Reader’s Choice: Song #19/250: Songbird by Fleetwood Mac

Christine McVie

As many of you might know, singer/songwriter/musician Christine McVie passed away this week. McVie was best known for her role in one of the world’s most successful rock bands of all time, Fleetwood Mac. In that band, Christine McVie was the keyboardist and co-lead singer along with Stevie Nicks. She was also the songwriter behind many of the band’s biggest hits, such as “Don’t Stop”, “You Make Loving Fun” *(which was written about an affair she was having with the band’s lighting director at the time of the Rumours tour), “Little Lies”, “Songbird” and many others. As a member of Fleetwood Mac, McVie has won several Grammy Awards; she has been inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and was presented with the Ivor Novello Lifetime Achievement Award for her songwriting.

From an early age, Christine McVie was drawn to The Arts. Her mother was a medium who told fortunes and conducted astrology sessions for money. Her grandfather was an organist at Westminster Abbey. McVie played piano and received training in its classical form. As a child, she attended the Moseley School of Art in Birmingham to study sculpture, with the thought that she would become an art teacher. While still a young teen, McVie was introduced to the music of Fats Domino by her older brother, John. This was McVie’s introduction to The Blues, which became a form of music that was integrated into everything she wrote and/or played throughout her career to come. While at the Moseley School, McVie joined several local bands, including one fronted by her friend, Spencer Davis. With Davis, she gained experience at singing in front of an audience, but more importantly, he encouraged her to write and perform her own songs. Once this seed was planted, Christine McVie grew into a young woman who possessed confidence in her own abilities and who believed that her material had every bit as much right to be heard as anything by the young men she surrounded herself with.

Christine McVie prior to joining Fleetwood Mac.

Upon graduating, she moved to London and worked for a while as a window dresser, alongside fellow Moseley School alumnus Colin Birch, who was designer Karl Lagerfeld’s official window dresser. While in London, she joined a new band called Chicken Shack. This band had a few minor hits in the UK. As part of a burgeoning Blues/Rock scene at the time, Chicken Shack toured with another up and coming band called Fleetwood Mac. At the time, Fleetwood Mac was fronted by Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, along with several others. Eventually, Christine McVie (known as Christine Perfect back then) met and fell in love with John McVie. When Fleetwood Mac’s keyboardist quit the band, she was asked to join as back up singer and keyboard player. She agreed, partly because she liked being a musician and playing live, but more because it gave her the best opportunity to spend time with John McVie. Eventually, the band moved from London to Los Angeles. Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham were recruited to join the band, and Fleetwood Mac became the band that we all came to know and love.

Fleetwood Mac during the recording of the Rumours album. From the left: Lindsey Buckingham, Christine McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks and John McVie.

Unbeknownst to most fans at the time, there was a lot of internal friction present all throughout the making of the Rumours album and tour. Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, who had been a couple, split up in a very acrimonious and public manner. In a more quiet and private way, Christine separated from her husband, John. Yet the band carried on and made some of Rock’s greatest music. Despite all of the bitter feelings that existed between members of the band, they always maintained their professionalism when it came to the music. Even though many of the songs they performed were written about each other, the band as a whole always came together and played the music for all it was worth and gave audiences everything they had. Through it all, Christine McVie was always viewed as a steadying influence. Her understated performing style contrasted well with Stevie Nicks’ flamboyance. Her calm centre contrasted with the volatility inherent within Lindsey Buckingham who, when angered, channeled his emotions through a violent style of guitar playing. Despite all of the ups and downs experienced by Fleetwood Mac, McVie stayed with the band until1998 when she announced her retirement. This life change coincided with the death of her father, whom she dearly loved and admired. In the time since she retired, Christine McVie had played with the band at a few reunion concerts. She also had released a couple of solo albums and had embarked on a tour with former bandmate Lindsey Buckingham as a musical duo. With her recent death, fans, peers and music critics alike have all been reassessing her career and have been kind in their evaluations. It takes a special type of person to possess the strength of character and the personal belief in oneself to willingly accept the role as the “glue” person in any group situation, but that’s who Christine McVie became during her time in Fleetwood Mac. Many have compared her to George Harrison, in that her talent was integral to the success of her band, but more often than not, recognition was given to other, more showy bandmates. Her calm demeanor and rock-solid countenance are being compared favourably to Harrison as well. Whatever the case, Christine McVie lived a long and productive life and has left a legacy of success that puts her in the same class with the best of those who have followed The Arts with their hearts. It is likely that it will take her death for many to realize what we have all lost.

Christine McVie at her piano.

