Landslide: Fleetwood Mac; Smashing Pumpkins; Dixie Chicks

Hello there! In this week’s blog we consider the song Landslide. This is a lovely coming-of-age feminist song written by Stevie Nicks. We will start with the original song by Fleetwood Mac, and then we will review covers from Smashing Pumpkins and the Dixie Chicks.

Fleetwood Mac and Landslide:

Most people are familiar with what we will call the “classic lineup” of Fleetwood Mac. This consists of Mick Fleetwood on drums, John McVie on bass, Lindsey Buckingham on lead guitar, Christine McVie on keyboards and Stevie Nicks on vocals, with Buckingham and McVie also contributing on vocals.

However, Fleetwood Mac has a significantly longer history, involving many other musicians. The band was initially formed in 1967 as a British blues band. Although a number of musicians came and went, the core group consisted of Peter Green on guitar, Fleetwood on drums and McVie on bass.

Below is the 1968 version of Fleetwood Mac. From L: Danny Kirwan; John McVie; Peter Green; Jeremy Spencer; Mick Fleetwood.

The band was initially formed when Green and Fleetwood left John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers. The plan was that bassist John McVie would also leave Mayall’s group and join them. In fact, Green named the group under the assumption that McVie would be a bandmate (“Fleetwood Mac” = Fleetwood + McVie).

McVie did not come aboard immediately, but within weeks he had joined the new band. The group then added guitarists Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan, and became a quintet that featured three guitars.

Leet me digress here, to stress the critical importance of John Mayall to the British blues scene. When I was a graduate student at Oxford in the mid-60s, I was told that if I had an interest in the blues it was essential that I catch John Mayall’s band.

Many of the finest blues players in the world participated in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. His ensemble was like an incubator for terrific musicians. The turnover in his band was tremendous, but he attracted some amazing talent.

Think about it: at one time or another, Mayall’s band included Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor (the Rolling Stones) and Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac) on guitar; Jack Bruce (Cream) and John McVie (Fleetwood Mac) on bass; Paul Butterfield (Butterfield Blues Band) on harmonica; and many other musicians who would go on to achieve stardom.

In any case, the ‘Peter Green’ incarnation of Fleetwood Mac lasted for only a few years. Green began to show signs of schizophrenia, perhaps related to bad trips on LSD. In any case, as Green’s condition became more and more unstable, he left the group in May 1970.

The next five years were chaotic ones for Fleetwood Mac. The band brought in a number of new members, many of whom left after a short period of time. However, one new recruit who stuck around was vocalist and keyboard player Christine Perfect, who subsequently married John McVie and became Christine McVie.

The nadir for the band occurred in 1974, when the group’s manager Clifford Davis assembled a ‘fake Fleetwood Mac.’ He brought in an entirely new group of musicians, and sent them on tour as ‘Fleetwood Mac.’ Davis told the musicians that the other members of the band had quit, but that Mick Fleetwood and Christine McVie would be joining them shortly.

This was a lie, and the ‘fake’ band soon dissolved. However, it took Fleetwood and McVie a year to re-gain the rights to the band’s name.

However, at the very end of 1974, Fleetwood Mac re-formed. Mick Fleetwood persuaded American guitarist Lindsey Buckingham to join the group. Buckingham agreed, provided that his girlfriend and musical partner Stephanie (Stevie) Nicks was also brought aboard.

This produced the “classic lineup” of Fleetwood Mac. This group is shown in the photo below, circa 1975. From L: Mick Fleetwood; Stevie Nicks; Lindsey Buckingham; Christine McVie; John McVie.

In 1975, the group released an eponymous album that turned out to be a blockbuster. The album sold five million copies, and contained two big single hits written by Christine McVie, and another two written by Stevie Nicks.

One of the great things about Fleetwood Mac was that Stevie, Christine and Lindsey were all talented singer-songwriters. Their best tunes tell stories in an efficient and revealing fashion.

Landslide was one of Stevie Nicks’ songs on the Fleetwood Mac album. Nicks had written the song before she joined Fleetwood Mac. At that time, she and Lindsey had just been dropped by their record label. Stevie was at a junction where she was facing some very tough decisions.

Apparently Nicks wrote the song while visiting a friend in Aspen, CO. She was trying to decide between staying in the music business and going back to school, and whether or not to continue her musical and romantic partnership with Lindsey. She described her situation at that moment as
“looking out at the Rocky Mountains pondering the avalanche of everything that had come crashing down on us … at that moment, my life truly felt like a landslide in many ways”.

