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3 Oct 2019

My favorites from Lindsey – Today, the 3rd of October, is a holiday in Korea known as “Gaecheonjeol,” which means “The Day the Heavens Opened.” It commemorates the founding of the ancient Korean nation of Old Joseon by Dangun. I don’t have too much to say about that, though. Instead, I want to write a bit about another holiday of sorts, since I recently stumbled across the fact that today is also the 70th birthday of Lindsey Buckingham, the legendary guitarist of Fleetwood Mac during their heyday.

“I have been a Fleetwood Mac fan for probably close to forty years now, and I have been a Lindsey Buckingham fan as well for what he meant to the band.”

Fleetwood Mac were one of my favorite bands when I was very young (along with Chicago), and my knowledge of them corresponded more or less to Buckingham’s time with the band. He (and Stevie Nicks) joined in 1975, and their first album, the eponymous white album, was the first Fleetwood Mac album I owned. Buckingham stayed with the band through 1987’s Tango in the Night, and the last album that I owned was the one after that, 1990’s Behind the Mask. Granted, this was not necessarily due to any loyalty to Buckingham, but simply to the fact that I left the States in 1995 and stopped listening to new music for a while after that. Still, the fact remains that Lindsey Buckingham was pretty much Fleetwood Mac to me.

So, to celebrate his birthday, I wanted to share a list of my top ten favorite Lindsey Buckingham Fleetwood Mac songs. By this I mean songs that were both penned and sung by Buckingham. I make this restriction in part to narrow down the number of songs I have to choose from, but also to make it a true Lindsey Buckingham list.

Before we dive in, a few caveats. For starters, this is a list of my favorite Lindsey Buckingham songs. It is absolutely, 100% subjective, based on my own tastes and experiences, and whatever memories of my youth might be attached to each of these songs. Also, I make no claim to any sort of expertise as a music critic. I am not going to pretend that this is in any way a list of the “best” Buckingham songs, nor am I going to pretend that my comments on them should be accepted as definitive. So, with that out of the way, let’s get to the music. (The song titles are links to the songs on YouTube, if you want to right-click and open them in a new tab so you can listen while reading.)

10. “Caroline” (Tango in the Night, 1987)

This was probably the single most difficult pick on the list, if only because I had to choose one of a number of songs that I liked and leave the others behind. Honorable mentions go to other 80s numbers “You and I, Part II” (from the same album) and “Book of Love” and “Oh Diane” (from the 1982 album Mirage). I guess it says something about my connection to Fleetwood Mac that the only 80s songs I considered for the list are all jockeying for the number ten spot. This isn’t to say that I didn’t have a connection to these songs; although all of the Buckingham-era Fleetwood Mac albums were released after I was born Tango in the Night was the first album to come out after I was old enough to have developed my own musical tastes and start buying my own music. For that reason it holds a special place in my heart.

I can’t articulate why exactly I chose “Caroline” over the other songs, but I think it has something to do with the way I felt about the songs at the time. Both “Book of Love” and “Oh Diane” felt retro to me; the latter in particular was very clearly an ode to the 50s. I was able to appreciate 50s music thanks to having been exposed to it by my father, but when the two 80s albums came out I was of the age where I was starting to look for my own thing. So I think I would have to put “You and I, Part II” and “Caroline” ahead of the other two.

I considered being funny and writing that I went with “Caroline” because the grammatical error in “You and I, Part II” (the lyrics go: “...hoping tomorrow will never come for you and I,” which of course should be “you and me”) bothered me too much, but that’s not true. It did niggle at me, of course, but in the end good music trumps good grammar. No, the reason I went with “Caroline” is because it feels more like a Buckingham song to me. “You and I, Part II” was co-written by Buckingham and Christine McVie, and it has that distinctly pop feel of a Christine-penned song—which is not a bad thing at all, but this is a Lindsey Buckingham list.

