The Softer Side of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk”

UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 25: WEMBLEY ARENA Photo of FLEETWOOD MAC, L-R: Christine McVie, Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham performing live onstage (Photo by Pete Still/Redferns)
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Fleetwood Mac live at Wembley Arena, 1980 (Photo by Pete Still/Redferns)

A lot has been said about Fleetwood Mac’s twelfth studio album, Tusk. Released on October 12, 1979, the multi-platinum release that was considered a commercial failure at the time is still among the most divisive studio albums in the band’s storied catalog.

RELATED: October 1979: Fleetwood Mac Releases “Tusk”

Setting fans back a full $15.98 list price--a good $5 more than than most double-albums of the era--Tusk was a clear and obvious reaction to the career-defining 1977 Rumours album, especially for guitarist Lindsey Buckingham.

While Buckingham ran rampant in the studio, driven by the pressure to remain relevant in a disco and punk-saturated musical landscape--so much so that one day he abruptly cut off all his hair with a pair of nails clippers--the women of the band countered his mania with with some of the band’s most beautiful recorded moments.

“You got that sweetness from (Nicks and McVie) with me as the complete nutcase,” is how Buckingham summarized the situation to Classic Rock in 2013. “That’s what makes us Fleetwood Mac.”

For Stevie Nicks, that sweetness would be most famously realized on “Sara,” the six-minute-plus opus that became an immediate show-stopper on the subsequent Tusk tour. Released as the second single from the LP in December 1979, “Sara” peaked at #7 on the Hot 100 for the week of February 2, 1980. The #1 song in America that week: Michael Jackson’s “Rock with You.”

As for Christine McVie, her contributions to Tusk were front-loaded by the single “Think About Me.” The album’s fourth single climbed to #20 on the Hot 100 for the week of April 26, 1980. The #1 tune in America for that week: Blondie’s “Call Me."

Listeners who persevered through the wild ride that is the 20 tracks that make up Tusk were rewarded with arguably McVie’s finest contribution to the record: the very last song, “Never Forget.” It’s a sweet, melodic tune that offsets the album’s often-chaotic nature with a simple message of love and remembrance. The song makes for an ideal send-off at the end of the Tusk experience.

“We didn’t really like Tusk,” McVie revealed to the Guardian in 2013 when asked about how she and Nicks dealt with the drama of the times. “We just kind of went (McVie rolls her eyes) Okaaaay. Because it was so different from Rumours. Deliberately so. In hindsight, I do like that record, but at the time me and Stevie would be like: ‘What the hell is he doing playing an empty Kleenex box as a drum?’”

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