35 Years Ago: Lindsey Buckingham’s ‘Big Love’ Spurs Fleetwood Mac
"Big Love," the opening track from Fleetwood Mac's 14th album, Tango in the Night, was never supposed to appear under the band's name.
This was true for several songs that ultimately ended up on the 1987 LP, which was produced by Lindsey Buckingham alongside longtime Fleetwood Mac producer Richard Dashut.
In 1985, Fleetwood Mac had been on hiatus for roughly three years. Mirage, also co-produced by Dashut, had spent five weeks in the No. 1 spot in 1982, leaving the band members in a comfortable position to branch off into solo endeavors.
No one was sure when the band would get back together, if at all. Stevie Nicks was being treated for substance-abuse issues, John McVie suffered an addiction-related seizure and Mick Fleetwood had filed for bankruptcy. It wasn't looking promising, but Buckingham still felt there was more to come for Fleetwood Mac.
"I think the Mirage album was not a very positive way to leave Fleetwood Mac," he told Creem magazine in 1987. "We did the tour, but it was an ambiguous album — it was not an album of vision, it left a lot of things dangling. I don’t know why anyone would want to keep going with just one thing the rest of their lives when there’s other things to delve into and to try."
Buckingham began writing and recording songs for what he anticipated would be his third solo album. By the end of 1985, he had three songs assembled that were recorded at his Los Angeles home: "Big Love," "Family Man" and "Caroline." Meanwhile, Christine McVie had recorded a version of Elvis Presley's "Can’t Help Falling In Love" for the 1986 movie A Fine Mess, on which she employed Fleetwood, John McVie and Dashut. The seeds of the band's reunion were sowed, and when presented with the opportunity to reconvene for another album, Buckingham agreed.
"I had a choice of either continuing on to make the solo record or to sort of surrender to the situation and try and make it more of a family thing," he later said. "I chose the latter."
"Big Love" became Tango in the Night's lead single and detailed the singer and guitarist's trepidation about getting involved with a new love.
Watch Fleetwood Mac's 'Big Love' Video
The band may have been back together, but Buckingham still had a few tricks up his sleeve. He played around with the speed of his vocals on various tracks, leading some fans to believe it was Nicks singing the "ah, ah, ah" parts heard in "Big Love."
"That’s me," Buckingham said in 1987. "People magazine said it’s my girlfriend, which she wasn’t too happy about. I don’t know where they get that stuff." (Buckingham also experimented with his vocals on "Family Man"; the low voice heard on that song is also him.)
Buckingham's openness to using technology and electronic sampling was, in Dashut's opinion, not always the most inclusive approach to making an album as a group. The song's music video, too, was filled with compositing and other visual effects that were fresh choices for 1987.
"I saw it as a double-edged sword," Dashut told Salon in 2017. "[It was] both an innovative and a very exciting thing that was coming. But I also lamented the fact that the band didn't participate as much, as a whole. They were all going through personal things, especially Stevie. And it wasn't a particularly pleasant time in any of our lives, I don't think. It was a painful time."
"Big Love" reached No. 5 in the U.S. and No. 9 in the U.K.; Tango in the Night wound up becoming Fleetwood Mac's second best-selling album (after Rumours), but the success couldn't mend the still-rising tensions among the band members. Buckingham left in August 1987, just a few months after the LP's release. And "Big Love" would not appear on Fleetwood Mac set lists until Buckingham's return a decade later.
"He was tough to work with," Dashut noted in 2017. "A lot of people are afraid of him. He could be brash; he could be harsh. He was very motivated. He always kept his eye on the prize, which is about quality music. That was the end-all, be-all: making a great record. And nothing would stop him."
"As much as I love [Tango in the Night], and I think it’s done well for my, and everyone’s morale – I feel like I’m really on the threshold of a lot of other things that are going to be even more exciting for me," Buckingham said at the time. "And that’s a nice feeling to feel."