With three albums alongside her Fleetwood Mac bandmates behind her and the sparkling pathway to solo stardom being continuously illuminated, Stevie Nicks decided to venture out on her own and produce one of the classic records of her impressive career, Bella Donna.
Nicks had quickly become the beguiling figurehead for the band as she took on lead vocals and produces some of the groups most astutely written songs. It was enough to convince the artist, who had been singing in a band since she was a teen, to go solo and produce a high-quality album. Below we rank the songs on that album in order of greatness.
Despite many of Nicks’ songs being seen as archetypal moments of talent on the Fleetwood Mac records, the singer’s participation on songwriting within the group never exceeded 50%, it left Nicks with a certain degree of uncertainty around leaving the group and going out on her own.
“‘Bella Donna’ is a term of endearment I use and the title is about making a lot of decisions in my life,” said Stevie Nicks to Rolling Stone about the record in 1981. “Making a change based on the turmoil in my soul. You get to a certain age where you want to slow down, be quieter.”
With Bella Donna and the help of both Jimmy Iovine and Tom Petty, Nicks confirmed that she was every bit the solo star she had thought and delivered a classic record. It achieved critical and commercial success topping the US charts and providing four top 40 singles too.
But how would one rate the songs on Nicks’ seminal album? Below we rank the tracks on Bella Donna in order of greatness.
Stevie Nicks’ Bella Donna, ranked:
10. ‘Think About It’
Following the classic Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty duet ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart’ around on the album was always going to be a tough challenge. ‘Think About It’ may well be emboldened by Nicks’ narrative lyrics but it pales in comparison to the rest of the song.
A country-tinged rock and roll bop allows Nicks’ emotional lyricism to breathe. Her uncanny tone is present for all to see and offers a clip of what the future would hold for the singer.
9. ‘Outside The Rain’
The first collaboration with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers to feature on our list, ‘Outside The Rain’ is chock full of rock and roll credentials. Dusky and hazy, Nicks does a great job of vividly painting the images of the song on to the sonics.
It may not end up being one of the songs that defines Stevie Nicks as an artist but it certainly does add extra colour to the unstoppable solo spell she cast on Bella Donna.
8. ‘How Still My Love’
Despite having a few affectations that would feel at home on a Fleetwood Mac song, this song feels distinctly Nicks. Whether it’s because of the romantically charged lyrics or indeed the proposed subject matter of Lindsey Buckingham. But for us, this is another step towards Nicks establishing her style.
Revisiting a moment with her lover in the still of the night, the music provided is simply searing and soaring, providing an ample reflection of the passion at hand.
7. ‘The Highwayman’
The album’s closing moments is another usually vulnerable and revealing moment for Nicks. Having written the song way back in 1975, it resembles the poem of the same name. It sees Bess waiting for the Highwayman to arrive at her door so she can kill him.
Later, Nicks said of the track: “Basically, Don Henley is The Highwayman. I used him as my idea, The Eagles, you know, on the road because this was before I was, you know, I could only look in awe at all these men because I’m a songwriter and what I really wanted to do was I wanted to be accepted by these people as a lady songwriter and not as just a girl.”
6. ‘Bella Donna’
It’s hard to ignore the Fleetwood Mac references in this song, the album’s title track and opener. Whether a decision was made to offer up a transitional moment for Nicks or it was a pure coincidence it makes for a seamless way to be introduced to the album.
Nicks the solo star was keen to prove her contribution to everything that made Fleetwood Mac great and this track is the perfect distillation of it. Her lyrics are honest and poetic but her vocal is enough to hang the whole album on, let alone this song. Nicks, like no other artist, encourages her audience to express and emote alongside her.
“The title song was basically a warning to myself and a question to others. I’m thirty-three years old, and my life has been very up and down in the last six years,” recalled Nicks of the song.
5. ‘Kind of Woman’
The second track of the record sees Nicks in familiar surroundings with ‘Kind of Woman’. It was a song that was written in Aspen, Colorado, around the same time she composed ‘Landslide’ in 1973 and sees Nicks put Lindsey Buckingham at the centre of her lyrics.
Nicks, spoke of the track, “‘Kind of Woman’ I wrote about Lindsey (Buckingham) when he went on the road with the Everly Brothers, and I was sure he was gonna meet somebody.”