Here are some of the lyrics to Landslide:

I took my love, I took it down
Climbed a mountain and I turned around
And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills
‘Til the landslide brought it down

Oh, mirror in the sky what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?

Well, I’ve been afraid of changin’
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m getting older, too

The song captures beautifully a critical period of decision for a woman, who asks “Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?” For me, this is a song where the melody and lyrics perfectly complement one another.

Here are Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks performing Landslide on the David Letterman Show. I believe this performance may have occurred just before the two of them joined Fleetwood Mac.

Stevie Nicks has a breathless, vulnerable quality in her voice that I find extremely appealing. The song is really exquisite. And Lindsey Buckingham’s acoustic guitar work is terrific. He is a much under-rated guitarist.

Note that when Stevie sings “I’ve been afraid of changing, ‘cause I built my life around you,” she is singing about her situation with Lindsey. I wonder if it was uncomfortable for Lindsey to hear her musing about their relationship? As we will see, this would be just one of several Stevie/Lindsey songs that openly discussed turbulent periods in their life.

Their first big album turned Fleetwood Mac into rock superstars.
Unfortunately, almost all of their personal lives cratered just as they reached the pinnacle of commercial success.

Christine McVie and John McVie divorced, in large part due to John’s serious addiction issues with drugs and alcohol. Nicks and Buckingham’s romantic relationship also ended, in an extremely messy way.

In spring 1977, Fleetwood Mac released another album, Rumours. This behemoth has by now sold 40 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling albums of all time.

However, Rumours was also the ultimate “tell-all” record, containing numerous songs that detailed the chaos within the band. Stevie Nicks wrote Dreams about her unraveling relationship with Lindsey Buckingham (“You say you want your freedom.  Well, who am I to keep you down?”), while Buckingham shot back with Go Your Own Way (“Packing up, shacking up’s all you wanna do”).

Christine McVie’s hit song You Make Loving Fun describes her enjoyment with her new boyfriend. And to top off this hot mess, Mick Fleetwood had an affair with Stevie Nicks.

You would think that Mick would know better; a few years back he had fired his bandmate and best friend for sleeping with his wife. But at this time, Mick was consuming enormous amounts of cocaine, so perhaps his judgment was clouded.

Given the toxic combination of personal turmoil and rampant drug use, it is amazing that the band managed to stay together for another 10 years before dissolving in 1987.

However, in 1997 Fleetwood Mac reunited for a new album, The Dance, and a world tour. Christine McVie left the group in 1998; however, she re-joined the band in 2014.

In 1998, Fleetwood Mac was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This was interesting, as both the original lineup (Mick, John, Peter Green, Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer) was included, as well as the “classic lineup” that included Christine, Stevie and Lindsey.

Fleetwood Mac assembled a group of extremely talented musicians. They produced some iconic hits, and they put on a great live show. However, part of the excitement of seeing the band in concert was watching Lindsey sing “Packing up, shacking up’s all you wanna do” while standing next to Stevie.

Smashing Pumpkins and Landslide:

Smashing Pumpkins are an American alternative rock band. They were formed in 1988 by frontman Billy Corgan. Below is a photo of the original lineup of The Smashing Pumpkins taken in 1993. From L: bassist Darcy Wretzky; drummer Jimmy Chamberlin; lead vocalist and guitarist Billy Corgan; guitarist James Iha.

Initially, the band developed a regional following but had difficulty scoring a national reputation. They toured extensively, opening for more established groups such as Guns ‘n Roses and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Unfortunately, the touring took its toll on the individual band members. Iha and Wretzky, who had been romantically involved, broke up. Jimmy Chamberlin developed a strong dependency on narcotics and alcohol. And Corgan became deeply depressed.

At this point, Corgan wrote nearly all the songs for the group. His tunes strongly reflected his state of mind, and were highly introspective. Corgan listed Jimi Hendrix, Cream and The Stooges as inspirations for his work.

The band’s first big break came in 1993, with the release of their album Siamese Dream. That album sold over 4 million copies in the US alone, and made it into the top 10 on the Billboard album charts.

Smashing Pumpkins also benefited from being included as a grunge band along with groups such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam. At that time, both of these grunge bands were in tremendous demand, and to some extent Smashing Pumpkins cashed in on this popularity.

Of course, once their albums became best-sellers, Smashing Pumpkins no longer qualified as struggling artists, and the group was accused by other independent artists of selling out their principles for popularity.

An unusual feature of Smashing Pumpkins’ early work was that, in the studio, Corgan played nearly all the instrumental parts except drums. This led to some resentment within the band, and criticism of Corgan by other artists. In fact, one alt-rocker went so far as to call Smashing Pumpkins “the grunge Monkees.”

