In Praise of Lindsay Buckingham, Part 2

Fleetwood Mac as we knew and loved them are no more… once more.

Some bands don’t know when to quit (The Rolling Stones, all of whom are now 70 or older), while others quit too soon. The latter was definitely the case with ABBA and The Smiths, the two groups I most wanted to see reunite 20 years ago, if only for a one-off performance. They never did, though, and at this point, I’m good with my misty water-colored memories of the way they were.

I prefer to remember my favorites at the peak of their talent and beauty, rather than as sexagenarians and septuagenarians trying to recapture a spark that lit up the universe decades ago. This is where Fleetwood Mac comes to mind.

I’ve always reckoned that 1997’s live FM album The Dance would have been the perfect coda. Then, when Christine McVie rejoined in 2014 after a nearly 16-year absence, I thought, You go, girl, happy she had a band to return to. I also hoped to look as fantastic as she does at 70. Seriously, she and Tina Turner could give seminars on aging gracefully and beautifully. McVie will be 75 on July 12, and she’s still ’80s-fierce.

Now with last week’s second-hand news that Lindsay Buckingham, 68, has been fired from the band, I’m reconsidering the longevity of his now (again)-ex-band. He’s been out of FM before (between 1987 and 1997), but this time it wasn’t by choice.

Did the band not learn anything from the snoozefest that was 1990’s Behind the Mask? Buckingham (like co-vocalists Stevie Nicks, 69, and McVie) adds a special ingredient to the FM mix. Without him, they’re a different and not nearly as tasty dish. As much as I love the guys who will be his rotating replacements on guitar and vocals (Mike Campbell of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Neil Finn of Crowded House), without Buckingham, it will just be a bunch of amazing musicians onstage together singing FM songs, not FM itself.

I spoke to my best friend who hosts her own SiriusXM radio show, and she told me the split came down to this: Lindsay wanted to record new material, while the others just wanted to tour. Stevie, in particular, reasoned, why try to force feed fans new songs if the only thing they’re interested in are the oldies?

I can see both sides. I wish they’d been able to come to some kind of compromise. McVie has always been my favorite FM vocalist, while I prefer Nicks’s solo work over that of the others. But as the musician most responsible for the way FM sounded in the late ’70s and ’80s (he even got a special shout-out in the liner notes of 1979’s Tusk for his musical contributions), Buckingham was the guiding light behind peak-era FM.

Five years ago, I wrote a tribute to him on my blog Theme for Great Cities, never dreaming the day would come when the group he’d devoted so much of himself to would fire him. It feels like this is as good a time as ever to revisit it, to remind us that while the show must go on, FM’s won’t be nearly as engrossing without Lindsay Buckingham.

What Makes Me Think He’s the One?: In Praise of Lindsey Buckingham

It hit me on Sunday evening, right at the moment that my friend introduced me to Lindsey Buckingham. Not “What an odd name for a fish!” (Nemo and The Incredible Mr. Limpet aside, I’ve never really understood the practice of naming fish.) Sure, that thought did cross my mind, but it was totally upstaged by another one: Is there a more underrated rock & roll multi-hyphenate than the singer-songwriter/producer/guitarist of Fleetwood Mac for whom my friend’s fish is named?

When people think of Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks is generally the first bandmate who comes to mind, but Buckingham was just as much of an MVP of FM (as in Fleetwood Mac and FM radio) in the ’70s and ’80s. More than any other member, his creative stamp dominated the group’s ’77 best-seller Rumours, as well as FM’s three follow-ups (the 1979 masterpiece Tusk, 1982’s Mirage, and 1987’s Tango in the Night). When he began a decade-long hiatus from the band in the late ’80s, FM had to hire two new members to replace him, and his absence was all over the band’s Buckingham-free 1990 studio album Behind the Mask.

Contemporary monsters of pop-rock never list him first when they rattle off the names of their greatest influences, but for decades now, the relatively unsung hero has been inspiring scores of younger acts (largely through his extensive contributions to Tusk, the weirdest follow-up to the biggest album ever ever, for which he received a bold-print “Special thanks from the band to Lindsey Buckingham” credit): R.E.M., The Smashing Pumpkins, Weezer, The Jayhawks, Matthew Sweet, and fun., among so many others.

More recently, This Is 40 director Judd Apatow used three of his songs on the soundtrack of the recently released film, which was scored by Jon Brion, Fiona Apple’s sometime producer. Along with Apple herself, Brion probably owes a major artistic debt to Buckingham.

On the best of Buckingham, he masters the art of melody laced with madness (while finding the tension inside the sweetness, as Terence Trent D’Arby would say). Often favorably compared to The Beach Boys genius Brian Wilson for his melodic gifts, he can both unsettle and soothe, sometimes within the same verse. This may not be the stuff that solo pop hits are made of (on his own, Buckingham has had only two Top 40 singles, including the 1981 Top 10 “Trouble”), but it’s rock for the ages.

I’ve already written the praises of “Tusk,” the Buckingham-penned first single from the Fleetwood Mac album of the same name (read all about it here), and “Holiday Road,” his solo single from the 1983 film National Lampoon’s Vacation (check it out once and twice), but here are 10 more reasons why Buckingham deserves to be a fish’s namesake and so much more.

“Never Going Back Again” (Fleetwood Mac, from Rumours, 1977)

“Second Hand News” (from Rumours)

“Walk a Thin Line” (Fleetwood Mac, from Tusk, 1979)

“That’s All for Everyone” (from Tusk)

“Trouble” (from Law and Order, 1981)

“Empire State” (Fleetwood Mac, from Mirage, 1982)

“Can’t Go Back” (from Mirage)

“Go Insane” (from Go Insane, 1984)

“Slow Dancing” (from Go Insane, 1984)

“Big Love” (Fleetwood Mac, from Tango in the Night, 1987)

Brother Son Husband Friend Loner Minimalist World Traveler. Author of “Is It True What They Say About Black Men?” and “Storms in Africa”

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