What I’ve Been Listening To: Simply Red/Picture Book

Frequent visitors of the blog perhaps may be a bit surprised that I chose to highlight Picture Book by Simply Red. After all, sometimes it may appear I just can’t get enough of classic rock and blues. And while it’s certainly true these two genres form my core wheelhouse, I also enjoy other music.

Released in October 1985, Picture Book was the debut album by Simply Red. I’ve always dug it for its smooth soul and funky sound and Mick Hucknall’s distinct lead vocals. Before getting to some of the record’s music, I’d like to briefly touch on the band’s background.

Simply Red were formed in Manchester, England in 1984. Surprisingly, and I had not known about this until I read it on Wikipedia, most of the initial members came from musical backgrounds that were very different from Simply Red. Lead vocalist Mick Hucknall’s previous music venture was a punk band called The Frantic Elevators. That band was founded in 1976 and in addition to Hucknall (vocals) included Neil Moss (guitar), Brian Turner (bass) and Kevin Williams (drums). After seven years, The Frantic Elevators called it quits – ironically after the release of their fourth and final single Holding Back The Years had finally gotten them some attention.

Simply Red 1985
Simply Red 1985 (from left): Tim Kellett, Sylvan Richardson, Tony Bowers, Fritz McIntyre, Mick Hucknall & Chris Joyce

Following the demise of the Elevators Hucknall teamed up with band manager Elliot Rashman, and they put together a band of local session musicians, which became Simply Red. Their initial line-up consisted of Hucknall (lead vocals), David Fryman (guitar), Tony Bowers (bass), Fritz McIntyre (keyboards and vocals), Tim Kellett (brass, live backing vocals) and Chris Joyce (drums). Bowers, Kellett and Joyce each had previously been members of post-punk bands.

In 1985, Simply Red got a record deal with Elektra and started working in the studio. After recording one tune, Red Box, which would become the B-side of their first single Money’s Too Tight To Mention, Fryman left the band and was replaced by Sylvan Richardson on guitar. Let’s get to some music from Picture Book.

Here’s the opener Come To My Aid, a funky tune with a catchy melody. Co-written by Hucknall and McIntyre, the track also appeared separately as the album’s second single in August 1985.

One of my favorite songs on Picture Book is the second track Sad Old Red. I love the jazz and blues groove of the tune, which was written by Hucknall. It’s the kind of music that makes you snip your fingers.

Next up: A fantastic cover of Heaven, which was co-written by David Byrne and Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads and initially appeared on the band’s third studio album Fear Of Music from August 1979. I like the original but feel Simply Red kicked it up a notch by turning the tune into a beautiful soul ballad.

The second great cover on the album is the above mentioned Money’s Too Tight (To Mention). The song was co-written by brothers John Valentine and William Valentine who performed as The Valentine Brothers and first recorded it in 1982.

The last tune I’d like to call out is Holding Back The Years, the previously noted tune by The Frantic Elevators. Co-written by Hucknall and the band’s guitarist Neil Moss, the song also became Simply Red’s most successful single, topping the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and peaking at no. 2 on the U.K. Singles Chart.

Simply Red went on to record nine additional studio albums before disbanding in 2010. By that time, Hucknall was the only remaining original member and Simply Red essentially had become his solo project. In 2015, the band reunited and has since released a new studio album, Big Love, in May 2015 and conducted two anniversary tours.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Fleetwood Mac/Black Magic Woman

The above clip was captured in Tulsa, Okla. during the opening show of Fleetwood Mac’s 50-plus-date North American tour – the first featuring the band’s new lineup with Mike Campbell and Neil Finn and without Lindsey Buckingham. According to setlist.fm, Fleetwood Mac had not played Black Magic Woman since 1987. The tune goes back all the way to the band’s blues origins. Written by British blues rock artist Peter Green, Black Magic Woman was Fleetwood Mac’s third single released in March 1968. Only a couple of years later, it became a signature song and major hit for Santana.

I realize posting this footage may trigger some comments, or maybe not, but one thing is for sure – ever since Fleetwood Mac announced Buckingham’s exit and their new lineup, there has been a good deal of debate whether the band can be same without him. In my opinion, the answer is a clear ‘no,’ but I also feel this doesn’t mean they can’t go on. Plus, it’s worth remembering that this wasn’t Buckingham’s first departure.

To be clear, I think Lindsey Buckingham is a terrific artist who wrote or co-wrote many Fleetwood Mac tunes I dig, such as Monday Morning (Fleetwood Mac, 1975) The Chain (Rumours, 1977), Tusk (Tusk, 1979) and Big Love (Tango In The Night, 1987). His distinct vocals blended well with Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie. And let’s not forget he’s a really talented guitarist with a signature sound. Fleetwood Mac simply cannot be the same band without him – and that’s okay!

