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Six definitive songs: The ultimate beginner's guide to Christine McVie

The long and tumultuous history of Fleetwood Mac is perhaps best illustrated by the frequent line-up changes that befell the band over the course of their fifty-plus year existence. Through a comically large number of singers and guitar players, including legends such as Peter Greene, Bob Welch, Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, Mike Campbell, and Neil Finn, plus lesser-known talents like Jeremy Spencer, Danny Kirwan, Billy Burnett, and Rick Vito, there’s no such thing as a stable Fleetwood Mac line-up. Even half of the band’s namesake, John McVie, required a gig or two to join up.

But through all the changeovers, there’s still only been a sole keyboard player in the band’s entire story: Christine McVie. The former Christine Perfect (which must have been a bit too on the nose) came up in the same British blues scene as the Mac and rose to early prominence with the band Chicken Shack, a group where she was mostly kept on as a supporting musician under the leadership of guitarist Stan Webb. Perfect’s talents shined through on her cover of Etta James track ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’. Soon after, she soon left Chicken Shack to strike out on her own, which included an eponymous debut solo album.

Through the touring with Chicken Shack, Perfect became friends with the members of labelmates Fleetwood Mac, and would quickly commence a romance with bassist John McVie. The two married in 1968, and after the relative failure of her solo album, the newly christened Christine McVie briefly retired from the music industry before being convinced to join the flailing Fleetwood Mac after the departure of creative leader Peter Greene. Although she contributed to the album, McVie would not officially join the band until after the release of their fourth studio album, Kiln House, in 1970.

For the next five albums, McVie would act as keyboardist along with taking on co-lead vocalist duties with the likes of Bob Welch, Danny Kirwan, Dave Walker, and Bob Weston. Her vocals were often the highlights of this particular era, but it wasn’t until the arrival of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham that McVie’s songwriting began to match her musical talents.

McVie acted as a sort of palate cleanser during the band’s most famous incarnation. While Buckingham and Nicks sparred in song and found musical inspiration in folk and rock, McVie refined her voice to incorporate emotional ballads, funk, and pop into the band’s stylistic shift away from the blues in the late 1970s and ’80s. Anchoring some of the band’s biggest hits, as well as a number of their numbers hidden gems, McVie’s gentle singing style contrasted the ferocious yelp of Buckingham and the nasal bray of Nicks.

McVie has a number of amazing tracks that are worth diving into if you want the fuller picture of Fleetwood Mac. ‘Heroes Are Hard to Find’, ‘Over My Head’, ‘Morning Rain’, ‘Love In Store’, ‘Over & Over’, ‘Brown Eyes’, ‘Spare Me A Little Of Your Love’, ‘Love Shines’, ‘World Turning’, ‘Hold Me’, and ‘Remember Me’ are all worthwhile additions to the Mac’s legendary oeuvre. However, if you need a beginner’s guide to the influence that Christine McVie had on Fleetwood Mac – and popular music as a whole – then these are the six tracks you need to know.

Christine McVie’s six definitive films:

‘Say You Love Me’

Fleetwood Mac were once again in transition in 1975. Arguably, the Buckingham/Nicks era of Fleetwood Mac is the third completely new band to use that name, with a new mainstream pop-rock sound from the band’s two new singers that was in stark contrast to the hard-edged blues of the Peter Greene era and the nebulous soft rock of the early 1970s.

McVie obviously absorbed her bandmates’ predilections towards pop on Fleetwood Mac, also known as the world’s second most famous White Album, contributing the band’s biggest hit to that point – along with Nick’s previous single ‘Rhiannon’ – the buoyant and jubilant ‘Say You Love Me’.

Grounded by her signature piano playing, McVie steps into the spotlight with a finely crafted love song that featured the catchiest melody she had in her songbook at the time. Backed by the group’s new secret weapon, the harmonies between the three singers, ‘Say You Love Me’ did as much to push the Mac headfirst into the mainstream as any Buckingham or Nicks track did. Over 45 years after its initial release, it still gets played at every Fleetwood Mac show.

‘You Make Loving Fun’

Fleetwood Mac have been a lot of things in their history: bluesy, folky, jazzy, and even punky, but very rarely are they funky. McVie saw this as a flaw that needed to be rectified, so after arming herself with loads of American R&B influences and a clavinet that could have come straight out of a Stevie Wonder record, she brought to life a lovestruck embrace of a new affair: ‘You Make Loving Fun’.

