Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, and Mick Fleetwood discuss the songs from Tusk in liner notes of the new Deluxe and Expanded editions of Fleetwood Mac‘s 1979 album Tusk. While fans have long speculated about the meaning of the songs, namely ones penned by Stevie Nicks, the band has finally come clean about how their compositions came to be. Read on.
1. Over & Over
The opening track, the first of Christine’s six songs on the album, is played remarkably slow — a ballad with a backbeat.
Lindsey: “By the time we got to this we knew we had [an album] that was not by the book. When it came to the sequencing we felt this song had a certain familiarity to it, something that people were going to be able to latch onto on one level and yet set them up for some of the other, more untraditional things. Where this got untraditional was leaving it in a fairly raw state, not too glossy in the production.”
2. The Ledge
Lindsey kicks off his contributions with the least Rumours-like song of the lot. Many of the vocals were recorded while kneeling or lying on the floor.
Lindsey: “About as far from “Over & Over” as it’s possible to go. I was trying to find things that were off the radar. I took a guitar and turned it way down, in the range of the higher notes of a bass, not like a baritone guitar, where it’s correct, but where it’s actually a little incorrect — the strings are flopping around and sharping when you hit them. I wrote a little figure with that, threw some teenage influences at it with the drums. It becomes a bit surreal — you throw a bunch of vocals on top that are communal, messy, a little bit punky even.
I don’t think there’s anyone else on there but me. There were times when the band would augment, and there were times when, even if I took a song in with the intention of having them play, it wouldn’t necessarily stick. On this, that one guitar was covering everything. It was a concept piece on that level. There was nothing for John and Christine to do.
Lyrically, I didn’t really have anything to say other than what I could put together that sounded musical. There was probably something subconscious about the lyrics. You could say that about Rumours too. I don’t think anyone in the band was in touch with the fact that we might have been writing dialogues with each other. It took the audience to help define that for us. That probably holds true for songs on Tusk too.”
3. Think About Me
This steady boogie by Christine was a Top 20 hit in the U.S. when released as a single in a punchy, remixed version.
4. Save Me a Place
In complete contrast to “The Ledge,” this Lindsey’s tenderest song on the album, and one of his tenderest ever.
Lindsey: “Stevie and I had compartmentalized our emotions in order to [get through Rumours], lived in denial. Same with Christine and John. None of us had the luxury of distance to get closure. You get to Tusk and there’s a real aggressive attitude in a lot of the songs from me. But “Save Me a Place” is one where, late at night, you reflect on the vulnerability underneath that. It’s about a feeling that’s been laid off to one side and maybe not been fully dealt with, sadness and a sense of loss. There’s also a sense of loss for my youth and my upbringing, memories of that, which I loved so much, and how I saw that receding away.”
ABOUT: Mick Fleetwood, Don Henley, J.D. Souther, Sara Fleetwood, and other things
Stevie’s first song on the album began as a 16-minute home demo, condensed into a nine-minute studio version, further trimmed to a six-and-a-half minute album track and, later, a four-minute single edit, which was a Top 10 U.S. hit and the version used on subsequent CD editions of the album. [Editor’s note: A different edit of “Sara,” not the official single edit, was actually used for the first CD pressing of Tusk.] The nine-minute first take, mixed down for listening purposes but not intended for release, is sometimes referred to as the “cleaning lady version,” after the dialogue at the start. It is among the bonus material in this edition.
Lindsey: “Some of Stevie’s songs were hard to rein in. If you’re very lyric driven and not overly worried about time and structure, if it’s more freeform, which a lot of Stevie’s things can be, six or more minutes is not hard to get to. The nine-minute version of this was something we cut but probably never intended it to go out at that length.
I wasn’t delving into Stevie’s private life at the time, so I was never told what it was actually about. I always assumed it was addressed to her friend, who was Mick’s wife at the time.”
Stevie: “It was a 16-minute demo. My friend Sara was there when I wrote it. She kept the coffee going and kept the cassettes coming and made sure we didn’t run out of batteries, and it was a long, long night recording that demo. She was a great songwriter helper. Sara was the poet in my heart. She likes to think it was all written about her, but it really wasn’t. She’s in there, for sure, but it’s written about a lot of other things, too. Mick was the “great dark wing within the wings of a storm,” but when I was going with Mick I was hanging out with J.D. Souther and he kept saying, ‘You do know this relationship with Mick is never going to work, don’t you?’ And I said, ‘Well, when I get out of it, I’ll let you know.” And so there’s bits and pieces of him there talking to me.
I played it for J.D. and Don Henley and the both said, ‘You know what, it’s almost not too long. It’s good in its full 16 minuteness — it’s got all these great verses and it just kinda travels through the world of your relationships.’ They were really complimentary to me and these are two great songwriters. I knew I had to edit it down, but I found it hard to get below seven minutes. As simple and pretty as the song was, it turned into a magical, rhythmic, tribal thing with all those ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs.” It’s a fun song to sing.”
