Fleetwood Mac Tusk press photo
Home » How Fleetwood Mac made a masterpiece that flopped

How Fleetwood Mac made a masterpiece that flopped

How do you release a double album that goes multi-platinum, breaks the Top 5, spawns multiple hit singles and spends months in the Top 40 while still being widely regarded as an artistic folly and a flop? Ask Fleetwood Mac. After all, that’s exactly what they did with 1979’s Tusk.

Released Oct. 12, 1979 — just a few months shy of three years after their previous effort, 1977’s Rumours, began its march toward record-breaking success — Tusk made up for the long wait between LPs by packing 20 tracks into its expanded length.

But as the Mac giveth, the Mac taketh away: for fans expecting a set of songs that picked up where Rumours left off, Tusk proved a confounding listen, full of artistic left turns and sonic experimentation. Some found it daring and others accused the band of self-indulgence, but no matter how you felt about the album, it was obvious that Fleetwood Mac was refusing to rest on its laurels.
This is not to say that Tusk is without its radio-friendly moments. Six singles were released in all, starting with the Top 10 title track — one of the more willfully experimental cuts on the album — and including “Sara” (No. 7) and “Think About Me” (No. 20).

But it was obvious that rather than trying to recapture or outdo Rumours, the band members were willing to expend the huge amount of commercial capital they’d built up by putting together a sprawling, ambitious work that reflected many, if not all, of their wildest artistic whims.

Leading the charge was guitarist and singer Lindsey Buckingham, whose grip on the Tusk reins would later lead to some derisively referring to the record as “Lindsey’s Folly.” As he later took pains to explain, however, it wasn’t about satisfying his ego.

Like a lot of works of art once deemed too outre, Tusk earned a deeper measure of appreciation over time.

“I was losing a great deal of myself,” Buckingham later recalled of trying to create new music in the wake of Rumours. His solution was to cover as much musical ground as possible — to consciously avoid a Rumours II. “My thought was, let’s subvert the norm. Let’s slow the tape machine down, or speed it up, or put the mike on the bathroom floor and sing and beat on, uh, a Kleenex box! My mind was racing.”

The end result was a set of songs that replaced the burnished AM glow of its predecessor with a sonic landscape that was broader and more colorful — yet also more arid, and studded with sharper angles. Critics were quick to point to New Wave as an overriding influence, but Tusk wasn’t an attempt to latch onto trendy sounds. As evidenced by the stomping, marching band-backed title track, or the spiky “The Ledge,” or the fuzz-laced “Not That Funny,” or the reverb-soaked “That’s All for Everyone,” it found Buckingham on nothing more than a dizzying quest to capture the sounds in his own mind.

Although Buckingham described the positive aspects of upending expectations, engineer Ken Caillat recalled a fairly turbulent working environment, with Buckingham’s eccentric behavior setting the tone. “He was a maniac,” Caillat countered. “The first day, I set the studio up as usual. Then he said, ‘Turn every knob 180 degrees from where it is now and see what happens.’ He’d tape microphones to the studio floor and get into a sort of push-up position to sing. Early on, he came in and he’d freaked out in the shower and cut off all his hair with nail scissors. He was stressed.”

He wasn’t the only one. Drummer Mick Fleetwood later laughed about Warner Bros. chief Mo Ostin’s apoplectic response to the finished product, paraphrasing his remarks by saying, “You’re insane doing a double album at this time. The business is f—ed, we’re dying the death, we can’t sell records, and this will have to retail at twice the normal price. It’s suicide.” But in 1979, not even the head of Fleetwood Mac’s record company could stop them from doing whatever they wanted. Neither could they stop a troubled narrative from being woven around the album’s eventual success.

Given its length, its ambition, and its much clucked-over million-dollar cost — not to mention the mountains of rock-star excess that sprung up around Fleetwood Mac during an epic Tusk tour that included specially painted hotel rooms for singer Stevie Nicks and no shortage of on-stage tension — the record came to be regarded as a weird, costly tumble from the dizzying heights of Rumours.

Unsurprisingly, the band members took issue with this point of view. “In the context of the whole, Rumours took longer to make than Tusk. One of the reasons why Tusk cost so much is that we happened to be at a studio that was charging a f— of a lot of money,” Buckingham pointed out. “During the making of Tusk, we were in the studio for about 10 months and we got 20 songs out of it. Rumours took the same amount of time. It didn’t cost so much because we were in a cheaper studio. There’s no denying what it cost, but I think it’s been taken out of context.”

