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Every Fleetwood Mac album ranked in order of greatness

You would think that a band like Fleetwood Mac would have more material. That might sound like a ludicrous opening statement since seventeen/eighteen studio albums is nothing to scoff at (we’ll address the numerical discrepancy later), but a band that’s burned through as many different members, explored as many different genres, and survived as many intra-band crises as Fleetwood Mac has should presumably have an insurmountable amount of music to sift through. Instead, if you were so inclined, you could put on the entirety of the Mac’s discography and be done before the sun rose the following morning. Granted, you would be pushed right up against the 24-hour mark, but still.

It goes without saying that Fleetwood Mac are a constantly evolving entity. They are a band who changed with the times, originally storming the British blues scene of the late 1960s with guitar virtuoso Peter Green as the bandleader and continuing to this day with a strange smattering of original members, classic-era vocalists, and impressively-resumed hired guns. Along the way, the music the group added and subtracted sonic elements as frequently as the band themselves added and subtracted musicians. With every new member came a different stylistic muse, pushing and pulling the group’s recorded output through changeups, shakedowns, makeovers, and complete reinventions. Listening to the band’s debut is a completely different experience from listening to Rumours, or Bare Trees, or Tango in the Night, or Kiln House, or Behind the Mask, or Say You Will. The reason the Mac are able to sustain their reputation as one of music’s most legendary groups is that through every new turn there lies a surprising amount of great material and purpose. Every new Fleetwood Mac move has a reason behind it.

So here is our chance to sift through their daunting discography and paint the picture of a band in constant motion. Fleetwood Mac is a group with so much history that it would take volumes of encyclopedia-length writing just to properly fit all of it in, so instead, we’ll be looking at how each album adds another chapter to the story of Fleetwood Mac, and how they all join together to make one of the greatest band’s of all time.

A quick note: we’ll be covering the seventeen studio albums that are credited solely to Fleetwood Mac. This means live albums, EPs, compilations, and one-offs like Fleetwood Mac in Chicago, which officially credits other musicians, will not be included.

Every Fleetwood Mac album ranked from worst to best:

17. Time (1995)

Lineup: Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Christine McVie, Bekka Bramlet, Dave Mason, Billy Burnette.

The Mac were in crisis mode in 1995. Lindsey Buckingham had quit almost a decade prior, and Stevie Nicks decided to depart four years earlier after a dispute involving the use of her song ‘Silver Springs’ in a band box set. In their place were three musicians who never should have had anything to do with the Mac: legendary Traffic guitarist Dave Mason, guitarist Billy Burnette, and singer Bekka Bramlet, whose parents were the ’70s duo, Delaney and Bonnie.

This album represents the absolute recorded and cultural nadir of the once-mighty Fleetwood Mac. Not helping matters was the fact that the band dove headfirst into toothless adult contemporary and twangy country-rock. Mick Fleetwood has a lead vocal on the spoken word album closer. It’s awful. It’s an embarrassment. It’s the only Fleetwood Mac album not worth listening to for any reason whatsoever. The band did a hard reset to their Rumours-era lineup after this, and the world promptly forgot that Time ever existed.

(Credit: Press)

16. Heroes Are Hard to Find (1974)

Lineup: Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Christine McVie, Bob Welch.

Bob Welch is the unsung hero of Fleetwood Mac. After having lost original visionary Peter Green to the depths of drug abuse and mental illness, the band burned through guitarists and singers while remaining a rudderless ship. Their manager even put out a fake Fleetwood Mac line-up on the road, emphasizing the band’s anonymity at the time.

Welch’s introduction gave the band a new sound that separated them from their blues roots and brought them up to speed with more contemporary musical avenues, including influences from jazz, folk, and R&B. Unfortunately, the band’s last album with Welch was a fairly blatant indication that his creative force was leading the band to a dead end. The title track is a hidden gem, but the rest of the album is a mush of confusion and bland ’70s rock cliches. Welch would leave on good terms, with the now-trio of Fleetwood and the McVie’s searching for a new singer to give them direction. As it turned out, they would get more than their money’s worth.

(Credit: Press)

15. Penguin (1973)

Lineup: Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Christine McVie, Bob Welch, Dave Walker, Bob Weston.

The Fleetwood Mac story is one that has an unmeasurable number of highs and an equally mind-boggling series of lows, but less commonly cited are the nebulous periods of confusion and transition that the band went through once every couple of years or so. These periods of evolution happened frequently in the ’70s, and in the time between Peter Green’s exit and the establishment of Buckingham/Nicks, no less than five singer/guitarists came and went from the official lineup.

