How does a band follow up an album like Rumours? By the time Fleetwood Mac’s five members convened at Village Recorders in Los Angeles to begin recording their next album Rumours had already sold eight million copies and the album never stopped selling. The pressure to record Rumours II, both internally and externally, must have been enormous. Fleetwood Mac spent almost two years and 1.4 million dollars (that’s about five million when adjusted for inflation) recording what Warner Brothers certainly hoped was going to be Rumours II. By the time Tusk was ready to be released in 1979 the recording industry was in a slump and freaking out over the perceived scourge of home-taping. Everyone’s hope was that the new Fleetwood Mac album would give the industry a much needed shot in the arm.
But making Rumours II was not what Lindsey Buckingham had in mind. Lindsey was the sixth person to play guitar in the Fleetwood Mac, a British blues band that originally formed in 1967. They were no longer a blues band by the time Lindsey joined. When Mick Fleetwood asked Buckingham to replace departing guitarist Bob Welch Lindsey declined unless the band would also take on his girlfriend and collaborator in Buckingham Nicks, Stevie Nicks. Mick Fleetwood wisely agreed and Fleetwood Mac would never be the same, but neither would Lindsey Buckingham. The rock and roll superstar that would make Tusk was a very different man from the down on his luck California hippie that Fleetwood Mac plucked from obscurity. By the time he began writing and recording his songs for Tusk Lindsey Buckingham was rich and famous, and something else had happened to Lindsey between the time Fleetwood Mac recorded Rumours and Tusk: punk rock. Lindsey loved The Clash. When Lindsey arrived at the studio one fateful morning close-cropped and clean-shaven the band must have known right then: this ain’t gonna be Rumours II.
Today Tusk is certified quadruple platinum, meaning that since it is a double album it has sold two million copies. Considering that Rumours has sold more than 20 million copies, Tusk is a quadruple platinum flop. Why did Tusk flop? For any number of reasons. Mick Fleetwood blames the fact that Westwood One Radio played the entire album the night before it was released. Of course they had permission to do so, and Fleetwood also hypothesized that in giving Westwood One that exclusive the record label alienated all of the other radio stations, resulting in less promotion for the album from those stations. Whether or not a large group of potential record buyers taped that radio broadcast instead of buying the album the fact that the double album’s list price was $15.98 certainly didn’t help sales. And then there’s the fact that Lindsey Buckingham made damn sure they did not make Rumours II.
Appreciation for Tusk has grown over time and Fleetwood Mac are often credited with defying expectations and/or pursuing art over profit, but 11 of the 20 songs on Tusk were written by either Christine McVie or Stevie Nicks and while I like most of those songs quite a bit they are rather conventional fare, not that far removed from Rumours at all. The songs on Tusk that people are talking about when they call the album eclectic or unconventional are Lindsey Buckingham’s songs. Rumours was a much more collaborative effort: Lindsey, Stevie and Christine came to the studio with songs or pieces of songs but the band as a unit put those pieces together. In part that is why Rumours is a much more cohesive work. The album flows, the songs fit together. The same cannot be said of Tusk. Some of Lindsey Buckingham’s songs on Tusk don’t really fit well at all with the songs before or after them.
Take for example the second song on the album, “The Ledge.”
It’s an awesome song, I love it, but it’s fucking weird! The song is sandwiched between a gentle Christine McVie ballad, “Over and Over,” which inconspicuously opens the album, and “Think About Me,” a nice pop rocker also written and sung by McVie. I adore Tusk but I do take issue with the sequencing of the album. Opening the record with “Over and Over” makes little sense, and why are Lindsey’s best songs on Side Three? “The Ledge” is great, but it’s a Side Three song. Yes, I’d make some significant changes to the sequencing of this record. How dare I!
There are 20 songs on Tusk and Lindsey Buckingham wrote nine of them. He did most of the recording of those songs on his own. What it really comes down to is that half of Tusk is a Lindsey Buckingham solo album, and the Lindsey Buckingham album Tusk contains is one of
my favorite albums of all time. I like most of the other songs on Tusk as well, but Lindsey’s songs are a different animal. They stand on their own. I do not think of them as Fleetwood Mac songs, I think of them as Lindsey Buckingham songs. Let’s listen to this Lindsey Buckingham solo album then, shall we? “The Ledge” comes first. Up next is the fourth song on Side One of Tusk, “Save Me A Place.”
“Save Me A Place” is a beautiful song. I love the sound of the percussion on the track. The combination of the brilliant musicianship of Mick Fleetwood and the creativity of Lindsey Buckingham is magical. Lindsey was working with the best rhythm section possible and he knew it and used it. Go back and listen to “Go Your Own Way,” but concentrate on the bass and the drums. It’ll blow your mind. But I digress. “Save Me A Place” could have been a pretty standard song if it not for the innovative percussion and the way that certain words in the chorus, “Save” and “Love,” are stretched out just long enough to make it seem a little weird.
The next Lindsey song is the first song on Side Two, “What Makes You Think You’re The One.” This is a magnificent song with more great percussion work from Fleetwood. The production on the song is just quirky enough to make your average Top 40 listener uncomfortable, which I’m guessing was the point.
Each of Lindsey’s songs on Tusk is alive with personality. You get the impression that Lindsey was making this music for himself and that the potential audience was a secondary concern. That’s not necessarily the best way to go about making pop music, but it works well when someone as talented and creative as Lindsey Buckingham is having a go. “What Makes You Think You’re The One” should have been all over the radio, but it wasn’t. Two songs deeper into Tusk we get Lindsey’s next song, a somber ballad called “That’s All For Everyone.” This might be my least favorite Lindsey song on the record, but I like it.
