30 Years Ago: Stevie Nicks Stays Busy Between Fleetwood Mac Records With ‘Rock a Little’
In theory, the mid-'80s should have been a creatively easy time for Stevie Nicks. She was coming off a huge solo hit with 1983's The Wild Heart, after all, and with Fleetwood Mac on hiatus, she didn't need to worry about other touring or recording obligations. But in reality, the journey to her third solo effort, 1985's Rock a Little, was far longer, more arduous and more expensive than anyone could have expected.
Released Nov. 18, 1985, Rock a Little took Nicks more than a year to finish, during which she spent a reputed $1 million on a lengthy list of sessions that started in Dallas and traveled as far as France, enlisting an array of producers, engineers and high-priced session players along the way. In some ways, it's a quintessential '80s rock record, with liner notes that reveal the involvement of more than two dozen musicians, scores of overdubs at a variety of different locations and cobbled-together songwriting and production credits. Even if you didn't know Nicks had tracked and junked at least an album's worth of songs to get to Rock a Little, it was easy to tell it had been a piecemeal process.
"Right up to the end of Rock a Little, I was fairly horrified that everybody thought there was a bunch of stuff missing on it," Nicks told Off the Record. "I'm going, 'What's missing?' You know, like Amadeus when he says 'What notes do you want me to take out? What's wrong with it?' They can't really tell you. It's just like change for the sake of change, not for the sake of the right thing — just for the sake of them saying ... 'I think it should do this or you should do that,' or 'If you don't do this on your record it won't make it.' That hurts."
It might have hurt, but deep down, Nicks must have known she wasn't hearing what she was looking for. A series of early sessions with producer Jimmy Iovine ended with Iovine walking off the project, and Nicks jettisoned a number of cuts — including a cover of Warren Zevon's "Reconsider Me," recorded as a duet with Don Henley — that could have been hits. Hanging on to a few of the Iovine-helmed tracks, she ultimately ended up working with a team of producers, including Mike Campbell, "Missing You" co-writer Chas Sandford and Belinda Carlisle collaborator Rick Nowels.
"I knew it wasn't right, and I didn't know why," she haltingly admitted in a separate interview. "I kind of wandered through this year and a half of trying to understand why I didn't feel it was right. ... It's right now, and it's rocking a little."
With the incredibly talented session players Nicks' budget afforded, Rock a Little couldn't help but rock a little, but it's also an '80s record in some other, more unfortunate ways, most notably the thick webs of synths and keyboards (contributed by no fewer than nine players) draped over the mix. The track listing is also an uneasy blend of obviously commercial cuts, like the Sandford-penned lead-off single "Talk to Me," alongside the sort of deeply personal singer-songwriter material that helped make Nicks a household name. This side of Nicks' personality was only allowed to shine in brief spurts on the album, arguably best exemplified by the closing track, "Has Anyone Ever Written Anything for You?"
As Nicks later revealed, the song's comparatively spare arrangement and tender melody had their roots in real-life events shared with her by her boyfriend at the time, Joe Walsh. "I was having a hard time and Joe was opening for me, but I soon realized how little I had to complain about," Nicks told MOJO. Recalling Walsh driving her to a memorial he'd built for his daughter in Colorado, she continued, "We made the trip there, and he told me the whole story about how Emma had been killed by a drunk driver on the way to nursery school. Joe had been married to a woman named Stephanie, but they couldn’t survive what had happened and broke up. My song was for Stephanie, too, I think. It was for all of us."
While "Has Anyone Ever Written Anything for You?" would eventually see release as a single, it was far from the album's biggest hit, stalling outside the Top 40. Instead, Nicks saw her greatest chart success with Rock a Little's biggest big '80s cuts: "Talk to Me" rose all the way to No. 4, while the follow-up, "I Can't Wait," also cracked the Top 20. She shortly had a platinum hit on her hands, and a world tour ensued, further cementing Nicks' status as a star in her own right outside of Fleetwood Mac.
Unfortunately, the struggles she'd faced while finishing Rock a Little were minuscule compared with the personal problems she needed to deal with, and after finishing the tour, Nicks finally confronted those issues head-on, checking herself into rehab in an effort to overcome a dangerous drug habit. Although she was ultimately successful, Nicks ended up trading a dependence on illegal substances for an addiction to prescription pills — a battle that, along with the return of Fleetwood Mac, would send her solo career into a hiatus that lasted until 1989's The Other Side of the Mirror.
Still, even if Rock a Little in some ways represents the big-budget excess and over-reliance on outside writers that typified many of the decade's more successful mainstream rock records, it also served as a necessary destination on Nicks' lifelong creative journey — and an affirmation of a commitment that's continued to drive her ever since. "We kinda rock a little all our life," Nicks told MTV. "I did. I rocked in my cradle for sure, and then in mid-life you sort of rock on your feet, and then you move onward to a rocking chair at some point, probably, so that's kind of what Rock a Little means. It means to rock 'n' roll all your life."
Fleetwood Albums Ranked, Worst to Best
Stevie Nicks Talks About Life After Music