6. What Makes You Think You’re the One
This spirited Lindsey song is notable for the loud, enthusiastic drum track, which Mick made the most of when performed live.
Lindsey: “We cut this with just me on piano and Micks on drums, on opposite sides of the room. Aside from setting up the normal mics, we set up a cassette player, a boombox, in front of the drums and ran it into the desk. The mics in those devices have capacitors in them that act as really low-quality limiters, so you got this squash that’s really explosive, a real garage, trashy sound that you could only get that way. A good-quality limiter couldn’t replicate it. As soon as Mick heard that sound in his headphones he was, ‘Oh my god, I love this.’ It turned him into an animal. There’s not much else on there. I did some bass and guitar, but the center of that song is Mick’s drum work, one of my favorite drum performances by him. We talk about it to this day.”
About: Mick Fleetwood
A perfect example of the tastefulness and delicacy of Fleetwood Mac’s playing: everybody contributes just enough to one of Stevie’s most finely poised compositions.
Lindsey: “This album is a study in contrasts. It’s a very different mood from the previous song and a very strong song in terms of its form. It has its own folky, country thing going on. The recording speaks of it being cut fairly live. I love this song.”
Stevie: “Another tragedy. It has so many layers of telling the world what was happening to me without actually saying what was happening! It was really about Mick. That’s Stevie not happy with the way that relationship ended. That relationship destroyed Mick’s marriage to Jenny, who was the sweetest person in the world. So did we really think that we were going to come out of it unscathed? So then what happened to me, my best friend falling in love with him and moving into his house and neither of them telling me? It could not have been worse. Payback is a bitch. Bad karma all around. Here’s that song in a nutshell: Don’t break up other people’s marriages. It will never work and will haunt you for the rest of your miserable days.”
8. That’s All for Everyone
Echos of the Beach Boys with layered harmonies and a tempo like waves lapping the shoreline.
Lindsey: “This was influenced by Brian Wilson. What I love about him is not just his music but his choices. He gave me the courage to flout success, showed me that what you need to do as an artist is take risks and find new avenues.
It’s a wisp of a meaning at best, more of an atmosphere piece. I had the idea of being at a function with these people and having to go home, but on a less literal level I think it may also have been about deprogramming from the formulas you need to follow to buy what the corporate world is trying to sell you.”
9. Not That Funny
Lindsey’s sarcastic rocking with a distinctive, plangent guitar sound was extended into an eight-minute tour de force at subsequent live shows. A slightly remixed version was issued as a single in the U.K. but didn’t chart.
Lindsey: “This was directed at Stevie a little bit. There’s something we are still having to deal with as a band: ‘What’s important here? People thinking you’re cool or thinking you’re cool yourself?’ It’s more how you feel about yourself, isn’t it? This is a classic pitfall of the entertainment industry. It draws people to it who are looking for a Band-Aid to fix things that have happened in their lives. The celebrity culture we live in is a very Roman manifestation of something gone a little wrong with the value system. It doesn’t speak of substance; it only speaks of visibility. It’s about not buying into other people’s idea of you — that’s the important thing.
The guitar sound is just a Stratocaster; but I love using the VSO (Variable Sound Oscillation, or Varispeed, allows you to incrementally speed up or slow down a taper recorder). I just slow the machine down, come up with a picking part like that, double or triple it and tweak the VSO on either side so that it’s slightly out of tune, and the whole thing comes out with all this phasing.”
10. Sisters of the Moon
About: A bad mood
A lyrically enigmatic Stevie contribution, with a guitar solo by Lindsey that’s reminiscent of “The Chain,” this was a surprise addition to the set on the band’s spectacularly successful 2014/15 reunion tour.
Stevie: “I honestly don’t know what the hell this song is about. I’ve been singing it on tour for the last two and a half years, and every time I’m thinking, What the hell is that? I think it was me putting up an alter ego or something, the dark lady in the corner, and there’s a Gemini twin thing. It wasn’t a love song; it wasn’t written about a man, or anything precious. It was just about a feeling I might have had over a couple days, going inward in my gnarly trollness. Makes no sense. Perfect for this record!”
About: Mike Fleetwood
In a contemporary documentary, Stevie noted that this upbeat rock ‘n’ roll song somehow ended up with an eerie undertone.
Stevie: “A song about Mick. Not so much my love affair with him. I was always taken with his style, and in those days he would walk in the room and I would just look up. ‘I still look up when you walk in the room… I try not to reach out.’ It’s all about him and his crazy fob watch and his really beautiful clothes. He’s a very stylish individual and I was just this little California girl who’d never really known anybody like him.”
12. That’s Enough for Me
Lindsey’s breakneck rocker with country roots. Amazingly, the band sometimes played it even faster live. The song was initially known as “Out on the Road” — that title is visible in the handwriting incorporated into the inner-sleeves collages.
Lindsey: “Rockabilly on acid. An attempt to do something quite surreal, grounded in something recognizable. I was tapping into a general set of reference points on this album. But I never thought of it in terms of nostalgia. It was anti-nostalgia, if you will.”
