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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