The Mac is back


It’s great to hear that singer/keyboardist Christine McVie has come out of retirement to rejoin Fleetwood Mac.

In 2013 they did a 34-city world tour with four-fifths of their original 1975 lineup—Stevie, Lindsey, Mick, and John—but now they'll have the full contingent for 2014.

Yes, I know, it’s enough to make you start thinking about tomorrow.

The Mac—originally a 60s British blues band that reinvented itself as an LA pop/rock band in the mid-70s—has been much beloved by fans over the years, though skewered by some musicians. In the late 70s the punk rock rallying cry was “Fleetwood Mac must die”—reflecting the punkers’ distaste for the band’s slick production and sweet vocal arrangements. To quote Uncut Magazine (which ultimately defended the band): “Were they anything more than the sound of rich coked-up hippies fiddling while punk burned?” Well, actually, yes.

In this blogger’s humble opinion, Fleetwood Mac were/are a top-tier band, based on three things:

1. Three outstanding lead singers (Stevie Nicks especially) who could each capably front the band.
2. Quality songwriting. “Rhiannon,” “Say You Love Me,” “Landslide,” “Dreams,” “Go Your Own Way,” “Don’t Stop,” “Sara,” and “Hold Me”—among others—were all hits that will be heard and downloaded for decades.
3. Excellent musicianship, beginning with the underappreciated Lindsey Buckingham on lead guitar. Mick Fleetwood and John McVie provided a rock (and roll) solid rhythm section that never overplayed—and always supported—the song.

But my Mac fascination relates to how they've worked as a team, and specifically how they dealt with intra-band conflict in the 70s when Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks—who entered the band as a romantic and musical partnership—went through a very messy breakup at the same time that Christine and John McVie’s marriage dissolved. Instead of blowing up the band, these breakups pushed Christine, Lindsey, and Stevie to write, record, and perform some of their best material—about their romantic turmoil. On stage (and on record) they were singing songs of heartbreak, aggrievement, and anger WITH and TO each other. It seemed to make the band more resilient and the music more compelling!

As mentioned in an earlier post (and as explored in my forthcoming book) harnessing this kind of “creative abrasion”—to quote Jerry Hirshberg from his 1998 classic, The Creative Priority—among members of any team can produce the sparks that ignite artistic and commercial innovation. But sadly, too many teams and organizations (often unwittingly) suppress conflict and discourage the airing of oppositional viewpoints.

Just this week, facilitating a product review session in a hi-tech startup, I was reminded yet again of the “power of friction,” as disagreements among developers provoked the team to discover new workarounds to technical constraints. Harnessing dissent—welcoming conflict and then capitalizing on it—is what separates the pros from the amateurs, in any industry.

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  1. Great post!! Can you imagine the conflict in say, The White House at some of those high level meetings?? I think another band with internal conflict that comes to mind is The Kinks....Ray and Dave Davies.


    1. Yeah, among classic rock bands the two that come to mind are The Who and the Kinks. Both bands had intense intra-band conflict that seemed to fuel their creative fire. But there was also a bond that held these bands together, especially The Who. The Kinks' violent altercations on stage cost them a US work visa at a critical time in the 60s. They could have been megastars.

  2. Turning the straw of pain into the kind of gold they spun is art. With you also on Buckingham as guitarist. Pile on his writing and vocal talents and I'm astonished he's not topping the pops on a regular basis on his own.

    Fleetwood and McVie made a brilliant choice to roll with the musical direction the personnel changes brought about. I love and miss the old edgy blues days, but I can listen to the recordings. That band, I suspect, would never have become the megaband the glittering pop version was.

  3. I read a brilliant quote from Lindsey Buckingham:

    "I've always believed that you play to highlight the song, not to highlight the player. The song is all that matters. There are two ways you can choose to go. You can try to be someone like Eddie Van Halen, who is a great guitarist, a virtuoso. Yet he doesn't make good records because what he plays is totally lost in the context of this band's music. Then there are guitar players like Chet Atkins, who weren't out there trying to show themselves off as guitarists per se, but were using the guitar as a tool to make good records. I remember loving Chet's work when I was a kid, but it was only later, when I really listened to his guitar parts, that I realized how much they were a part of the song's fabric, and how much you'd be going 'Oh, that song just isn't working' if they weren't there."

    BTW: did you know... John McVie isn't really a founding member of the Mac. The group were named by Peter Green as an enticement for McVIe to join but he prefered to keep his then-current gig with John Myall. The band debuted without him, although he did join a few weeks later. There you go!

    1. Guy who helped me refine my bass playing was always hammering that point: play the SONG. Folks came to hear the song, not you. Respect the song.

      Had no idea about McVie joining late. Interesting tidbits on Wikipedia about it. Thanks for the heads up on that.

    2. Love, love the Buckingham quote. No wonder I like his playing so much. "It's the SONG, stupid."

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