Remembering Christine McVie: Fleetwood Mac’s Irrespressible Songbird

Photo Credit: Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty

Christine McVie, the longtime keyboardist, and vocalist for Fleetwood Mac died on November 30th at age seventy-nine. The first of her three non-consecutive tenures with the band lasted for a quarter-century beginning in 1970, which made her the first woman to join, and a few years later an integral part of the line-up which rose to become one of the most successful acts in rock history. Among the many songs that she wrote and sang lead on were Fleetwood Mac’s first US Top 20 single (“Over My Head,” 1975) as well as their last (“Everywhere,” 1987).

Christine McVie was born Christine Perfect in Bouth, England, grew up mainly in that country’s Birmingham area, and began playing piano at age four. While studying art in university (with the intention of teaching the subject as a career), she found herself being drawn in by the blues-rock movement which was exploding in the U.K. in the mid-’60s. Fleetwood Mac – in their earliest incarnation – was a product of the scene, though Christine had originally been a member of the band Chicken Shack, playing keyboards and even singing lead on their biggest U.K. hit, “I’d Rather Go Blind” in 1968.

Photo Credit: Redferns

By this point, Christine had already married bassist John McVie (who was the “Mac” in Fleetwood Mac), although she continued to record under her maiden name, including for her 1970 debut solo album (which charted in the U.S.). She had already made some musical contributions to Fleetwood Mac but became a full-fledged member starting with the 1971 studio album Future Games. Christine began using her married name, and the entire band relocated to Southern California. They released five more moderately successful studio albums in the early ’70s before recruiting two American musicians, guitarist/vocalist Lindsay Buckingham and vocalist Stevie Nicks.

By now, Fleetwood Mac had almost fully abandoned their blues roots in favor of the mellow Southern California rock sound. Although the first album with the new line-up (self-titled, 1975) went to number one in the U.S., it was the follow-up, Rumours which would turn the band into superstars (it remains one of the highest-selling rock albums of all time). With her distinct voice and character, Nicks was already attracting the most attention, but Christine’s own vocal style and elegantly understated presence never allowed her to be overshadowed, such as on her most popular contribution to Rumours (as writer and singer), the Top Ten hit “You Make Loving Fun.”

Photo Credit: Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty

That song was, in fact, not about John McVie, but rather a relationship that Christine had had with the band’s lighting director. The McVies were already divorced by the time the album came out, just one facet of the band’s personal lives – along with infighting, excessive drug use, and Buckingham and Nicks’ own troubled romantic relationship – which made Fleetwood Mac catnip for the gossip-hungry music press at the time. The fact that the follow-up album to Rumours, Tusk (1979) wound up as a major commercial disappointment, certainly didn’t help matters.

Still, the ’80s proved a lucrative period for Fleetwood Mac, if not always a single unit. Even after Nicks launched her successful solo career, the band reunited for the album Mirage in 1982, another commercial success (as well as their foray into the MTV era). In 1984 Christine also released another solo album, which produced a Top Ten single in the U.S. (“Got a Hold on Me”). The band went on a hiatus but returned in 1987 with Tango in the Night, which would ultimately become the final studio album from the classic five-piece line-up. Christine wrote and sang lead on the album’s highest-charting single, “Little Lies” (in addition to “Everywhere”).

Photo Credit: Danny Clinch

Buckingham and Nicks both left the band, but the classic line-up reunited in 1993, at the request of then-newly-elected President Bill Clinton (who had used the band’s 1977 hit “Don’t Stop” as his campaign song), interrupting a lengthy period in which the Fleetwood Mac line-up had become something of a revolving door. Christine returned to the fold full-time in 2014 and remained an official member until her death. In 2017 Christine and Buckingham reunited to release an album as a duo (the two had previously shared vocal duties on Fleetwood Mac’s 1982 Top Ten hit “Hold Me”), which entered the British album chart at number five and went Top Twenty in the U.S.

Christine had never publicly revealed a serious health issue, and the cause of her death would be described by her family only as “a brief illness.” But what’s not in question is the musical legacy and impact which Christine McVie left behind. Although never a hit single, “Songbird” from Rumours – which she wrote, sang, and whose instrumentation consists almost entirely of her playing piano – would become her signature song (she would often close Fleetwood Mac concerts with it), as it perfectly encapsulates the beauty and brilliance of everything she did. None of that will ever be forgotten.

Written by: Richard John Cummins

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