I can’t believe I’ve been so bone-crushingly busy lately that I haven’t had a chance to do what I love…sit back, crank tunes and then think entirely too much about what I’ve just heard. And then, of course, share it with you. The end of the year was crazy. The Rock Chick and I are in the midst of moving to new quarters. Every time I’d drop the needle on an album, she’d appear with boxes for me to carry, “tote that barge, lift that bail,” indeed. I can barely stand upright… thank heaven for bourbon to ease my back pain.
If you’re like me, you couldn’t turn the page on the calendar from 2018 to 2019 fast enough. Jesus, what a shitty year. Too many crazies out there, too much bad news. However, I did see one bit of good news. Stevie Nicks, of Fleetwood Mac fame, is going to be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame this year as a solo artist. She’s in somewhat rare company there – Clapton is in solo and with Cream, each Beatle (save for Ringo) are in the hall as solo artists and with the Beatles, and I’m sure there are a few others – so good for her. I have to admit, I’ve always been a fan of her spacey, rootsy rock and roll. We often tend to focus on the harder rock end of the spectrum here and I don’t think we give the women rockers their due at B&V.
Ah, Stevie. I used to describe her as the “Mistress of Her Generation.” I didn’t say that because she’d burned through half of Fleetwood Mac (Lindsey Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood), the better part of the Eagles (Don Henley, Joe Walsh) and producer Jimmy Iovine… I called her that because we all loved Stevie Nicks. Every man of a certain age will get a peculiar, glazed look in his eyes when he hears Stevie Nicks sing. She was the cool, stoner chick that we all aspired to go out with in high school. Beautiful, mysterious, and wildly talented, she had it all. And likely she was carrying…
When I first got into music, I was way behind my brother. He had twice the number of albums that I did. Oddly, he traded me Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours for Supertramp’s Breakfast In America, which was a great album, but it was no Rumours. I listened to that album endlessly. Almost every song was played on the radio. “Dreams” was a song I’d been aware of even before I knew who it was or even liked music. It always seemed to be on the radio. I can close my eyes and I’m back at the neighborhood, public pool and there’s Stevie singing, “Do you have any dreams you’d like to sell?” I can think of a few… I would stare at this little pixie of a woman on the front and back cover… who was this “Gold Dust Woman”? Even my college roommate whose record collection was almost exclusively heavy metal (Van Halen, Sabbath, Zeppelin) had a few Fleetwood Mac albums…
While I loved Fleetwood Mac’s follow up album, Tusk, I may be in the minority there. I have to admit when I first heard it, the only songs I really, truly loved, other than the bizarre title track, were Stevie’s songs. “Sisters of the Moon,” “Sara,” “Storms” were all great tunes. Show me a man who says he didn’t mist up a little the first time he heard “Beautiful Child” after a break up and I’ll show you a liar. “Angel” was a great rock song that only Stevie could write and sing and only Lindsey could play guitar on… It is one of the quintessential Mac tunes for me. I guess the record company guys realized that Stevie’s songs were the best ones on the album and so Tusk did what all the romantic breakups in the band couldn’t do – it pushed the members to do solo stuff. It almost broke them up.
Stevie’s first two albums are just incredible. I can remember driving up and down the main drag where I grew up with the windows down and blasting “Edge of Seventeen” or her duet with Petty, “Stop Dragging My Heart Around.” Her backing band on those first two albums was sublimely talented. Waddy Watchel on guitar, members of both the Heartbreakers and the E Street Band (Roy Bittan, piano) backed Stevie on those first couple records. Jimmy Iovine produced them both and they were smash hits.
I saw Stevie on the 1983 tour in support of The Wild Heart. Joe Walsh opened. It was amazing. We had nose bleed seats and crashed down to the stage. Stevie sang “Beauty and the Beast,” and I swear she was looking at me and my friend next to me. We certainly qualified as “the Beast” in question. Her band that night included Watchel (guitar), Bittan (piano), Benmont Tench (keyboards), and Liberty Devito from Billy Joel’s band on drums. Instead of concert T’s we all bought the same photograph of Stevie and taped them to our walls. Jeez, what fan boys we were!
