One of the things one needs to be aware of when starting to write all things about the Moon is that you may soon find yourself on the other side of it. Cast away into a wild frenzy of stars, former satellite particles and the odd rogue Russian Cosmonaut thrown in for good measure. All in all, an adventure but, not one for the weak of heart.
That’s been the past few weeks here at WMMCM. Dodging deadlines, errant vehicles falling from space as well as the occasional sleepy guy wandering slowly through traffic in his Toyota Camry daring someone to hit him as all lanes are stopped due to the raging inferno in the Cajon Pass.
Yes, it’s been a long, hard road reaching up to the stars, or the Moon really. It’s closer than the stars but obviously much more troublesome.
In light of these travails as we settle back down to earth for today’s adventure in Green Cheese, it’s only fitting that we harp on a band that was and is about as troublesome as they come. A band that was so big, so hugely successful in the mid-70′s, that anything that they could possibly come up with to follow one of the biggest albums of all time would have to be great – and, no matter how good it was – would be labeled a failure. That can only be…
In the years following the release of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album in 1977 there was nowhere to go – but down. That’s the way it always seems to work with very few exceptions. You have an album that sells, and sells, and sells all the while owning the radio while the band goes from one sold out concert to the next with a special kind of immunity from criticism; it can’t last. It doesn’t.
When Lindsey Buckingham, Christine McVie, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and Stevie Nicks finally returned to the studio to record the long awaited followup to Rumours the entire project was entrusted to Buckingham’s vision and production skills. After Buckingham had pushed his ideas through all the emotional turmoil Fleetwood Mac had been going through during the Rumours sessions it only seemed right to leave Lindsey at the helm after such a massive success.
The resulting collection of new music was so long it became a double album, much to Warner Brothers Records dread. And, there was no obvious single in amongst the twenty song that comprised 1979′s Tusk.
Fleetwood Mac did have enough pull and influence at the time to actually take over Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles for a day to shoot what would be the video for the lead single, “Tusk.” They even got the USC Marching Trojan Band to join them for the video as well as in the studio for the single.
As innovative as the song was, (how many songs from any era feature a college marching band and drum line?) the single flopped. Flopped of course is a relative term when coming off an album like Rumours. “Tusk” only reached the number 8 spot in the US. In fact, there would be no number one single from Tusk and the album itself would only hit the number four spot in the US. (It was briefly number one in the UK however.)
For any other band at the time, this would be a big deal. Two million double albums sold and a number four spot? We’ve hit the big time! Oh right… This was Fleetwood Mac, right after Rumours.
Well, that is the music business after all.
As a last chance effort Warner Brothers and Fleetwood Mac released their forth of five singles from Tusk. That would be Stevie Nick’s “Sisters of the Moon.” It didn’t go anywhere at all settling in at a very lazy 86th spot on the US charts while not even being released anywhere else.
“Sisters of the Moon” seems almost like it could have been from the Rumours album of a few years before. Opening with John McVie’s simple pulsing bass and keyboard noodling from Christine McVie this comes close to a “Chain” flashback. Christine McVie is even using a synth on the intro. Go figure.
“Intense silence as she walked in the room
Her black robes trailing Sister of the moon.
And a black widow spider makes more sound than she
And black moons in those eyes of hers made more sense to me
Heavy persuasion it was hard to breathe
She was dark at the top of the stairs and she called to me.”
Nicks is in very good voice here for one of the last times in her career before all the damage from her partying took their tool. (She remains a great singer but the “voice” is long gone.) Buckingham is all over the place with his chiming guitar runs and the little itching broken chords that match the beat with John McVie’s bass. Buckingham has never been shy about throwing in multiple layers of little guitar touches here and there to good effect.
Arriving at the chorus, Buckingham’s simply playing a brusk power chord structure with his slowly picked leads way in the back. Very unusual for a Mac song of the day but it worked well. As always, Nicks and Christine McVie are adding layers of vocal harmonies throughout. Buckingham add his own vocal touches in the back with a subtlety that’s not usually a part of a Fleetwood Mac vocal mix. It works beautifully.
Right at the 3:04 mark, (in the studio version,) Buckingham finally cuts loose with his wonderfully erratic guitar solo. Buckingham is one of those players who always has such great tone to his solos. This time Buckingham is playing around with his volume as well as tossing in a bit of effects that sound reminiscent of a waa-waa pedal, (but probably isn’t.) I’ve been watching Buckingham play for longer than I care to mention and even when he’s playing a clean guitar, he still sounds like he’s got a huge amount of effects going. While there are effects no doubt, most of it is technique more than toys.
“She asked me, be my sister, sister of the moon
Some call her sister of the moon
Some say illusions are her game
They like to wrap her in velvet
Does anyone know her name?”
Coming back for the last verse such as it is, the whole texture has changed. Gone are Buckingham’s chimy guitar riffs. They’ve been replaced by Christine McVie’s artfully plodding Rhodes 88 piano chords while Buckingham restrains himself to a straightforward guitar chord pick through progression. Mick Fleetwood as is his style, takes advantage of the breakdown to cut his time in half and moseys right through with a snappy snare and the occasional off time kick drum to keep things interesting.
From here on out, it’s now Buckingham’s show. He’s strangling his guitar in wildly interesting ways evolving from a high pitched, string bending wail into a manic flurry of notes that gets more intense as “Sisters of the Moon” wanders off but not before Buckingham throttles his guitar’s neck a few times before the fade eventually wins.
Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac turned “Sisters of the Moon” into a live epic performance that is more powerful then the original studio version. It really is a great song, very intense and powerful. Though as usual with many songs from Nicks, if it is really about something, I’m not certain it matters a whole lot or what that may be. It certainly does to her when she sings it and when all is said and done, that’s what really matters. That’s what Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac give to their audience.
Watch this video!