Christine McVie

Yesterday’s Gone: Remembering Christine McVie

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Christine McVie

Like many baby boomers, I’ve suffered from a sort of post-traumatic stress syndrome resulting from hearing some of my favorite songs being used to hawk products. I trace it back to Carly Simon’s use of “Anticipation” in a ketchup commercial. I think I lost it when Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours era drama “Go Your Own Way” was mutated as the theme for a drug to treat COPD. More recently the Seventies pop hook of Pilot’s “Magic” re-appropriated for a diabetes drug. Instead of hearing the chorus “Oh oh oh it’s magic,” we now hear it re-engineered as “oh, oh Ozempic.” 

As an admitted purist and snob, is it okay for me to admit there is one television commercial I like with one of my favorite artist’s songs? When the new Chevy EV commercial comes on, built around Fleetwood Mac’s around “Everywhere,” I suddenly smile and my mood brightens. There’s a certain joy de vie in the hook of choral voices and rising layered harmonies for a magical few seconds that turns a car ride of friends into an elated moment. 

You can thank Christine McVie for writing the song, just one of the many reminders of her transcendent pop songcraft and powers. That “Everywhere” ”is topical and top pf mind streaming in our consciousness 35 years after it was released, makes the news of her sudden passing all the more shocking and saddening.

As Christine McVie reappeared this summer to promote Songbird, her first album and collection of songs in many years, I was one of the many who held out hope she and Fleetwood Mac might give it one more try. They ignored their fiftieth anniversary in 2017 and have flirted for years with a farewell tour.  I yearned to hear her jam onstage one more time like in 2019 when she and the Mac played classic Fleetwood Mac songs like “Black Magic Woman,” “Oh Well” and reached back into their catalog to reprise “Little Lies” and “You Make Loving Fun” and unearth rarities like “Tell Me All The Things You Do” and her own “All Over Again.”

McVie admitted recently that she was tired of hotels and traveling. A bad back made it physically hard to sit behind the keyboard where she had anchored Fleetwood Mac in virtually all of its incarnations after founding members Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer walked away. I wanted to see her back at the piano just like she was at the tribute concert to Peter Green when Mick Fleetwood embraced her and just where she was when she first sat in on a session with Fleetwood Mac in 1968 and paved the way for her arrival a few years later.

Was it really that long ago when I got a call from McVie on a hot August day in the summer of 1976? I had first met her a year earlier on Fleetwood Mac’s tour with new members Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. It was much to the consternation of road manager John Courage who didn’t like the idea of having an aspiring teenage music journalist around the band.

Calling from a break during the making of the band’s next album, McVie revealed that it was going to be called Rumours after an exasperated John McVie came in one day and declared that the band’s emotional traumas were like a soap opera. 

Fleetwood Mac had by then sold over three million copies and just went to number one on Billboard after some 60 weeks on the charts. “It’s been quite a turn of events,” she reflected that day. “We haven’t had time to turn around and take notice of anything except the fact that we’ve been working so hard.” 

McVie was also coming to terms with her own fame. McVie’s excitement over new songs called “Don’t Stop” and “You Make Loving Fun” was tempered by an unpleasant surprise when a long forgotten solo album was re-released. The ascendancy of Fleetwood Mac gave her old record label the chance to cash in on her newfound fame and delve into the past. That summer we got the release of her first solo album billed as The Legendary Christine Perfect. McVie was taken aback to the point of being thoroughly embarrassed.

“I’m not at all happy about it,” she confided. Describing it as “archaic,” she admitted to being thoroughly embarrassed. She described being “pushed” into making the record by her manager, following two albums with blues band Chicken Shack. “I’d just like to make it clear to anyone that’s interested that it’s eight years old,” she pointed out.

While Sire Records was using her name to market the reissue originally on Blue Horizon, she could at least take solace in Mick Fleetwood’s assessment. He told her, “Chris, it’s not that bad. You’ve got to realize how dated it is and the musicians you used are pretty diabolical. If you take it in that respect, it isn’t that terrible.”

