The Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Still & Nash albums that taught Stevie Nicks about lyrics
There’s no doubt that after Stevie Nicks began to see her worth within the confines of Fleetwood Mac, she emerged as one of the great songwriters of the age. A bonafide juggernaut of perfect pop tunes, the singer managed to expertly traverse the line between the jaded sounds of soft-rock and the honest and authentic expressions of her life. Continually giving oneself over to the process is an exceptionally difficult thing to do but, after listening to two albums, in particular, Nicks has found a golden formula.
Those two albums came from Joni Mitchell and the supergroup Crosby, Stills and Nash and offered Nicks a chance to keep on including her poetry in her songs. It was an idea, inspired by the albums, but enacted throughout Nicks career, even to this day. It sees Nicks use the two records as a blueprint for how to enhance her music with her more complex poetry.
When Stevie Nicks began working with Fleetwood Mac, she came as an added bonus. Originally, Mick Fleetwood was only looking to introduce a new guitarist to his flailing band and called on Lindsay Buckingham to fit the bill. Buckingham, then in a relationship with Stevie Nicks, demanded that the singer came as part of a package deal. Soon after the pair were signed up, the group released their self-titled 1975 record and the duo began working their magic. Quickly enough, the partnership was the central mechanism of the band.
Of course, time would fly by and the relationship of Buckingham and Nicks deteriorated and it left Nicks out there on her own. But it was clear that Buckingham and Nicks’ talent was needed in the band and so the duo found a way to work together. It was at this moment that Nicks truly began to shine. Her lyrics became more expressive, more experimental and enriched by the passage of time. It was no easy feat either, after all, some of Nicks’ compositions were more than a little on the strange side.
The seventies may well have been one of rock’s most fruitful eras but it was also about making money. The previous decade had seen a carefree attitude applied to the record business and artistry was championed above all else. In the following decade, however, things had changed. Now, there was far more focus on the competition in music, being the biggest and best band around. It meant that most songs had to be radio-ready and Nicks had a challenge ahead of her; how did she fit her style into modern rock.
It was a lesson she learned from two of her contemporaries, firstly Crosby, Stills & Nash self-titled debut from 1969 and Joni Mitchell’s fifth LPFor The Roses from 1972. These two albums, most of all, showed Nicks how she could cram her poetical style into a classic formation Speaking with Uncle Joe Benson on the Ultimate Classic Rock Nights radio show, the singer revealed her first foray into songwriting: “Crosby, Stills and Nash because I wanted to get a three-part harmony that was that amazing going.
“And just the way they phrased; and the same with Joni – the way that she phrased her words and how she could get so many words into one sentence. [She] could really write formal poetry and still stuff it into a song. Whereas most people were more simple.” It was a turning point for Nicks as she realised that she could work in a more formal way to the ideals of crafting pure pop music for the masses.
While she struggled on her own Nicks suggested it was because Crosby, Still and Nash “were a group, they all hung out together,” that they could achieve such a sound. In her mind, “they inspired each other. They all had that same deal where they were writing formal poetry, and then taking them and putting them to music. That kind of sets you free.”
Of course, they weren’t the only influences on her songwriting. During the conversation, Nicks also relayed that Buffalo Springfield, including Neil Young who would join the CSN supergroup from time to time, were also vital. “Going back to Buffalo Springfield, that very much influenced Lindsey [Buckingham] and I,” she said. “We saw them at the Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco – the fantastic leather coats and the fringe … they were so darn cute that you were just awestruck.”
Of course, it would be remiss to suggest that without these two LPs that Stevie Nicks wouldn’t have become the mega-star she rightly is today. You don’t become a double-hall-of-famer without having an abundance of talent. But, equally, to ignore one’s inspirations and influences is to ignore the very spring of creativity we frolic in further down the riverbed. So, while Stevie Nicks would have certainly found her way to the top regardless, take a listen below to the two albums that inspired her to really try songwriting.