Just Tell Me That You Want Me: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac
Various artists
2014

Mick Fleetwood and John McVie were hard-working members of John Mayall’s Blues Breakers. When they decided to form their own band (everyone who worked for John Mayall in the 1960s formed his own band), they discovered that their true skills were not playing the drums and the bass, respectively. The one thing they did better than anything was finding talent.

They started off by recruiting guitarist Peter Green. Peter Green is one of our unsung Jewish guitar heroes, the guy who was hired to replace Eric Clapton when Clapton left the Blues Breakers to form Cream. (What a résumé entry: “Replaced Eric Clapton while maintaining band productivity.”)

Green took Fleetwood Mac in a blues-rock direction, naturally, but Fleetwood and McVie were looking for something more lucrative. They got rid of Green and hired two singer-songwriters, Robert Welch and Christine Perfect, who began the band’s transition from blues to pop. (Perfect later married McVie.)

Fleetwood and McVie eventually ditched Welch and brought in two more singer-songwriters, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. That, as Ruk the android declared on a memorable episode of classic Star Trek, was the equation. In the mid-’70s there was no band bigger than Fleetwood Mac. Everywhere I went, everyone seemed to have Fleetwood Mac (1975) and Rumours (1977) in the plastic crates that held their records. I owned Fleetwood Mac and Rumours. Yes, it’s true. I spent money on Fleetwood Mac records, I didn’t change stations when Fleetwood Mac songs came on the radio, and I put coins in jukeboxes so I could hear really dumb stuff like “Monday Morning” and “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow.” You can understand why I’m a snob today. I have much to atone for.

(In 1992, the Clintons used “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” as their campaign theme song. Fleetwood Mac immediately reformed and went on tour. I will never forgive the Clintons for this.)

By the early 1980s I’d shaken off Fleetwood Mac the way a dog shakes off water after a swim. I came to believe that the final word on Fleetwood Mac was sung by The Rotters in their insightful single, “Sit on My Face, Stevie Nicks.” But then I encountered this tribute CD. Once again, I’ve been proven wrong. You’d think I’d be used to it by now.

Just Tell Me That You Want Me (this terrific title is a line from one of their worst songs, “Tusk”) is a collection of talent so deep that Beck isn’t even mentioned on the cover. He’s buried in the credits. Most of the interpretations are sincere, some are quite imaginative, and only a few are duds. Just Tell Me That You Want Me scores far higher than I expected.

What’s good
You can tell who the muscle was out there because 10 of these 17 songs were written by Stevie Nicks. For my money, the finest performance is turned in by Marianne Faithfull on Nicks’ “Angel.” Ms. Faithfull can turn any fluffy pop song into the King James Bible and as usual she doesn’t disappoint. Bill Frisell, another huge talent not noted in the advertising, plays guitar. He spends the last minute and a half of the song ascending into heaven. I rate this disc a Buy for “Angel” alone.

Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top provides the vocals on Peter Green’s “Oh Well.” You can hear the ghost of John Lee Hooker in his growls. The New Pornographers turn Christine McVie’s “Think About Me” into a fun Beatles romp. The Crystal Ark, a band I’ve never heard of, convert Lindsey Buckingham’s unlistenable “Tusk” into something I almost like. Two names I’m learning about, Matt Sweeney and Bonnie “Prince” Billy, create a beautiful cover of Nicks’ “Storms.” St. Vincent, a name you can’t avoid hearing these days, turns “Sisters of the Moon” (Nicks again) into a hard, almost dirty rocker. I never thought I’d connect adjectives such as “hard” and “dirty” with Fleetwood Mac.

Another band I don’t know, Best Coast, was assigned Nicks’ “Rhiannon,” Fleetwood Mac’s signature song. Though Best Coast stays close to the original, I’m highlighting this track because their singer, Bethany Cosentino, sings like a female Johnny Cash.

Of course, you can’t discuss Fleetwood Mac without complaining about something. For one thing, the cheap paper CD holder was designed to spill the CD out of its sleeve and onto the floor of your car just as you’re changing lanes. But I have something bigger in mind.

Robert Welch: Fleetwood footnote
Robert Welch was not an unappreciated genius and I’m not launching a crusade on his behalf. In 1994 he re-recorded his Greatest Hits and managed to de-improve all of them. But he wrote the only two original Fleetwood Mac songs I still like: “Future Games” and “Bermuda Triangle,” so I feel I should say something in his defense.

“Bermuda Triangle” is the closest this band ever came to a dance number. It would’ve been a perfect song for The B-52s, who would’ve injected 10ccs of humor. (Welch believed he was warning the public about a hazard to navigation.) This song is not covered on Just Tell Me That You Want Me.

“Future Games” is. I know that not all who wander are lost, but the boys in the band were lost in the dreamy, meandering “Future Games.” Still, this 8-minute song pre-dates Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon by a year and Pink Floyd acknowledges it as an influence. With better editing (or fewer recreational drugs?), “Future Games” could’ve been one of the decade’s classics. It’s good, OK?

In their cover, MGMT sings the lyrics through a vocoder to produce a computer-like voice. An old computer. Like Matthew Broderick/Ally Sheedy WarGames old computer. Neil Young tried this in 1982 with Trans and got nowhere, and he’s a god. Even Gary Numan, who is a computer, never tried to sing like one. MGMT made a huge mistake and I’m glad this record’s producers stuck this thing at the end so it’s easy to skip.

Don’t stop thinking about Fleetwood Mac
A tribute CD should show you an old band in a new light. Just Tell Me That You Want Me, like Various Artists for the Masses, the Depeche Mode tribute, accomplishes this mission. Despite “Future Games” and a couple of other miscues (“Silver Springs” sounds as if it was recorded in the bathroom of a bus station), let me just tell you: You want this CD.

Tomorrow night, Sins of the ’70s Week continues with: Chicago. Colour my world, dudes!

 

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