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1981

This Is The Fast Lane

The new year began with a much-deserved break for all in Fleetwood Mac. In January Mick flew off to Ghana for a "working vacation" to record with some of the local musicians there, along with assorted friends (George Hawkins, Ian Bairnson from the Alan Parsons Project, Todd Sharp from Bob Welch's band, former Beatle/ex-brother-in-law George Harrison, and Peter Green, among others). The end result, after much corporate wrangling, was the album The Visitor, which hit the stores in June. Mick always had a strong interest, for obvious reasons, in African percussion. This album is essentially a showcase for that interest. Mick and friends utilized the local talent effectively, and in so doing managed to pull off a marriage between Anglo-American Rock and the sound of West Africa. This is apparent in the reworkings of Lindsey Buckingham's "Walk A Thin Line" and Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away". But the obvious choice for a single was "Rattlesnake Shake" which featured Peter Green reprising his vocals with all the energy and fire of the original. Unfortunately, though, that honor went to the inconspicuous "You Weren't In Love". Perhaps Mick didn't want to take advantage of the Fleetwood Mac connection too much. As it was, the album did respectably well in the charts.

Fleetwood Mac also tackled a new medium early in 1981 when the videocassette entitled Documentary and Live Concert was released. It's a fascinating "the making of" tape, consisting of interview and various parts of the recording process for the Tusk album as well as live tracks taken from the 1979-80 tour. The medium of television would be explored in greater detail in the future.

Peter Green's fourth solo album, Whatcha Gonna Do?, came out in March, but only in the UK (in fact, no subsequent album of his would be released stateside until late 1996)! A shame, really, since Whatcha Gonna Do? continues the same formula that worked so well for Little Dreamer. Mike Green wrote most of the songs, with Peter contributing "Last Train to San Antone" and "Gotta See Her Tonight". Green's voice and guitar seem stronger with each new release. A third Peter Green composition, ironically one that would've been the title cut to THIS album, was not included. Rather, the song "Whatcha Gonna Do?" was released at the end of the year on the Blue Guitar compilation album. Also noteworthy about Blue Guitar was that it included the original single version of "Apostle", rather than the In The Skies LP version.

The only output from Dave Mason is the anthology album The Best of Dave Mason, which came out on the Columbia/CBS labels in July. Not surprisingly, it focuses on Dave s singles while with that label, including We Just Disagree .

Billy Burnette also released his new Columbia album in July. Gimme You continued largely in the same vein as last years Billy Burnette. Unlike its predecessor, last years Don t Say No , the lead single from this album, Let the New Love Begin (backed by the non-album track Blow Out the Candle ), did not crack the charts. Neither did its parent album. Columbia soon dropped Billy.

Stevie Nicks began her monumental solo career in 1981. In April she guested on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' album Hard Promises, providing harmony on "Insider" and backing vocals on "You Can Still Change Your Mind". In July, however, the truly solo releases begin. The first solo release was a track from the soundtrack to the animated film Heavy Metal, the understated "Blue Lamp". But the real story begins two weeks later with the release of her first album.

That album, Bella Donna, topped the charts in September, and became a multi- platinum affair in the finest tradition of Rumours, consisted of songs that were written from as far back as 1974. While one could therefore assume that Bella Donna consisted simply of tunes rejected by Fleetwood Mac, one listen would overturn that suspicion! Now completely removed from the occasionally overbearing influence of Mr. Buckingham, one begins to see, with this album, the full flowering of Stevie's considerable talents both in songwriting and performance. The songs are diverse, covering intense, emotional ballads to solid rockers (thanks to the influence of guitarist Waddy Wachtel) to country-flavored tunes. She shares the spotlight with friends Tom Petty and Don Henley on several tracks, and masterfully takes the lead on the others. Her voice is as powerful as her songs.

There were a total of four singles culled from Bella Donna, all dressed in very nice picture sleeves (beautiful photographs of Ms. Nicks taken by Herbert Worthington III, Stevie's "Court Photographer"). Though, like Rumours before it, really any of the tracks could've been hits, so consistent is the quality. "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" made #3, "Leather and Lace", the duet with Don Henley, made it to #6, "Edge of Seventeen" to #11 (for its video, a live concert recording was used, and that recording was featured, in edited form, on the non-LP B-side), and the final single "After The Glitter Fades" got to #32 in the summer of 1982, a year after the album's release! As if that wasn t already a certainty, Stevie's hitmaking status was assured for years to come.

Also with the release of the first single we also begin to see the nascent influence of music video (which had at any rate been around since at least the heyday of the Beatles) as best personified by the new cable video network, MTV, where presentation becomes just as important as (in some cases even more than) product. In the accompanying video for "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around", a radiant Stevie does a simple performance piece with Tom and the Heartbreakers.

