Now, any fan of Fleetwood Mac knows that Stevie Nicks spent much of her career writing songs about her own bandmates. Like Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood, she used the internal backstabbings, affairs and betrayals, which very nearly destroyed the band, as a source of new material. But there are occasions in which Nicks’ scope was a little wider than the romantic misdeeds of her own bandmates. Take ‘Beautiful Child’ for example – a song written about a brief fling Stevie Nicks had with The Beatles’ road manager, Derek Taylor.
The track comes from Fleetwood Mac’s 1979 album, Tusk. It is a tender coming-of-age ballad featuring mellow piano and guitar arrangements. Nicks’ densely layered vocals add a velvety warmth to lyrics that speak of love’s dependence on good timing. When she sings: “You fell in love when I was only ten. The years disappeared. Much has gone by since then,” she seems to evoke the inevitable heartbreak which must surely follow the love between two people of vastly different ages, who have had vastly different life experiences.
For a long time, people assumed the song was about Mick Fleetwood. It had been rumoured that Stevie Nicks had a secret relationship with Fleetwood (who is older than Nicks) when she was young. However, in a Q&A back in 2013, Nicks stated that the song was actually written in response to her relationship with Derek Taylor: “It didn’t last very long, because he was married,” Nicks says, “but it affected me very much, because he told me so many stories about the Beatles.”
A former music journalist, Taylor had worked with some of the biggest names of the 1960s, including The Byrds, Harry Nilsson, and The Beach Boys. When Nicks met him, however, he was working as road manager to the fab four.
Known as ‘The Fifth Beatle’, Taylor became such an integral part of the group’s dynamic that he ended up being name check in two famous songs written by Beatles members. Indeed, Taylor was one of the “friends” who George Harrison waits for in ‘Blue Jay Way’. He is also mentioned in The Plastic Ono Band’s ‘Give Peace A Chance’, alongside Timmy Leary, Rosemary, Tommy Smothers, Bobby Dylan, Tommy Cooper, Norman Mailer Alan Ginsberg, and Hare Krishna.
For Nicks, Derek Taylor was an escape from the chaotic web of toxic relationships within Fleetwood Mac. He had a maturity and worldliness, which Nicks found deeply attractive, and on meeting him, the singer quickly became infatuated. Her relationship with Taylor is a testament to how surprisingly small the music world was at that time. In the Q&A, Nicks goes on to say: “Everybody has your road manager. We had J.C., crazy J.C. (John Courage, who also worked with Savoy Brown.) Led Zeppelin had Peter Grant. The road managers are the ones who know everything. And so I learned so much about him about the whole world of the Beatles that it was stunning.”
Although their romance didn’t last, the tone of ‘Beautiful Child’ and lyrical content would seem to imply that Nicks learnt a lot from Derek Taylor. Nick seems to use the song to express her growth as a result of the relationship, repeating the line “I am not a child anymore” repeatedly. Then again, perhaps Taylor, being 16 years her senior, made Nicks feel infantilised, and this song is, in fact, a rejection of his power over her. Nicks has only ever offered small kernels of information about the song’s meaning, so we may never know. What we do know, however, is that Nicks sure knows how to write a love song.