Documenting The Early Years: Fleetwood Mac 1969-1974

Documenting The Early Years: Fleetwood Mac 1969-1974

Posted 7 Aug 2020
fleetwood mac, 1969
Fleetwood Mac, 1969. L-R: John McVie, Danny Kirwan, Mick Fleetwood, Jeremy Spencer and Peter Green. Photo by Redferns/Getty Images.

Ahead of next month’s massive boxset release, Fleetwood Mac 1969-1974 (pre-order here), documenting the band’s Peter Green led formation and beyond, we’re taking a look back at Fleetwood's tempestuous journey, from their British blues-driven origins to the Californinan pop injection. The tunes that brought the band early chart success, ironically, also chronicle the whirlwind of personal turmoil, religious crises and relationship revelations that have both forged and threatened to tear apart Fleetwood Mac’s gilded path. 

Fleetwood Mac’s original founder, Peter Green sadly passed away at the age of 73 last month on July 25th. While Green only fronted the band for a few short years, the overarching influence of his prodigal talent and humble spirit have remained a guiding force, across a series of line ups, across numerous decades. Following Green’s departure, fellow founding members, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie and original guitarist Jeremy Spencer were joined by an ever-growing cast of players, including Danny Kirwin, Dave Walker, Bob Welch and Bob Weston who all added their own aura to the mix; before arriving at the now classic line up of Stevie Nicks, Lindsay Buckingham, Christine McVie, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood, famous for delivering hit after hit of harmony drenched, classic rock mainstays between 1975’s Fleetwood Mac and 1977’s Rumours.

But between 1969 and 1974, the path that lead them there was marked with thrilling twists and turns, moving between heavy psychedelia, bluesy rock-revival and dreamy pop, all meticulously documented in the upcoming boxset which begins with Fleetwood Mac’s third album, 1969’s Then Play On. The collection also includes Kiln House (1970), Future Games (1971), Bare Trees (1972), Penguin (1973), Mystery to Me (1973) and Heroes Are Hard to Find (1974) … all with added, era appropriate bonus tracks. Here’s a retrospective of the albums that collectively tell the gripping, and somewhat mystical story of Fleetwood Mac. 

Then Play On (1969)

This was Fleetwood Mac’s first to feature guitarist Danny Kirwan and the last to feature the sharmanistic song writing and masterful guitar playing of Peter Green. Before forming Fleetwood Mac in 1967, Green had cut his teeth playing in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers – a sort of blues seminary for the finest of players – where he replaced Eric Clapton at just 19-years-old. His intuitively sculpted and emotional style fast earned him a reputation as the UK’s next upcoming guitar great, but somehow none of it went to Green’s head. In an early interview with Record Mirror, Green outlined the connection of humanity that underpinned his playing. “It doesn’t mean a thing, playing fast,” he said. “I like to play slowly, and feel every note … it comes from every part of my body and my heart and into my fingers. I have to really feel it. I make the guitar sing the blues.”

“Oh Well” with Peter Green, live on the BBC’s Top of the Pops in 1969.

Indeed, the band’s first ever number one single, “Albatross” was a compelling, yet peaceful Green-written instrumental. The hypnotic and melodic dissertation introduced a teenage Danny Kirwan to the Fleetwood fold, while selling a million copies and landing the band on the BBC’s Top of the Pops.  

But – arguably – Green’s best studio album with Fleetwood Mac was also his last, 1969’s Then Play On. The album is a dynamic, symphonic memoir that stalks through a track listing that moves from full-throttle jams like “Fighting for Madge” and “Rattlesnake Shake” to the quiet, cutting ballads like “Although the Sun Is Shining” and “Closing My Eyes.” 

“Closing My Eyes”

“The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)” was Green’s parting statement, perhaps summing up the tormented spiritual guilt that he felt about the fame, attention and wealth building around him; and perhaps, retrospectively, signalling the mental health struggles that would plague him in the years to come. Green had already left the band when the song landed in the British Top 10. 

