Desperate times call for desperate measures, and certainly Mick Fleetwood threw a Hail Mary pass when he recruited Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks in 1975. Up until December of '74, they were still a four-piece band with smoothie Bob Welch in the lead guitar/vocals/chief writer spot, but when he quit, the group was on the ropes. It couldn't have come at a worse time, since they'd actually finally dug themselves out of a long stagnant period, and the most recent album, Heroes Are Hard To Find, had actually broken into the U.S. Top 40 albums chart, the group's first in the States. Luckily Fleetwood heard a tape of the Buckingham/Nicks album in a studio, and sought out the Californians.
Merging these two relative rookies into the established band proved miraculously smooth, as they brought all the missing pieces: harmonies, songwriting, guitar fire, personality. The three Brits immediately upped their game as well, adapting to the new material with suitable fireworks, while Christine McVie was inspired to come up with great songs herself, including "Say You Love Me" and "Over My Head". There was existing Buckingham/Nicks material to get started on, including "Crystal", which was updated from the Buckingham/Nicks album, Nicks brought the exciting "Rhiannon", and Buckingham had "Monday Morning". McVie and Buckingham even started writing together, working up "World Turning", which featured their co-vocals on the album.
One other crucial element doesn't get enough mention. The studio where Fleetwood first heard that Buckingham/Nicks album was the soon-to-be-famous Sound City, and engineer Keith Olsen was the guy who played it for him. That's where they made the Fleetwood Mac album, with Olsen engineering and co-producing, and the brilliant mix and sonics of the record, especially the vocals and the drums, set the standard for clean sound.
This big box includes the original album on 180 gram vinyl, sounding even better than ever remastered. There are three CD's, the first featuring the regular album plus the four single mixes from the album, and there are some significant differences there, fun to spot. The second is made up of early versions of each song from the album, in mid-production, plus a short live set from the Warner Bros. Sound Stage. Disc three is all live, from the first year of touring for the new group. There's also a DVD with the surround sound and hi-res stereo versions for you folks blessed with huge honking expensive systems.
Discs two and three are quite fascinating, hearing the band feeling out the arrangements, learning out how to bring out the best in each other. There are some noticeable differences in some of the early versions, especially in "Rhiannon", as Nicks struggles to come up with a difference verse for the second chorus. Even in the early live version, she's trying out new words, all abandoned for the final studio take. "Monday Morning" is a much heavier number early on, McVie and Fleetwood pounding it out in a power trio with Buckingham, a harder edge they would rarely employ after that.
The live material has some real eye-openers, as the group went out to fans still thinking they were a blues band, with some decent-sized hits in the repertoire. For those first shows, Buckingham and Nicks had to learn several old Mac songs, including favourites "Oh Well" and "The Green Manalishi". Buckingham especially proved he could handle not just the vocals, but also the guitar heroics, something that had always been central to the Mac show. McVie was still doing some of her material, such as the lovely "Why", which now boasted grand harmonies from Buckingham and Nicks. That duo brought a few of their old ones to the table as well, to fill up the show, and then there was the dynamic new stuff that had just hit the stores.
Eventually, the album became a hit, thanks to great word-of-mouth and solid singles that kept coming to radio. It kept building and building, hitting #1 on the album charts more than a year after it's release. While Rumours racked up even greater sales and became the album most talk about now, this one had pretty much the same magic, and none of the messiness that came later.