35 Years Ago: Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Live’ Showcases the Band in Top Form
Despite their reputation of being a dynamic live act, it wasn't until Dec. 8, 1980, when Fleetwood Mac finally got around to issuing a document of themselves in concert. Titled simply Live, the double LP was culled from their 1979 Tusk tour, and stands as a snapshot of a moment in transition for the band.
"Fleetwood Mac has never done a live album before in any form of this band," said drummer Mick Fleetwood in an interview with Circus magazine shortly after the album's release. "It seemed to me that after a year on the road [1979-1980], there was no better time to release one."
Since forming in 1967, Fleetwood Mac had gone through a laundry list of personnel changes until finally striking it rich with the addition of guitarist /singer/songwriter Lindsey Buckingham and vocalist Stevie Nicks. In 1977, the mega-selling Rumours put the band at the top of the mountain, with, perhaps, nowhere to go but down. 1979's wildly experimental tour de force, Tusk, had Buckingham pushing the band into new directions, and left both fans and fellow band members a bit confused.
“The rest of the band had a cynical view towards the way Tusk was made and the reasons why I thought it was important to move into new territory,” Buckingham told Uncut in 2013. “It wasn’t just negativity. There was open hostility. Then I got a certain amount of flak because it didn’t sell as many as Rumours. Mick would say to me, ‘Well, you went too far, you blew it.’ That hurt."
Despite selling over four million copies, it was still deemed a failure, but the band hit the road to sold-out shows in a tour that was nothing short of mammoth. The Tusk world tour kicked off in the fall of 1979, and wrapped up a year later after crisscrossing the globe. Some of the shows were recorded and would eventually comprise the live album.
Former Mac manager Cliff Davis told Circus, "My feeling about good live albums is this, sometimes you can get an artist who, no matter how they sound in the studio, simply excel live. And Fleetwood Mac made their name as a live band." Live shows just why with blistering versions of such classics as "Rhiannon," "Go Your Own Way," and a particularly storming "I'm So Afraid."
The band even dip back into their early days for an intense run-through of the Peter Green-era classic "Oh Well," which remains a staple of classic rock radio to this day. Only a few Tusk songs made the cut, "Sara," "Over and Over" and "Not That Funny," which is transformed from a three-minute pop song into nearly nine minutes of mayhem with Buckingham going off the rails.
The album also included three new songs: Christine McVie's "One More Night", Nicks' "Fireflies" and a warm, wonderful take on "The Farmer's Daughter," an obscure Beach Boys song from their 1963 album, Surfin' USA.
Though the live album sold well, easily going gold, it failed to make the Billboard Top 10 and, on the heels of the less-than-mega sales of Tusk, the band's next move was being questioned. Ultimately that turned out to be a much-deserved break while members pursued their own paths before returning in 1982 with Mirage.
"Being in a group where people will give you honest feedback, tell you when you've got your head up your ass. You need that thing when other people in the band have as much at stake as you do," Buckingham told BAM in early 1981. "We could certainly all do solo albums, but that wouldn't be the death of Fleetwood Mac. There are still good creative ties and I think we all still enjoy and need the feedback we get from the group situation. I can't imagine not feeling that way anytime soon."
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