Fleetwood Mac Unveils Their New Singer Stevie Nicks, and The World Takes Notice: Watch Bewitching Performances of “Rhiannon” (1975–1976)

Fleet­wood Mac lost one lead singer and gui­tarist after anoth­er in the 70s, first to a men­tal health cri­sis, then a reli­gious cult, then dra­mat­ic fir­ings and rela­tion­al break­downs. They were in a bit of a sham­bles when new prospect Lind­say Buck­ing­ham arrived, bring­ing with him even more dra­ma, as well as an unknown singer, Ste­vie Nicks. One year lat­er, their breakup coin­cid­ed with the dis­so­lu­tion of John and Chris­tine McVie’s mar­riage, and drum­mer and name­sake Mick Fleet­wood’s divorce, dur­ing the record­ing of the mas­sive-sell­ing Rumors album in 1976.

Some­how, the band kept on, mak­ing greater leaps for­ward with Tusk, sur­viv­ing into the 90s intact and mount­ing sev­er­al reunion tours after­ward. How? Many a book and doc­u­men­tary have tack­led the sub­ject. But maybe the main rea­son is plain.

Despite endur­ing cir­cum­stances that would tear most bands apart, despite the cyn­i­cal lures and traps of wealth and fame, Fleet­wood Mac’s pro­fes­sion­al longevi­ty came from the fact that they were musi­cians who loved play­ing togeth­er, who knew how good they were at what they did, and knew they were bet­ter when they did it togeth­er.

Not only did the new five-piece put aside huge per­son­al con­flicts and an already leg­endary his­to­ry to make some of the great­est pop music ever writ­ten, both col­lab­o­rat­ing and let­ting indi­vid­ual song­writ­ers take the lead, but they had the smarts to rec­og­nize the enor­mous tal­ent they had in Nicks, who first joined the band at Buckingham’s insis­tence then quick­ly became its star front­woman. Her mag­net­ism was unde­ni­able, her song­writ­ing bewitch­ing, her stage pres­ence trans­for­ma­tive.

Fans see­ing Nicks onstage with the band after the release of 1975’s Fleet­wood Mac have “no idea who Ste­vie Nicks is,” writes Rob Sheffield at Rolling Stone. They have “heard ‘Rhi­an­non’ on the radio,” have maybe bought the record, but “they’ve nev­er seen her rock.” Then they did—explaining the ori­gins of “Rhi­an­non” on The Old Grey Whis­tle Test (top) before launch­ing into the “song about a Welsh witch,” and going full-on new-age diva with super-feath­ered hair on The Mid­night Spe­cial (above).

“She’s the new girl in a long-run­ning band,” writes Sheffield, “but she’s here to blow all that his­to­ry away. She keeps push­ing the song hard­er, faster, as if she’s impa­tient to prove the new Mac is a real sav­age-like rock mon­ster, now that she’s ful­ly arrived.” Buck­ing­ham was the right gui­tarist at the right time in the band’s evo­lu­tion, step­ping into sev­er­al huge pairs of shoes to help them recre­ate their sound. But Ste­vie Nicks pro­vid­ed the voice and elec­tri­fy­ing­ly weird ener­gy they need­ed to become their best new selves.

Big, dra­mat­ic TV appear­ances were one thing, but the band’s tran­si­tion from British blues rock­ers to pop radio super­stars wasn’t a total eclipse of their past. While they may have been pro­mot­ed as a Ste­vie Nicks-cen­tric enti­ty, Chris­tine McVie still played a major singer/songwriter role, as did Buck­ing­ham. In one of their first live con­certs with the two new mem­bers, at the Capi­tol The­atre in New Jer­sey, above, McVie opens the set with “Get Like You Used to Be” and “Spare Me a Lit­tle of Your Love.”

Buck­ing­ham shows off his impec­ca­ble blues and coun­try chops, and Nicks sits in on back­ing vocals, then takes the lead three songs in on “Rhi­an­non.” Oth­er new songs in the short setlist include “World Turn­ing,” sung by McVie and Buck­ing­ham, and the Buck­ing­ham-led “Blue Let­ter” and “I’m So Afraid.” (They reach as far back in the back cat­a­log as Peter Green’s “Green Man­al­ishi.”) It’s clear at this point that the band doesn’t quite know what to do with Ste­vie Nicks. But once they debuted on tele­vi­sion, she knew exact­ly how to sell her­self to audi­ences.

FYI: If you hap­pen to be an Audi­ble mem­ber, you can down­load Rob Sheffield­’s audio­book, The Wild Heart of Ste­vie Nicks, as a free addi­tion­al book this month. (It’s part of their Audi­ble Orig­i­nals pro­gram.) If you’re not an Audi­ble mem­ber, you can always sign up for a free 30-day tri­al here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ste­vie Nicks “Shows Us How to Kick Ass in High-Heeled Boots” in a 1983 Women’s Self Defense Man­u­al

How Fleet­wood Mac Makes A Song: A Video Essay Explor­ing the “Son­ic Paint­ings” on the Clas­sic Album, Rumours

Watch Clas­sic Per­for­mances by Peter Green, Founder of Fleet­wood Mac & the Only British Blues Gui­tarist Who Gave B.B. King “the Cold Sweats”

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • anna christel says:

    i absolute­ly adore fleet­wood mac being a child of peace & love, look­ing back like you ref­ered at their begin­ning is always inter­est­ing !!! i wish they would per­form here in az…so close to the old days for ste­vie. thanks.

  • Sharon Bullard says:

    Ste­vie Nick­’s. I could nev­er put into words what I feel when I see and hear you sing.your pres­ence is just pure magic.my eldest chil­dren regan 24 ‚ani­ta 22 rhi­an­nyn 11 ‚grand­daugh­ter from ani­ta part­ner james have near 2yearold ava rose and my 30year part­ner­ship with dwane all love your you ‚tour­mu­sic and also fleet­wood mac.bless you ‚alwayslove peace and magic.long life fan ‚sharon xx

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