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Fleetwood Mac bid farewell to their classic era on 'Tango in the Night'

Fleetwood Mac - 'Tango in the Night'

Fleetwood Mac was always about survival. Combustible from the very start, the band of British blues masters filtered through so many talented members that an entire supergroup of castoffs could have been assembled before Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks even joined. Shifting personnel, stylistic overhauls, and even a fake touring version of the band couldn’t stop Fleetwood Mac from soldiering on, and when the Buckingham/Nicks lineup finally coalesced in the mid-1970s, a strange new alchemy emerged that breathed new life into the already-decade old band.

That solid foundation was almost fully deteriorated by 1987. The central drama of relationships, breakups, and affairs took over the band’s narrative, to the point where it was overshadowing their legendary back catalogue of music. Nicks had found commercial success outside of the group with her solo career, while Buckingham’s own efforts faltered by comparison, leading him back to commanding the ship that was Fleetwood Mac. Although certainly less prominent than it was a decade prior, drug and alcohol abuse still surrounded the band, and communications were starting to fray as the afterglow of Rumours and Tusk were fading.

But make no mistake: in 1987, Fleetwood Mac was still one of the biggest bands in the world. Able to adapt nicely to the synthesiser-heavy sound of the 1980s, the Mac had settled into a pop-rock niche on 1982’s Mirage. After a five-year gap, it was decided that a new Fleetwood Mac album was needed to keep the band in the mainstream market, and so Buckingham halted work on his third solo album in order to begin work on Tango in the Night.

Buckingham’s contributions, tellingly, make up half of the album: songs like ‘Family Man’, ‘Big Love’, and ‘Caroline’ were already slated to be featured on his solo album, with only slight contributions made from his bandmates to the nearly-complete recordings. Buckingham also helped bring Christine McVie’s ‘Mystified’ and ‘Isn’t It Midnight’ to life. As producer, arranger, and main organiser of the sessions, Buckingham was the driving force that made Tango in the Night happen.

For her part, McVie also brought her A-game to the sessions. That included ‘Little Lies’, the top five hit that kept Fleetwood Mac at the fore of pop music as they crossed their 20th anniversary. McVie’s ‘Everywhere’ was also a top 20 hit on both sides of the Atlantic, and her contributions to ‘You and I, Part II’ helped flesh out an album dominated by Buckingham.

More elusive was Nicks, who was unhappy that she had to halt her solo career to return to the band. Nicks was in the middle of promoting her solo album Rock a Little during the recording of Tango in the Night, and when coupled with her growing animosity towards Buckingham, the tensions resulted in her sending in demos and reportedly only spending roughly two weeks in the studio during the entire 18-month recording process.

Although she ostracised herself from the sessions, Nicks’ contributions were solid entries as well: ‘Seven Wonders’, ‘Welcome to the Room… Sara’, and ‘When I See You Again’ gave the album a softer feel, even if they weren’t top-tier Nicks material. Nicks wasn’t on the same timetable as her bandmates, which especially irked Buckingham, who had paused his own solo career to dedicate time to Fleetwood Mac. Although they rarely saw each other, the few times that Buckingham and Nicks were in the studio together were marked by significant arguments and a lack of collaboration. Nicks’ voice is notably absent from most songs that aren’t her own, which Buckingham attributed to poor performances from the singer.

Buckingham found that he didn’t actually need Nicks to record her vocals. Utilising the sampling features on the Fairlight keyboard, the same instrument that gave the album its signature airy sound, Buckingham was able to assemble different takes into a final cut for songs like ‘When I See You Again’. In other cases, Buckingham pitched up his own voice to replicate the nasal tones of Nicks. With most of the pressure landing on his shoulders, Buckingham laboured for over a year to get Tango in the Night produced.

When the album was finished, promotional requirements began. Buckingham initially participated in these, including doing interviews and appearing in music videos. But after feeling that he had sacrificed a significant amount of his time and energy without proper compensation, Buckingham began to feel he had made a mistake labouring over Tango in the Night. At a band meeting to plot out the album’s accompanying tour, another fight with Nicks was the final straw as Buckingham announced that he was quitting the group. The man who had dedicated two years of his life to Tango in the Night was now separating himself from it just as the album and singles were climbing the charts.

Because Fleetwood Mac was always about survival, the loss of Buckingham didn’t deter the band from moving forward. In his place, two new guitarists and singers named Rick Vito and Billy Burnette were hired to help fill in the gaps that Buckingham left. This new version of Fleetwood Mac only managed to stick around for one album, 1990s Behind the Mask, before Nicks decided to leave as well. Various different configurations followed, including a reunion of all five classic-era members, but Tango in the Night remains the latest, and perhaps last, album to feature what most people see as Fleetwood Mac.

Even though it is their most ’80s sounding album, Tango in the Night might just be the band’s best outside of Rumours: because of the extreme dedication of Buckingham, paired with the stellar contributions of McVie and Nicks, Tango in the Night represents the final moment when Fleetwood Mac was truly firing on all cylinders.

Becoming the band’s second best selling album, Tango in the Night also found an immediate audience with both casual listeners and devoted Mac fans. The fact that it represents the end of an era feels all too appropriate, as Tango in the Night was the last moment when Fleetwood Mac truly felt like the contemporary pop juggernauts that could dominate culture. The only thing Fleetwood Mac couldn’t survive was itself, a fact that carried over into the modern-day hired-gun-heavy lineup of the band. If you want to remember Fleetwood Mac going out on top, then the story logically ends with Tango in the Night, one of the most underrated albums of the 1980s.