Got Me Hypnotized

Fleetwood Mac Albums Ranked From Worst To Best

by Benjamin Ray

Fleetwood Mac went through three distinct phases: a British blues-rock band, a mellow California folk-rock band in the early ‘70s, and a massively successful pop-rock band in the late ‘70s and ‘80s. Through every lineup and album, though, namesakes Mick Fleetwood (drummer, and he of the brass balls) and John McVie (bassist, and he of the snazzy hats) have been the anchors for whichever group was out front singing and playing guitar. Looking at Fleetwood Mac’s entire output can be daunting, not so much for quantity as for the changes between the Peter Green, Bob Welch and Buckingham/Nicks era that almost make you believe that this is three different bands. This countdown will attempt to reconcile the band’s entire studio output, from the debut through 2003’s Say You Will, the last actual album to bear the band name (2017’s Buckingham/McVie is not here for that reason).

17. Time (1995)fleetwoodmac_time_150

The second album post-Buckingham and first post-Nicks is dull and uninspired; newcomer Bekka Bramlett tries, but there’s very little to recommend here. Even Christine McVie’s contributions sound like retreads. After this flopped, everyone left except the core trio, which brought back Buckingham and Nicks two years later for The Dance and the beginning of the reunion/playing-the-hits era.

fleetwoodmac_behind_150 16. Behind The Mask (1990)

Lindsey Buckingham left after Tango In The Night and the remaining four members opted to replace him with two guitarists/songwriters, Billy Burnette and Rick Vito. Problem is, they also were creatively spent, with Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks turning in lesser efforts than fans were used to. The whole project feels uninspired, like the album was expected rather than really desired. It’s fine, in the way most Mac albums are, but it’s hardly up to the level of previous discs.

15. Mr. Wonderful (1968)fleetwoodmac_mrwonderful_150

Unreleased in the U.S., the band’s second album is pretty much the most standard white-dudes-playing-the-blues album you can imagine. Lots of British white guys were playing American blues in the ‘60s, and these guys didn’t do enough to stand out from the pack, especially on this album, which is mostly covers and sound-alikes.

fleetwoodmac_say 14. Say You Will (2003)

Not really a Fleetwood Mac album. Christine McVie did not come back after The Dance, and so this is basically a Nicks and Buckingham solo album each, democratically spaced (each gets two songs back to back) and running close to 80 minutes. Not only are most of the songs dull, but there are way too many of them, and rather than working together as on the equally-long Tusk, the main composers seem to do their own thing. Without McVie’s voice or songs as a counterpoint, and with the lackluster nature of most of these, there’s very little to recommend here.

13 (a). Kiln House (1970)fleetwoodmac_kiln_150

Named for the house the band lived and worked in for a time, Kiln House is the sound of a band kicking back, enjoying playing together and not really thinking about the future. Peter Green had departed at this point and Christine Perfect McVie, recently married to John, was starting to hang out with the band more at the house (after helping with some piano spots on Mr. Wonderful). It fell to Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan to write the songs, and while still rooted in the blues, they also reached back to old-school American rock for inspiration. As such, this is probably the least essential and most fun recording to carry the Fleetwood Mac name, but it was hardly a recipe for success. Soon after, Spencer bolted and Bob Welch came aboard to start the second phase of the band.

13 (b): English Rose (1969)fleetwoodmac_english_150

Rather than issue Mr. Wonderful in the U.S., the record company dropped half of the weaker tracks of an already weak album, added a couple new songs with new member Danny Kirwan, and then added two single A-sides, the instrumental “Albatross” and “Black Magic Woman.” The presence of those two songs makes this the preferable release; it’s still far too heavy on blues covers and uninspired songwriting, but the moments when the band shines (especially those two songs) are pretty darn good. Better yet, if you can find the compilation The Pious Bird Of Good Omen, pick it up, as it distills the best of the band’s first two albums and singles into one digestible album.

fleetwoodmac_penguin_150 12. Penguin (1973)

Danny Kirwan left after Bare Trees, leaving Welch and Christine McVie as the dominant songwriters. But the band was still struggling on both sides of the Atlantic, which in retrospect seems like a shame, because this era of the band had some good song. However, there aren’t many of them to be found on Penguin, which is a cross between pleasant, subtle Welch/McVie material and random blues-rock material from brief newcomers Bob Weston and Dave Walker. Perhaps their addition was to hearken back to the band’s blues roots, but it didn’t work, nor did it fit the context of this scattershot disc. That said, McVie’s “Dissatisfied” remains one of her strongest rock outings and Welch’s “Revelation” is worth rediscovering.