After doing the best tracks on Fleetwood Mac’s Mirage album, Stevie’s hot streak started to falter. It’s the classic Hollywood rise, fall, rise storyline. I remember my college girlfriend bringing me the aptly titled album Rock A Little. She knew I dug Stevie and she liked the song “Talk to Me” which looking back, may have been her attempt to send me a message… I wasn’t the most communicative of boyfriends. That album was a surprise for me. Stevie went heavy into the drum machine/synth sound of the 80s. The magic seemed to be fading. Stevie had cowrote most of the tracks on that album and her stuff was always better when she alone wrote it…
What we didn’t know was she was burning out from too much cocaine. Drugs always creep up on these guys. She finally got over that only to succumb to an addiction to Klonopin which led to excessive weight gain and a whole host of other problems. I think most people lost track of Stevie after that. But she emerged from all of that and started releasing a series of late period albums that are the kind of records B&V was born to write about. Here are the B&V Essential Stevie Nicks LPs:
- Bella Donna, 1981 – We all already loved Stevie from Fleetwood Mac and this album solidified her as a solo force to be reckoned with. From the hits “Stop Dragging My Heart” around and “Edge of Seventeen” to some of the deeper tracks, this is a great album. “After the Glitter Fades” and “Think About It” are two of my favorite deep cuts. The music is all real instruments – guitar, acoustic guitar and piano – coupled with Stevie’s nasally, throaty vocals. This album is almost perfect.
- The Wild Heart, 1983 – This was almost a sequel to Bella Donna. Iovine is back in the producers chair and most of the same musicians are assembled. A taste of the 80s synth sound is here in the first hit, “Stand Back” where Prince plays an uncredited synth riff. I heard Stevie say, “Prince just showed up and did this amazing thing on keyboards with just two fingers.” One can only wonder why Prince was hanging around… naughty, naughty man. “If Anyone Falls” was also synth heavy but still a great tune. “Enchanted” rocked and “Beauty And The Beast” features strings. Stevie was on fire.
- Trouble In Shangri-La, 2001 – An album, I must admit the rock chick turned me onto. After a number of misfires through the end of the 80s and 90s, I’d all but forgotten about Stevie. She’d actually asked old friend Tom Petty to write songs for her and he gave her a stern talking to about being confident and writing her own songs which resulted in “That Made Me Stronger.” My favorite track was an older Fleetwood Mac outtake, “Planets of the Universe.” I heard that song and knew Stevie was back. Sheryl Crow helped out on a couple of tracks on this record as well. This was a miraculous comeback album.
- In Your Dreams, 2011 – It had been a decade since her last album and I was thinking maybe she was done when this great record came out. Produced by Dave Stewart of Eurythmics’ fame, this record jumped out at me. “Secret Love” was a great opening track. “For What It’s Worth” is a beautiful acoustic track. Stewart seems to capture all the elements of Stevie’s early work, without being nostalgic. He even gets Stevie rocking on the harder edged “Ghosts Are Gone.” Check out the title track as well.
- 24 Karat Gold – Songs From the Vault, 2014 – I admire the truth in advertising in the title – these are all old tracks Stevie wrote back in the 70s and 80s, but I fear the title put people off. Once again we have Dave Stewart at the producers helm with none other than Nicks’ old pal Waddy Watchel helping. Stevie wrote so much great music for Fleetwood Mac, but with three writers she couldn’t get all her stuff on the records, so she had plenty of leftovers. Hell, “Silver Springs,” one of her greatest songs was a b-side. “Starshine” is a nice, tight little rocker that opens the proceedings. “Carousel” and “The Dealer” are two of my favorite Stevie songs. It was a brilliant idea for her to revisit these tracks she’d only demo’d before.
Congratulations Stevie on your induction to the Rock Hall! Folks, enjoy spelunking through this woman’s catalog. Her music and wonderful melodies will stick with you.