She continues, “So it’s like, which is the kind of woman? Was it me or was it the woman that he would meet? I didn’t know. And then I’d never been on the road or I had no idea. I mean I had same thoughts that probably every little girl in the world thinks when a rock and roll band comes into town. As Joni Mitchell would say, “Don’t count on your plans with a rock and roll man.”
4. ‘After The Glitter Fades’
Written way back in 1972 but revamped for her release in 1981, ‘After The Glitter Fades’ is certainly one of Stevie Nicks’ finest efforts on record but she initially wanted Dolly Parton to sing on the track. “I wanted [Dolly Parton] to do ‘After the Glitter Fades’ ’cause I really thought it would be perfect for her,” she said. “And it got sent to her and I don’t think Dolly ever really got it. I think if she’d ever got the song, she would have wanted to do it.”
Lyrically the song is another gem from Nicks as she not only accurately depicts the wayward lifestyle of celebrities and famed musicians but she does so from a space of relative obscurity.
With the song copyrighted in 1975, as Buckingham Nicks was ending, the track offers up a vision of the future. “‘After the Glitter Fades’ was written in 1972; it was copyrighted in 1975. Which is a strange sort of premonition to have in 1972 because that was two years before Fleetwood Mac,” revealed Nicks.
“And I mean that was when the Buckingham Nicks album had been dropped so we were going nowhere fast. And I seemed to have some idea what was going to happen, that I was really gonna face some really serious glitter and see some serious glitter fade.”
3. ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’
Arguably the reason that Bella Donna became a solo success for Stevie Nicks was ironically her duet with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. After Jimmy Iovine had been working with both artists he suggested that Nicks lay some vocals on Petty’s album Hard Promises and Petty give the singer his track ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’. It was a genius move.
Iovine had suspected Bella Donna was lacking a big hit single and his choice to grab this Petty number proved a fruitful one. The track shot up to No.3 on the Billboard 100 chart and boosted the album to number one as it did.
Nicks and Petty shared an incredible friendship from this moment on and his contribution to the album is undeniable. Their friendship is perfectly preserved in the brilliant duet on this track.
2. ‘Leather and Lace’
Perhaps one of the only legitimate duets on the album, in the strict sense of the word, ‘Leather and Lace’ is right up there as part of Nicks’ greatest hits. It sees Don Henley and Stevie Nicks trade lines and emotions across a heart-wrenching scene.
“I wrote ‘Leather and Lace’ for Waylon (Jennings) because he called and asked me to write a song called ‘Leather and Lace,'” recalls Nicks on her website. “I had never written a song for somebody especially for somebody that had given me a title.” Nicks continued “I was under a lot of pressure to finish this song whereas in…usually, if I don’t want to finish something, I don’t finish it.”
Dating Don Henley at the time, he and Nicks would work on the song from time to time, trying to perfect it. By the time Bella Donna came around, Nicks knew what she had to do, she had to get Henley on record. “I said ‘Don, I can’t do this song without you. So if Waylon doesn’t do it and you don’t do it, it doesn’t get done ’cause I wrote this song for a man and a woman in the music business that are trying to work out their problems together. You know, your spirit and my spirit is greatly in it.”
Nicks shared the fact that he even appeared on the album is all the reward she needs for the LP. “He’s a hard one to get to, even for me,” reflected Nicks. “And he would do anything for me, but he wouldn’t do it if he didn’t think it was good. So that was probably the greatest compliment of all that he is even on this record because he wouldn’t have put his voice on this record if he didn’t think it was up to his standards.”
1. ‘Edge of Seventeen’
One of the most iconic introductions of all time, of course ‘Edge of Seventeen’ would take the top spot. The song announced Nicks’ confirmation as one of rock and roll’s finest.
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 later The Beatle 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.” It’s a track that rings with authentic emotion.
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.
“I don’t make a physical effort to do it. In my mind, my little time-space, I’m back in the house at Encino finding out that news, and when I sing it to everybody, I try to make them understand in a way that I was talking about without actually telling them. That’s why I can sing ‘Edge of Seventeen’ just like I wrote it yesterday. Because it will never, ever lose the intensity. I will never forget how I felt when that happened to me.”
That range of emotions, plus about one thousand more are expressed in every note of Nicks’ imperious vocal.