Fleetwood also insisted in a Trouser Press interview that change was part of the band’s legacy. “We’ve never stayed one way for very long, and I don’t think we ever will. We’ve always changed a lot whether or not players have changed,” he said. “Doing a double album didn’t make any business sense at all. But it meant a lot to us, artistically — whether we could still feel challenged. We really, really are pleased with it. We’ve also, I think, got enough discretion to know if the songs aren’t up to standard, in which case we’d have just put out a single album.”

Meanwhile, Christine McVie bristled during a 1982 interview with Sounds, pointing out that “Tusk sold nine million copies — so it can’t be too shabby, can it? But a lot of people gave us flak about that album. It’s very different, very different, very Lindsey Buckingham. I’ll have to say that. He was going through some musical experiments at the time.”

Still, the backlash took its toll, and when the sales came in considerably softer than those for Rumours — which was, it’s worth noting, one of the biggest-selling records of all time — Buckingham felt that the other members of the group turned on him, jaundicing his perception of his place in the band as well as its artistic limits.

“I got a lot of support from the band during the making of Tusk; everyone was really excited about it. Then, when it became apparent that it wasn’t going to sell 15 million albums, the attitude started to change — which was sad for me in a way, because it makes me wonder where everyone’s priorities are,” Buckingham later admitted to Record. “They changed their attitude about the music, after they realized it wasn’t going to sell as many copies. That’s not really the point of doing it. The point is to shake people’s preconceptions about pop.”

None of that helped curb Buckingham’s restless artistic appetites, and before the end of the ’80s, he was out of the band, temporarily off to pursue wilder (and less commercially friendly) solo vistas. But like a lot of works of art once deemed too outre, Tusk earned a deeper measure of appreciation over time. Today, it’s widely regarded as one of the more interesting and artistically sounding albums in Fleetwood Mac’s catalog, and all those out-there moments that perplexed Rumours fans have been hailed as influential by a widening circle of younger bands.In time, Buckingham would return to Fleetwood Mac, but the way it was perceived — and the lasting demand for Rumours-style Mac product — left a lasting impression on his career.

“For me, the Tusk album was the most important album we made, but only because it drew a line in the sand that, for me, defined the way I still think today,” Buckingham mused in a 2011 interview. “I was trying to pave some new territory for us, but another way of looking at it is that I was causing trouble. Had we all wanted the same thing for the same reason, I probably never would have made solo albums.”

Jeff Giles / Ultimate Classic Rock / Monday, October 12, 2014

stevienicks

LIVE IN CONCERT (2023-2024)

