You never even used to see this guy considered for The Best Guitarist lists…and, actually, maybe you still don’t, come to think of it…but I reckon something changed when the core version of Fleetwood Mac, the classic FM-music version of the group, reformed for Bill Clinton’s inauguration and started a victory-lap tour of sorts. (One which, a few stumbles later, they’re now on again…) Anyway, when they released The Dance – a live album/DVD/VHS document of getting back together and doing an MTV Unplugged-style show (except very much plugged) they showcased a version of Big Love where Lindsey stood on stage solo, and tore at the acoustic guitar, playing both rhythm and melody simultaneously.
Gone were the synths and the big production, gone in fact were the band. And there he was – secret weapon.
He’d always been there. But that moment is when he revealed to the world – the world at large, Fleetwood Mac fans who weren’t, perhaps until that point, also Lindsey Buckingham fans, or didn’t realise they were – that boy and shit and hell and fuck this guy can play!
There’s no way to say this next bit without feeling like I’m going, “really, I knew before all you lot” – but I’m young enough (just) to know that I wasn’t at all ever the first to spot this: Lindsey Buckingham is an incredible and distinct guitar player. And a huge part of what made me, and kept me a Fleetwood Mac fan.
Earlier in this series I talked about Peter Green. I’m a fan of all of the Fleetwood Mac line-ups and albums, even the albums you haven’t heard of – I own. Some of them I really love, some I don’t love as much as the towering masterworks, and I certainly love the band’s commercial peak. But the first record that really hooked me into Fleetwood Mac, and the one that today is still my favourite is Tusk. And this is – essentially – a Lindsey Buckingham album. It got me listening to the Lindsey Buckingham solo albums, it got me so deep into Rumours too that I had to hear the Buckingham/Nicks record; the one that Mick Fleetwood heard one day, when he needed a new guitarist for the band, and so in love with the sound he heard he agreed to take on Stevie Nicks too (which worked out pretty well for all concerned).
Buckingham, live, is a beast. You might love the songs of Nicks and Christine McVie. You might want to worship that improbable, fascinating, still-stable and wonderful rhythm section, you may love the soap-opera storyline that surrounds the band but if all of those things get you to the show the thing you will take away from the gig is that Buckingham is boss. On stage he owns, he is the commanding force, the captain of the ship too; he’s the reason you stay at the show and sit spellbound. It’s his sound that captivates.
Buckingham can do a bit of the Green Manalishi 70s-voodoo-inside-60s-British-Blues-Boom sounds that Kirwan and Green created, he can do the Bob Welch thing too but it’s his own – explosive – sound that’s best. A sonic architect. A producer’s guitar player, a guitarist-as-producer. And it’s the restraint that speaks volumes within his sound. When you’re prepared to listen to radio hits and acknowledge their importance alongside any and all of your cool-kid indie music you’ll see that before there was Nels Cline and Wilco and Impossible Germany there was Lindsey Buckingam and Fleetwood Mac and Gypsy.
There’s also Trouble – and Holiday Road (from the Vacation soundtrack) and a bunch of not-quite-new-wave but very exciting pop music from this era. If you want to focus on just Buckingham at his best – and most prolific – check the period between 1979 and 1984 he released two Fleetwood Mac albums, two solo records and some soundtrack/TV work. He was also shaping the songs of Nicks and McVie, assisting, producing, engineering. And so through Tusk and his own Law & Order and then the band’s Mirage and then back solo for Go Insane you will hear a career’s worth of work in just a half-decade.
That will make you want to hunt out the Buckingham/Nicks album if you haven’t already and to hear again the self-titled Fleetwood Mac album and then Rumours; listen to them just for what Lindsey does and offers.
He really is the greatest.
This was originally published as part of a series on the Phantom Billstickers Facebook page.