Leave it to the third member of Fleetwood Mac’s songwriting axis to define the particular musical affinity that the late Christine McVie and Lindsey Buckingham had both in and outside of the band.
“Christine wrote most of the singles,” Stevie Nicks told this writer some years ago. “She was the pop writer and then Lindsey would get into the production, which is what he does, and he would try to pull that pop out of her so what would be left was a great pop song with a real great (sings ‘Say that you love me…’). He brought the perfect touch to her songs.”
Amidst the creative collision that was Fleetwood Mac, McVie and Buckingham were true collaborators over the course of their nearly 45 years of working together — on five Mac studio albums and on one of their own, 2017’s Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie. He professed unrestrained awe of her melodic sensibilities and seemed almost duty-bound to serve McVie’s material in the most unconditional manner he could. She, in turn, appreciated his idiosyncratic aural aesthetics and was happy to let him have his way with her songs — albeit with her involvement and ultimate approval.
When it worked it was pop perfection — and it worked a lot. Their first collaboration came on their first album together, 1975’s Fleetwood Mac, co-writing and sharing lead vocals on “World Turning.” That set a template that would be repeated on hits such as “Don’t Stop” and “Hold Me,” while at other times Buckingham was a sounding board for arrangements and dynamics.
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“I just think there’s some weird chemistry we have,” McVie admitted to this writer before the release of their 2017 joint album. “He loves producing other people’s songs, period. I think with me he tends to lean slightly towards a romantic side of him — musically, I’m speaking, because he describes himself as the brains and me the heart.”
For his part, Buckingham described the working dynamic as “a chemistry thing that I can’t really analyze. I remember being in rehearsals with Christine and the rest of the band before we cut that first album (in 1974)… and it was so clear right away that she and I had this thing. Probably the first thing that hit me about being in Fleetwood Mac was being extremely aware that I had something to contribute to Christine’s songs. She was open to me taking liberties with her songs and has been ever since.”
It’s easy to hear the Buckingham touches on many of McVie’s tunes — even on something like the chorus of “Got a Hold On Me,” the lead single from her 1984 self-titled solo album, on which he played guitar. That willingness to work together is what led to the Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie LP (and subsequent tour), which began life as the two musicians writing songs for what they thought would be a Fleetwood Mac album.
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“We were really only going in to have a bit of fun and cut some of my songs, as I’d just re-entered Fleetwood Mac,” McVie said of the sessions at Los Angeles’ Village Recorders. Fleetwood Mac was, in fact, about to begin rehearsals for a tour — McVie’s first with the group since she “retired” in 1998. “I’d sent Lindsey these songs and he did his kind of arrangement thing and he played them to me at his house,” she recalled. “And then he said, ‘You know, why don’t we go in and have some fun and cut some tracks?’ So that’s what we did.”
“I don’t think we really knew what it was going to be at that time,” Buckingham added, “and I don’t think we cared. I think the gesture, the impulse, was more to welcome [McVie] back into the band. It was more just giving her a complete reorientation into our world as much as possible. We didn’t say, ‘Oh, we’re making a duet album.’ We weren’t going in and saying it was any particular thing.”
The 10-track set featured two McVie solo compositions, three tracks they co-wrote and a selection of songs Buckingham had started working on a year prior with Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, who played on the Buckingham McVie album as well. “I think we were just bulldozing our way through the songs that we had,” Christine McVie said. “I suppose it would’ve had to cross my mind at some point that it seems bizarre that Stevie’s not on it, because the rest of the band are on it. But we decided that we wanted to pursue a duet project. With our history that felt very natural.”
It also became the last thing they did together. Buckingham was ousted from Fleetwood Mac acrimoniously in 2018, and the group toured just once more (with Neil Finn of Crowded House and Mike Campbell from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers) before going on hiatus again. McVie released a solo compilation, Songbird, this past June and told Rolling Stone at the time that she was hoping Buckingham would return to the fold. “I’d always want Lindsey back,” she said. “He’s the best. Neil and Mike were such a cheerful couple, but Lindsey was missed.”
As of this writing, Buckingham has not commented on McVie’s passing.
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It’s easy to focus on Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks when considering a list of Fleetwood Mac albums, but the band’s legacy extends well beyond that.