Six definitive songs: The ultimate beginner’s guide to Stevie Nicks
There are few superlatives left to sum up the mercurial talent of Stevie Nicks. As one of the most prominent songwriters of her generation, she remains the only female double Rock and Roll Hall of Famer in history and there’s a very good reason for that—she is quite simply sensational.
If you’re to believe the news, then the generalised genre of ‘rock’ is dead in the water. The charts are stocked full of synthesised sounds and a new generation is finding new platforms for their expression more than ever. It’s an evolution in music which continues to devour the future as soon as it arrives. That doesn’t mean we can’t offer up a little education in the past though and one lesson everyone should learn is that Stevie Nicks is unlike anybody else the music world has ever provided.
As we aim to offer up a little insight into the rock icons of the 20th century, we’re distilling their back catalogues into just six of their most defining songs. The tracks that offer up the first steps in getting to know the music and the person behind the legend. For Nicks, it has been a long and winding road, one with many pit stops but three major landmarks.
The list of amazing Stevie Nicks-helmed songs could go on for a very long time. Nicks has always possessed the unique ability to not only write and record songs that are smart, impassioned and honest but also entirely ubiquitous and attainable. Across her three major projects with Buckingham Nicks, Fleetwood Mac and out on her own as a soloist, Nicks has always connected with her fans through her music.
Six of definitive songs of Stevie Nicks:
‘Crying in the Night’ (1973)
Stevie Nicks met Lindsey Buckingham when they were both attending Menlo-Atherton High School and they soon began making music together. Though their album Buckingham Nicks would never live up to expectations, the earliest rendition of Nicks’ songwriting skill was just as potent.
The first song from Buckingham Nicks’ self-titled debut album was destined to be a chart-topper but never reached its potential. It did, however, catch the attention of Mick Fleetwood who would soon seek out the duo for his own band. It instantly marked Stevie Nicks out as an aggressively honest writer as she warns of the dangers of obsessive love all wrapped up in some power-pop glory.
The track ‘Rhiannon’ remains a 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, in fact, 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 track features on the band’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.
During the recording of Fleetwood Mac’s seminal record Rumours, the perennial songbird Stevie Nicks would often escape the insane intensity of the studio to take a break in the King of Funk, Sly Stone’s room, as it was just down the hall in the same rehearsal space. It was there that Nicks would write one of the most beloved songs.
“It wasn’t my room, so it could be fabulous,” she recalled in the 1997 Classic Albums documentary on Rumours. “I knew when I wrote it that it was really special. I was really not self-conscious or insecure about showing it to the rest of the band.” The recording process was a scene that was worthy of escaping.
‘Dreams’ is a product of that highly-charged situation and sees Nicks firmly take aim at her now-ex-boyfriend Lindsey Buckingham with unnerving ferocity and marksmanship.
‘Edge of Seventeen’ (1981)
The solo career of Stevie Nicks would be a pathway for so many other artists to follow. She went out on her own, away from some famous bands and arguably did it better than ever before. ‘Edge of Seventeen’ was Nicks’ all-powerful introduction to her solo career.
Nicks the Queen of Rock was born when Jimmy Iovine moved away from working with Tom Petty to take on her 1981 album Bella Donna. “It was Jimmy that said, ‘I will produce your record and we’ll make you a Tom Petty record, expect it’ll be a girl Tom Petty record,’” Nicks recalled. “I found that very exciting and I was jumping off the walls. That’s how it all started.”
The song wasn’t the first release from Nicks as a solo artist, there was something different to ‘Edge of Seventeen’ from the first two singles ‘Stop Draggin My Heart Around’ and ‘Leather and Lace’. Those two releases both featured Nicks singing as part of a duet. While the singer was naturally excited to have the great Tom Petty and Don Henley provide ample vocal support on the two previous releases, ‘Edge of Seventeen’ suddenly meant more knowing that Nicks was finally out on her own. It saw her shine as a solo star and promised that Nicks was a talent beyond any band.
‘Stand Back’ (1983)
Taken from 1983 effort The Wild Heart, the single ‘Stand Back’ has a more curious composition story than you might imagine. Having married her friend’s widower following her death, Nicks and Kim Anderson were driving to their honeymoon when Nicks heard Prince’s ‘Little Red Corvette’ on the radio. She was taken aback.
Nicks began humming a tne inspired by the song and made Anderson stop the car so they could grab a tape recorder and, by process of humming the tune, laid down the bare bones of the song.
To this day, it remains a part of Nicks’ performances and was yet another reminder that even without a backing band she was a force to be reckoned with creatively.
‘Rooms on Fire’ (1989)
Taken from Nicks’ fourth solo studio album, 1989’s The Other Side of the Mirror, the track once again proved Nicks was a fantastic songwriter above all else.
Apparently inspired by her relationship with Rupert Hine, Nicks said of the song: “Rooms on Fire is about a girl who goes through a life like I have gone through, where she finally accepts the idea that there never will be those other things in her life. She will never be married, she will never have children, she will never do those [that] part of life.”
The track was a mainstay of Nicks’ live shows up until 1999 and hasn’t been played since. We hope that the song will get another outing soon enough and that ther may even be an audience to watch it.