“That’s All For Everyone” is immediately followed by the third single to be released from the album, a bratty rocker called “Not That Funny.”
Now we’re getting to the good stuff! Everything about “Not That Funny” is great. I love the production and Lindsey’s guitar work is killer. But play the song on the radio in 1980 and would people even know it was Fleetwood Mac? Would Rumours fans like it? I’m a Rumours fan and I like it! But I don’t listen to the fucking radio.
We’ve made it to Side Three, where my two favorite songs on the record are hidden away. Track 12 on the album is called “That’s Enough For Me” and how could one possibly describe this song? Just listen:
It’s the most upbeat country song in history, or
rockabilly punk: punkabilly? Neither of these descriptions does the song any justice. It kind of sounds like “Second Hand News” being played at 45 RPM. I’m quite fond of Lindsey’s voice, especially on a song like this. I absolutely love the melody. “That’s Enough For Me” is my second favorite song on the record. What’s my favorite, you ask? It’s nestled right there, all the way at the end of Side Three. It’s called “I Know I’m Not Wrong”
I love this song dearly, it is one of my personal favorite songs ever, by anyone. It’s a very simple song done just right, expertly executed, a pure power pop gem. “I Know I’m Not Wrong” is, on the surface, a basic pop song, but the song is so infused with emotion that it feels complex. If you’re a Bruce fan, try to imagine “Hungry Heart,” but with the sophistication and emotional resonance of “Born To Run.” If you’re not a Bruce fan, wise up dummy!
“I Know I’m Not Wrong” possesses a kind of clarity that I am finding it difficult to describe. I guess what I am trying to say is that the song is PERFECT. That is why what I am about to relate is so confounding and infuriating. For some reason when Tusk was reissued (deluxe edition!) on CD in 2004 someone (was it you Lindsey!?) hamhandedly remixed the song, inexplicably altering it tremendously and virtually ruining it in the process. All kinds of harmony vocals not present on the original version are suddenly omnipresent, they dominate the song. The core melody is simply buried, almost obliterated, it becomes a different song. I cannot fathom why this was done, no other song on the album was altered, at least not so noticeably. All I can say is, if you want to listen to “I Know I’m Not Wrong,” you have to buy the classic vinyl. Accept no substitutes.
We’ve got two Lindsey songs left, the third and fourth songs on Side Four. First up is “Walk A Thin Line.”
Holy shit. Now that’s a song! Brilliant! Bust out the headphones to appreciate the double drum tracks by Mick Fleetwood. Awesome! This is Lindsey’s lullaby. When you think about the songs that were chosen to be released as singles, with a song like this in the arsenal, you have to think that maybe the real problem with Tusk was the marketing. They allowed the album to be pegged as “weird” or “eccentric” by critics, and releasing the title track as the first single certainly cemented that take on things. The album was branded a flop way too early, and the record buying public moved on. I propose that if “What Makes You Think You’re The One” or “Walk A Thin Line” were released as the first single instead of “Tusk” the outcome for the album could have been decidedly different.
Speak of the devil: Lindsey’s last song on the album is the album’s title track and first single, “Tusk.” As the story goes Stevie Nicks was furious when she found out her band’s album was basically called Penis (because I guess tusk is slang for penis?) but as album titles go it could be worse. As for album covers, what exactly does a dog attacking a leg have to do with tusks (or penises)? I’d say Stevie should have been more upset about the album cover. Stevie also choked, not writing a breakout hit for Tusk. She has some really good songs on the album, I love “Angel” and “Storms,” but her only single, “Sara,” I do not like. It’s one of the worst songs on the record, in my opinion. The song is almost pretentious, magnifying the most annoying aspects of Stevie’s artistry, and with a clumsy melody to boot. A better Stevie single may have been all that Tusk needed to be successful on a Rumours scale. Something to get the ball rolling. Replace “Sara” with “Angel” for the second single, that’s my verdict: they blew it with the singles.
I guess it was Mick Fleetwood’s idea to release the very eccentric title track as the first single from the album. That decision was probably just as detrimental to album sales as that Westwood One radio broadcast Mick likes to blame. It was also Mick’s idea to rent Dodgers Stadium for a day to record the USC marching band for the song.
It’s a cool song but first single? The band that sold eight million copies of Rumours and had a number one hit with Stevie Nick’s “Dreams” resurfaces with this song? This is the first thing most people will hear from the album!? It’s crazy. That’s not marketing, that’s sabotage. How many Rumours fans were going to rush out to buy Tusk based on hearing “Tusk?” My guess would be almost zero. Not because it’s a bad song, because it’s a weird song. Most of the 20 odd million people that bought Rumours were not looking for weird.
I fell in love with Lindsey Buckingham’s songs on Tusk during my sophomore year in college and they have remained dear to my heart ever since. Tusk and a walkman, that’s all I needed. I am a huge fan of much of Lindsey’s work but the Tusk songs will always be my favorites. It took three years for the band to release their next album, Mirage, and Lindsey did not disappoint. His songs on that album are wonderful. Check out my favorite, “Eyes of the World.”
Lindsey has released several solo albums but the one I would most recommend is my favorite album of 2008, Gift of Screws. It’s a truly brilliant album and sounds like nothing else. Check out “Wait For You” if you don’t believe me.
Fleetwood Mac are currently on tour and about to release some new music.