The rock band Fleetwood Mac has sold more than 100 million records to date, making them one of the best-selling artists in the world. They received a Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music in 1998 and are still going strong, more than 50 years after making their debut.
Founded in London in 1967 by drummer Mick Fleetwood and guitarists Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer, they were later joined by bassist John McVie and keyboard player Christine Perfect, who later married McVie. Various personnel changes over the next seven years left the band without a lead singer and guitarist in 1974.
This was when the UK band members met the Americans who were to become an integral part of Fleetwood Mac. Mick Fleetwood was in Los Angeles looking around recording studios when he was introduced to guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and vocalist Stevie Nicks.
Already an established folk-rock duo called Buckingham Nicks, they were invited to join the band, helping to create a new pop-rock sound.
Their self-titled album, Fleetwood Mac, shot straight to the top of the US chart in 1975. Their second album after the addition of Buckingham and Nicks, Rumours, spent an amazing 31 weeks at the top of the American albums chart, achieving the rare status of being certified diamond – meaning 20 times platinum. It topped the charts all over the world, including in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Rumours also spawned a number one hit in the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart with Dreams. The band went on to have a multitude of major hits on both sides of the Atlantic. They have released 48 albums (including 17 studio albums) and 63 singles and continue to tour to this day.
Although nothing since has ever matched the unparalleled success of Rumours, their best-selling albums have included Tusk in 1979 (which reached number one in the UK and number four in the United States) and their chart-topping albums, Tango in the Night in 1987 and Behind the Mask in 1990.
Their most recent album, 50 Years: Don’t Stop, was released in November 2018 and peaked at number five in the UK albums chart. It also charted in the United States and was certified gold.
Best-selling singles have included their number one hits Albatross in 1968 and Dreams in 1977. They have enjoyed a succession of top 10 hits on both sides of the Atlantic, with singles such as Go Your Own Way in 1976, Don’t Stop and You Make Loving Fun in 1977, Hold Me in 1982, Little Lies in 1987 and Everywhere in 1988.
One of their most poignant songs is Gypsy, written by Stevie Nicks and released in September 1982. The song relates to a period in Nicks’ life that she will never forget.
She wrote the song in 1978, in the days when she and Buckingham had been partners in both their musical and personal lives for many years. They met when she was still at high school, but didn’t get together until college, when they formed their folk-rock band and began a relationship.
After joining Fleetwood Mac in 1974, their lives changed very quickly. Speaking in 2009, Nicks said she began writing Gypsy after they had become “very famous, very fast”. The song took her back to an earlier period in her life, when she and Buckingham lived in an apartment in San Francisco.
It was a simpler time, when they didn’t have money and relied largely on Nicks’ income from her job as a waitress. They had a mattress on the floor, as they couldn’t even afford a bed frame, hence the lyrics, “Back to the floor that I love, to a room with some lace and paper flowers. Back to the gypsy that I was.”
When her later life in the spotlight got too much for her, she let her mind wander back to those times, when lace was draped over the mattress and a simple vase and flowers stood next to it. She described it as being a “calm” time, when the room still looked pretty, even though they had no money.
The lyrics describe the freedom that she felt in those days of her youth. She says, “To the gypsy that remains, her face says freedom.”
Early in 1980, Nicks was planning to release a solo album, Bella Donna. She made some demo recordings of Gypsy, with a view to putting it on the album. However, before this could happen, she was overtaken by tragic events.
Nicks’ old friend, Robin Snyder Anderson, revealed she was battling leukaemia. The two women had known each other since they were 14 and Nicks was devastated to hear the news. She decided not to record Gypsy for her solo album.
Instead, she gave it to Fleetwood Mac and dedicated it to her friend, who used to help her prepare for concerts by becoming her vocal coach, as well as being her close confidante. At concerts, Nicks sang Gypsy in tribute to Anderson, who sadly lost her fight against leukaemia on 5th October 1982, at the age of 34. It was always very difficult for Nicks to sing the song in concert after this, because of the deep personal significance.
Fleetwood Mac produced a video for Gypsy that was the most costly video ever made at the time. Nicks later admitted she had also found it very difficult to make the video, but for a different reason. By this time, she and Buckingham had split up, but there was a scene in which they had to dance in each other’s arms.
She later recalled, “I certainly didn’t want to be in his arms,” and added that she even thought she looked unhappy in the finished video.
When Gypsy was released as a single in September 1982, it charted in the United States, the UK, Canada, Australia and in a number of European countries.
Almost 40 years after Nicks wrote Gypsy, she was commissioned to re-record it for a new Netflix series of the same name, which was first broadcast in June 2017. The thriller starred Naomi Watts as a mental health professional in New York, Jean Holloway. She becomes increasingly involved in patients’ lives, to the point where her conduct becomes unethical.
Lisa Rubin, who wrote the pilot show, was inspired to do so after hearing Fleetwood Mac’s Gypsy on the radio in a coffee shop. She was trying to write the outline for her latest project and said Gypsy “felt right” straight away. She hadn’t heard the song before, so she looked up the lyrics and knew she wanted it to be part of the show.
Rubin liked it because she found the lyrics “soul-searching”. They suggested to her the concept of still being the person you used to be but also evolving into different versions of yourself. She felt the song was melancholy but romantic.
When Nicks recorded a new version of Gypsy for the show’s theme tune, it was a stripped back version, played on the piano, which was how she had originally intended it to be performed. The series Gypsy ran for ten episodes until 11th August 2017.
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