Summer listening, like summer reading, entails a commitment to leisure and comfort, especially considering the volume of pop music genres producing so many fresh sounds at such a huge volume. But despite the reflex to check out with a beach-burning romance novel, or a breathtaking thriller, choosing a vacation diversion certainly doesn’t mean abandoning reason completely and indulging in the collected works of, say, LMFAO. There needs to be enough heft to keep the brain’s internal jukebox engaged, but not to Zappa-esque proportions.
For that reason and more for a few weeks this summer while working my way up and down the Mississippi River I listened to, and read about, Fleetwood Mac. At the end of that time, I was convinced anew of the ever-evolving genius of a band able to not only reinvent themselves where others vanished into obscurity but to come together amid pressure, heartbreak and mounds of cocaine to create music that lasts.
The Fleetwood Mac choice wasn’t necessarily out of the blue. Stevie Nicks recently confirmed a Fleetwood Mac reunion tour for 2013. Too, this year marks the 35th anniversary of “Rumours,” the 1977 rock classic, a record that its co-producer Ken Caillat documents in the recently published “Making Rumours.”
And a new tribute album, “Just Tell Me That You Want Me” (Concord) curated by music supervisor and longtime Wes Anderson collaborator Randall Poster, offers Mac reinterpretations from across the band’s four incarnations. Artists including present-day tastemakers such as MGMT, Lykke Li, Antony Hegarty and Best Coast, and vets like ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Marianne Faithfull and the New Pornographers, tackle the myriad stylistic gems that can still pop when they burst from the radio.
Two founding members of Fleetwood Mac, drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie, have guided the band with fluid power since its birth in England in 1967 while singers, keyboardist and guitarists — including Peter Green, Bob Welch (who died earlier this year), Christine McVie and, since 1975, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks — have come and gone.
“Just Tell Me You Want Me” co-producer Poster (with Gelya Robb) grew up following the many incarnations of Fleetwood Mac, he told me during a recent phone conversation. He thinks one overlooked aspect of the group is the depth within each lineup. “On the one hand, there’s so much familiarity, and yet on the other hand there’s almost so much of it that’s really been shrouded over time.”
That familiarity arrived via the classic roster of Nicks, Buckingham, Fleetwood, John McVie and his then-wife, Christine McVie, who created the brilliant triumvirate of the self-titled “Fleetwood Mac” (1975), “Rumours” (1977) and “Tusk” in 1979.
But the music stretches back 45 years, when guitarist Green and Fleetwood left John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers to start their own band. Soon McVie followed, and the new group forged a sound that channeled American electric blues through a maturing, post-British Invasion music exploring volume. Hear the band’s late ‘60s work, represented by ZZ Top’s Gibbons on “Oh Well,” and you’ll understand where Led Zeppelin got early inspiration.
Poster said that the Green period is often ignored, and believes that guitarist Green was “the first person who took American blues and filtered it through the British blues movement, and it came out rock ‘n’ roll.”
After Green departed, McVie and Fleetwood hired singer/ guitarist Danny Kirwan, later added Welch to the lineup and released a few decent transitional records. Within three years, though, both Welch and Kirwan were out, and the remaining members hired a San Francisco duo who went by the name Buckingham Nicks to take over on guitar and vocals.
This most fruitful period is documented in “Making Rumours,” Caillat’s version of the 1976 creation of “Rumours,” Fleetwood Mac’s 11th album. “Rumours” is nearly as well-known for the inter-band relationships, three different ones, in various states of dissolution during recording as it is for the music.
Caillat’s book unpacks those destined-to-be classics, “Go Your Own Way,” “Don’t Stop,” “The Chain,” “Dreams,” “Gold Dust Woman” and others, in ways that cast light on the often discordant (and cocaine-, marijuana- and gin-fueled) process. One great tidbit: Nicks wrote “Dreams” in Sly Stone’s rehearsal space, which Caillat describes as having “a four-poster bed covered in black fur and an entrance resembling two furry red lips.”
Poster said that inhabiting the emotions that created “Rumours” and its even-better follow-up, “Tusk,” made covering these songs difficult, a truth that’s exemplified at times on the album. British duo the Kills’ version of “Dreams” suffers from this: After hearing their tentative, by-the-numbers version, the only absolution is to wash it away with Stevie. More engaging is L.A. hard pop band Best Coast reimagining “Rhiannon” as a defiant, melodic rock anthem.
And best, and strangest, is MGMT’s nine-minute, album-closing version of “Future Games,” the title track of a Bob Welch-era album.”It’s like music from outer space, really,” said Poster of MGMT’s version, and Mac’s influence, “and it does speak to how these songs evolve, and live on, and are filtered through another sensibility.”