One question springs immediately to mind upon listening to our next #1: This is Fleetwood Mac? The Fleetwood Mac? The ‘Don’t Stop’, ‘Go Your Own Way’, ‘Little Lies’… Fleetwood Mac? Well yes, yes, and yes.
Albatross, by Fleetwood Mac (their 1st and only #1)
1 week, from 29th January – 5th February 1969
And that’s not the only strange thing about this record. In fact, pretty much everything about this record is strange. It is one of the least ‘number one’ sounding number one records ever. It’s a musical interlude, the background soundtrack to an advert for roast lamb, the music played in a wellness spa… It’s ‘Chillout – Vol I’, three decades early.
That’s not to say it’s bad. I like it. It’s not the sort of thing I usually like; but I do. It’s a song called ‘Albatross’, which sounds exactly like an albatross soaring over the ocean. The insistent, see-saw bass is the bird’s wings, the guitar its call, and the cymbals the waves crashing below… As an instrumental it works. It doesn’t need lyrics. Lyrics might, and I’m going to contradict everything I’ve ever written about instrumental records here… Lyrics might have ruined it.
Placing this in context, in the late sixties, it is definitely the sort of record that you’d slip on before lighting up your bong and settling down to stare at a magic-eye picture. So, in some ways it’s a random January chart-topper; in other ways it makes complete sense for it to have hit #1 when it did.
What makes less sense is that this record will be Fleetwood Mac’s sole UK #1 single. One of the biggest bands of the seventies and eighties scored their one week at the top in 1969. In truth, they enjoyed far more singles chart success in the States than in their homeland. 1969 was actually their best year in the UK – one number one and a couple of number twos. Their huge hits from ‘Rumours’: ‘Dreams’, ‘Don’t Stop’ and ‘Go Your Own Way’ were huge hits only in America. Over the Atlantic none of them broke the Top 20.
Having said that, this Fleetwood Mac are a very different Fleetwood Mac to the one that everyone thinks of. Christine McVie would join in the early seventies, Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham in the middle of that decade. Only Mick Fleetwood and John McVie were around for ‘Albatross’, when they were a much blues-ier band.
In my mind, Fleetwood Mac will be forever linked with The Moody Blues, for the simple reason that my parents would play them – a lot – during long car journeys, and my heart would always sink when the tape came out. The Beatles, The Stones, The Eagles or ABBA? No problem. Simon and Garfunkel? Tolerable. The Moody Blues or Fleetwood Mac? Time to get my Walkman out. I’ve grown to like the Mac in old age more than I have The Moody Blues. But still, when I hear the synth intro to ‘Little Lies’ I instinctively shudder. Perhaps if the ‘Greatest Hits’ my parents owned had included their sixties hits, and their one and only chart-topper, I might have been won over much earlier…