When the massive new box set anthologizing Fleetwood Mac‘s sprawling 1979 album Tusk comes out next month, it will include two discs of live recordings captured on the group’s tour in support of the record. One of the standouts is a version of the quixotic “Sara,” the double LP’s highest-charting single, which the band recorded in Tucson in the summer of 1980.
Where the studio version sports corrugated acoustic guitars, dreamy synthesizers and background vocals, and some of Mick Fleetwood’s most understated percussion, the live version becomes more of a mid-paced rock ballad. Lindsey Buckingham introduces it as “another one of Stevie’s … it’s real pretty.” And once the band kicks in, the song takes on its new life. The guys in the group sing the background vocals, an electric guitar complements the acoustic strumming with a buoyant, echoey lead line that prefigures the style of the Edge, and Fleetwood plays a generally heavier-hitting beat, as Nicks delivers a vocal as impassioned and heartrending as the original version.
For years, Fleetwood Mac fans have speculated on who “Sara” is, since Nicks had been in a relationship with Fleetwood at the time and he had an affair with a friend of hers named Sara. Meanwhile, Eagles singer Don Henley has said that the tune was written after he’d had an affair with Nicks, getting her pregnant, and she named their unborn child Sara before getting an abortion. Over the years, Nicks has said that the tune “was pretty much about Mick,” noting he was the “great dark wing” in the lyrics, but she also said some lyrics were about Henley, notably the bit about building a house.
Last year, she told Billboard that both Henley’s story and the aftermath of Fleetwood’s affair inspired the song. “Had I married Don and had that baby, and had she been a girl, I would have named her Sara,” she said. “But there was another woman in my life named Sara, who shortly after that became Mick’s wife, Sara Fleetwood.” The Eagles singer’s account was accurate, she said, “but not the entirety of it.”
The Tusk box set, due out December 4th, will contain four different versions of “Sara”: the original six-minute album take, the single edit, an alternate studio take and the live version streaming here. The release features five CDs, two LPs and an audio DVD, consisting of the original double album (on CD and LP), a CD of singles, outtakes and sessions, a completely alternate version of Tusk and two discs of live recordings; the DVD contains the record in 5.1 surround sound. The Tusk reissue will also be available digitally and in a pared-down three-CD edition. It is available for preorder.