I’ve been on a bit of a Fleetwood Mac kick for the second time in my life, and as I felt the wave of nostalgia wash all over me again during Lindsey Buckingham’s ‘Second Hand News’, I felt compelled to write a completely arbitrary list on which Fleetwood Mac albums are the best. It’s another record ranking, but it’s also a guide of sorts to their best stuff, from Peter Green’s 1968 debut – which crashed onto the scene in glorious blues – all the way up to 2003’s Say You Will, and even the band’s only Extended Play.
In this ranking, I’ll be looking at every Fleetwood Mac studio album ever released (except 1969’s Fleetwood Mac in Chicago because it does feature predominant contributions from other artists), 1997’s legendary The Dance, Live – due for a rigorously expanded re-release this year – and Extended Play. Everything released as it was in the UK – none of that U.S. only selection album nonense (See English Rose, The Pious Bird of Good Omen, etc.). I’ll also be leaving out 2017’s Lindsey Buckingham Christine McVie because it’s technically not a Fleetwood Mac album – just know that my thoughts on it are pretty good. I will say, upfront, that I do have a strong bias toward the group’s ‘Buckingham Nicks’ years (Yes, I’m aware this is a misleading term because many of their later albums featured one or neither, but it works for now). So if, like my father, you’re a child of the Green, Kirwan or Welch eras, I do apologise. But they still find a place on this list, and are each integral in their own way to the tumultuous, emotional and successful history of Fleetwood Mac.
I spent frankly far too long rummaging through every album, listening to every song, picking out the deep cuts from the album tracks, the singles from the borderline outtakes. I marked each song out of ten and, through a very complex mathematical formula (division) awarded each album an overall percentage. For the sake of creative license (and my own sanity because it’s 5am on a Thursday at time of writing), I’m going to call this number the Mac Number. It is this number (and a little bit of my own nostalgia toward certain releases) that governed where the pieces fell. So, if music be the food of love…
20. Then Play On (1969)
I suppose every list has to start somewhere. The third studio effort of Fleetwood Mac, Then Play On was the last to feature founding member Peter Green (a sorely missed legend) and the first with Danny Kirwan on guitar and vocals. Then Play On is, in many ways, the antithesis of the later Fleetwood Mac ‘sound’; energetic, Californian pop rock. If you find solace in Rumours, then this record is quite possibly the furthest you can go. It has its moments of dreamtime and lulling melodies (tracks such as ‘Without You’ invoking the band’s only number-one UK hit, ‘Albatross’, written by Green), but there is some harder, almost punk stuff in ‘Fighting For Madge’, ‘Show Biz Blues’ and ‘One Sunny Day’. ‘Like Crying’ is decent but, ultimately, Then Play On is only lifted from the gutter with its enduring hits, ‘Rattlesnake Shake’, ‘The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)’ and ‘Oh Well (Pt. 1)’. Otherwise, for an album at 18 tracks long, it’s more than half an hour too much. Sorry, longtime Mac fans. Mac Number: 52%
19. Mr. Wonderful (1968)
1968’s Mr. Wonderful was once described by AllMusic as, ahem, ‘a disappointment’, and after the success of Fleetwood Mac’s debut that same year, it failed to follow-up in its success. There are southern blues-rock numbers in the bucketloads, but it’s just too much of the same. Four of the record’s songs (‘Dust My Broom’, ‘Doctor Brown’, ‘Need Your Love Tonight’ and ‘Coming Home’) are built around the exact same riff, and Green’s/Spencer’s vocals on heartache and loss soon become as bland as beige wallpaper. At this point in the band’s history, Christine McVie (then Christine Perfect) would contribute keyboard and backing vocals, but pen no songs just yet; an absence certainly missed. ‘Stop Messin’ Round’ is a notable extract, but simply not enough – with the whole album boasting a production I can only describe as hungover. Mac Number: 53%
18. Heroes Are Hard To Find (1974)
