1971: Christine McVie steps into the Fleetwood Mac spotlight
Christine Perfect had been contributing to Fleetwood Mac even before she married the band’s bassist John McVie in 1968. By 1970, she even painted the cover of the band’s album Kiln House – but while you can hear clearly her background vocals, still no credit on the album sleeve.
(This has always struck me as insane, btw. She was one of the most highly regarded artists of the era, having won Melody Maker’s Female Vocalist of the Year in 1969 and 1970. How the hell do you not brag that you have HER on your record? Idiots. Well, they fixed it anyway, so 47 years later, I’m finally starting to let it go.)
Her joining Fleetwood Mac as a full-fledged member wasn’t the only change in the band that year. The departure of founding guitarist Jeremy Spencer and his roots in Buddy Holly and 50s, and the addition of American guitarist Bob Welch, put a definitive end to the blues era of Fleetwood Mac, setting themselves firmly on a path of singer-songwriter-based sophisticated pop.
There’s a lot more than that going on here, mind you. It’s like the entire band has been liberated from the shackles of traditional music styles, and is flowing in sweetly energetic new directions. It’s a quintessentially 1971 album in its innocence, hopefulness, and embrace of eclecticism. Joy. You’re gonna smile the whole way through this.
This 1971 ad nicely tells the tale: “Rich and subtle addictive sounds from a British group whose changes are always positive.” Amen.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I may be slightly overrating it because of my deep fondness for the vibe they’re putting out, but you know what? I think this is their 2nd-best record after 1975′s Fleetwood Mac (where a Christine song, “Over My Head” was in fact their first breakthrough). “Woman of 1000 Years” and the title track are melodic and complex enough to border on jazz-prog, but it happens that both of Christine’s songs here are among my all-time favorites of hers.
The first one is the album’s second track, “Morning Rain” and it isn’t so much a showcase for Christine as a solo artist, so to speak, as much as it is a terrific band workout. I had no use for Fleetwood Mac as a blues band, but this? Oh my god, they are so freaking smooth here, it’s absolutely amazing. I love, love, love this, for a lot of the reasons I love The Yes Album which came out a couple of months earlier: melodic, elegant, with soaring choral harmonies, and a song structure built in a way that points to the future rather than the past.
Christine’s second track is the album closer, “Show Me A Smile”. It’s a gorgeous ballad for her son, with her voice and keyboards winding around Danny Kirwan’s sinuous guitar, and one of my all-time favorite things she ever laid to wax.
1971 was one of the all-time greatest years not just for music in general but for women in particular, with albums like Pearl, Tapestry, Blue, Carpenters, Fanny’s Charity Ball (the first all-women rock album to chart in the US; more here), two comeback albums from Barbra Streisand (both backed with Fanny),
the first two albums from Carly Simon, the first two from Rita Coolidge, Grammy-winning early career peaks from Aretha Franklin & Tina Turner, debut albums from Bonnie Raitt, Helen Reddy, and Olivia Newton-John, Sandy Denny’s debut as a solo artist, and so many more….but I don’t think one of them had a song as pretty as this one.
So if you ask me about the BEST albums of 1971, well, I can’t honestly say that this makes the list….but the fact that an album this special doesn’t quite make that cut is one of the reasons that 1971 is such an amazing year. This is without question one of the half-dozen or so of the year’s true hidden gems.
Welcome, then, to Future Games, my pick for Fleetwood Mac’s second-best record of all time. Start with the two songs from the woman born as Christine Perfect, but enjoy the whole thing as your entry into one of the most delightful and all-too-overlooked chapters in Fleetwood Mac’s legendary career. This five album run starting here, leading up to those two kids from California joining the band a few years later, is very much worth your attention, if for nothing else, to recall, or maybe even learn for the first time, what a powerful force Christine McVie was, building on long suits of melody and sweetness.