Billy Joel and Stevie NicksStevie Nicks

FEB 10, 2024
Mark G Etess Arena
Atlantic City, NJ

FEB 14, 2024
UBS Arena
Belmont Park, NY

FEB 17, 2024
CFG Bank Arena
Baltimore, MD

FEB 21, 2024
Bon Secours Wellness Arena
Greenville, SC

FEB 24, 2024
Hard Rock Live
Hollywood, FL

FEB 28, 2024
Smoothie King Center
New Orleans, LA
TICKETS

MAR 3, 2024
CHI Health Center
Omaha, NE
TICKETS

MAR 6, 2024
Simmons Bank Arena
North Little Rock, AR
TICKETS

MAR 9, 2024
AT&T Stadium
Arlington, TX
Billy Joel
TICKETS

MAY 3, 2024 – MAY 5, 2024
Lovin’ Life Fest
Charlotte, NC
TICKETS

MAY 7, 2024
Enterprise Center
St Louis, MO
TICKETS

MAY 10, 2024
WinStar World Casino & Resort
Thackerville, OK
TICKETS

MAY 14, 2024
Bridgestone Arena
Nashville, TN
TICKETS

MAY 18, 2024
Frost Bank Center
San Antonio, TX
TICKETS

MAY 21, 2024
Yaamava’ Resort & Casino – Yaamava’ Theater
Highland, CA
TICKETS

MAY 24, 2024
BottleRock Napa Valley
Napa, CA
TICKETS

MAY 27, 2024
Delta Center
Salt Lake City, UT
TICKETS

MAY 30, 2024
Ball Arena
Denver, CO
TICKETS

JUN 4
Gainbridge Fieldhouse
Indianapolis, IN
TICKETS

JUN 9 
Mohegan Sun Casino
Uncasville, CT
TICKETS

JUN 12
MVP Arena
Albany, NY
TICKETS

JUN 15 
Hersheypark Stadium
Hershey, PA
TICKETS

JUN 18
Van Andel Arena
Grand Rapids, MI
TICKETS

JUN 21, 2024
Soldier Field
Chicago, IL
TICKETS

Two Icons One Night presented by Live Nation
^ Non-Live Nation show


Previous 2023 dates

March 10, 2023 – BILLY JOEL
Los Angeles, CA
SoFi Stadium

March 15, 2023
Seattle, WA
Climate Pledge Arena

March 18, 2023
Las Vegas, NV
T-Mobile Arena

May 12, 2023
Raleigh, NC
PNC Arena

May 16, 2023
Knoxville, TN
Thompson-Boling Arena

May 19, 2023 – BILLY JOEL
Nashville, TN
Nissan Stadium

May 22, 2023
Atlanta, GA
State Farm Arena

May 25, 2023
Orlando, FL
Amway Center

June 16, 2023 – BILLY JOEL
Philadelphia, PA
Lincoln Financial Field

June 20, 2023
Toronto, ON (Canada)
Scotiabank Arena

June 23, 2023
Chicago, IL
United Center

June 27, 2023
Louisville, KY
KFC Yum! Center

August 5, 2023 – BILLY JOEL
Columbus, OH
Ohio Stadium

August 8, 2023
Milwaukee, WI
Fiserv Forum

August 12, 2023
Houston, TX
Toyota Center

August 15, 2023
Austin, TX
Moody Center

August 19, 2023 – BILLY JOEL
Kansas City, MO
Arrowhead Stadium

September 23, 2023 – BILLY JOEL
Foxborough, MA
Gillette Stadium

September 27, 2023
Pittsburgh, PA
PPG Paints Arena

October 1, 2023
New York, NY
Madison Square Garden

October 4, 2023
Buffalo, NY
KeyBank Center

October 7, 2023 – BILLY JOEL
Baltimore, MD 
M&T Bank Stadium

October 28, 2023
Memphis, TN
FedEx Forum

November 1, 2023
Savannah, GA
Enmarket Arena

November 4, 2023
Allentown, PA
PPL Center

November 7, 2023
Detroit, MI
Little Caesars Arena

November 10, 2023 – BILLY JOEL
Minneapolis, MN
U.S. Bank Stadium

November 29, 2023
San Diego, CA
Viejas Arena

December 2, 2023
Inglewood, CA
The Kia Forum

December 5, 2023
Palm Desert, CA
Acisure Arena

December  8, 2023 – BILLY JOEL
Phoenix, AZ
Chase Field

December 12, 2023
Sacramento, CA
Golden 1 Center

December 15, 2023
San Francisco, CA
Chase Center



2022 Tour

Stevie Nicks

Jazz Aspen Snowmass
Snowmass, CO
Labor Day 2022

Ravinia Festival
Highland Park, IL
September 8, 2022
September 10, 2022

Pine Knob Music Theatre
Clarkston, MI
September 13, 2022
w/ Vanessa Carlton

Sea Hear Now Festival
Asbury, NJ
September 17, 2022

Xfinity Center
Mansfield, MA
September 19, 2022
w/ Vanessa Carlton

Maine Savings Amphitheatre
Bangor, ME
September 22, 2022
w/ Vanessa Carlton

Sound on Sound Festival
Bridgeport, CT
September 24-25, 2022

Ohana Festival
Dana Point, CA
September 30, 2022

Hollywood Bowl
Los Angeles, CA
October 3, 2022
w/ Vanessa Carlton

POSTPONED
Ak-Chin Pavilion

Phoenix, AZ
October 6, 2022
w/ Vanessa Carlton

POSTPONED
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion

The Woodlands, TX
October 9, 2022
w/ Vanessa Carlton

Ameris Bank Amphitheatre
Alpharetta, GA
October 12, 2022
w/ Vanessa Carlton

Ascend Amphitheater
Nashville, TN
October 16, 2022
w/ Vanessa Carlton

Credit One Stadium
Charleston, SC
October 19, 2022
w/ Vanessa Carlton

PNC Music Pavilion
Charlotte, NC
October 22, 2022
w/ Vanessa Carlton

MIDFLORIDA Credit Union Amphitheatre
Tampa, FL
October 25, 2022
w/ Vanessa Carlton

iTHINK Financial Amphitheatre
West Palm Beach, FL
October 28, 2022
w/ Vanessa Carlton

Orion Amphitheatre
Huntsville, AL
October 31, 2022

RESCHEDULED SHOWS

Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
The Woodlands, TX
November 2, 2022
w/ Vanessa Carlton

Ak-Chin Pavilion
Phoenix, AZ
November 5, 2022
w/ Vanessa Carlton