Heroes Are Hard To Find failed to hold my interest throughout, despite a sublime opener in its title track; which was also edited to be the album’s only single (and sadly failed to chart). I enjoyed ‘She’s Changing Me’ and the lovably enigmatic ‘Bermuda Triangle’, and found ‘Come a Little Bit Closer’ to more than echo Christine McVie’s future hit, ‘Songbird’. But overall, my response to this record was kind of, meh. Though, in a way, I appreciate this solely for the greater difference it casts between early Fleetwood Mac, and what the band would be like after the introduction of two young, American firebrands. Mac Number: 55%
17. Fleetwood Mac (1968)
Also known as Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac (perhaps so not as to cause confusion with the band’s 1975 album), the group’s debut is about as blues as they come; no nonense, British blues and boogie. The album’s opener, ‘My Heart Beat Like A Hammer’ is an energetic example, as is ‘Shake Your Moneymaker’ and ‘No Place To Go’. A lot of the record sets the tone for what would come next, and truthfully the raucous rockers to become a tad repetitive by the end. But there is no denying the genius Peter Green held, and the legacy he would go on to carve out. It was a huge success at the time, but there are undeniably areas of it which tell me very much at the time. An interesting aside is Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie later taking clear inspiration from the track, ‘The World Keep On Turning’ – ‘The world keep on turning/ I got to keep my feet on the ground‘. Mac Number: 56.5%
16. Bare Trees (1972)
Bare Trees peaked at number 70 on the Billboard 200 chart, and was the last to feature Danny Kirwan as part of the band. It’s also an album I would call thoroughly decent. It’s nothing to shout home about, but remains one of Fleetwood Mac’s better early works, with bluesy numbers-a-plenty (‘Child of Mine’, ‘The Ghost’) and callbacks to the celestial sound of Future Games (‘Sunny Side of Heaven’). McVie really shows her songwriting prowess for the first time on Bare Trees, with ever-heavenly ‘Spare Me A Little of Your Love’, and the album’s hit, ‘Sentimental Lady’ is stellar work from Kirwan. The album’s closer, a poem spoken by someone who lived close to the band’s communal home, is a wholesome touch, but too kitsch in my eyes. Interestingly, an outtake from Bare Trees, ‘Trinity’ would be released later as part of a compilation, and would have made for a strong accompaniment. Mac Number: 57%
15. Penguin (1973)
Penguin was, admittedly, the only Fleetwood Mac album I hadn’t heard before this preview; partly because the 5CD ‘Classic Albums’ boxset I have includes albums both before and after this one. But not Penguin itself. And perhaps that’s because it’s too valuable to be part of a cheapy slipcase compilation. I was pleasant surprised with this release – and found a marked improvement from even the last entry. Penguin was the first album to feature Bob Weston on lead guitar, with Bob Welch on vocal duties (beside Christine McVie and Dave Walker). And boy, Christine’s songs really shine, from ‘Remember Me’ and ‘Dissatisfied’ to the Carribbean steel drums of ‘Did You Ever Love Me’ – co-written with Welch and casting premonitions of her later work with the band. Welch also shines on his wonderfully vivid imagery throughout ‘Bright Fire’. Walker wouldn’t be part of the group for long (he was deemed not to ‘fit in’ with Mac’s sound), but even his covers and contributions make for a thrilling escape. Penguin isn’t the band’s best early work. But it’s by far some of their most accomplished. Mac Number: 60%
14. Kiln House (1970)
The band’s fourth studio album would be the last to feature Jeremy Spencer, before his long-fabled sudden departure from the band the following year, joining the religious group, the Children of God (now known as ‘The Family International’ and definitely a cult). Kiln House is not groundbreaking, but features some of early Mac’s best work, in timeless ‘Jewel Eyed Judy’, ‘Buddy’s Song’ and cover of Big Joe Turner’s ‘Hi Ho Silver’. It’s a solid selection of blues and folk rock – with Spencer’s ‘One Together’ proving an interesting mix – and certainly underrated. Mac Number: 61.5%
13. Future Games (1971)