I will say the circumstances of Buckingham’s departure look unfortunate. Supposedly, there were artistic disagreements between him and the band about the tour, which was then in the planning stages. Sure, at the time there were five members in Fleetwood Mac, and when it’s four against one, at some point you have to figure out how to move forward as a band. But the speed with which that decision was made is remarkable, especially when it comes to a longtime member like Buckingham, who had been with Fleetwood Mac for a total of 38 years, if my math is correct. He already departed once before in 1987 and returned in 1992.

I think it’s intriguing that Fleetwood Mac have revamped their set list, which now combines older material and deeper cuts like Black Magic Woman, Tell Me All The Things You Do (Kiln House, 1970), Hypnotized (Mystery To Me, 1973) and Monday Morning (Fleetwood Mac, 1975) with usual suspects, such as The Chain (Rumours, 1977), Dreams (Rumours), Rhiannon (Fleetwood Mac, 1975) and Little Lies (Tango In The Night, 1987). I also feel the inclusion of Crowded House’s Don’t Dream It’s Over Over and Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ is okay and doesn’t make Fleetwood Mac a cover band.

Having said all of the above, I saw Fleetwood Mac (Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks) once in 2013, just months prior to the announcement of Christine McVie’s return. It was a solid show, and I think that does it for me with seeing this band live for time being, especially given high ticket prices and other artists I’d like to see.

Sources: Setlist.fm, Wikipedia, YouTube

My Playlist: Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac has been making headlines lately. Yesterday, they announced a big North American tour, which will kick off in October, include more than 50 cities, and stretch all the way into the beginning of April 2019. This comes in the wake of news that longtime vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Lindsey Buckingham is out and has been replaced by Mike Campbell and Neil Finn. The band also announced The Fleetwood Mac Channel on SiriusXM, which will launch on May 1st and run throughout the month. All these latest developments have triggered this post and playlist.

I’m most familiar with the classic line-up of Fleetwood Mac, which spans the periods from 1975 to 1987, 1995 to 1997 and 2014 to April 2018. I find it very hard to imagine the band without Buckingham. His vocals and guitar-playing were a major part of the Mac’s distinct sound. At the same time, I’m intrigued about the addition of Campbell, the former guitarist of Tom Petty’s band The Heartbreakers, and Finn, the previous lead vocalist and frontman for Crowded House, who also co-fronted Split Enz.

Of course, Fleetwood Mac’s 50-year-plus story started long before Buckingham came into the picture. It also continued following his first departure in August 1987 after the release of the band’s 14th studio album Tango In The Night. In fact, the band’s history is characterized stylistic shifts and numerous lineup changes. Before exploring some music, I’d like to highlight some of Fleetwood Mac’s stages. This is not meant to be a comprehensive history, which would go beyond the scope of the post.

Fleetwood Mac Initial Line-up

Fleetwood Mac was formed in July 1967, when guitarist Peter Green left John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers and asked fellow Bluesbreakers Mick Fleetwood (drums) and John McVie (bass) to form a new band. Fleetwood who had been fired from the Bluesbreakers agreed right away while McVie was hesitant. Jeremy Spencer (vocals, slide guitar, piano) and Bob Brunning (bass) completed the initial lineup. But Greene continued to pursue McVie as a bassist and named the new band after his preferred rhythm section of Fleetwood on drums and McVie on bass, i.e., Fleetwood Mac. After a few weeks, McVie agreed to join the fold.

The band released its eponymous studio debut in February 1968, a hard-charging blues rock album featuring a mix of blues covers and original tunes written by Greene and Spencer. And even though the record didn’t include a hit, it became a remarkable success in the U.K., peaking at no. 4 and remaining in the charts for a whooping 37 weeks. The sophomore album Mr. Wonderful, which already appeared in August 1968, was similar in style.

Fleetwood Mac_Then Play On

First changes started to emerge on Then Play On, the Mac’s third studio release. Danny Kirwan had joined the band as a guitarist and vocalist. Stylistically, the music started to move away from an exclusive focus on blues rock. The band’s transition continued between 1970 and 1975. In May 1970, Greene who had started taking LSD and was not in good mental health, left. Christine Perfect, who had married John McVie, did her first gig with the band as Christine McVie in August that year. In February 1971, Spencer left to join religious group Children of God. Bob Welch and later Bob Weston entered as guitarists.

Fleetwood Mac’s next big transition happened when Buckingham and then-girlfriend Stevie Nicks, who had performed together as a duo, joined the band at the end of 1974 after the departure of Welch. The classic line-up was in place and recorded the band’s second eponymous album. Also known as “The White Album,” it appeared in July that year and became the Mac’s first no. 1 on the Billboard 200. The follow-on Rumours not only was another chart-topper but also catapulted the band to international mega-stardom. The classic line-up released three additional successful studio albums.

