Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Hope your Wednesday is treating you nicely. It’s time to take a closer look at another song I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. The context for today’s pick is rather sad – the recent death of Christine McVie who suddenly passed away last Wednesday at the age of 79 after a short illness. The cause was not disclosed. While in Fleetwood Mac McVie oftentimes may have been overshadowed by Stevie Nicks, she wrote and sang some of the group’s most popular songs, including Everywhere, Little Lies, Don’t Stop, You Make Loving Fun and my pick for today: Songbird.

Songbird appeared on the Mac’s magnum opus Rumours, their 11th studio album released in February 1977. The beautiful tune also became the B-side to the record’s second single Dreams, which appeared in March 1977. Two of McVie’s above-noted songs, Don’t Stop and You Make Loving Fun, were A-side singles. Songbird should have been one as well, in my view.

Christine McVie (born Christine Perfect) joined Fleetwood Mac in 1970 after her departure from blues band Chicken Shack who had toured with the Mac, and the recording of her eponymous debut album Christine Perfect. By the time she became an official member of Fleetwood Mac, she had married bassist John McVie. In 1984, she released her second solo album, Christine McVie. By 1999, McVie had not only grown tired from touring but had also developed a phobia about flying, and decided to retire from music. She officially rejoined Fleetwood Mac in 2014 and was part of their last world tour that ended in Las Vegas in November 2019. Mick Fleetwood subsequently said it probably was the band’s last such tour.

In June 2022, Christine McVie released a solo compilation titled Songbird: A Solo Collection. The album features remixed versions of tunes from her above-mentioned 1984 solo album and In the Meantime, another solo record from September 2004, together with two previously unreleased tracks and the following orchestrated version of Songbird.

Last but not least, here’s a nice live version of Songbird, which became a beloved tune among Fleetwood Mac fans. It was often performed by McVie and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham as their show closer. This footage was captured in December 2014 at a gig in San Diego, Calif.

Following are some additional tidbits about Songbird from Songfacts.

Christine McVie said that this song held Fleetwood Mac together during their hard times while recording Rumours. Once the members heard this song, they thought about what they had been through and how much love they shared...

Christine McVie liked to pen her songs from another person’s point of view rather than writing about herself. She told Uncut: “If you take ‘Songbird’ as an example, that was written in about half an hour. If I could write a few more like that, I would be a happy girl. It doesn’t really relate to anybody in particular; it relates to everybody. A lot of people play it at their weddings or at bar mitzvahs or at their dog’s funeral. It’s universal. It’s about you and nobody else. It’s about you and everybody else. That’s how I like to write songs.”

Christine McVie penned the song after she woke up in the middle of the night with it in her head. She recalled to Mojo in 2015: “Stevie and I were in a condominium block and the boys were all in the Sausalito Record Plant house raving with girls and boozer and everything. I had a little transistorized electric piano next to my bed and I woke up one night at about 3:30 a.m. and started playing it. I had all, words, melody, chords in about 30 minutes. It was like a gift from the angels, but I had no way to record it. I thought I’m never gonna remember this. So I went back to bed, and couldn’t sleep. I wrote the words down quickly.

Next day, I went into the studio shaking like a leaf’ ’cause I knew it was something special. I said, ‘Ken, (Caillat, Rumours’ co-producer/engineer) put the 2-track on, I want to record this song!’ I think they were all in there, smoking opium.”

“Songbird” was recorded away from the studio at the University of California’s Zellerbach Auditorium with just McVie alone at the piano. The idea was to have it sound like she was singing alone after everyone had left a concert. It was recorded using a mobile unit.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

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The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

I can’t believe it’s Sunday again – boy, this first week of 2022 flew by really quickly! Well, this means it’s time for another installment of my favorite weekly feature where I time-travel to celebrate music of the past and sometimes the present, six tunes at a time. Off we go!

Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble/Chitlins con Carne

Let’s kick it off with a great jazzy instrumental by Stevie Ray Vaughan, one of my favorite electric blues guitarists. Chitlins con Carne is from the fifth and final album of Vaughan and his backing band Double Trouble, appropriately titled The Sky Is Crying. This record appeared in November 1991, 14 months after Vaughan’s tragic and untimely death in a helicopter crash. He was only 35 years old – what a huge loss! Chitlins con Carne, composed by jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell, was first released on his 1963 album Midnight Blue. In case you’re curious you can check out the original here. Following is Vaughan’s excellent rendition!