Future Games is the first Fleetwood Mac album to feature American guitarist Bob Welch, and boy is it quite the introduction. The album has a real ethereal quality to it; open and incredibly godlike. Further from blues, and something softer. Nowhere is this better showcased than the title track, or ‘Sands of Time’. ‘Lay It All Down’ tells the story of Moses in a quintessentially British number, but admittedly the rest of the album delivers little. For the first album to feature Christine McVie as a full member of the band, her contributions are minimal – something thankfully rectified on the group’s follow-up, Bare Trees. I do have a soft spot for Future Games, though, and its highs remain high. Mac Number: 62%
12. Live (1980)
Live was Fleetwood Mac’s first live album (funnily enough), though not their earliest recorded live material. Compiled mostly from shows across the band’s 1979-1980 Tusk tour, it does provide an in-depth look into a band like Mac who, on the stage, really outdo themselves. Whether it’s Stevie’s rasping vocals, Buckingham’s blistering solos or Fleetwood’s artillery barrage of drumwork, there are many instances where they shine live. I’m just not sure they’re on Live. Live is certainly punctuated with fiery renditions of ‘Monday Morning’ and ‘Not That Funny’ – and one of its debuts, ‘Fireflies’ is a formulaic masterpiece. But the record doesn’t really go beyond that, and I found most of the songs bettered by what would come 17 years later. Mac Number: 63.5%
11. Extended Play (2013)
It’s tough to really judge Extended Play because it’s only four tracks, but nevertheless it is the most recent studio work released under the Mac brand. ‘Sad Angel’ is one of Buckingham’s best songs, and the EP’s closer, ‘Miss Fantasy’ is in much the same vein as 2017’s Lindsey Buckingham Christine McVie (which I’ll review separately at some point). ‘Without You’ is a neat callback to the 70s Buckingham Nicks era of the American pair – taking an outtake from those sessions and laying it down in the studio all these years later. ‘It Takes Time’ is very much a solo Lindsey cut, and far from unlistenable, either. It’s a shame it marks the band’s last offering, but it’s strong material regardless. Mac Number: 70% – but the EP is only four tracks long and so has an advantage over full albums.
10. Time (1995)
1995 was an awful time for Fleetwood Mac. Still reeling from the loss of Lindsey Buckingham in 1987, and Stevie Nicks in 1990, the band now consisted of Fleetwood, John McVie, Christine McVie (though she wasn’t with the rest of the band during this album’s recording), Billy Burnette, Dave Mason and country singer, Bekka Bramlett. If half those names don’t mean anything to you, don’t worry. They wouldn’t be around long enough to bother remembering. 1995’s Time isn’t a bad album; its fusion of country and Mac-certified rock is interesting, and makes for some decent numbers in ‘Blow By Blow’, ‘Sooner Or Later’ and ‘I Wonder Why’. It’s just a bad Fleetwood Mac album; far from the graces of Rumours, or even Tusk. Time is largely saved by Christine McVie’s absent contributions, from the album’s only single, ‘I Do’ and phenomonal ‘Nights in Estoril’. Thankfully, the band would reunite (mostly) two years later for one of the best live albums of all time. Mac Number: 65%
9. Mystery to Me (1973)
Mystery to Me is pre-Buckingham Nicks’ best album, really showing the ferocity of its Welch-induced numbers and elegance of the Christine McVie-penned pieces. The salacious groove of ever-cool Welch’s ‘The City’, or romping cover of the Yardbirds’ ‘For Your Love’ are proof enough of what would follow just a few year later. ‘Emerald Eyes’ is a stunning opener, but undoubtedly the record’s best work is ‘Hypnotized’ which – despite never being released as a single – became something of an American radio staple. It’s also perhaps the defining moment of early Fleetwood Mac. Mystery to Me is probably the best place to dip your toes into if you only know 1975 onwards. Mac Number: 65.5%
8. Behind the Mask (1990)
By the turn of the decade, Fleetwood Mac had lost Buckingham on the eve of their Tango in the Night tour, replacing him with guitarists and vocalists, Rick Vito and Billy Burnette. Whilst Behind the Mask didn’t do well given the band’s past, it’s still better than most people could have hoped for after such a crushing blow, ensemble-wise. ‘Save Me’, the album’s biggest single, reached the US Top 40, but little more was said about it. Still, the experimental ‘In the Back of My Mind’, quintessential ‘Skies the Limit’ and ‘Affairs of the Heart’ prove that the Mac hadn’t entirely lost it. Even the album tracks are easy to groove to for the most part. Behind the Mask would, however, only spell the beginning of the band’s latest downturn. Mac Number: 66.5%
