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Fleetwood Mac’s 50 Greatest Songs

From British blues to California rock, from smooth sunshine to the most haunting breakup epics ever

The 50 Greatest Fleetwood Mac Songs

Read our list of Fleetwood Mac's 50 greatest songs, stretching from their Sixties origins up through their 2013 reunion.

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Fleetwood Mac have been rock’s greatest soap opera for five decades – from their Sixties origins in the English blues-rock scene to their Seventies reinvention as California rock superstars through their smooth Eighties hits and right up to today. Through it all, there’s been brutal romantic blowups and historic levels of drug use. “Parties going on all over the house,” John McVie told Rolling Stone in 1977, recalling the making of their classic Rumours LP. “Amazing. Terrifying. Huge amounts of illicit materials, yards and yards of this wretched stuff. Days and nights would just go on and on.” 

But the soul of the Mac’s magic has always been their songs. They began as a vehicle for the blues visions of tragic genius Peter Green, continued through fascinating, often overlooked, transitional records during the early Seventies with Jeremy Spencer, Danny Kirwan and Bob Welch, and hit an astonishing peak when songbird Christine McVie, mad drummer Mick Fleetwood and ultra-reliable bassman John McVie hooked up with the Southern California songwriting team of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. Our list of the band’s 50 Greatest Songs pulls from all these eras. What brings it all together is an almost mystical chemistry wrought from grueling personal drama and heartbreak that they somehow found a way to turn into some of the most beloved rock & roll of all time.   

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5

“The Chain”

Side Two of Rumours opens with a tortuously pastiched collaboration that remains the only song in the band’s history on which all five members of Fleetwood Mac are credited as songwriters. Though the song was built from a handful of disparate musical fragments, at its core is the Christine McVie composition “Keep Me There” (also known as “Butter Cookie”), a tense, keyboard-driven track that remained incomplete during the early album sessions in February 1976. “We decided it needed a bridge, so we cut a bridge and edited it into the rest of the song,” Buckingham told Rolling Stone in 1977. They settled on an ominous 10-note bass passage played by John McVie over Fleetwood’s ascending drum pattern. “We didn’t get a vocal and left it for a long time in a bunch of pieces,” Buckingham said. “It almost went off the album. Then we listened back and decided we liked the bridge, but didn’t like the rest of the song. So I wrote verses for that bridge, which was originally not in the song, and edited those in.”

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4

“Don’t Stop”

“Don’t Stop” was Christine McVie’s sunny, optimistic advice to John McVie at the end of their marriage, doubling as a snapshot of her own happiness. (She was then dating the band’s lighting director Curry Grant, creating another layer of tension within Fleetwood Mac’s stormy working environment.) “ ’Don’t Stop’ is Chris saying ‘I love you, but I’m not in love with you’ to John,” Fleetwood later said. As Christine put it, “ ’Don’t Stop’ was just a feeling. It seemed like a pleasant revelation to have. …  It would make a great song for an insurance company, but I’m definitely not a pessimist. I’m basically a love-song writer.” The song made it to Number Three on the Billboard charts, and took on an even wider resonance in 1992 when presidential candidate Bill Clinton used it as his campaign theme song. The members of Fleetwood Mac were barely communicating at the time, but they still got back together to play “Don’t Stop” at Clinton’s inaugural ball. When Christine rejoined her bandmates at a Dublin gig in 2013, after 17 years away, it was the first song they played.

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3

“Gold Dust Woman”

The chilling climax of Rumours is a seductive guitar ballad that doubles as a horror show. Nicks sings about a dark, sexual obsession and a drug rush as if they’re the same addiction, taunting, “Did she make you cry?/Make you break down?/Shatter your illusions of love?” over woozy, phased guitars. According to engineer Chris Morris, the song took “20 or 30 takes” to get right, with Nicks recording her vocals late at night wrapped in a shawl and standing on a chair as someone slowly dimmed the lights in the recording booth. Nicks still performs “Gold Dust Woman” live, with an interpretive dance. “It’s me being some of the drug addicts I knew, and probably being myself too – just being that girl lost on the streets, freaked out with no idea how to find her way,” she told Rolling Stone. “When Christine saw it, she said, ‘Wow, we’ve always known that “Gold Dust Woman” was about the serious drug days, but this really depicts how frightening it was for all of us and what we were willing to do for it.’ We were dancing on the edge for years.”

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2

“Rhiannon”

Shortly before she and Buckingham joined Fleetwood Mac, Nicks picked up a novel called Triad at an airport. The book told the story of a Welsh woman who believes she’s been possessed by another woman, named Rhiannon. “I wrote this song and made her into what I thought was an old Welsh witch,” Nicks said. “It’s just about a very mystical woman that finds it very, very hard to be tied down in any kind of way.” Envisioning a “Welsh country song,” Nicks began with stark, autumnal piano chords, around which Buckingham built a guitar part. “My tendency is to want to add rhythm and to rock it up,” he recalled. Nicks later learned that Rhiannon was a character from Welsh mythology, but the real myth she invented on Fleetwood Mac’s first American Top 10 hit was her own – the shawl-wearing California enchantress who left crowds stunned by her smoldering, trancelike performances. “She’s like your fairy-princess godmother,” Courtney Love once said, “who lives in a magical kingdom somewhere and has, like, fabulous romances.” 

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1

“Go Your Own Way”

In 1976, early in the
recording process of what would come to be Fleetwood Mac’s epochal album Rumours,
they took some time off from touring and rented a house in Florida to work on
new material. With the two relationships at the center of the band unraveling,
it may not have been the best time for a family vacation: “Aside from the
obvious unstated tension, I remember the house having a distinctly bad vibe to
it, as if it was haunted, which did nothing to help matters,” Mick
Fleetwood wrote in his memoir. While there, Lindsey Buckingham wrote a bruising
new song that channeled the darkening anger brought on by his impending breakup
with Stevie Nicks. “ ’Go Your Own Way‘ was filled with anger, it was
filled with angst,” he recalled. With an inverted stomping drumbeat and a
taut, aggressive guitar part, it was also a hard-driving departure from the “light
rock” with which Fleetwood Mac were being grouped. “I had this idea
taken from ‘Street Fighting Man,’ by the Rolling Stones,” Buckingham said
of the song’s rhythm. “And Mick couldn’t quite get that, and he did his
own thing.” Released as the first single from Rumours, “Go
Your Own Way” became a Top 10 hit as well as their tempestuous set-closer,
reigniting the drama at the heart of the band’s music every night. “I
very, very much resented him telling the world that ‘packing up, shacking up’
with different men was all I wanted to do,” Nicks told Rolling Stone in
1997
. “He knew it wasn’t true. It was just an angr