Penguin is representative of the most confused line-up in the band’s history, with Bob Welch, Dave Walker, and Bob Weston all vying for a job that really should have only belonged to one of them. It’s no mistake that Christine McVie’s numbers, ‘Remember Me’ and ‘Dissatisfied’, are the only ones worth revisiting, with the inclusion of the closing instrumental ‘Caught in the Rain’ and the band’s take on ‘(I’m A) Road Runner’ highlighting the band’s disorganization in sad detail.

(Credit: Press)

14. Kiln House (1970)

Line-up: Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Danny Kirwan, Jeremy Spencer.

The transition of Fleetwood Mac out of a blues obsessed outfit into a contemporary cutting edge music project took a fair amount of time. Once Green left, the musical direction was now heralded by Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer, two talented guitarists who had conflicting ideas on the band’s future.

Spencer represented the last burning embers of the band’s blues past, while Kirwan sought to remake the band as a rockabilly group. Sometimes it hits, like on the muscular ‘Jewel Eyed Judy’ and the robust ‘Hi Ho Silver’, but most of the time Kiln House is a placid and turgid affair. However, the one thing that makes this album worth noting is the band’s newest addition: Christine McVie on keyboards and backing vocals.

(Credit: Fleetwood Mac)

13. Future Games (1971)

Line-up: Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Christine McVie, Bob Welch, Danny Kirwan.

The softest of all the Fleetwood Mac releases, barring perhaps Time, Future Games finds Fleetwood Mac still largely lacking confidence in their own sound.

Bob Welch is beginning to find his footing, as is Christine McVie, but the presence of Danny Kirwan still causes the band to lack a solidified identity. Nudging ever closer to a firm state, Future Games is largely thin and unfocused, but it does show the band starting to shake off the shackles of their past and moving, however slowly, into the future.

(Credit: Fleetwood Mac)

12. Behind the Mask (1990)

Line-up: Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Christine McVie, Stevie Nicks, Billy Burnette, Rick Vito.

Lindsey Buckingham’s departure from Fleetwood Mac in 1987 once again threw the band into a turbulent and transitionary state. To compensate for his expert-level musicianship, the rest of the band filled Buckingham’s role with two different guitarist/singers, both of whom added exactly zero unique qualities to the band.

Billy Burnette and Rick Vito had the unfortunate luck of joining the Mac just after they spent the last of their contemporary creative forces on Tango in the Night, and most of the ’90s would not end up being kind to Fleetwood Mac. Still, Behind the Mask actually sits as a surprise in the band’s catalogue.

It would be easy to write off as a huge misstep, but most of the time it simply plays as a middle of the road Mac album, still complete with big hooks and earworms. Its enduring legacy, however, is that it set the table for a future lineup of the band when Nicks wrote ‘Freedom’ with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell, who would join the band upon Buckingham’s firing in 2018.

(Credit: Fleetwood Mac)

11. Mr. Wonderful (1968)

Line-up: Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Jeremy Spencer, Peter Green.

The blues boom that had swept through England in the late ’60s was the breeding ground for some of the most legendary guitarists of all time. The names speak for themselves: Clapton, Page, Beck, Richards, Taylor. But no discussion of British guitar gods would be complete without mentioning Peter Green.

The man who was the impetus for Fleetwood Mac’s formation, and the shadow that hung over them for nearly a decade, was as fleet-fingered and soulful as any authentic Delta blues musician was. He sang with grit, played with heart, and got too caught up in the excesses of the time. In short, he was a legend. Except you probably wouldn’t be able to tell on Mr. Wonderful, a perfectly fine, if thinly recorded and uninspired, blues-rock album. A horn section and featured keyboards from future member Christine McVie add colour, but the dull plod featured on most of the songs grows tiresome to the point of making every song sound the same. Still, that guitar work is enough to elevate even the most muted of material.

(Credit: Fleetwood Mac)

10. Say You Will (2003)

Line-up: Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks.

The most recent album by the legendary Anglo-American band, Say You Will finds the Mac without their not-so-secret weapon: Christine McVie retired from the group five years earlier, and even though she makes background appearances on three songs, her absence to the band’s now-signature sound is glaring.

Still, Buckingham and Nicks have enough material to propel the now four-piece through a litany of new pretty good pop songs, including the sweetly catchy title track and the laser-focused ‘Peacekeeper’, a late period gem from a band that never stopped believing their best songs were still ahead of them.

It’s a bit too long, and I can’t stress enough how much McVie is missed, but it’s a serviceable album that proved the band still had enough momentum to survive just about any change that came their way.

(Credit: Fleetwood Mac)

9. Bare Trees (1972)

Line-up: Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Christine McVie, Bob Welch, Danny Kirwan.