7. Say You Will (2003)
The only Fleetwood Mac album of this century, Say You Will is an impressively lengthy selection of tracks, with eighteen to take in. It does, however, suffer slightly from the curse of the lowest entry in this list, Then Play On. Say You Will has plenty of standout, career-defining tracks. But it also has plenty of filler with a track listing that long. The Buckingham-written tracks tap seamlessly into his inner Tusk days, with infectiously zany pieces like ‘Miranda’, ‘Red Rover’ and ‘Come’ – the latter of which is ‘I’m So Afraid’ turned up to eleven. Nicks, however – typically a hauntingly beautiful songwriter – offers some of her worst ever songs, I’m sorry to say. ‘Illume (9-11)’ and ‘Silver Girl’ are some of the weakest tunes Fleetwood Mac ever put out. ‘Peacekeeper’, however, is just incredible, along with ‘Bleed to Love Her’ and ‘Destiny Rules’. This album is a real mixed bag, but there’s a lot to take from it all the same. Mac Number: 67.5%
6. Fleetwood Mac (1975)
The band’s ‘White Album’ peaked at number one in the U.S. on the 4th September, 1976. And though it took over a year after its release to get there, it marked the start of Fleetwood Mac’s halcyon years (though their eponymous debut also did incredibly well in its defence). When people think of the best ‘comeback albums’, they cite AC/DC’s Back in Black, but 1975’s Fleetwood Mac is very close behind. Not because of any personal loss, but because it cemented the group’s sound, and proved that the arrival of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks was not in vain. It was like fate. ‘Monday Morning’, ominous ‘World Turning’, ‘Say You Love Me’ and ‘I’m So Afraid’. All classic tracks that I go back to time and time again. It gave us the ever-enchanting ‘Rhiannon’, and ‘Landslide’ – a song I, admittedly, don’t like, but one which remains a fan favourite. I don’t listen to this album enough; because it really is very well made. And leads us nicely into the final five. Mac Number: 68%
5. The Dance (1997)
The first live album I ever thought; and the one to finally tell me that, no, they’re much more than inferior performances of studio versions. The Dance introduces us to some of the band’s best exclusive content, from Christine McVie’s heartfelt ‘Temporary One’ to Buckingham’s magnificently schizophrenic ‘My Little Demon’. And yet they’re not even the best set pieces on The Dance. From a clattering rendition of ‘The Chain’, the album is over an hour of magical moments, including, at last, ‘Silver Springs’ – a track which took far too long to surface in any form. It even climaxes in performances of ‘Tusk’ and ‘Don’t Stop’; both backed by a full marching band and probably some of the best Mac tracks ever. The Dance went on to become the fifth best-selling live album of all time in the U.S., and no wonder. The Rumours line-up together again at last. Though Christine McVie would leave once more a year later, it was an enthralling moment while it lasted. Mac Number: 70%
4. Mirage (1982)
1982’s Mirage returned to Fleetwood Mac’s soft rock sound after the experimental Tusk released three years earlier. It spawned several hit singles in ‘Hold Me’ (co-written by Buckingham and McVie), ‘Gypsy’ (one of Nicks’ absolute best), ‘Love In Store’, ‘Oh Diane’ and ‘Can’t Go Back’. It is an album tinged with mystery and featuring some amazing vocals from the female vocalists of the band. And yet I don’t see Mirage mentioned all that much in Mac-centered circles. I suppose it doesn’t capture the fierce rock of Rumours, the dance-influenced pop mystique of Tango in the Night or punk protest of Tusk. It’s sandwiched between all of them, and it suffers for that. I admit I don’t listen to Mirage all that much, and yet when I went back for the sake of this piece, I was blown away by just how good it continues to be. Buckingham’s ‘Eyes of the World’ is brilliant – particularly in its closing solo, and I do respect the shamless homage of ‘Empire State’. It’s far from the top spot, but Mirage is one of the band’s most underrated albums, despite the success it found. Mac Number: 72%
