Happy birthday to Stevie Nicks’ best song ever, “Ooh My Love.” It’s a buried treasure in her legendary career — never a hit, not even a single. She’s never sung it live. Just a deep cut from her most tragically underrated solo album, The Other Side of the Mirror, released 30 years ago, in the last days of May 1989. The album fell through the cracks — nobody was really checking for solo Stevie in the late Eighties. But it’s prized by hardcore Stevie freaks, especially “Ooh My Love.” For some of us, it sums up everything that makes her the ultimate rock queen — her most soulful moment ever, with or without Fleetwood Mac. If I had five minutes to convince a jury she’s a genius, “Ooh My Love” is what I would play. When my time comes, bury me with this song in Stevie’s shawl vault.
When I interviewed her in 2014, I confessed “Ooh My Love” was my favorite. “That’s one of my favorites too,” she said. “In fact, The Other Side of the Mirror is probably my favorite album. Those songs were written right before the Klonopin kicked in. ‘In the shadow of the castle walls’ — that song was very important to me. I was lucky those songs were written when they were, before that nasty tranquilizer. It was a really intense record. People don’t talk about that record much, but it was different from all the others. It was a moment in time. I had gotten away from the cocaine in 1986. I spent a year writing those songs. I was drug-free and I was happy.”
“Ooh My Love” is her sleek synth-pop power ballad about a princess who hides behind her castle walls. She dreams of the world outside, but she’s terrified of letting her walls down — a very Stevie Nicks dilemma. She belts her wildly emotional vocal (“Yes, it was a strain on her/Watching her castles fall down”) over a New Wave guitar groove from the Fixx’s Jamie West-Oram. Stevie as a princess trapped in her palace is like Bowie’s Major Tom inside his space capsule. “Ooh My Love” is her version of Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” or Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love,” as she fights to escape a solipsistic nightmare. A the end, when she wails “It was a strain on meeeee” — it’s powerful as Bowie pleading, “I want an axe to break the ice,” or Bush shrieking, “Take my shoes off and throw them in the lake!” A heartbreaking song that only Stevie could have done. But hardly anyone was listening.
“Ooh My Love” came after she kicked cocaine — but before her even more destructive addiction to benzos. It was a moment of clarity she commemorated with a very special album, The Other Side of the Mirror. She holed up in a Hollywood mansion with producer Rupert Hine, a dashing Brit whose track record included the Fixx, Howard Jones and Tina Turner. (“Better Be Good To Me,” you remember that one.) The songs had a goth Alice in Wonderland vibe, over Hines’ lavish R&B synth pulse.
“Those songs are different,” she told me in 2014. “That was a moment in time. And you know what? That time never came again, either. That particular record was specific, and nothing like that ever came around again. I’ve always kind of hoped that it will. Because it was a magical time. Up in that big castle-y house in Mulholland, with the producers and the girls.
“Then the Klonopin really kicked in. To go from The Other Side of the Mirror to Street Angel … that was difficult. I was a wreck and the album was a wreck.”
Even by Nicks standards, “Ooh My Love” had a messy history. As she said in January, “I stole that from Tom Petty — accidentally! I picked up the wrong cassette at Tom’s one night, a tape of Mike Campbell’s instrumental demos. Tom would get them first, and then the ones he didn’t want, Mike sent them to me. I accidentally arrived home one night with a cassette — I thought it was mine, but it was Tom’s. It just said, ‘24 Demos from Mike Campbell.’ It had the song that inspired ‘Ooh My Love,’ which became ‘Runaway Train” for Tom.”
Stevie sang her lyrics over it and began demoing it with Fleetwood Mac for Tango in the Night. She was so proud of this new tune, she called up Tom on tour in Japan to pay it for him. “What an idiot, right? Let’s play him the song you stole over the phone! Tom just starts screaming at me on the other end of the phone. I’m realizing, ‘How stupid are you, Stevie?’ So I had to go in the next day and tell Fleetwood Mac, ‘Guess what, we can’t do this song.’ ‘Why can’t we do it?’ ‘Because I stole it from Tom Petty and I’m absolutely a total criminal and a thief.’”