Like Future Games, Bare Trees finds the Mac with a line-up that doesn’t quite gel in a cohesive fashion. However, unlike Future Games, the three singers/songwriters don’t feel like a compromised blob forced together by circumstance, but rather a more vigorous and singular unit that highlights their differences in unique and exciting ways.

Welch gets to paean beautifully on ‘Sentimental Lady’, McVie gets to emote fantastically on ‘Spare Me a Little of Your Love’, and Kirwan gets to rock out on ‘Danny’s Chant’ and the title track. It all makes for an album of surprisingly high quality, but the band’s newfound strength would be compromised upon Kirwan’s firing before their next record. This is, for my money, the most underrated line-up in Fleetwood Mac history.

(Credit: Fleetwood Mac)

8. Then Play On (1969)

Line-up: Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Danny Kirwan, Jeremy Spencer, Peter Green.

Despite the band holding a prominent place in popular British music, and despite Peter Green’s dalliances with LSD, Fleetwood Mac never really embraced psychedelic music when it became all the rage towards the tail end of the 1960s. Still enamoured with the blues, but falling apart due to Green’s fragile mental state, Then Play On finds the Mac at their first major crossroads.

‘Rattlesnake Shake’ and ‘Oh Well’, the latter of which was only featured on the U.S. version, see the band sticking with their original sound, but the rest of the album finds the group expanding in the wake of the sudden success of ‘Albatross’, the meditative instrumental that showed the band was more than just blues pastiche makers. Then Play On is experimental and open in ways that most Mac albums aren’t, leaving room for folky guitars, clattering rhythms, and hard-edged rock and roll. As Green disappeared into his own world, the stage would be set for the one thing that Fleetwood Mac was better at than any other band: change.

(Credit: Fleetwood Mac)

7. Mirage (1982)

Line-up: Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks.

It took Fleetwood Mac almost a decade before they wound up as honest to god pop stars, and once they got there they worked like hell to maintain that level of relevancy, even as they were in constant combustion mode.

Mirage finds the classic-era line-up of Fleetwood/Buckingham/Nicks/McVie’s plural in their own state of discombobulation, by then nothing new for the band. The promise of great pop songs remained, as you’ll find in ‘Hold Me’, ‘Can’t Go Back’, and the problematically titled but beautifully performed ‘Gypsy’. The problem is that it’s the worst album from the band’s best lineup. That still makes it a great album, but it’s also the one that doesn’t quite hold up as well as the others.

(Credit: Fleetwood Mac)

6. Mystery to Me (1973)

Line-up: Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Christine McVie, Bob Welch.

By now, the story of Bob Welch is well told, and it is not a feel-good one. Arriving in Fleetwood Mac at their lowest, he had the unenviable task of radically reinventing the group’s sound, sometimes in opposition to other singer/guitarists who were hired for the same purpose. He allowed the band to survive and even thrive, set the template for their eventual success, and bowed out with enough momentum to establish the beginnings of a solid solo career.

That’s when it takes a turn: drugs, fading relevance, painful medical problems, a blindingly arrogant snub from inclusion to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and eventual suicide, largely to prevent any more financial and emotional burden on his wife Wendy. It truly is one of the saddest tales in rock, but if you want an affirmation of just how talented and important Bob Welch is, listen to Mystery to Me. ‘Emerald Eyes’, ‘Miles Away’, and especially ‘Hypnotized’ shows a musician at the very top of his game, one who deserves as much praise and adulation as any other figure in the Fleetwood Mac story.

(Credit: Fleetwood Mac)

5. Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac (1968)

Line-up: Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Jeremy Spencer, Peter Green.

It’s right there in the name, isn’t it? Despite the band carrying the names of its rhythm section, the real face, mind, and spirit of Fleetwood Mac was Peter Green, the uber-talented blues guitarist who carried a rock and roll swagger and delicate vulnerability to everything he did.

Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac is half an hour of the tightest, coolest, most excitingly performed British blues music of the ’60s. That’s including Cream, and Led Zeppelin, and The Rolling Stones, and The Yardbirds, and the Bluesbreakers, and anyone else who wants to make a claim to the crown. Fleetwood Mac could be just as powerful as any of those bands, sometimes even more so. There’s one perfectly preserved time capsule of that, one that resists the fading of cultural trends and the slow march of years gone by, and it goes by the name Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac.

(Credit: Fleetwood Mac)

4. Fleetwood Mac (1975)

Line-up: Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks.