Apparently McVie told her ex-husband, John, that the song was about her dog, which is just about the most ludicrous thing that I’ve ever heard. How could lines like “don’t, don’t break the spell/It would be different and you know it will” could possibly be about anything but romantic love? I’d like to think John simply swallowed his pride to perform the track because he knew of its magnetic drive. As a bass player, how could you not want to play on a song as rhythmic as ‘You Make Loving Fun’?

Finding the Mac at their loosest and most ’70s, ‘You Make Loving Fun’ brings a levity to the world-conquering grandeur of their pop songs and ballads during this era. The Mac could find incredibly palpable drama in their personal lives, but this song shows that they can also find less serious fun.

‘Don’t Stop’

Rumours is such a legendary release because of how potently its writers were able to turn the dramas of their personal lives into undeniable pop songs. While Nicks and Buckingham alternated between civilised discourse and straight-up shit-talking in their own material, McVie was unwavering in her positivity towards the future.

‘Don’t Stop’ is a conciliatory message from McVie to her ex-husband John, and also a self-affirming slice of motivation to herself, to keep looking towards the optimistic side of the future. “Why not think about the times to come/And not about the things that you’ve done/If your life was bad to you/Just think what tomorrow will do.”

Never coming off as hackneyed or condescending, McVie imbues the song with a genuine sense of joy and vitality that frames the bitterness and anger of divorce as a hurdle that, once passed, opens up the rest of your life to happiness and understanding. Obviously it worked: the McVie’s still retain a close relationship, and their constant dedication to playing ‘Don’t Stop’ reaffirms the authenticity of the song’s message.

‘Songbird’

Adding a delicate edge was rarely a deployed trait in the Fleetwood Mac camp. It took a strong constitution to weather the personal dramas, fluctuating line-ups, drug abuse, and high profile success, so the musicians created songs that channeled confidence, resilience, and determination. Raw emotions could turn to anger and jealousy quickly, so baring your soul isn’t recommended.

‘Songbird’ represents an embrace of the most tender feelings that come with love, heavily contrasting the two songs that surround it on Rumours, ‘Go Your Own Way’ and ‘The Chain’. The former songs take bitter looks at crumbling romance; ‘Songbird’ is about as vulnerable as a love song can be.

The power of ‘Songbird’ was always a secret weapon for the band. Whereas most groups would end their concerts with high energy closers or their most famous singles, Fleetwood Mac has consistently turned to the downtempo and deeply contemplative ‘Songbird’ to be the final song of their concerts.

‘Think About Me’

Buckingham and Nicks often get pegged as the major hit writers of Fleetwood Mac. The band’s only number one in America, ‘Dreams’, is a Nicks composition, while Buckingham took control to craft ‘Go Your Own Way‘ and ‘Tusk’, both top ten hits. But when the band needed supremely catchy pop songs, McVie quickly emerged as a master of the art form.

Mirage‘s lead single ‘Hold Me’ proves that the band valued McVie’s unmatched knack for ear worms, and while Tusk‘s first two singles were the experimental title track and the winding epic ‘Sara’, it was ‘Think About Me’ that reminded the world of Fleetwood Mac’s mainstream allure.

The great thing about ‘Think About Me’ is that it proves the power and potency of rock music in the pop world. Buckingham plays guitar lines with audible growl and muscle, and McVie punks away at her piano with a liveliness that shows her early rock and roll influences. The way ‘Thin About Me’ contrasts Tusk‘s more experimental leanings is a great reminder of how the band’s dynamic influences their expert mixing of styles.

‘Little Lies’

The 1980s made fools out of a number of ’70s acts. Unsure how to adapt to the twinkling synths and heavily reverberated electronic drum sounds, stalwarts of F.M. radio fizzled out quickly in the age of big hair and big pop. Bands like Foghat and Bad Company couldn’t possibly have survived MTV.

Fleetwood Mac had a number of protections against this curse: first and foremost was a genuine affection for gigantic hooks. The Mac were never a band to get caught up in sounding too “rock”, and it served them well at times when rock was on the downswing. Paired with Buckingham’s constant desire to be on top of the latest technology of the day, Fleetwood Mac were able to stay on top of trends and transcend some of the sillier trappings of the time.

In anyone else’s hands, ‘Little Lies’ would be a goofy saccharine mess. However, because McVie always let the quality of the song shine through the more dated production and instrumentation of any given period, her songs were immune to the 1980s-afflicted pop-rock that took over most bands.

‘Little Lies’ showed how Fleetwood Mac, and Christine McVie by extension, could themselves transcend through their surroundings.

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