So we arrive, by process of elimination, at “Caroline.” There is no mistaking this as anything but a Buckingham song—it is possibly the most Buckingham song on the entire album, although Lindsey’s guitar solo on “Tango in the Night” might be the most Buckingham bit—and I do love it. It is a combination of funky percussion, guitars, and Lindsey’s characteristic vocals, but with something new in the mix as well. The lyrics make absolutely no sense, by the way. I suppose this is not surprising, since the band was apparently drugged out of their minds when they made the album (something I only learned about later). But it is still a great song.

9. “What Makes You Think You’re the One” (Tusk, 1979)

We are now leaving the 80s behind and crossing into the 70s, where we will remain for the rest of this list. “What Makes You Think You’re the One” always struck me as one of Buckingham’s “raw” songs, where he just let loose, played what he wanted to play, and sang what he wanted to sing. It’s almost the polar opposite of a Christine McVie song; it’s still a love song, but it is a very cynical and mocking love song. The greatest love songs are transcendental, soaring toward a love that exists on a plane far above the fray of other petty human emotions—something eternal, something sublime. Here, though, while Buckingham doesn’t necessarily deny that such a love might exist, he certainly shoots down any hopes of it in the present relationship. The simple refrain says it all: “Every little bit is there to see / Every litle bit of you and me.” There’s nothing that transcends here.

The music as well feels raw, not in the sense of poor production values or anything like that, but just that it feels deliberately unpolished. And Buckingham’s vocals are the icing on the cake as he weaves and warbles his way through the song. This is not the sort of song to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, but that’s not to say it’s not going to make you feel good. After all, sometimes you just want to give the world the finger.

8. “Monday Morning” (Fleetwood Mac, 1975)

Another step back in time brings us to Buckingham’s first album with the band. Lindsey’s relationship troubles are on display from the very beginning here. He sings about the woes of an on-again, off-again, and very problematic relationship: “You know you only want me when I get over you. First you love me, then you get on down the line.” Still, he doesn’t mind (yeah).

The music here is probably the most “mainstream” of the songs we have heard so far, but I like the guitar and really like listening to this song. It is upbeat and catchy, and I suppose it captures the emotions of this crazy relationship Lindsey is singing about. It is also probably the happiest song about Monday that I know; every other song I can think of about Monday—“Manic Monday” by the Bangles, “Monday Monday” by the Mamas and the Papas, and “Blue Monday” by New Order, just to name a few off the top of my head—seems to have a somewhat melancholic feel.

7. “Second Hand News” (Rumours, 1977)

Our next song is from Rumours, my favorite Fleetwood Mac album and (not incidentally) the album that contributes the greatest number of songs to this list. This is another love song, although once again we see a less-than-ideal relationship. The singer knows that he is no longer the girl’s number one, and he’s kind of OK with that, as long as she will still lay him down in the tall grass and let him do his stuff now and again. I doubt I was able to fully appreciate this lyric when I first heard the song, but even then I’m pretty sure I knew that “stuff” referred to something other than, say, shooting marbles or trading baseball cards.

But it’s not the lyrics that I really like about this song so much as it is the sound. Even more so than “Monday Morning,” the tune is ironically upbeat and joyful, and it is just a joy to listen to. The quirkiness of this song hooked me the first time I heard it, long before I found out that the soft, “thwipping” percussion sound (which is most audible in the vocalized chorus) was actually created by Lindsey pounding on the seat of a Naugahyde chair in the studio. How cool is that?

6. “I Know I’m Not Wrong” (Tusk, 1979)

We’re back to Tusk, which I think contains Buckingham at his most unfettered. I’ve always loved the part where the harmonica kicks in (almost exactly halfway in)—I like the really simple rhythm and melody leading up to that, and the harmonica just feels like the perfect icing on the cake. I have heard versions of the song without the harmonica, and it just doesn’t work nearly as well for me. It feels unfinished and wanting, like a girl who flirts with you for the whole night and then just leaves you hanging in the end. And continuing in the spirit of banging on odd things to produce percussion, Lindsey bangs on a Kleenex box in this one.

