When you hear the name “Fleetwood Mac” many people are unaware that there have been essentially two, maybe three versions of the band, all containing the brilliant rhythm unit of Mick Fleetwood on drums and John McVie on bass guitar. That engine room remained unchanged for decades, and powered the band through all its various incarnations.
But the music that surrounded that rhythm unit was changeable.
Most people equate the Fleetwood Mac name with the drippy 1980s version which pumped out bouncy neo-ABBA megahits like “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” and “You Can Go Your Own Way”, and people who think this was the best version of Fleetwood Mac make the mistake of equating commercial success with musical value — “They sold a lot of records, so they must be good” (cf. Elton John, Britney Spears, Taylor Swift etc.). (That’s actually the opinion of the recording industry, only those reptiles put it more honestly: “Those longhaired assholes made us more money than the Small Faces or Steely Dan”.)
But the better band, by a country mile, was the first version — originally called “Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac”, which differentiates them from the later popcorn Mac.
And all this came from the notice yesterday that Mac’s founder Peter Green had just died, at age 73.
Now Green was an absolutely brilliant blues guitarist — at the time, technically quite the equal of people like Jeff Beck, Paul Kossoff and other British blues players of the era — but like most lead guitarists, he was a hopeless head case so his music never achieved the level of Beck et al. That doesn’t mean they were bad — anything but — but his blues-drenched music, lyrics and psychodelia were not, to put it mildly, commercially attractive.
Take a listen to Man Of The World, and pay especial attention to the lyrics — and that was about as commercial as they got. Even old standards like I Need Your Love So Bad were given the Peter Green treatment.
And let’s not forget Black Magic Woman — the original Green version, as it turns out, not the salsa Santana copy.
And when this Fleetwood Mac weren’t doing old-fashioned slit-your-wrist blues, they were causing record industry executives to tear their hair out with instrumental songs like Albatross and incomprehensible free-form ditties like Oh Well (which came in two parts, thus ensuring it would never get airplay on the radio stations of the time). Needless to say, it’s one of my favorite Mac songs.
Of course, it didn’t last. Peter Green lost his mind, lived on the streets, and Fleetwood Mac went into their 1b) version, which I also rather liked because shortly before he quit, the band had got guitarists Danny Kirwan (who wrote their only truly commercial hit Green Manalishi) and Bob Welch, as well as the incomparable blues singer Christine Perfect (who’d sung Chicken Shack’s I’d Rather Go Blind, and later married bassist McVie).
Then it all went to shit. The band broke up, all the guitarists and singers were fired, Fleetwood and the two McVies moved to the United States, and out of the shit eventually came the version containing the warbly Stevie Nicks and commercial songwriter Lindsay Buckingham, and the rest, as they say, is history (as chronicled here). And I’m not interested in it.
When you have Bill Clinton using one of your songs as a campaign anthem… well, that says it all, really.
But any guitarist of any worth knows all about Peter Green, his virtuosity and his contribution to music.