Not to be outdone, Lindsey Buckingham also released his debut solo album in 1981. Issued in October, Law and Order continues, to a large extent, the work Lindsey did on Tusk. Like that album, it s a grab-bag of styles and experimentation. Lindsey flirts with New Wave, old pop standards, and even a country tune. The only thing missing is a straightforward rocker a la Go Your Own Way or I m So Afraid . Law and Order is very polished, not surprising given the perfectionist Buckingham. All in all, an excellent debut album, but the lack on any obvious commercial material on it couldn t have helped sales any. Not that he needed help: the LP made it to #32 and earned Buckingham a gold record. The first single, the ballad Trouble (dressed in a sleeve very similar to the album jacket), debuted on the charts at the same time as Stop Draggin My Heart Around , and like it, it made it into the the Top 10. It highlights the album well: a low-key affair. The second single, a reworking of the old Fleetwoods (get it?) hit It Was I , did not chart. I guess the joke had worn off: Bob Welch had already recorded another Fleetwoods hit ( Come Softly to Me ) on his Three Hearts album two years before.

Bob Welch, quick off the mark from his new contract with RCA, released his eponymous album in October. Best described as a collection of straightforward rock 'n' roll love songs, the album displays some of Bob's best guitar work to date. Gone are the disco beat and the heavy use of synthesizers so prominent on most of his Capitol albums. Additionally, his association with John Carter, who had produced all his previous albums, also ended, being replaced by Michael Verdick. Also gone, though, is Welch's quirkiness. Only five of the eleven featured tracks are Welch compositions, and one of those is the 47- second instrumental, "Drive". And on the remaining four, his flirtations with the metaphysical (always a highlight in his work) are traded for a more stock-in-trade approach to songwriting. There are no retreads of older Fleetwood Mac material. Instead, Welch and Co. take a stab at covers, among them a redo of Pat Benatar's song from her 1979 debut album, "If You Think You Know How To Love Me", and, more strangely, "Bend Me, Shape Me" which was a hit for the bubble-gum group, The American Breed, in 1968. Still, some better choices, most notably the lead single "Two To Do" were featured. While the material on the whole was good, one is left with the feeling that really anyone could have done these songs. Obviously Bob was anxious to score a commercial hit for his new label. And RCA did its best.

He toured in 1981 in support of the album, and RCA underwrote the videotaping of the Roxy show on November 19. It was released on RCA Select-A-Vision laserdisc the following year, along with a audio program on the NBC radio network s The Source which aired April 16-18, 1982. The video, or eleven songs of it anyway, was also aired on TV several years later on, of all places, the children's programming cable channel, Nickelodeon, as part of their Saturday Afternoon Concert series.

This gig is notable in that four-fifths of the current Mac lineup appear (only Buckingham was missing) with an enthusiastic Bob. In addition, other luminaries such as Carmine Appice from Rod Stewart's band, Ann Wilson and Howard Leese from Heart, and Robbie Patton (more on him later) lend their support. Surprisingly, even ex-Mac Bob Weston shows up to play slide on "Remember Me", marking the first time he and Mick appeared onstage together since that fateful day in October 1973. Despite the very poor editing job done by Nickelodeon, it is a great show! Everyone involved, from Bob to his band to the guests, are in top-form, committed, and seem to be having a great time.

But despite the best efforts of all concerned, Bob Welch absolutely flopped on the charts. It never got higher than #201 on the "Bubbling Under" album charts, and the lead single "Two To Do" never bubbled further than #107. A shame, really, since both deserved better attention.

In addition to his appearance on Bob Welch s Roxy show, Bob Weston came out with his second solo album, Studio Picks. It never made US release, but it did feature his erstwhile romantic rival Mick Fleetwood on one track, Ford 44". Apparently all the animosity of the previous eight years was forgiven. Unfortunately, though, Weston s solo career (if you can call two albums a solo career) goes the way of Danny Kirwan s at this point. He reemerged only to guest on Murray Head s 1985 album Between Us .

Also featuring Weston (along with Christine, Lindsey, and Welch and most of his band) is the new album by keyboardist/songwriter Robbie Patton, who played percussion and sang backup at Welch s Roxy show. Released in July, Distant Shores was mostly cowritten with Welch s keyboardist David Adelstein, and coproduced with Christine McVie and Ken Caillat. Despite the all-star cast, the album was not a huge hit (going only as far as #162 before dropping off), but its attendant single, Don t Give It Up did break into the Top 30.

By midyear 1981, though, all the solo breaks were over, and the band trudged back into the studios to lay down the basic tracks for yet another hit album (they were already in uncharted territory: no previous lineup had released three studio albums of new material, let alone four) and tour.