Lyrically, I never really thought too much about this song, other than the defiant title. It’s a bit of an odd thing to say, if you think about it. It’s not “I know I’m right,” but “I know I’m not wrong.” It makes a little more sense if you hear it in the context of the previous line: “Don’t blame me” (a lyric that this song shares with “Not That Funny,” another track on Tusk that I like but which didn’t make the list). I think it’s safe to say that this is another relationship song, and as usually seems to be the case, things have not gone Lindsey’s way. But at least he’s sticking to his guns.

5. “World Turning” (Fleetwood Mac, 1975)

This is another song from the earliest album on this list, but in a sense it is the oldest song on the list by far, because it is a remake of a song from the band’s very first studio album (also titled Fleetwood Mac), “The World Keep On Turning.” This was back in 1968, long before Buckingham joined the band, when Peter Green was the driving force and Fleetwood Mac was a blues band. I like this remake of the original song because it showcases Buckingham’s guitar playing, but it also pays homage to the band’s earlier incarnation with its very bluesy feel, which you can hear in the resonator guitar Buckingham uses and in the way he plays. My absolute favorite part of the song begins at 1:40 in the video above, when (almost) everything drops out for a moment before the thumping bass drum kicks in to punctuate that awesome guitar.

This might also be the first song on this list that is not about a failing, failed, or doomed-to-fail relationship (if you don’t count “Caroline” and its incomprehensible lyrics, which could be about anything, really). It also provides an interesting counterpoint to “World Turning,” in that the singer is here willing to admit that he (or she—the song was co-written with Christine McVie, who also shared the singing duties) might be wrong, but s/he then goes on in true postmodernist fashion to cast doubt on the very concept of absolute rightness. Really makes you think.

4. “Never Going Back Again” (Rumours, 1977)

This is my favorite guitar picking of any song on this list. It is beautiful in its simplicity, not trying to be showy at all. The song is so simple that it is difficult to say a lot about it without repeating yourself, but it is simple in the way that a properly cooked steak, with only salt and maybe a little pepper for seasoning, is simple—to embellish it any further would only diminish its perfection. The lyrics seem to understand this concept as well, almost haiku-ish in their brevity and conciseness. Like so many other things that find their beauty in simplicity, it is hard to grow tired of this song.

3. “Tusk” (Tusk, 1979)

We have a wild and crazy song to bring us into the top three. The title track from the Tusk album opens with infectious drums, followed by some murmured lyrics, and then the guitars come in—and before you know it all explodes into a big brass party. This is such a truly weird song, and I love it for that weirdness. When I was young, Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are captured my imagination. Even as I grew older, the imagery from that book stayed with me, and I always thought that when Max and the Wild Things would dance in the forest at night, “Tusk” is what they would dance to.

Big, bold brass is something that I’ve loved from a young age (and which was a feature of my other favorite band, Chicago). The brass featured here is the USC marching band, as you can see in the video above, and that probably also contributed to my love for the song. I was in marching band in high school, and this song always brings me back to those days. I know that, in the larger cultural environment, marching band is considered a rather nerdy thing to be a part of, but believe me when I tell you that we were cool. OK, we were nerds, but we were also cool because when we were out there together in the throes of musical ecstasy, we didn’t care what anyone else thought of us. We were the kings and queens of our own little world, and the peasants outside our walls could go stuff it. A lot of things that I did and thought back in high school kind of embarrass me now for their naivete, but marching band is not one of those things. I know this is a bit of a tangent, but everything I loved about marching band comes to life again when I listen to this song.

And while the official video above is great, I’ve actually saved the best for last—the live performance for 1997’s The Dance album. What a mind-blowing performance of that song. I was already here in Korea by that time (actually, I was in Mongolia when the concert happened), but how I wish I could have been there for that.