11. Mirage (1982)fleetwoodmac_mirage_170

Tusk was an exhausting album, as was the tour that followed it. The band needed a break, during which Stevie Nicks started a successful solo career. So when the time for an inevitable follow-up came around, it felt like the quintet’s hearts weren’t really in it. The result was the lackluster Mirage, which lacked the emotional fire, the pop smarts, and the outright idiosyncrasies of the late ‘70s trio of albums. The hit “Hold Me” is wispy and lacks punch; better is “Can’t Go Back” and the other hit, “Gypsy,” but a couple of songs do not a great album make.

fleetwoodmac_st_150 10. Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac (1968)

As said above, the band’s early life as a blues-rock band did little to distinguish them from the many other British rock bands playing the blues in 1968. Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer had chops, Mick Fleetwood had energy, and they could work up a sweat on tracks like “Shake Your Moneymaker,” but listening to this many years later reveals little more than a band finding its footing by playing standards (although “I Loved Another Woman” is a pretty good Latin-infused blues piece and a precursor to “Black Magic Woman,” recorded later in the year). This is sometimes billed as Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac to avoid confusion with casual fans looking for “Rhiannon,” which is as different from this album as night and day.

9. Mystery To Me (1973)fleetwoodmac_mystery_200

A pretty run-of-the-mill album with one truly great song, “Hypnotized,” and a plethora of McVie/Welch tracks that don’t quite warrant repeated listenings. But for proof that Welch was underrated as a songwriter and guitarist, give “Hypnotized” a spin today (it’s on Spotify). More than any other song from this five-album run, it’s the song that got me to explore this era of the band, and it deserved to be a hit.

fleetwoodmac_heroes_150 8. Heroes Are Hard To Find (1974)

You could make a case for each of the Bob Welch albums as your personal favorite, but regardless of which you picked, each one has at least two fantastic songs on it. Granted, the corny “Bermuda Triangle” is not one of them, but “Coming Home” is a truly forgotten gem and one of the best Fleetwood Mac songs of the decade; “Angel” is good too, while McVie’s lush “Come A Little Bit Closer” is one of her best of the decade as well, standing alongside her better-known songs from the Nicks-era albums. There’s still some filler here, although the psych-rock Floydian instrumental “Safe Harbour” is a nice album closer and a good way for this era of the Mac to say goodbye. If you’re digging through the Welch era of 1971-74, this and Future Games are the two best places to start.

7. Bare Trees (1972)fleetwoodmac_baretrees_150

The Bob Welch era of the band was in full swing at this point, but young guitarist Danny Kirwan wanted a little more of the action and so wound up contributing six of the 10 songs on this effort. It was to be his last stand, as he was fired shortly after the release of this for drinking and mood swings. Still, the end result is a pretty good rock album. Kirwan’s harder-edged rock mixes with Welch’s moodier material, bridging the gap from the Green days of old to this new era better than Future Games but with less emphasis on mood. There really aren’t any classic songs on here other than Welch’s “Sentimental Lady” (later a solo hit) and the lovely instrumental “Sunny Side Of Heaven,” but the album is still a good listen, less cloying than a lot of early ‘70s FM pop-rock.

fleetwoodmac_future_150 6. Future Games (1971)

The first album with American Bob Welch pushes the group in a new direction that entirely omits the blues in favor of a folk-rock approach, which works well on the core trio of Christine and John McVie and Mick Fleetwood. The title cut is a meditative, moody slow burn not unlike what Pink Floyd would record two years later with Dark Side Of The Moon and is one of the better songs from the early ‘70s Mac era. Meanwhile, “What A Shame” is a fine instrumental and both “Sands Of Time” and “Woman Of 1000 Years” show a band that has been overlooked in the shadow of its more famous incarnation later on. In many ways, you could argue this is where the more pop-oriented Fleetwood Mac sound was born, but it stands on its own as a good album.

5. Tango In The Night (1987)fleetwoodmac_tango_150

The fifth and final album with the entire classic quintet intact is also a Christine McVie showcase and a melancholy pop gem. Nicks takes a bit of a backseat here and Buckingham is a little more democratic – a move that apparently didn’t suit him, as he left after this album came out – and the result is an album with more good songs than you may remember. Rooted in the ‘80s as they may be, the hits “Big Love,” “Everywhere,” and the lush “Little Lies” are the band’s best of the decade, while the album tracks “Isn’t It Midnight” (guitar solo alert!) and “Seven Wonders” are almost as good. Buckingham’s tracks are a bit harsh and/or willfully off-putting (“Caroline,” “Family Man”) and Nicks contributes a couple of head-scratchers on the second-side; if you ever wondered what she would sound like writing an ‘80s-era David Bowie song, listen to “Welcome To The Room…Sara.” Or don’t. But the sum total is a fine pop album that should have been the follow-up to Tusk instead of the bucolic Mirage.