By then she had already been busy transforming Fleetwood Mac, something she had started to do from the moment she joined the band and laid down the magnificent “Show Me a Smile” that anticipated all of the hits to come. She was the architect for the melodic transition that awaited new recruits Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks in early 1975. All one had to do was listen to how the three part harmony made McVie’s “Why” so transcendent. It was McVie who kicked off the band sets that turned Chicken Shack’s plodding blues song “Get Like You Used To Be” into something kinetic. There was a spiritual connection to the past as she and Lindsey Buckingham turned arenas upside down with “World Turning,” a tip of the hat to the ancestral roots of Peter Green’s own song by the same name.  It was McVie who gave the new incarnation of Fleetwood Mac’s first hit single with “Over My Head” and from that moment the band never looked back.

In March 1977, Rumours had been out just a month and the band was back on the road.  I had the good fortune to sit with McVie backstage after their show in Hartford. Over a tall glass of white wine, McVie savored the excitement that was onstage. She recognized the band was in transition and was trying to bridge past with present. In her self-deprecating way the then 33 year-old singer quipped, “I’m old enough to be half of the audience’s mother.”

It was hard to know at that moment that everything was about to explode. Soon McVie would have to travel with an alias. Rumours would go on to sell more than 20 million copies. The rest they say is history. 

There were other moments over the years. We talked for a Song Hits cover story after she made her self-titled solo album. In the summer of 1987 when the band reunited to make Tango In The Night, I was invited to interview McVie and Mick Fleetwood for another Song Hits magazine cover story at her Beverly Hills house.  

It was the scene where a few days before Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks had an infamous altercation. Buckingham, who didn’t want to tour, necessitated Fleetwood to do what he had so many times before —find a new guitarist. This time he recruited two, Billy Burnette and Rick Vito.

After the interview, the ever gracious McVie invited me to stay for lunch. We all went to the kitchen where cucumber sandwiches were had before Fleetwood and McVie headed out to rehearsal. McVie smiled as she posed for a picture in the driveway.

All of these memories have come over me these last few days. There are too many to name.

One that stands out was on Fleetwood Mac’s last tour when Christine McVie counted down the second encore, “Don’t Stop,” liberating it as an adopted Clinton-era campaign anthem into what was introduced as a song about surviving. McVie then joined Nicks for a duet of the obscure “All Over Again” with its lyrics in full display behind them from the all but forgotten Time album, a lost song suddenly made new and relevant again. There they stood together, compatriots for more than forty years in a world where people still were trying to wrap their heads around the idea of having a woman (let alone two) lead a band. Christine McVie was intentionally understated to the point where it was easy to forget the true pioneer she was.

The one that stays with me the most is  McVie closing Fleetwood Mac’s shows nightly with her masterpiece “Songbird.” Sitting behind the piano with the lights turned up in arenas across America , McVie turned her own personal pain into a hymn of hopefulness and redemption. When McVie sang the soaring line “And I wish you all the love in the world but most of all I wish it from myself,” it was an affirmation that drew sudden applause that seemed even louder in the solitude of the moment. When McVie hugged her ex-husband John McVie at the song’s end, It felt like a communal healing witnessed nightly by twenty thousand who could see some of their own personal struggles played out in Fleetwood Mac’s songs. 

It’s kind of like when you watch a television commercial and see parts of yourself and loved ones in the faces of those who are riding and smiling together, basking in the simple joy of a car sing-along and a magical melody that lives forever.

1 thought on “Yesterday’s Gone: Remembering Christine McVie

  1. A lovely remembrance, Steve – brought yet another tear to my eye in tribute to the passing of this one-of-a-kind talent. I, too, noted the Chevy ad and went out and found Tango (I had discounted ‘the latest Mac’ a while back) and bought it. Bare Tree and Future Games hit me very hard right around now as I realize it was Christine’s contributions which were the ones that hit me so hard – but in a good way. Thanks for your story.

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