Christine McVie/Got a Hold on Me

Christine McVie is best known as keyboarder, vocalist and songwriter of Fleetwood Mac, which she joined in 1970, coming from British blues band Chicken Shack. At the time she became a member of the Mac, she was the wife of bassist John McVie whom she had married in 1968. Their union fell apart after Christine had an affair with the band’s lighting engineer Curry Grant during the production of the Rumours album in 1976. Let’s just say there were many on and off relationships within Fleetwood Mac! Christine McVie wrote some of the band’s best-known songs, such as Don’t Stop, You Make Loving Fun (about her affair with Grant, though at the time she claimed it was about a dog!) and Say You Love Me. To date, she has also recorded three solo albums. Got a Hold on Me, co-written by her and Todd Sharp, is from her second solo effort Christine McVie, which came out in January 1984. I’ve always loved this pop-rock tune – simple and a bit repetitive, but quite catchy!

James Taylor/Fire and Rain

Last Sunday, I caught a great CNN documentary, Carole King & James Taylor: Just Call Out My Name, focused on their 2010 Troubadour Reunion Tour – I could still kill myself that I completely missed that tour! Anyway, one of the tunes they played was Fire and Rain, my favorite James Taylor original song. I also love his rendition of King’s You’ve Got a Friend. Fire and Rain is off Taylor’s sophomore album Sweet Baby James from February 1970. The tune also appeared separately as a single in August that year. It became his first hit, reaching no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, no. 2 in Canada and no. 6 in Australia. It also charted in the UK (no. 48) and The Netherlands (no. 18). Here’s a beautiful live performance captured from the BBC’s In Concert series in November 1970. James Taylor, his smooth voice and his great guitar-playing – that’s really all you need!

Them/Gloria

Next, let’s jump back further to December 1964 and some dynamite British garage rock: Gloria by Them, a band formed in April 1964 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Fronted by Van Morrison (lead vocals, saxophone, harmonica), the group’s original line-up also included Billy Harrison (guitar, vocals), Eric Wrixon (keyboards), Alan Henderson (bass) and Ronnie Milling (drums). Gloria, penned by Morrison, was first released in November 1964 as the B-side to Baby, Please Don’t Go, Them’s second single. The tune was also included on the group’s debut album The Angry Young Them from June 1965, which in the U.S. was simply titled Them. This song’s just a classic. I wish I could say the same about Van Morrison these days!

Elvis Presley/Heartbreak Hotel

As frequent visitors of the blog may recall, my childhood idol was Elvis Presley who, btw, would have turned 87 yesterday (January 8). While I no longer idolize him or anyone else for that matter, I still dig Elvis, especially his early period. One of the coolest songs I can think of in this context is Heartbreak Hotel. Credited to Tommy Durden, Mae Boren Axton and Presley, the slow jazzy blues tune first appeared as a single in January 1956 and became Elvis’ first big hit. Among others, it topped the charts in the U.S., Canada and The Netherlands, and reached no. 2 in the UK. Heartbreak Hotel was also included on the compilation Elvis’ Golden Records from March 1958. In addition to Presley’s regular backing musicians Scotty Moore (electric guitar) and Bill Black (double bass), the recording featured Chet Atkins (acoustic guitar), Floyd Cramer (piano) and D.J. Fontana (drums). Feel free to snip along!

Mark Knopfler/Prairie Wedding

And once again, this brings me to the sixth and final track in this installment. It’s yet another tune my streaming music provider recently served up as a listening suggestion: Prairie Wedding by Mark Knopfler. The song is from the former Dire Straits frontman’s second solo album Sailing to Philadelphia that came out in September 2000. Written by Knopfler like all other tunes on the album, the track features Gillian Welch and her musical partner David Rawlings on backing vocals, as well as Guy Fletcher on keyboards. Fletcher also served in that role in Dire Straits from 1984 until the band’s final dissolution in 1995. Great tune with a nice cinematic feel!

Here’s a playlist of the above tunes:

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Clips & Pix: Fleetwood Mac/Don’t Stop

The rocker from Rumours still rocks mightily, 40 years after its initial release

Cool clip of Fleetwood Mac performing Don’t Stop at The Classic West at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Sunday night. It was the encore of their gig at the festival. Written by Christine McVie, the song first appeared on Rumours, their 11th and most successful studio album that appeared in February 1977. It was also released separately as the record’s third single in April that year.

Sources: Wikipedia, Setlist.fm, YouTube