There’s a slight misconception that the arrival of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks represented a wholesale shift in pushing Fleetwood Mac away from the bluesy roots of their sound and straight into the bright, glossy, top 40 friendly confines of ’70s radio. That’s not exactly true: both Bob Welch and Christine McVie had edged the band to a more commercial sound throughout the years. But it’s true that nothing could have been more different from the band’s debut than the second album containing the band’s name, 1975 effort Fleetwood Mac.

All you have to do is read the tracklist and you clearly see how this album became a monster hit: ‘Monday Morning’, ‘Rhiannon’, ‘Say You Love Me’, ‘World Turning’, ‘Landslide’. It would be any other group’s crowning achievement, but as it turned out, Fleetwood Mac were just gearing up.

(Credit: Fleetwood Mac)

3. Tango in the Night (1987)

Line-up: Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks.

For any other band, a record like Tango in the Night would be a disaster. A decade into their classic-era lineup, the band was just barely holding together and the animosity between its members was palpable. The guitarist decides that in order to survive, the band has to make the poppiest and most commercial record they can, complete with the most modern of ’80s synth technology. Nobody is speaking, everyone feels that the result is a compromise, and the band fractures shortly thereafter.

Here’s the thing though: Tango in the Night is, perhaps in spite of itself, an amazing album. It’s a streamlined, gut-punchingly emotional record with no fat and a whole host of fantastically written songs, even more so than their 1975 self-titled record. Buckingham’s ‘Big Love’ and ‘Family Man’ are all time greats, and even Nicks’ reduced presence can’t take away from the mighty power of ‘Seven Wonders’ and ‘Welcome to the Room… Sara’. But it’s McVie who hits it out of the park time and again, from ‘Everywhere’ to ‘Mystified’ through ‘Isn’t It Midnight’ and especially ‘Little Lies’. The twinkling keyboards and soft textures transcend their dated technological interfaces and create a backdrop for some of the most twisted, impassioned, and wonderful recordings that the band ever made. This is the end of classic-era Fleetwood Mac, but what a high note to go out on.

(Credit: Fleetwood Mac)

2. Tusk (1979)

Line-up: Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks.

How do you sell four million copies of an album and still have it be considered a commercial failure? By having impossible expectations from a previous world-conquering album, a massively overrun budget largely spent on drugs and experiments, and the deteriorating working relationships between every single person involved. Tusk was doomed to fail. And so Fleetwood Mac threw their collective hands up, said “fuck it”, and made the wildest, most stylistically diverse, and musically unwieldy album in the history of ’70s rock.

You know the stories: Lindsey Buckingham building a recording studio in his bathroom, Mick Fleetwood hearing an entire marching band playing the title song’s rhythm track in his head and the subsequent realisation of that fantasy, the colossal amounts of cocaine being snorted. It’s enough to make the album buckle under its own reputation, but the results are still transcendent. Buckingham’s insatiable futuristic experimentation on ‘The Ledge’ and ‘Not That Funny’, Nicks’ career highlights on ‘Sisters of the Moon’ and ‘Sara’, McVie’s beautiful glue holding everything together on ‘Never Forget’ and ‘Think About Me’. It all combines to give Fleetwood Mac their very own version of The White Album: radically varied, monumentally ambitious, excessive to the point of collapse, and yet, harmonious, marvelous, and completely singular.

(Credit: Fleetwood Mac)

1. Rumours (1977)

Line-up: Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks.

As if there was any doubt. Most bands, if they’re lucky, only get one album to be remembered by. When the dust settles on this god-forsaken floating rock and the aliens are dissecting our brains to see what gave humanity the most pleasure over its destructive and devolutionary lifetime, Rumours just may be the album that defines us all.

It truly does have everything: jealousy, rage, heartbreak, desire, guilt, exhalation, triumph, love, loss, confusion, certainty, lust, fun. It has a song for every emotion: ‘Second Hand News’, ‘Never Going Back Again’, ‘Go Your Own Way’, ‘The Chain’, ‘I Don’t Want to Know’ and ‘Gold Dust Woman’ for the negative ones; ‘Dreams’, ‘Don’t Stop’, ‘Songbird’, ‘You Make Loving Fun’, and ‘Oh Daddy’ for the positive ones. It never lasts a minute too long or puts a single note out of place. It shows three songwriters at the height of their powers, and five instrumentalists combining into one unstoppable entity. It is the high watermark of all watermarks, and it’s grown in the course of 40 years to a status of both high art and remarkable universality.

If you’ve laughed, cried, screamed, joked, aimlessly wandered, longingly pondered, emphatically loved, heartbreakingly lost, or assertively lived at any point in your life, Rumours is an album made for you. It’s an album made for us all.

(Credit: Fleetwood Mac)

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