Fleetwood Mac 1975

The period between 1987 to 1995 brought additional changes. Buckingham left in August 1987, and guitarists and vocalists Billy Burnette and Rick Vito joined the line-up -apparently, it takes two artists to replace Buckingham! Nicks and Vito departed in 1991. In 1995, following the release of the unsuccessful album Time, the Mac’s classic line-up regrouped. A performance in Burbank, Calif. in May 1997 resulted in the excellent live album The Dance, which was released in August that year. In 1998, Christine McVie left and returned to her family in England, where she lived in semi-retirement.

The remaining members recorded one more studio album, Say You Will, and continued to tour occasionally. In January 2014, Christine McVie officially rejoined the band. Subsequent efforts to make another Fleetwood Mac album were derailed when Nicks decided to focus on her solo career. While Mick Fleetwood and John McVie were involved in the recording, the record appeared last June as a collaboration between Buckingham and Christine McVie, titled Buckingham/McVie. You can read more the album here. Let’s get to some music.

I’d like to start off this playlist with My Heart Beat Like A Hammer, a nice blues rocker from the Mac’s first album, which is also known as Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. The tune was written by Jeremy Spencer.

About a month after the release of the debut album, Green’s Black Magic Woman was released in March 1968 as the band’s third single. Long before the original, I had heard the excellent Santana cover sung by Gregg Rollie, which became that band’s first big hit peaking at no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Green’s version climbed to no. 37 on the UK Singles Chart, not a bad showing either.

Fleetwood Mac’s first and only no. 1 song on the U.K. Singles Chart was the beautiful instrumental Albatross, another Green composition that appeared in November 1968.

Kiln House was the band’s fourth studio album and the first record without Green. Released in September 1970, it featured new guitarist and vocalist Danny Kirwan. By that time, the Mac had moved away from blues and sounded more like a straight rock band. While not being credited, Christine McVie provided backing vocals and keyboards. Here is Jewel-Eyed Judy, which was co-written Kirwan, Fleetwood and John McVie. It also became one of the record’s singles – great tune!

In October 1973, Fleetwood Mac released their eighth studio album Mystery To Me. At that time, the line-up included Bob Welch and Bob Weston, in addition to Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and Christine McVie. Welch and Christine wrote most of the songs. Here is Hypnotized, a nice tune penned by Welch with a relaxed feel.

Fleetwood Mac from July 1975 was the first album of the classic line-up. One of the songs on the record is the Stevie Nicks composition Rhiannon, which is among my favorite Mac songs.

When it comes to Rumours, which is packed with many great tunes, it’s tough to decide which one to select. Here is Go Your Own Way, which was written by Buckingham and became the album’s lead single in December 1976.

The follow-on Tusk, the band’s 12th studio album, sounded quite different from Rumours. This was exactly the intention. “For me, being sort of the culprit behind that particular album, it was done in a way to undermine just sort of following the formula of doing Rumours 2 and Rumours 3, which is kind of the business model Warner Bros. would have liked us to follow,” Buckingham told Billboard in November 2015. ” While opinions about the album were divided at the time is was released, it still peaked at no. 1 on the Billboard 200, though it “only” sold four million copies compared to 10 million for Rumours. Here is the title track.

Tango In The Night from April 1987 was Fleetwood Mac’s 14th studio album and the last with Buckingham prior to his first departure. It became the band’s second-best selling record after Rumours. The opening track is Big Love, a tune written by Buckingham. Here is an incredible live version captured during a show in Boston in October 2014. It illustrates Buckingham’s impressive guitar skills.

I’m fully aware that capturing the Mac’s long recording career in a post and playlist of no more than 10 songs without skipping stuff is impossible. For the last tune I’d like to highlight, I’m jumping to band’s most recent studio album Say You Will, which was released in April 2003. It was recorded by the band’s classic line-up minus Christine McVie. Here is Throw Down, a tune written by Nicks.

Fleetwood Mac’s next chapter just started, and it remains to be seen how the story continues after the 2018/2019 tour. The current schedule is here. In the band’s first interview since Buckingham’s departure with Rolling Stone, it appears they are ready to soldier on and excited about Campbell and Finn. “Why would we stop?” asked Nicks. “We don’t want to stop playing music. We don’t have anything else to do. This is what we do.” Referring to the band’s new members, Christine McVie said, “I immediately felt like I’d known them for years,” even though we’d only just met.”

“There’s no doubt that my instincts, for better or worse, have always been to gravitate towards going forward,” Fleetwood stated. About Buckingham he added, “Words like ‘fired’ are ugly references as far as I’m concerned. Not to hedge around, but we arrived at the impasse of hitting a brick wall. This was not a happy situation for us in terms of the logistics of a functioning band. To that purpose, we made a decision that we could not go on with him. Majority rules in terms of what we need to do as a band and go forward.”

According to Nicks, Buckingham’s departure occurred over timing differences about a world tour. The band wanted to start rehearsals this June while Buckingham wanted to put that off until November 2019. Apparently, Rolling Stone tried to reach him for comment without success.

Sources: Wikipedia, Billboard, Rolling Stone, YouTube