Exploring the story behind Stevie Nicks best songs in her own words
One of our favourite recording artists of all time, Stevie Nicks, has had one hell of a career. Having failed to hit the big time with Lindsey Buckingham as part of Buckingham Nicks, the artists were given a lifeline when Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac came calling.
With the band, Nicks quickly ascended into the role of pop star and was widely adored for her incredible vocal range and songwriting talent. Below, we walk through some of her best songs with the help of Nicks herself and explore the meaning behind some of her biggest hits.
As part of an interview in 2009, Fleetwood Mac’s inspirational singer and spiritual leader sat down with Entertainment Weekly to go through her most cherished songs, adding a little background texture to their beautifully painted facade. Though we may know all of the songs in question, not all of the tracks are quite what you might imagine.
In the feature, Nicks offers up her views on some class Fleetwood Mac tracks as well as some of her own from her wonderful solo career. It’s a delightful read that lends itself to those fans looking to learn a little about the singer and her craft as well as the life that went on offstage, notable as it was.
Widely regarded as one of the most important singer-songwriters in modern times, it’s interesting to peek behind the scenes to see the emotion, sentiment and all-round penmanship that goes into these wonderful tracks. Nicks adds the canvas to an already expertly crafted painting and with it gives her fans some much-needed information on her workings.
Without further ado, and indebted to EW and Leah Greenblatt, take a look below as Stevie Nicks dissects some of her most famous songs:
Written in 1979, the song is rich with intrigue for fans, it speaks of both comfort and tragedy. The song was born out of her humble beginnings with Buckingham. “In the old days, before Fleetwood Mac, Lindsey [Buckingham] 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.”
A song about returning to a place of calm and comfort before the world went crazy. “So that’s what ‘Gypsy’ means: it’s just a search for before this all happened. And later, I tacked on a line for my friend Robin, my best friend, who died of leukemia: “I still see your bright eyes.” But then, Robin wasn’t sick yet. She got cancer, and died within a year.”
‘Edge of Seventeen’
One of Nicks’ most beloved solo songs, it highlighted that not only was Nicks capable of writing complex songs but she was able to reduce them to their simplest and most enticing form. About ‘Edge of Seventeen’, Nicks said: “This was written right after John Lennon was assassinated. That was a very scary and sad moment for all of us in the rock and roll business, it scared us all to death that some idiot could be so deranged that he would wait outside your apartment building, never having known you, and shoot you dead. If you were the president of the United States, maybe, but to just be a music person, albeit a Beatle? And to be shot and killed in front of your apartment, when you had a wife and two kids? That was so unacceptable to all of us in our community. So the white dove was John Lennon, and peace.”
Songs evolve and change though. Tracks which once signified a certain time or place can morph and evolve into something entirely different. The same can be said of this song for Nicks. “Now, for me, it has taken on something else. I feel like I hear war, because I go to visit soldiers in Bethesda and at Walter Reed [Army Medical Center], and when I hear their stories… We can’t even imagine what they’re going through, the violence.
“So when I sing ‘Flood of tears that no one ever really heard fall at all/Oh I went searching for an answer, up the stairs and down the hall,’—’the call of the nightbird’ is death, and I think of them in the desert, coming around corners, the fear, waiting to be ambushed. It’s very foreboding, ominous.”
“It’s not about Mick’s Fleetwood’s ex-wife, who was also one of my best friends, even though everybody thinks it is.” Nicks was quick to point out that though her and Fleetwood did have a fling during their recording days, this song wasn’t about his wife. “I used her name because I love the name so much, but it was really about what was going on with all of us at that time. It was about Mick’s and my relationship, and it was about one I went into after Mick. Some songs are about a lot of things, some songs only have one or two lines that are that main thing, and then the rest of it, you’re just making a movie, writing a story around this one paragraph, that little kernel of life.”
Many have also suggested that the song was about Don Henley, with the singer himself suggesting Sara would be the name of their unborn child. “He wishes! If Don wants to think the ‘house’ was one of the 90 houses he built—and he did build house after beautiful house, and once they were done, he would move because he wasn’t interested in them anymore [laughs]… No. He is one of my best friends in the world.”