fleetwoodmac_tusk 4. Tusk (1979)

It’s almost impossible to follow up a classic album one that even compares, but darned if Fleetwood Mac didn’t go for broke. They now had the money, the clout, and the time to do what they wanted, and they went wild, recording 20 songs on an obtuse, strange, and compelling double album. The bitter aftermath of the emotional wreckage that fueled Rumours is evident in the songwriting; the seams show on harsh, slightly-paranoid punk-rockers like “The Ledge” and “Not That Funny,” which sit next to standard Christine McVie power-pop love songs like “Over And Over” and Stevie Nicks’ more esoteric and quite lovely pieces like “Sara” and the underrated “Children Of The Moon.” McVie breaks her formula for the lush “Brown Eyes,” which is arguably her finest song, especially as it soothes the soul after Buckingham’s shouty cocaine-fueled “That’s Enough For Me.” Whereas Rumours showed the players working through their feelings together, Tusk showed three songwriters taking three different musical paths, and after this messy but intoxicating affair Nicks would split for a while to start a successful solo career.

3. Then Play On (1969)fleetwoodmac_then

The band’s third album – and final with original singer/guitarist Peter Green as main bandleader – is darn near epic, 53 minutes of blues-rock that far outshines the band’s first two albums and remains a high point of anything Mick Fleetwood has ever played on. Riding high after recording “Albatross, “Black Magic Woman,” and “The Green Manalishi,” all British singles that did very well and among the band’s best songs, the quartet welcomed young guitarist Danny Kirwan into the fold and cut this disc. The high points included “Rattlesnake Shake,” “Oh Well,” the bouncy “Coming Your Way,” and the teeth-rattling blues guitar showcase instrumental “Searching For Madge/Fighting For Madge” (Madge, of course, being an early supporter and mega-fan of the band), which was edited down from 20 minutes to its shorter length. There’s also a sadness to the lyrics that make some parts of the album kind of a downer (reportedly, it was too much for Spencer, who briefly left to make a much happier solo disc), but it leads to the overall flavor of the record. This is one that captures the true attitude of the blues way more than the two preceding albums that tried too hard to do the same.

fleetwoodmac_s-t 2. Fleetwood Mac (1975)

Fleetwood Mac’s third chapter began with a joyous pop-rock album that successfully bridged the gap from the Welch years, thanks mainly to Christine McVie’s “Warm Ways,” “Over My Head,” and “Say You Love Me.” But whereas before she shared space with Welch’s psychedelic/folk mannerisms, she now collaborated with an American guitarist named Lindsey Buckingham and a singer named Stevie Nicks. Fresh from recording their own little-heard debut album, the couple (romantically and musically) retooled some of their songs with the Fleetwood Mac rhythm section and released what was, in essence a debut album (note Mick’s decision to make it an eponymous title, despite there already being one during the Peter Green years). But it made sense; Buckingham rocked on “I’m So Afraid” and “World Turning” as hard as Green and Spencer ever had and Nicks brought an intoxicating power to polished pop-rock gems like “Rhiannon” (arguably her signature song) and “Landslide.” The first side of the album has a couple of filler tracks that keep it from the top spot (“Blue Letter” and “Crystal”), but the second side is darn near perfect.

1. Rumours (1977)fleetwoodmac_rumours

Really no argument here unless you’re a contrarian. Jason Warburg summed up the appeal of this record on his review of the 35th anniversary edition more eloquently than I will below (he’s good at that), and in the now 40 years since its release, these 11 songs have lost none of their emotional power or grace. The interpersonal drama between band members resulted in emotional tension that poured forth into the songs, which were retooled and reworked until they resembled a masterpiece. Few albums flow as gracefully and hit as hard emotionally while still rocking and hitting all the sweet pop notes required to make them earworms; no matter your age, you know “Don’t Stop,” “Go Your Own Way,” “The Chain,” and “Dreams” – major hits all, but these songs interweave with Buckingham’s short-yet-powerful acoustic piece “Never Going Back Again,” McVie’s gentle “Songbird,” and Nicks’ confessional “Gold Dust Woman;” the song’s coda, where she sings “pale shadow of a woman,” will give you chills every time. The players in the drama aren’t afraid to call each other out but are never nasty about it. It’s one of the ultimate breakup albums because it recognizes how you can love someone but know you can’t be with them, and how that angers and saddens you at the same time. It’s one of rock’s great albums, and it’s as good as Mick Fleetwood and his band ever got.

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