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Music

How Crosby, Stills & Nash inspired Stevie Nicks

The first Crosby, Stills & Nash album is heavy with yearning, with Englishman Graham Nash aching to find a new home for himself far away from the grey cloudy skies that hang around Britain. He was captivated by David Crosby‘s harmonies and Stephen Stills innate musical abilities, spurning him into a creative epiphany. 

The first album is a work that sounds dexterous and rich and lushly produced, carrying with a longing, a desire, an expression of intent that soaks into the listeners DNA. The tunes marry blues and folk, baroque and rock, gospel and glory, spinning these disparate influences into one glorious whole. The album can be described as a chamber piece of sorts, wrapping the central narratives into one expressive piece, as three singular vocalists set aside their failings to do justice to the mosaic they themselves have carved together. 

And so we find vignettes of crushed dreams and fables of a world situated between the green foliage that hangs before their eyes. We find the beguiling ‘Marrakesh Express’, the blinding ‘Guinevere’, and the exceptional ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’, laced with urgency and expression, presenting the band at their most opaque and accessible. 

The trio formed their sound on the harmonies that seeped their way into the tunes, carrying the work to mightier plains of thought than any could have achieved by themselves. It seemed to be one of those albums that seemed to pontificate about everything and nothing at the same time, culminating in a setlist that triumphed in the studio and on the stage. 

It seduced many upon release, and the band even spawned a successful offshoot with Canadian keyboardist Neil Young. Breezily produced, and designed to focus on the lyrics and melodies swimming in the mix, the album captivated generations of musicians, including members of Fleetwood Mac. The first Fleetwood Mac record to feature Stevie Nicks embodied the raw proclivities of the first Crosby, Stills & Nash album, boasting a similar bewildering charm and swagger while maintaining a rustic, rollicking aesthetic that was gently warm to engage with. 

“I spent a whole summer singing along to this record,” Nicks said. “I loved the harmonies and learned to sing all three of the parts. I knew that I wanted to be in a band with the same kind of harmonies.”

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Although she is nominally seen as the band’s frontperson, guitarist Lindsey Buckingham equalled her output as a singer and songwriter. And then there was Christine McVie, who penned and performed the haunting ‘You Make Loving Fun’ on the band’s multi-million selling opus, Rumours. Any one of them could have been a superstar in their own right, but it was the fusion of voices that made the band sound rich with excitement, possibility and romance. 

And yet Fleetwood Mac was happy spending time adrift from one another, keenly aware that their identity was as important as that of the band’s. They followed Crosby, Stills & Nash’s example, by treading on their own floorboards, between group projects. As it happens, Nicks enjoyed the greatest success, putting her at an awkward impasse within the group. Like Nash before her, Nicks seemed more determined to rise to the occasion, and luxuriated in the despair she had unwittingly created for herself. 

“I sat at my piano, a feminist woman,” she recalled. “I wrote it, to say that nothing you or anybody else can do to me can change the fact that, as the opening line goes: ‘Every night that goes between / I feel a little less.’ Freedom. I am a totally free woman, and I am independent, and that’s exactly what I always wanted to be.”

In many ways, great art flourishes under adversity and frustration, and the works of both bands demonstrate the importance of creative risks, as well as the need to be collaborative. Nash soaked himself in the extremes of persistence, prevalence and position, camouflaging himself beneath the American climes that rescued him from a more pedestrian life in Britain. And then there’s Nicks, no less determined to bestow her own narrative on the world at large, every note pressed for justice, every breath cemented in truth. 

At her most insightful, Nicks captured a moment that embraced the poetry and the persistence of memory, gleaming an innate romanticism funnelled from the burning remnants of a bygone era. Her life was fleeting, bursting with potential, which made the music-at its most perilous-seem idiosyncratic, intellectual and decidedly memorable. And while she sang as part of an outfit, her harmonies wrapped around the others, daring them to go that one step further into splendour. Caught in the magic of the first album, Nicks felt that she captured the harmonies and backing vocals, but she did something greater too. She brought their narrative into hers and expanded upon it. What a feat!

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