I will close this post with a few words about today’s song, “Songbird”. This song was written by McVie during the recording sessions for the Rumours album in Los Angeles. The song was written near midnight one night when the rest of the band had finished recording and had left the studio. McVie has stated that she wrote the lyrics in less than an hour and wanted to lay down some tracks immediately so as to not lose any aspect of the song by waiting until morning. Unfortunately, the engineers had gone home, too. So Christine McVie stayed awake all night, playing the song over and over again until someone showed up in the morning to help with recording. When the rest of the band heard “Songbird” for the first time the next day, it was immediately decided that it was a song that Christine McVie was meant to sing alone and not with the rest of the band. So, going forward, “Songbird” became the song that often closed Fleetwood Mac concerts. When playing it, Christine McVie would sit at a piano at centre stage. Lindsey Buckingham would sit in the shadows and strum his guitar softly while McVie sat in the spotlight and sang. It was her song and her moment.

Rest in peace, Songbird.

The link to the video for the song “Songbird” by Fleetwood Mac, as sung by Christine McVie, can be found here. ***The lyrics version is here.

The link to the official obituary for Christine McVie can be found here.

The link to the official website for Fleetwood Mac can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Honourable Mention Song #14: The Chain by Fleetwood Mac (as Nominated by Lori Schroeder) (KTOM)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Honourable Mention Song #14: The Chain by Fleetwood Mac (as Nominated by Lori Schroeder).

Today’s Honourable Mention Song was brought to us by a lady named Lori Schroeder. My whole family know Lori from her role as a CYW (or Child and Youth Worker) in schools. Lori is tasked with helping students who require assistance to successfully navigate through their day at school. In that role, people who are CYWs tend to be well-known figures within the school community. Both of my daughters had the pleasure of having Lori at their elementary school and were able to look to her as a “trusted adult” out on the playground and/or in the school hallways, if they ever needed help. As for my wife and I, we were both teachers and got to rely on Lori’s help at the schools we worked at, too. But, for the purposes of this post, the really important connection that Lori has to me is through music. Lori is a music lover and frequent concert goer and, as such, she has contributed a lot to this musical countdown journey of ours. So, when I called for Honourable Mention nominations, I knew Lori would come up with a good song or two and she did not disappoint. Her first nominated song….and the one I went with…..was “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac. What a song this is! What an album it comes from! What incredible behind-the-scenes goings-on there were while this song was being recorded! Here is the story of “The Chain”. Thanks, Lori.

“The Chain” is a special song in the annals of Fleetwood Mac’s storied history. First of all, it is the lead song on Side #2 off of one of the world’s biggest selling albums of all-time, “Rumours”. That album sold over 40 million copies, making it one of the Top Ten best selling albums ever in music history. The story of “The Chain” is actually, reflective of the story of the band during the time they were recording “Rumours”. So, let’s back up a little and talk a bit about the band per se, before we dive into the song because that context is important in understanding why “The Chain” was written and what significance it holds within Fleetwood Mac’s musical canon.

I am the last person in the world to ever admonish anyone for dating a co-worker because my wife and I were teachers on the same school staff when we started dating. Luckily for us, we were confident that we were a match and so, the normal worries and woes about how to co-exist as colleagues should our relationship go awry never amounted to anything and our lives went merrily along. However, as a general rule, dating a co-worker is an exercise that is often fraught with landmines and pitfalls. Quite often, when a relationship ends, it does so on acrimonious terms. In such circumstances, it is often better for people to be able to wash their hands of each other and go their separate ways. But, when you date a co-worker, it is impossible to go one’s separate way. You are both “chained” together, to a certain extent, because of your workplace duties and responsibilities. That is exactly what happened to the members of Fleetwood Mac.

At the time “Rumours” was being recorded, Fleetwood Mac consisted of five members; two couples (John and Christine McVie were married, while Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham were dating), along with drummer, Mick Fleetwood, who was married to a woman who was not in the band. Just prior to their recording sessions, the McVie’s divorced and only spoke to each other when it was necessary for musical reasons. Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham broke up. Their split was very bitter; with much emotional baggage seeping into the lyrics of many of the songs on “Rumours”, as well as, during many of the band’s live performances, going forward. And, poor Mick Fleetwood……..just prior to the start of the recording sessions, he discovered that his wife, back in England, had left him for another man…..his best friend! So, needless to say, the social dynamic at play during the recording sessions was quite toxic.

This is where a song like “The Chain” comes in. “The Chain” is the only song on “Rumours” in which all five band members earned a songwriting credit. The song stands as an island of collaboration amid a sea of marital discontent. What happened was that “The Chain” was not written around a conceptual idea, the way most songs are. Instead, “The Chain” was made up of bits and pieces of various jams that were going on at the time. As it turned out, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie were musicians schooled in improvisational jazz and, as such, they enjoyed jamming together. It was during one of these personal jam sessions between McVie and Fleetwood that John McVie came up with the throbbing baseline that eventually worked its way into “The Chain”. Stevie Nicks made note of the baseline and a day or two later, reported to work with preliminary lyrics in hand. Christine McVie and Lindsay Buckingham, who worked well together despite all the acrimony ongoing between everyone else, took Nicks’ lyrics and polished the chorus. When the song was completed, all members had played a role in its creation which, in turn, proved the message of the song as being accurate. That message was that, no matter what problems and challenges the band faced, they recognized the strength of themselves as a musical unit and were pledging that nothing was going to stop them from making great music.

