Saturday, July 12, 2014

DB's Song of the Day (day 193): "DON'T STOP" (1977) Fleetwood Mac

Today is the birthday of Christine McVie, one of the three vocalists for Fleetwood Mac in their major success period, particularly the time of Fleetwood Mac (1975) and Rumours (1977). She was on earlier albums as well, even as early as the great landmark album, Then Play On (1969), but didn’t begin contributing songs till a bit later—that phase of largely forgettable albums between the latter album and Fleetwood Mac. What made the earliest Fleetwood Mac notable was Peter Green; what made the later Fleetwood Mac memorable was Lindsay Buckingham—but it wouldn’t have hit as big as it did without McVie and Stevie Nicks, the one-two vocal punch. It was really their songs and singing, with Buckingham’s, that created the attraction of this version of Fleetwood Mac.

I guess I was never that enamored of McVie’s singing, in and of itself. But that very fact—its unremarkable quality—made it seem sort of an “every woman” voice. She had that down, whereas husky Nicks was a definite type. And McVie wrote catchier songs, none of which is catchier than today’s song. That fact makes me give it the nod over more “chick-centric” McVie songs like “Over My Head”—the one that first made the rotate-play of the radio—or “You Make Loving Fun.”  What both those songs suggest—and which is one of the refreshing aspects of Fleetwood Mac of that era—is that, far from an excuse for the blues, getting it on with your object of desire is a good time. And why not—this was pre-AIDS in a time of endless abandon, good drugs, easily obtained contraceptives, and an easy-going “let it be” ethic that dominated everything. Fleetwood Mac is the poster band for all that. There’s very little angst in their whole approach—and I don’t care if the relationships are hanging by a thread or dissolving. The feeling is that they’ve got it sussed. Even less than the Eagles do, Fleetwood Mac has no great claim to profundity.

And that’s why I tended to avoid them in my teens, when I was such a serious young man. And what’s  more, they were so constantly on the radio that buying the music for personal consumption seemed redundant. The album should’ve come in the mail with packets of Tide, to quote Mike Myers’ comment about Frampton Comes Alive, another of those ubiquitous Seventies records you just couldn’t hide from. Rumours is way better than that, of course, and it appealed not just to the dating masses in high school, but to all those pairing up however provisionally across the age range that rock could reach. And it reached wide and high in those days.

So, the album was a tremendous success, one of the biggest of all time. And it wasn’t until I rediscovered vinyl and started visiting used records bins this decade that I finally picked up copies of the three main albums of this era of F Mac (Tusk, 1979, being the other one). Now, so far removed from what bothered me about it then, I can listen to it and almost remember the girls I used to fantasize about in high school.

Speaking of high school: today’s song was released onto the radio in summer of 1977, just after graduation for me. And its message about thinking about tomorrow and not looking back—with the kick of “yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone”—should have felt liberating. I mean, as a radio song. As I’ve amply mentioned, what I was getting into then was stuff like Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, the Velvet Underground, John Cale, Television, so this contagious radio confection was less likely to win my ears than now. Still, as something that just happened to be playing wherever you happened to be staying, the song sounds urgent enough to make a dent [later note: yup, heard it while playing miniature golf in Superior, WI, 7/12/14; Ryan, the teen in our group, mocked it].

That piano intro sounds like it’s tipping us off to something grand and the guitars come in to punctuate with that tried and true lift of power chords. And it’s all about getting over whatever is bringing you down, with the blend of McVie and Buckingham selling it, vocally. Me, apt to wallow in the past to get a handle on it, found all this a bit anodyne. Like tomorrow’s going to be better? Sure, sure. Why am I not buying that?

And nothing about the song makes me think that the rock gods c. 1977 can lay a patch on the rock gods c. 1967, so. That could be some of what’s bothering me about this. I guess, y’know, if what you’re suffering from is just good ol’ teenaged angst, then, yes, it will get better. For a while. But even the attitude of the song’s cheer—that you’ll get over it—leaves me a little unenthusiastic. It’s a sound for a varsity squad, like a big pep rally or something—we’ll get ‘em next year!

But I’m supposed to be giving tribute to McVie here so I’ll back off. Maybe I should’ve gone for one of her more subdued and almost blues songs, like “Oh Daddy” or “Brown Eyes.” Those have moods that pull against her general optimism and show that, even if she’s not exactly hitting lonely street, she knows what it is to be made morose by wayward affections. Still, her main response here, “I never meant any harm to you,” is just that, harmless. Perfect radio rock.

All I want is to see you smile.

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