“The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)”

Kiln House (1970)

Fleetwood Mac’s following album, 1970’s Kiln House shifted gears considerably, delivering rootsy rock & roll tunes under the influence of guitarist Jeremy Spencer, who had been largely absent from the previous recording sessions; but in  true Fleetwood fashion it was also the last he would play on (Spencer abruptly quit the group to join a religious cult called the Children of God in February 1971, while on tour in America). Kiln House was also marked by the song writing of fellow guitarist, Danny Kirwin and was the first to feature the backing vocals and keyboards of Christine McVie – the former Christine Perfect, a deep-blues singing pianist from the English band Chicken Shack, who had married bassist John McVie two years earlier. 

“Hi Ho Silver”

Future Games (1971)

Fleetwood Mac’s next album, 1971’s aptly titled, Future Games announced the arrival of new, Los Angeles-born guitarist and singer Bob Welch, who made a swift impact with his jangly, dreamy Californian warmth that ultimately steered them towards the melodic, pop rock hits of their future.  

“Future Games”

Bare Trees (1972) 

With the Mick Fleetwood–John McVie–Christine McVie–Danny Kirwin– Bob Welch line up still firmly intact, the band forged ahead with 1972’s Bare Trees which featured John McVie’s photography as the cover art and tackled some personal themes, like “Child of Mine” about Kirwan's absent father, and “Homeward Bound” which accounts Christine McVie’s struggles with a life spent touring. 

“Homeward Bound”

Penguin (1973) 

Fleetwood Mac’s seventh studio album, 1973’s Penguin signalled the departure of Danny Kirwin following an on-tour fallout with the band. Into the fold, was introduced Bob Weston whose slinky slide guitar added an Americana twist to Fleetwood’s delicate sunny pop. Vocalist, Dave Walker, was also added to the lineup, but only featured on two songs and would not make it to the next album. 

“Bright Fire”

Mystery to Me (1973)

In the same year, Fleetwood released Mystery to Me, which steered them towards radio-friendly, harmony-heavy cuts like “Hypnotized” and “Emerald Eyes” which were mostly penned by Bob Welch and Christine McVie. It was also – subsequent to Mick Fleetwood discovering he was having an affair with his wife during their 1973 US tour – the band’s last album to feature Bob Weston on guitar.

“Hypnotized”

Heroes Are Hard to Find (1974)

Fleetwood Mac’s first album to crack the US top 40 was their ninth release, 1974’s Heroes Are Hard to Find. There last album to feature Bob Welch, peaked at number 34 on the Billboard 200 album chart, which (at that point) represented their most successful offering, and first sure signs that they were destined for global success. 

At the end of 1974, Bob Welch was replaced by Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, who lead the band to international stardom. And Welch himself would go on to enjoy a successful solo career, often performing live backed by Fleetwood members and re-recording solo versions of tracks from his time with the band, including “Angel”, “Bermuda Triangle” and “Silver Heels” which all originally appeared on Hard to Find. 

“Bermuda Triangle”

The Fleetwood Mac: 1973-1974 boxset collection includes a stack of bonus recordings along with the seven original albums, available as an 8-CD set and 4-LP colored vinyl set from September 4th.

fleetwood mac 1969-1974
Fleetwood Mac: 1973-1974

The limited-edition coloured vinyl set includes Penguin (1973) on Yellow vinyl, Mystery To Me (1973) on Orange vinyl, Heroes Are Hard To Find (1974) on Gold vinyl and an unreleased concert from 1974, Live At The Record Plant on White vinyl. The set also includes a 7” single with “For Your Love” (Mono Promo Edit) on one side and the previously unreleased “Good Things (Come To Those Who Wait)” on the other in Blue vinyl. The 1500 sets are individually numbered in Bronze. Don’t miss out! Pre-order here.  

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