Stevie Nicks - Biography
By Jeff Hunt
Stevie Nicks is the Faerie Queen of rock, and her voice casts a magical spell all its own. A diminutive, doe-eyed swirl of blond hair, scarves, and lace, she can seemingly make songs rise to the top of the charts with a wave of her hand. Toss some sparkling, luminous pixie dust to the left: Poof. You’ve got Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors, one of the biggest selling records of all time. A generous sprinkling of pixie dust to the right: Poof. You’ve got a solo career bespangled with hits. Admittedly, her magic realm has its darker corners: Rumors is a raw document of one of the greatest soap operas in the history of rock; and she floundered a tad after the white-winged dove flew up her nose and pecked out her septum. Still, Stevie Nicks continues to hold court, and she floated into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in billowing clouds of chiffon and gossamer.
It was destiny. Stevie met Lindsey Buckingham in her senior year of high school. Soon they formed a band, Fritz. They had a decent following on the West Coast from 1968-1971, and opened for Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Credence Clearwater Revival, but the other guys in the band got tired of the beautiful, young, ethereal lead singer getting all the attention (guys in bands can be shortsighted blockheads). When Fritz disbanded, Stevie and Lindsey stayed together as a musical duo, and a couple. They recorded a single LP, Buckingham Nicks (Polydor, 1973). It didn’t do well, which is odd, because they’re naked on the cover. However, it brought them to the attention of Fleetwood Mac.
The Fleetwood is Mick Fleetwood, drums; the Mac is John McVie, on bass. By default, the Mac is also Christine McVie née Perfect (what a great maiden name!), on keyboard and vocals. Fleetwood Mac started out as a psychedelic English blues band, and had been through a bewildering array of line-up changes; only Fleetwood and McVie were constants. When they approached Lindsey Buckingham and asked him to join as their guitarist, he informed them that he and Stevie were a package deal: both or neither. To their credit, Fleetwood Mac took both. Buckingham didn’t waste any time. With his passion for dense, sophisticated, technologically elaborate pop like the Beatles and the Beach boys, he tossed the remnants of the blues thing out the window, and set out to reinvent the band.
Fleetwood Mac (1975 Reprise), is titled like a debut, and in most ways, that’s what it is. Stevie simply elevates the material, and there are hits aplenty: "Rhiannon," "Say You Love Me," and "Over My Head." Lindsey gives the production a depth and sheen that glistened through the FM airways; together, Stevie and Lindsey win the band over to their laid-back, SoCal vibe. Fleetwood Mac resonated in 1975, and it went to the top of the charts. Moreover, it absolutely ruled the FM airwaves. The group’s transformation was remarkable: From the outside, it was all gloss and sheen; but on the inside things were crumbling. Stevie and Lindsey were splitting as a couple; John and Christine were divorcing; Mick and his wife were breaking up as well. It was a bitter, hostile, uncertain environment, fueled by drug and alcohol abuse; just as Fleetwood Mac achieved superstardom they were in danger of collapsing as a band. Instead, they channeled all of that negative energy into song.
Rumors (1977 Warner Bros.) lays is all bare. “Go Your Own Way” is a Lindsey song that savages Stevie and their breakup. Stevie supplies “Gold Dust Woman,” a confessional about her own drug demons. “You Make Loving Fun” is Christine describing the joys of cheating on John on tour with the band’s sound engineer. It just goes on and on like that, hideous recriminations cloaked in soaring harmonies and splendid hooks galore. “The Chain” is strident and irresistibly catchy, drawing from rock, folk, and country. Rumors won the Grammy for best album, and hibernated at the top of the charts like a laid-back California Grizzly for 31 weeks – not near, the top, either. It was at #1. For 31 weeks. To date, it has sold 30 million copies, and is one of the biggest selling albums of all time.
The follow-up, Tusk (1079 Reprise), was a double LP hatched almost entirely from the imagination of Lindsey Buckingham, fueled by Clash records and mounds of coke. At the time it was considered a flop – a double-platinum flop that any other band would have died for, but how do you live up to expectations after you release the biggest record of all time? Tusk is an epic of hair-raising, professional weirdness, and over the years it’s come to be regarded as a classic. Yet Stevie was marginalized, and the resulting 18-month, around-the-world tour (in part due to the success of Rumors) was, understandably, a grueling experience. After a break she crafted her solo debut.
Bella Donna (1981 Modern) went straight to #1, propelled by a string of Top 20 singles: "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, "Leather and Lace" with Don Henley, and "Edge of Seventeen (Just Like the White Winged Dove)." Fleetwood Mac returned in 1982 with Mirage (1982 Reprise) and Stevie’s stand-out hit “Gypsy”; she then released her second solo record, The Wild Heart (1983 Modern), which offered the disco tempo of "Stand Back"; Rock a Little (1985 Modern) also had a successful single, "Talk to Me,” but after that, her popularity waned. She took a long hiatus to battle drugs; she left Fleetwood Mac, and their popularity plummeted; break-ups and reunions and break-ups would follow. Sadly, a version of Fleetwood Mac without Nicks and Buckingham released a CD that bombed so badly that it failed to break the Billboard Top 200. That’s not a typo: two hundred. Still, there’s talk of another reunion, and a new album. Let’s trust that there’s plenty of pixie dust to come.