Many rock stars use costumes and high fashion looks to distract from a lack of talent and, while Stevie Nicks has always been partial to a stage costume or two, it was always in addition to her unstoppable talent. Stevie Nicks wasn’t just a fantastic songwriter, she was a superlative vocalist too.
The singer, who made her name as the fulcrum of Fleetwood Mac, shed further distractions from her talent and went solo in 1981. Following the departure, Nicks’ strength as a songwriter grew and, with a series of sensational releases, she became the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, once with Fleetwood Mac and once on her own merit. It’s a landmark that stands the test of time as a commendation on her work.
Though songs like ‘Landslide’ and ‘Rhiannon’ showcased Nicks as an extremely talented songwriter, using her beautiful singing voice, she truly ascended into her art. There’s something intrinsically freeing about Nicks’ vocals on all her songs that feels both ethereal yet utterly connecting.
Nicks has an uncanny ability to empathise with her subject, whether autobiographical like ‘Landslide’ or indeed he ex-partner’s potshot at her ‘Go Your Own Way’ or something far more mystical like ‘Rhiannon’, Nicks always connected with the heart of the song. She often showed that connection through her vocal performance.
She brought out the most basic human emotions of the song to a rich and textured complexity and then covered it all in a blanket of golden-hued vocals. It meant that while Nicks may have been singing about the death of a friend or relationship, you could still sweetly sing it to your lover.
Below, we’re taking a look back at some of her favourite vocal moments from Stevie Nicks’ incredible career.
The best Stevie Nicks isolated tracks:
‘Rooms On Fire’
On her fourth album, Stevie Nicks was a consummate professional. She had outgrown the trouble and tribulations that surrounded her time in Fleetwood Mac and she asserted herself as an artist in her own right.
The perfect example of that comfort is Nicks’ polished performance on ‘Rooms On Fire’ as she delves deep into her heart and delivers a beautifully honeyed vocal performance.
It may well be one of Nicks’ less-travelled songs but it lands with aplomb through this isolated vocal.
The track ‘Rhiannon’ remains a clear fan favourite and still features in much of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘best of’ sets. Written for their seminal self-titled album in 1975, shortly after Nicks and her then-boyfriend Lindsey Buckingham joined the band, it has to be one of the greatest pop songs ever written, the most perfect pop song, written about a witch.
Nicks was known to preface the song’s performance at their live dates with the words: “This song’s about an old Welsh witch”, and she’s true to her word. Nicks discovered the folkloric Rhiannon in the seventies through a novel called Triad by Mary Bartlet Leader. The novel revolves around a woman named Branwen, who is possessed by another wild woman named Rhiannon.
It marked Nicks out as not only a writer capable of drawing from her own experiences but of using the mythical to tell her story. The best vision of that mythology comes in her imperious vocal performance.
‘Edge of Seventeen’
The song represented the moment Stevie Nicks finally stood out on her own. Though she had released two songs prior to this, both had been duets and offered a little shelter from the spotlight. ‘Edge of Seventeen’, however, put Nicks and her singing talent front and centre.
The song, produced by Tom Petty and Jimmy Iovine for her 1981 solo record Bella Donna, is entrenched in the enveloping emotion of loss. Written in part about Tom Petty and his wife Jane, following the latter’s pronunciation of the phrase “age of seventeen”, the track took on a new meaning following the death of her uncle John and John Lennon
Nicks tells BAM of the track: “The most recent [song on Bella Donna] is ‘Edge of Seventeen’, which is also my favourite song on the record… ‘Edge of Seventeen’ closes it [the album]—chronologically, anyway—with the loss of John Lennon and an uncle at the same time. That song is sort of about how no amount of money or power could save them. I was angry, helpless, hurt, sad.”
Speaking in 1991, Nicks shared her difficulty with dealing with those emotions, of losing her Uncle to cancer: “I have to deal with it every single night when I sing it. That’s why I can [sing it]. When that song starts, I go back to that week. And it’s not like I try.”
A range of emotions are uniquely and individually expressed with every note and musical blank space of ‘Edge of Seventeen’. Nicks is as able to control silence as she is her vocal cords, and, on this isolated vocal track of the song, we’re allowed to fall a little bit further in love with Stevie Nicks, as she inhabits the role of the sirenic poet.
‘Gold Dust Woman’
Though this clip isn’t quite the whole hog in regards to an isolated vocal, instead, using both vocals and keyboard, it does provide an insight into Nicks’ most chaotic times of her life.
Rumours will go down in history as the most dysfunctional recording process of all time, but on ‘Gold Dust Woman’, it all melts away, and we’re left with a shining song.
It marks Stevie Nicks out as the future solo star she was destined to be. A track about the duality of taking cocaine and finding love in all the wrong places is expertly delivered with Nicks’ dulcet tone as she hides the sadness of the track in a golden sheen.
The track features on Fleetwood Mac’s self-titled 1975 album, which along with Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham’s introduction, looked to truly kick start the success of Fleetwood Mac. This beautifully rich and luxurious song is one of the mainstays of that success. It stands among the most performed Fleetwood Mac songs and is a pivotal moment of their live show.
The song’s emotive language and Stevie Nicks’ undeniably pure and vulnerable vocal allows the mind to wander towards this track being a love song but, in truth, the track is located in more vocational areas of the soul.
It centres on a moment when Nicks, having lost her contract with Buckingham and Nicks, was truly worried that she may never achieve her dream. It is this longing that lands the song as one of Nicks’ finest.
The track is so ubiquitous with Nicks’ gorgeous and yet touchingly subtle vocal that it feels inextricable from her and her romantic past that it can feel too easily placed within the “love song” arena. The truth is that it most likely is a love song, but not as we would hope to define it.
This is an ode to Nicks’ only one true love; music.