That sounds like the definition of professionalism to me. They all had their jobs to do and, individually and collectively, they promised themselves and each other to, not only do their jobs but, to continue to work to ensure that their jobs were completed at the very highest level of skill and quality. I think we can all agree that they managed to accomplish this with “Rumours”. It is an album that produced hits such as “Go Your Own Way”, “Dreams”, “Don’t Stop”, “Gold Dust Woman”, “You Make Loving Fun”, along with “The Chain”. It was a huge artistic accomplishment and one that, in spite of the rancour and the discord, speaks highly of the professionalism inherent within each member of Fleetwood Mac.

Having said that, get ready for the video I am about to share. It is a live performance of “The Chain”. In this performance, you can easily see the tension between Nicks and Buckingham. They are barely able to conceal the animosity that exists between them. For whatever reason, they seem able to channel that negative energy into their musicianship and are able to produce an electric performance but, mannnnnn, there are some nasty vibes on display here. I can’t imagine being an audience member, going to a Fleetwood Mac concert, being all excited that your favourite band was performing and then, witnessing such negativity and tension on stage, right before your eyes. I am a big a believer in fairy tales and happy endings but, that doesn’t seem to be the case for the members of Fleetwood Mac. As much as I admire their desire to put the music first and foremost in their minds, the fact that there is so much negativity associated with the creation of all of their best work, changes how I listen to it now. I still love the songs, from a purely musical point of view but, there is something definitely lost in the translation for me now, as a result of how I know the dynamics of their group worked and didn’t work, if you know what I mean.

So, buckle up and get ready for a remarkable video to a terrific song. I thank you, Lori, for nominating a song with such a story behind it. Thanks, as well, for all of your comments and stories that you shared along the way during this countdown of ours. Your love of music is clearly evident. Your interactions helped to make this journey much more interesting for me and everyone else and, for that, I am most appreciative.

Without further delay, here are Fleetwood Mac with “The Chain”, from their highly successful album, “Rumours”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Fleetwood Mac, can be found here.

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: Song #445…Go Your Own Way by Fleetwood Mac (RS)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #445: Go Your Own Way by Fleetwood Mac.

There was a time in my life when I wanted to ask this beautiful woman out on a date but almost didn’t. The reason for my hesitancy had nothing to do with my level of interest (which was high), it was simply because of the potential for complications due to the fact that we worked together. It isn’t always the best policy to date someone you work with. The reasons are fairly obvious. It is all fun and games when things go well but, when things go wrong and you still have to show up each day and work together productively and professionally well, it is hard. It is awkward. In the case of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac, it leads to songs like, “Go Your On Way”.

Fleetwood Mac was one of the biggest bands in the world during their heyday in the 1970s. The group consisted of five people: drummer, Mick Fleetwood and then, two couples, John and Christine McVie and then, Nicks and Buckingham. Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham had been together for several years and had just broken up. Even though they had separated, the members of Fleetwood Mac decided to keep the band together. “Go Your Own Way” was written by Buckingham about his feelings toward Nicks after the break-up. The lyrics to this song are pretty self-explanatory and reveal a man who was bitter and hurt by Nicks leaving him. To be honest, I am not sure why the band agreed to even record such a song nor, how they were able to perform it with passion and professionalism each night on stage. It is, obviously, a source of discomfort and awkwardness akin to ripping a bandage off of a wound that hasn’t fully healed. Nonetheless, the song became a hit.

When you watch the video, you will note the physical distance that Nicks keeps from Buckingham throughout the performance and, as well, you can note the intensity with which Buckingham plays his guitar. There is a lot of emotional baggage on view. Some people like to watch the suffering of others, I suppose, because it gives them a feeling of superiority; in that, their life may not be great but, at least, it isn’t as publicly bad as what is transpiring on stage. For me, I find this hard to watch. I can’t imagine ever getting to the point in my relationship with my wife that I would want to punish her in such a public way, night after night. For such a popular song, it is as disturbing as any song on this entire list could possibly be. Watch the video, if you wish. If you have your own wounds that haven’t yet healed then, may I kindly suggest, that you take a pass. Some of the biggest songs contain some of the saddest stories. “Go Your Own Way” is one of those songs.

The link to the music video for Go Your Own Way by Fleetwood Mac can be found here.

Fleetwood Mac have their own website that can be found here.

Thanks to KEXP for supporting good music since their inception as a radio station. A link to their great website can be found here.