Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Interlude #1: Fleetwood Mac: "Albatross"

While this blog is ostensibly about #2 songs in the UK chart (and the NME, and the Luxembourg...I am using them all to get a greater focus on what was happening and also to point out that a chart is a construct, just like time itself) I will occasionally be taking a little rest stop - as we did in the summer of '73 itself, to have grape juice and bologna sandwiches - and look at what is to come.

Now, this song was a #1 hit in 1969 and by all rights I shouldn't be talking about it here; but look, here it is again at #2, a woozy swoon of a song, part straight-up blues, part Shadows ease and gentleness.  And that's fine, I don't really have much else to say about it, save for the fact that Fleetwood Mac - not in this exact configuration - are on their way to becoming, I would argue, the defining band of the 70s.  Yes, I know that is a huge proclamation, but I feel it's true.  Other bands or musicians may also qualify here (I have written about one of them over at Then Play Long recently) but none has the punctum - for me, anyway - of Fleetwood Mac.  Perhaps that is because I am from California, and that just as I was leaving, they were arriving...

...or I should say, on their way to arriving.  If the 70s can be described as a period of comedown, struggle and then renewal and success, then Fleetwood Mac are indeed the defining band of the time.  In the summer of '73, when this was at #2 and people wondered if the band even existed any longer on TOTP, they might have been surprised (or...not) to hear that not one but two guitarists had left the group*, that a wayward American called Bob Welch had heard they needed help, and showed up, giving them direction and (un)wittingly predicting their future:  California.  Welch was from Los Angeles and sensed that Fleetwood Mac would do better there than in blokey-bluesy-UK, where the band could stretch out and perhaps find its feet.  This was for the future; right now Fleetwood Mac were still in the UK, though they were gaining popularity in the US and with Welch's influence were starting to sound more American as well.  About this time they were recording Mystery To Me (one of many, many albums of the 70s to have an awful cover**) which includes "Hypnotized" - a song Welch wrote that that got a lot of airplay without actually becoming a hit.  It shares a certain laid-back charm with "Albatross" but is far more jazzy than Shadowy; it paves the way for "Dreams" a few years later, and the general eerieness that hangs over the band in general.  It is also understated; the general received opinion of the L.A. band Haim is that they sound like Fleetwood Mac, but nobody ever seems to mention which one; let me be the first one (if I am the first one) to say they they remind me of the Bob Welch-era Mac, and it is a shame that Welch never got to hear them, as I think he would have liked them.  It is also a shame, depending on how much stock you put in it, that while Fleetwood Mac are in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, Welch's heroic carrying of the band somehow didn't count - he's not included in the long list of band members.  He belongs with them all, and it is sad to see he's not there. 

In any case, like Fleetwood Mac my family were in transition; moving from Los Angeles to Canada, Oakville specifically.  It was a hot summer; the summer of Watergate hearings, of ex-Beatles at #1 in the US.  A time when a lot of people could sense that something had happened somewhere that was wrong, but couldn't do very much about it.  "Will It Go Round In Circles" sang Billy Preston, while Dr. John lamented that he was in the right place, but at the wrong time.  The Fog was dealt with in different ways in the US & the UK; the US tried to stick a happy face on it, or at least get it out, confessionally, into the open.  The UK put its faith in the Glam Slam, in the eternal party that is rock 'n' roll itself.  That will continue shortly, but next:  what?  A dog can't fly a plane!    


*Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer had both left by now, Peter Green had already left before them.

**Truly, the music had to do the selling with this one.  A beast eating a birthday cake?  Huh?   

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I would make a half-listening comparison with Steve Miller Band's "Song For Our Ancestors" - released a month before this song was recorded - and tell me whether that song, which is not exactly original itself, might have had something to do with this one.