subject: Tusk! A few “music connoisseurs” among themselves. Rumours was just at the end, drawn out to the bone, in terms of both 7”s and airplay Then Tusk came out. WTF ?! Unfortunately, I am one of the FM pop followers; could not get used to that egotriving Buckingham crap. It didn’t have to be Rumours II for me as well. But on Tusk, the pressure of proving oneself from Buckingham rather than McVie and Nicks, prevails very clearly. Which brings the rest of the album out of balance, in my opinion …. that is why I am not a huge fan of Tusk. The urge to be different, especially not to be mainstream. And why, I wonder? After two very successful pop albums you don’t suddenly become Adam Ant. 🤷🏻‍♂️
    Usually, I only listen to the Nicks tracks. Sara, Angel, Beautiful Child. Given your ideal tracklisting for a single LP, it clearly shows your preference for Buckingham tracks. A discussion that already thrived way back then: love ‘em or hate ‘em.
    Haha! 2019, 40 years later, discussion lingers on about this remarkable album.

    1. You’re welcome. Yes, I do prefer the Buckingham tracks and a few by Nicks. By the way, I don’t think Buckingham needed to prove himself, but was preoccupied with not making Rumours II, which is something I understand. I have a great admiration for artists who want to change, renew and innovate.
      But, it is funny indeed that an album can still incite discussion 40 years after its release!

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