2. “The Chain” (Rumours, 1977)

In the number two spot is a song that has come back into the limelight in recent years thanks to its prominent inclusion in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (I would link to clips of the scenes in question, but they would be spoilers). But I have to admit that I was a little conflicted about it. It’s not that I don’t love it—I do, and always have—but calling it a Lindsey Buckingham song seemed a little disingenuous when every member of the band shared writing and singing credits. I thought about it for a while, though, and ultimately came to the realization that this is precisely why the song needed to be on the list. Just as Fleetwood Mac was the band it was because Lindsey Buckingham joined it, Lindsey Buckingham was the musician he was because he was a part of Fleetwood Mac. If there is a single song in their discography that encapsulates all the hope and glory, all the pain and hurt of what it meant to be Fleetwood Mac, I think it is this one. And in that everyone in the band came together to give birth to it, it is perhaps, after all, the quintessence of a Buckingham song. I don’t know if the man himself would agree with me on that, but that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

What about the song itself? Well, just listen to it. Most of the songs on this list have been about relationships in one form or another, but this is one of the deepest statements the band ever made about what it meant to be in a relationship. The music is inspired as well, almost a rock opera in miniature, a motley of variegated colors that somehow come together to make a technicolor masterpiece.

1. “Go Your Own Way” (Rumours, 1977)

It should probably come as no surprise to anyone who knows Fleetwood Mac that this song is number one on my list. To be honest, I could probably rearrange the top three here in every available permutation based on my mood on any given day, but I think I had to put this at number one simply because of how iconic it is. To many people, this song is Fleetwood Mac. I don’t know if I would go that far, but it certainly is one of the songs most closely connected with the band in my mind.

As usual, Lindsey is having relationship problems. Fleetwood Mac was a troubled band, to say the least, and a lot of their greatest music came out of the pain and heartache that they suffered at the hands of and inflicted on each other. “Go Your Own Way” is probably the most famous example of that, with Lindsey writing a break-up song about Stevie Nicks—who then had to go on stage and sing it with him at every concert. I’ve read somewhere that Stevie wanted to kill Lindsey every time she had to sing the “packing up, shacking up” line; I can understand why she might feel that way. Yet they still managed to perform this song and others over and over again without the concerts devolving into one giant fist fight. Maybe that’s why they did all those drugs?

It’s hard to separate this song from the band’s troubles, but even if you were to take it in isolation it is still a rocking number that not only holds up but still shines now, over thirty years after it was written. Lindsey’s guitar drives the song like a taskmaster’s whip, cracking with brutal power, and it is almost impossible (at least for me) not to sing along when the chorus kicks in. It’s not a happy song by any stretch of the imagination, but I have the good fortune of not having any bad memories attached to it (it is a break-up song, after all), so I can enjoy it for the musical force of nature that it is.

Epilogue

So, there you have it—my top ten favorite Lindsey Buckingham songs. I’ve thought long and hard about where each song should go, although I can’t say that I am 100% satisfied with the order; like I mentioned in the last entry, I could probably shuffle the top three songs around and have a hard time arguing against the new order. What I really wanted to do, though, is just take a nice trip back through some of Buckingham’s music and share it with whatever lost souls might find their way here. I have good memories of each and every one of these things, and I had a smile on my face while I was writing this.

I do feel that I should offer an explanation for a notable omission from the list. If you are a Fleetwood Mac fan, and particularly a fan of Buckingham’s music, you may be wondering why a certain popular song was left off the list: “Big Love,” from Tango in the Night. While I generally think Tango is a great album, and I enjoy most of the songs on it, I have to admit that I never really got into “Big Love.” To tell you the truth, Lindsey’s “love grunts” always kind of weirded me out. So that’s why it was left off the list.

Also, of the five albums that Buckingham made with the band, only four are represented in this list; no songs from 1982’s Mirage made the cut. Like I said up top, “Book of Love” and “Oh Diane” are two favorites of mine, but in the end I do not regret leaving them off the list. In my opinion, Mirage is the weakest of all of the Buckingham-era albums, and it is definitely the one that I would vote off the island. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it was a bad album, though—I think it is more of a testament to how great the other albums were than anything else.

I have been a Fleetwood Mac fan for probably close to forty years now, and I have been a Lindsey Buckingham fan as well for what he meant to the band. I doubt that today’s entry will mean quite as much to anyone else as it means to me, but I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trip through the legacy of a musical legend. Lindsey, wherever you are, happy 70th birthday, and thank you for the music that has been such an important part of me for pretty much all of my life.

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