‘Crash Into Me’ (written by Dave Matthews)
Ever the defiant artist, Nicks, after all, is the only woman to be entered into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame twice, refused to listen to her team when they suggested that this track wasn’t for her. “Oh, as soon as that song came out I said, ‘I want it. I want to do that song!’ And the answer from every single person was, ‘This is really a man’s song, you can’t do it.’ So I was like, ‘Alright, whatever,’ but in my head I said, ‘But I will do this song. It’s a twisted song, so I’ll just twist it even more, and make it fit me.’”
Adding: “Dave’s actually very sexual, his writing. But I don’t know if he likes it or not. I invited him to come to the taping for PBS, and he never got back to us. I thought he would! But you know, his wife was having a baby, I think.”
‘How Still My Love’
Taken from Stevie Nicks’ incredible solo album Bella Donna the singer reveals that the track made a marked change for her style: “I really don’t write extremely sexual songs, never have. I’m always going to write about the bouquets and the flowers [laughs]. But ‘How Still My Love’ really is a sexy song, and being that it’s one of my few sexy songs, when we do it on stage it’s fun.
“It’s kind of woozy and it’s slow, but it’s got a really great beat—kind of a strip-tease, a little burlesque, a little Dita Von Teese-y. “
‘The Circle Dance’
Written by Bonnie Raitt, the track features on Nicks album The Soundstage Sessions and sees Nicks in fine form. “I love to do this song. Bonnie’s dad, John Raitt, was a big music guy, Broadway, and he would be gone a lot when Bonnie was growing up. And when you’re young, you don’t think ‘Oh, they have to work,’ you just think, ‘They’re gone and it’s my fault.’ You know, the words, ‘I’ll be home soon, that’s what you’d say, and a little kid believes/After a while I learned that love must be a thing that leaves.’”
“But when her father was older, there was a peace she found with him. And in many ways the song can be about a romantic relationship too, about letting go: ‘Time has made things clearer now.’”
‘Beauty and the Beast’
There may be some speculation around some of Nicks’ songs, amid the source of the inspiration, but this one is clear as day. Nicks is quick to point this out too. “It was definitely about Mick, but it’s also based on the 1946 Jean Cocteau movie. I first saw it on TV one night when Mick and I were first together, and I always thought of Mick as being sort of Beauty and the Beast-esque, because he’s so tall and he had beautiful coats down to here, and clothes made by little fairies up in the attic, I always thought [laughs], so he was that character in a lot of ways.
But perhaps most importantly the film offered a reflective moment: “And also, it matched our story because Mick and I could never be. A, because Mick was married and then divorced and that was not good, and B, because of Fleetwood Mac.”
The band’s increased love affairs meant tensions were fraught and Buckingham was set to be the victim in it all: “Lindsey had barely survived the breakup of Lindsey and Stevie, much less would he not survive the relationship of Stevie and Mick. So Mick told Lindsey, even though I thought it was totally the wrong thing to do, and two days later we broke up. But of course, Lindsey never forgave me for years, if ever. All the great love stories are the love that cannot be. And in the midst of that whole thing, Mick fell in love with my best friend Sara. So the moral is, Don’t go out with a gorgeous rock star who goes on the road, just don’t! Because it will never, ever work out.”
Perhaps Nicks’ most pertinent tracks come from another relationship. A love song in many ways, while the track may seem like a traditional lullaby, it actually hangs on Nicks’vocational desire: “I was in Colorado around 1973, after me and Lindsey’s first record, and we’d just been dropped. Lindsey had been offered a tour with the Everly Brothers, it was a good salary and we really needed the money, so we went to where either Don or Phil Everly lived, in Aspen, to rehearse. I had my best friend with me, and we went out to dinner one night and met these great guys, they just gave us their living room in their three-bedroom apartment—we stayed there for three months.”
But while Buckingham was able to live his dream, Nicks was cut off from her opportunities. “So one day while I was sitting there on their floor, looking out the window at all the snow, I made a decision whether I wanted to continue a relationship with Lindsey, musically and romantically, and I decided that I was gonna give it another try, because we weren’t getting along very well, but the music was important.”
Nicks confirmed, “I never told him what it was about ’til years and years later, maybe only in the last five. I knew it was a good song. Whether I had [the] sense if it would do anything or go anywhere? I don’t know [laughs]. But I knew it was really good.”