This sarcastic comment referred to the fact that, at the beginning of their career, the Monkees did not play instruments on any of their records, instead relying on contributions from studio musicians. The remark may also have referred to Corgan’s habit of utilizing massive overdubbing effects on studio recordings.

Then in 1996, the group’s follow-up double album, Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, was a real blockbuster. This album contained 28 songs, and was intended as an ambitious concept album;
The songs were intended to hang together conceptually as a symbol of the cycle of life and death.
The release became the best-selling double album of the decade.

Billy Corgan on tour for Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.

Billy Corgan on tour for Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.

Smashing Pumpkins cashed in on this album with a monster tour. At that point, Corgan shaved his head and adopted an iconic new look
a shaved head, a longsleeve black shirt with the word “Zero” printed on it, and silver pants.
An image of Corgan at this time is shown at left.

To give you some idea of Smashing Pumpkins’ stature during this time, the band was one of four groups that were featured in the Homerpalooza episode of The Simpsons TV show in 1996. Those groups, all of whom played themselves in the episode, were classic rocker Peter Frampton, hip hop group Cypress Hill, and alt-rockers Sonic Youth and Smashing Pumpkins.

Here are Smashing Pumpkins in a live performance of Landslide. This took place at Manhattan’s United Palace Theatre, during the band’s 20th Anniversary Tour in Nov. 2008.

The song features Billy Corgan on vocals and acoustic guitar. I believe that is Jeff Schroeder on electric guitar. Anyway, Corgan’s vocals are quite enjoyable and the guitar work is very effective. The audience is extremely enthusiastic, cheering during the song and singing along on several of the verses.

Smashing Pumpkins dissolved in 2000 but re-formed in 2005. Over the past few years they have undergone many personnel changes, but continue to release the occasional album and to tour.

Smashing Pumpkins are not really my thing, so I’m not sure how to assess their music. I can say that Billy Corgan appears to have been an influential leader in alt-pop musical trends for the past two decades.

Corgan appears to have his finger on the pulse of the public, and to be on the cutting edge of recent changes in the way that music is produced and consumed. For example, his latest projects involve using a rotating lineup of musicians, all of whom collaborate on the various songs.

He also seems to be able to survive a dizzying number of personnel changes, and still remain commercially successful. Perhaps I am impressed because I have an affinity for bald people? In any case, it’s not easy to remain relevant in the music business, so we wish Mr. Corgan continued success.

The Dixie Chicks and Landslide:

The Dixie Chicks are a country band that became a major crossover act. Initially, the Dixie Chicks were a bluegrass quartet from Dallas who formed in 1989. The group consisted of sisters Martie and Emily Erwin, Laura Lynch and Robin Lynn Macy.

The Dixie Chicks played predominantly bluegrass standards, and several of the band members played multiple instruments. But primarily Robin Macy played guitar, Martie played fiddle or mandolin, with Emily on banjo or dobro and Lynch on upright bass.

The group wore cowgirl dresses and traveled around the bluegrass festival circuit, trying without success to score a record deal. In 1992, the band released their second independently-produced album, and their sound shifted somewhat towards alt-country and pop music. At that time, Robin Lynn Macy left the band in order to concentrate on more ‘authentic’ bluegrass.

The Dixie Chicks then added guitarist and lead singer Natalie Maines, the daughter of steel guitar player Lloyd Maines. A couple of years later, the group was signed to a record contract by Sony Music Entertainment. At that time, Laura Lynch left the group.

There is some controversy over whether Lynch left of her own accord, or whether she was pushed out of the band. In any case, as a trio with Natalie Maines as lead singer, the Dixie Chicks’ career took off like a rocket.

Below are the Dixie Chicks circa 1998, performing in New York. From L: Emily Erwin Robison; Natalie Maines; Martie Erwin Maguire.

The group’s first big hit was Wide Open Spaces, the title song of an album of that name released in 1998. That album was a tremendous crossover hit, eventually selling over 12 million copies. Several songs from that album were best-sellers.

The album Wide Open Spaces made the top five in both the country and pop categories. This was unusual for a band that still featured banjo and fiddle prominently in their instrumental mix. But the popularity of the Dixie Chicks was quite wide-ranging.

Their songs now spanned the range of bluegrass, alt-country and pop. An indication of their wide appeal is that
in 1998, Dixie Chicks sold more CDs than all other country music groups combined.
The group subsequently won Grammy Awards, in addition to accolades from the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.