13. Brown Eyes
Fleetwood Mac’s founder, Peter Green, makes an uncredited appearance on this song by Christine. His solo is just discernible on the fade out here but can be hear in its entirety on The Alternate Tusk.
Lindsey: I don’t remember Peter Green coming in, so I don’t think I made any judgement on whether to use it or not. Mick would ultimately have had the decision to use his playing or not. And it was Christine’s song to do with as she wished.
Mick: Peter was living in L.A. then and hanging out at my house a lot. He was still as he is now, changed, but he used to pop into the studio occasionally. I don’t know if he was that interested or not, but he did play on this song, which I love. Classic, slinky, killer stuff from Chris. The band’s playing really shines. I can’t recall why we only used Peter at the very end, but it’s great that he’s on here, because it’s Peter and it’s his band.
14. Never Make Me Cry
Short and sweet. A classic Christine McVie ballad.
Lindsey: “I think the others wanted to counter some of the my more manic moments with something a little more downbeat, so this is the kind of thing we ended up doing. This would have worked too with more of a beat, but I assume Christine saw it as a ‘Warm Ways’ kind of ballad.”
15. I Know I’m Not Wrong
The first and last song worked on in Studio D, it went through several iterations during the band’s year in the studio, as indicated by the density of the arrangement.
Lindsey: “This is a close relative to ‘Not That Funny’ and they share a lyric. ‘Here comes the night time/Looking for a little more.’ It’s a little joke — can you find the thread here? Like a repeating theme in a novel.”
16. Honey Hi
A Christine song with a markedly subdued arrangement, designed to never quite lift off. Its close cousin, “Never Forget,” brackets the mostly mellow fourth side of the vinyl album.
17. Beautiful Child
About: Derek Taylor
“This is one of my very favourite ballads. It’s so from the heart. It was written about an English man (Late Beatles road manager Derek Taylor) I was crazy about who was quite a bit older than me — another one of my doomed relationships. He used to read poetry out loud to me in his beautiful English voice, and I would sit at his feet, just mesmerized, and he would say, ‘You are a beautiful child,’ and I’d say, ‘I’m not a child anymore.’ He was married, so we stopped, because it was going to hurt a lot of people. The song is like a straight retelling of the last night of that relationship. Every time I sing it I’m transported back to the Beverly Hills Hotel and walking across the grounds to get a cab after saying goodbye.”
Read more about Stevie’s relationship with Derek Taylor
18. Walk a Thin Line
Lindsey’s experiment in embellishing a stately melody with multitracked drums.
Lindsey: “This was sparked by a Charlie Watts drum fill in ‘Sway’ on Stick Fingers. There are a couple of times where he does a kind of military press-roll across the beat, and I was in love with that moment. When I thought about the tempo of the song I was reminded of ‘Sway’ and that fill. It was a spirited idea that fit the song.”
This is the first music from the album that the world heard when it was released as a single. It became a Top 10 hit in the U.S. and U.K., and versions of the main guitar and drum riff appear on soundcheck tapes—labeled simply “Stage riff”—from as far back as 1975.
Mick: “My dad had just passed away and I went to see my mum, who lived in the south of France, and it was all pretty crazy. The first night I was drinking like a fish and I got woken in the morning, with an outrageous hangover, by the local brass band playing outside my window—a thing they do every weekend in a lot of places in Europe. It was like the pied piper: the whole village, old fisherman, kids, people in wheelchairs, all following this band, going ‘round and ‘round the village. Just as I thought I’d get back to sleep, the band would march past again. In the end I thought, Fuck it, I’ll keep on drinking. So I sat on the veranda with my brandy at 8 o’clock in the morning and started to think, What a cool thing, involving everyone in the village, bringing people together, a celebration. That’s what we should do on that track. Who might be the best brass band in L.A.? The USC marching band was touted, and I sold the idea to the band. John was uncontactable, off sailing somewhere, when we got the chance to record and film the band, so we took a cardboard cutout of him to Dodger Stadium to be in the video.”
Lindsey: “On some level this song was the embodiment of the spirit of the album. Riffs were a big thing for me, and Mick was always one to pick up on the potential of that. Christine helped me on this with some chords. The drum track is a loop. We found a 15-second section we liked and made a circular loop of two-inch tape that went across the room. We let it run for ten minutes and put the song over it. It was Mick’s idea to include the marching band. It was a great thing for USC. Not a particularly hummable song in the normal sense, but it functioned as a commercial piece, and it’s a killer moment in the live show.
I can’t say that I remember a strategy for it appearing at this point on the album. But because it stood alone, in terms of how it was done and with the marching band, if you were to stick it in too early it might blow too many cookies too soon. It feels like a capper of sorts.”
20. Never Forget
After the crazy parade of the title track, this mellow coda by Christine functions like a wave goodbye, possibly chosen to close the record for its repeated sentiment: “We will never forget tonight.”