The Mac had to ditch their version, which went unheard until the 2017 deluxe Tango reissue. “These are the ups and downs of being friends with other songwriters.” But she never forgot it. “Way later, years down the road, I sat down at the piano and tried to recall it. I wrote ‘Ooh My Love’ on the piano: ‘In the shadow of the castle walls …’ Of course, I don’t know near as many chords as Mike Campbell does. All I remembered was that distant enchanted melody.”
Stevie’s version ended up barely resembling the song Petty and Campbell recorded for Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) — or even the 1987 Mac demo. It became a ballad in the mode of John Waite’s “Missing You” or Belinda Carlisle’s “I Get Weak.” (She finished it with longtime friend Rick Nowels, who produced “I Get Weak,” just as she got her hit “Talk to Me” from the guy who co-wrote “Missing You.” There are no accidents in Stevie World.) It sounds like she’s singing straight from the heart. “Well, I was. I love those words. When I sat down at the piano and played that for Rupert, he said, ‘This is an awesome song.’ It was a beautiful album — a step back into my R&B roots.”
Stevie released The Other Side of the Mirror on May 30th, 1989, a week after David Bowie’s Tin Machine, which gives you an idea of the stakes for veteran artists at the time. The Top 10 album chart was full of electric youth: Paula Abdul, Bobby Brown, Guns N’ Roses, Madonna, New Kids on the Block, with Debbie Gibson, Milli Vanilli and the Cure right below. When the single “Rooms on Fire” reached radio in early May, the media made much of the novelty that Stevie was 40, like Ozzy, Donna Summer or Eddie Money, all of whom had current hits, along with over-40s like Cher, Bette, Elton, Rod, Aretha and Roy Orbison, who had just died at 52. (Stevie turned 41 a few days before the album dropped.)
The Other Side of the Mirror made a modest chart debut at Number 93 in June and grazed the Top 10, but soon dropped out of sight, out of mind, out of time. People just slept on it: The cover art looked too Dynasty, the Bruce Hornsby duet did her no favors, and let’s not even get into the Kenny G sax solo. The Fleetwood Mac mystique was at an all-time low, after their latest Lindsey Buckingham break-up drama — not the last time this would happen. Nobody noticed when the Lindsey-free Mac released an album in 1990 — or when Stevie quit a year later. Before long, the band was down to Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and a cast of bargain-basement ringers, playing the oldies circuit with REO Speedwagon.
Stevie had bigger problems to worry about. When she got home from her European tour, she noticed something strange: She couldn’t remember a single moment of the tour. She couldn’t remember making her next album either, just as nobody could remember hearing it. Street Angel was a tranquilized dud: The benzos had taken over. “This doctor was a groupie — he just wanted to hear me tell stories about rock & roll. So he kept upping my dose for years. Finally I said, ‘I’m taking enough Klonopin every day to sink a boat. That’s why I gained all this weight, and that’s why my writing is terrible, and that’s why The Other Side of the Mirror was the last good record I made. This was all your idea.’” She went back to rehab, sobered up and slowly regained her mojo, with solo gems like In My Dreams and 24 Karat Gold. In March, she entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist — the first woman ever to get inducted twice — with an affectionate speech from Harry Styles, who she calls her “love child.”
Stevie’s often discussed the deep inner meanings of “Rhiannon” or “Edge of Seventeen” — she’s always willing to Nicksplain these classics. Yet “Ooh My Love” remains a mystery. Some of her best-loved songs have spent years lurking in the shadows, waiting to be discovered. “Silver Springs” was a lost B side nobody knew for 20 years, until she revived it as the knockout punch of The Dance. The famous version of “Wild Heart” she sang at her 1981 Rolling Stone cover shoot — the world had no idea it existed until YouTube came along. That’s the zone “Ooh My Love” is in — a lost classic, underrated yet undeniable. But it’s a song that captures everything that makes Stevie Nicks great.