Here are the Dixie Chicks singing Landslide. This is a live performance from their Top Of the World tour in 2003, which featured their cover of Landslide. They are appearing in Europe, I’m not sure exactly where (can you tell from the subtitles at the end?).

As usual, Natalie Maines’ country-flavored vocals are a great fit for Stevie Nicks’ lovely song, and the group’s three-part harmonies are always appealing. On this song, Emily appears on banjo with Martie on mandolin.

Various backing instruments are added to the mix, including guitar, dobro and bass; and in addition they are backed up by a string section.

At this moment in time, the Dixie Chicks were one of the best-known acts in country music. However, on this tour they stirred up a hornet’s-nest of controversy.

On March 10, 2003, the Chicks appeared in London. This concert immediately preceded the American invasion of Iraq under George W. Bush. At that concert, Natalie Maines commented to the audience,
“Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”

When these remarks were reported in the American press, the Dixie Chicks were hit with a firestorm of criticism. Remember that this was a time when support for an American-led invasion of Iraq was considered highly patriotic.

As we now know, the 2003 invasion of Iraq was justified by phony claims of a vast armory of weapons of mass destruction possessed by Saddam. It was also accompanied by a widespread mistaken belief that Iraqis had played a significant role in the 9/11 attacks.

Support for the American invasion was particularly strong among country musicians and their fans. Not only were the Dixie Chicks bitterly criticized for Natalie’s comments, but they were also hit with a boycott of their records and concerts. There was even an event where angry fans could bring in Dixie Chicks records to be bulldozed.

Virtually overnight, the Dixie Chicks’ cover of Landslide vanished from the country music charts. Country music stars such as Toby Keith and Reba McIntire jumped in to criticize the Chicks, and Maines in particular, as unpatriotic and unsupportive of our military and the president.

Natalie Maines issued an apology a few days later, but it had little effect. Patriotic feelings were running high in those days, and the country music community piled on against critics of what turned out to be a disastrous Iraq invasion.

The Dixie Chicks were supported by a few country artists such as Merle Haggard. Despite the fact that Haggard had earlier been a vehement critic of the anti-Vietnam war movement in his song Okie From Muskogee, he was outspokenly opposed to the 2003 Iraq invasion.

In the 2003 Academy of Country Music awards, the Chicks were not only shut out of any awards, but the group was booed whenever their name was mentioned. The controversy over the Iraq War has remained a sore spot with the Dixie Chicks, who were treated extremely harshly for their remarks.

Cover of documentary The Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing

Cover of documentary The Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing

In 2006, a documentary was released titled The Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing. It chronicled the furore over Natalie Maines’ remarks. The cover for the DVD is shown at left; it shows the three singers whose bodies are painted with various remarks that were directed at them during this controversy.

This event resulted in a permanent schism between the Dixie Chicks and the country music community. Despite the fact that their musical style has not changed dramatically, the group now identifies with the country-rock, rock and roll and pop genres.

In the past few years, Martie Erwin Maguire and Emily Erwin Robison have issued albums and toured as the duo Court Yard Hounds. In addition, Natalie Maines has issued a solo rock album. To the best of my knowledge, the Dixie Chicks last toured as a band in 2013.

Because of my fondness for country music generally, I am a big fan of the Dixie Chicks, and I wish them all the best going forward.

Source Material:

Wikipedia, Landslide (Fleetwood Mac song)
Wikipedia, Fleetwood Mac
Wikipedia, Stevie Nicks
Wikipedia, Lindsey Buckingham
Wikipedia, The Smashing Pumpkins
Wikipedia, Billy Corgan
Wikipedia, Dixie Chicks

About Tim Londergan

Tim Londergan is professor emeritus of theoretical physics at Indiana University-Bloomington. He studies the properties of the quarks and gluons that form the internal structure of protons and neutrons. He also writes a blog "Tim's Cover Story" that compares covers of important songs in rock music history. He and his wife share their college-town life with two delightful cats. He is also interested in tennis and ornithology.
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4 Responses to Landslide: Fleetwood Mac; Smashing Pumpkins; Dixie Chicks

  1. Thom Hickey says:

    Fascinating as always Tim!

    Regards Thom

    Like

  2. I was 22 in 1975 and living in Colorado — working as a cocktail waitress in the Snake River Saloon at Keystone– and I remember looking up at the extravagant mountain sunsets with a mixture of remorse and hope, listening to this song. So … yeah. Such a resonant post, Tim!!!

    Like

  3. p.s. Dixie Chicks were in Sweden — Tack is “thank you” … (=:

    Like

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