Stevie Nicks knew how to build a distinctive image. Eternally clad in flowing dresses and scarves, Nicks made a believable avatar for the witches, scorned lovers, and mystical beings that populate her songs. Nicks might not be the old welsh witch that she sings about in ‘Rhiannon’, but she makes for a pretty believable stand-in. You could make an entire extended universe featuring the otherworldly characters of Nicks’ songs.
It might be a bit of an uncouth title nowadays, but the fact remains that one of those songs in that extended universe, ‘Gypsy’, is one of Stevie Nicks’ best. Immediately evocative of that unique celestial space that Nicks’ songs take place in, all it takes is the opening notes to transport you “back to the velvet underground / Back to the floor, that I love / To a room with some lace and paper flowers”.
The song itself was meant to be a sort of transportation vehicle for Nicks. The rapid ascent with Fleetwood Mac left Nicks reeling, and as she struggled to maintain her identity among a meteoric rise in fame, she recalled her beginnings as a broke singer struggling to make it in California.
“In the old days, before Fleetwood Mac, Lindsey and I had no money, so we had a king-size mattress, but we just had it on the floor. I had old vintage coverlets on it, and even though we had no money it was still really pretty… Just that and a lamp on the floor, and that was it—there was a certain calmness about it. To this day, when I’m feeling cluttered, I will take my mattress off of my beautiful bed, wherever that may be, and put it outside my bedroom, with a table and a little lamp.”
‘Gypsy’ itself doesn’t actually take place in some far off magical land, but rather the small spaces that remain pure in your mind. Written during the sessions for Tusk, Nicks and the rest of Fleetwood Mac were still indulging in massive drug use, quarrelling their way through what was then the most expensive album production of all time. Nicks was desperate for refuge and found it in ‘Gypsy’.
While recording an initial demo, Nicks intended to keep the song for her first solo album. The demo sounds more like Radiohead during their Kid A era than anything that Fleetwood Mac ever did: sparse, electronic, and retaining a sort of cold removal that only lifts when Nicks goes for some of those bigger notes. Most of those notes are actually absent on the demo, and Nicks affects a sort of hushed whisper that makes this version of the song both incredibly intimate and oddly detached.
Check out the demo for ‘Gypsy’ down below.