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THE POP LIFE; CHRISTINE MCVIE: SINGLE IN TOP 10, NEW ALBUM

March 21, 1984, by Robert Palmer

10 single, ''Got a Hold on Me,'' has a comfortably familiar sound and feel, as well it might. Miss McVie has been a key member of Fleetwood Mac since 1971, and her singing and keyboard stylings helped make this band's ''Rumours'' one of the best-selling albums of all time, with sales of more than 15 million.

She wrote and sang the lead on ''You Make Loving Fun'' and several other Fleetwood Mac hit singles. And during the middle and late 1960's, some years before she joined Fleetwood Mac, Miss McVie enjoyed a moderately successful career in British blues and folk music. There she performed with Spencer Davis, recording several albums with a band called Chicken Shack, even making an album of her own using her maiden name, Christine Perfect.

It isn't surprising that Miss McVie has a hit single, given credentials like these. It is surprising that ''Got a Hold on Me'' is her first hit single as a solo artist, and that ''Christine McVie,'' her Warner Bros. album, currently in the top 40, is only her second solo album. In fact, Miss McVie would rather forget her first album and first brief solo career and call the ''Christine McVie'' album her first.

''I really didn't intend to launch that first, disastrous solo career,'' Miss McVie recalled recently. She was visiting New York, taking a short break from preparations for her first real tour as a solo artist, which is scheduled to begin next month. ''I had married John McVie,'' she continued, referring to the bassist who founded Fleetwood Mac with the drummer Mick Fleetwood. ''And I had quit playing with Chicken Shack. I was quite happy being a housewife. But I had sung a soul ballad on my last album with Chicken Shack, and a British music paper gave me an award for it - top female vocalist of the year.''

A manager convinced Miss McVie to take advantage of the award, record an album and undertake a few performances. ''I did around 10 shows in pubs and other small venues,'' she said. ''Not many women were doing this sort of underground club circuit in the late 60's. And I was very immature emotionally; I wasn't at all ready for it. I wanted to be with John. Then there were some personnel changes in Fleetwood Mac. I played keyboards on an album of theirs and then was asked to join the band.''

John McVie and Mick Fleetwood were recent graduates of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers when they started Fleetwood Mac in 1967, and for the first few years the band was heavily blues oriented. By the time Miss McVie became a member, the band's personnel was fluctuating from album to album, with the two founders providing the only real stability. There were several more changes before Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined forces with the two McVies and Mick Fleetwood in 1975. With their arrival, the band finally achieved a proper balance, with Miss McVie, Miss Nicks and Mr. Buckingham all singing and writing songs while Mr. McVie and Mr. Fleetwood held down the rhythm.

The McVie marriage survived Fleetwood Mac's difficult years intact, but in 1976, just when the group was beginning to sell millions of records, the McVies broke up. Mr. Buckingham and Miss Nicks, who had been together for several years, also separated around the same time. But Fleetwood Mac managed to stay together, and parlayed its romantic frictions into the multimillion seller ''Rumours.''

At present, the band is on ''vacation.'' Miss Nicks, whose first solo album was a big success, is working on a follow-up, and Lindsey Buckingham is making a second solo album as well. Mr. Fleetwood has been recording in Africa. Fleetwood Mac will not be getting back together to work until next fall; clearly, if Miss McVie wanted to make an album of her own, this year was the ideal time.

Although she comes from a family of classical musicians and had studied piano for a dozen years before she was out of her teens, Miss McVie's recordings rarely spotlight her instrumental facility. At her best, she is one of pop music's most distinctive vocal stylists, with a richly husky sound and deliberate phrasing that are instantly recognizable.

Miss McVie collaborated with the guitarist Todd Sharp on most of the songs for her album. Most of the tunes they wrote together give her plenty of room to shine. But several songs on the second side, songs she did not help write, seem to rush her phrasing. Her two collaborations with Steve Winwood on Side 1 work more convincingly because they give her enough room to sing with real feeling.

And feeling is what Miss McVie's music is all about. ''I never like to analyze music,'' she said. ''I want to know if it moves me; that's first.'' Even her airiest pop confections are built on the solid foundations of blues and soul, idioms that emphasize ''the singer, not the song.'' Perhaps the experience of performing on her own again will give her more confidence in her own musical intuition.