3. Tango in the Night (1987)
The final three, and what an opener. Tango in the Night was, for a while, my favourite Fleetwood Mac record. In truth, it still is in many ways. It made me fall in love with Buckingham (though perhaps not as much as another entry yet to come on this list) and his masterful production techniques, marrying the band’s rock edge with dance and pop, in a way unprecedented throughout the band’s career. Yes, ‘Big Love’ is great, ‘Seven Wonders’ will stand the test of time and ‘Little Lies’ is, in my opinion, the best song the group (well, Christine) ever wrote, but you know a great album from the good ones in its deep cuts. And songs like ‘Caroline’, ‘Isn’t It Midnight’ and ‘Tango in the Night’ itself all stand out to me, particularly the latter. It has its moments of deep experimentation; breaking the mould in lengthy guitar solos and emphasised bass. But it also capitalises on what makes Fleetwood Mac great – that wonder, that sorcery. Look no further than ‘Everywhere’. Tango in the Night is a one-of-a-kind album. It’s just a shame that, as prophecised countless moons ago, whenever Fleetwood Mac reach their peak, they come crashing back down again. And fifteen-million copies sold worldwide is a pretty high peak. Tango in the Night would go on to become the band’s last studio effort with its iconic fivesome.
2. Tusk (1979)
The most polarizing entry on this list. To some, this is far too high. For others, this should have won top place (you know who you are). I wanted, I mean really, really wanted, to put Tusk at number one. But for reasons I’ll go into with the champion, Tusk takes home the silver medal. And that’s not bad at all. Tusk almost spelled the end of the band. Just as Tango in the Night was Buckingham in the producer’s chair done well, Tusk was Buckingham using his powers for evil. Well, in the eyes of the public, anyway. In 1979, he went all out, recording on his bathroom floor, swapping drums for lamb chops and Kleenex boxes at points, and going about making a double album that would end up the most expensive rock record ever produced at the time. Rumours sold 10 million copies a month after release. Tusk sold 4 million upon its unveiling. The public blamed the band, and the band blamed Buckingham. But I love Tusk. I get a feeling upon listening to it that I just don’t get with anything else – not even with Rumours, truthfully.
It’s three albums put together – Christine McVie’s thoughtful, classic Mac tracks in ‘Think About Me’, ‘Never Make Me Cry’ and ‘Never Forget’. Stevie Nicks’ incredibly personal ballads (‘Sara’ – which peaked at No. 7 in the U.S., ‘Storms’ – a favourite of mine – and rampaging ‘Sisters of the Moon’). And, lastly, Buckingham doing whatever the hell he wanted. ‘The Ledge’, ‘What Makes You Think You’re The One’, ‘Not That Funny’ and ‘Tusk’ itself, boasting of mammoth-like debauchery and conjuring images of a man at the end of his tether. In truth, he was in his creative element. Tusk is all three of these solo endeavours mashed together and jumbled up. John McVie even said so himself. And it makes for a killer record. It’s so wonderfully incohesive. I love it. In retrospect, it’s gained somewhat of a resurgence; viewed as the band’s forgotten masterstroke. I’d agree with that. Mac Number: 77%
1. Rumours (1977)
It had to be, didn’t it? Much as I didn’t want a ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ situation, some signatures are just that way for a reason. Rumours was the result of complete emotional breakdown. Tumult and hardship weaves through Rumours like bone. Bassist John McVie and Christine McVie were divorcing after eight years together. Buckingham and Nicks were, well, Buckingham and Nicks, on-and-off for much of recorded history. Drummer (and often ‘father’ of the band), Mick Fleetwood discovered his wife was cheating on him. About the only thing that didn’t happen to the band was a meteor crashing through the studio and triggering an extinction event. Nevertheless, the band pushed on, which gave us Buckingham’s delighfully vicious ‘Go Your Own Way’. Nicks, in turn, had her own reposte, ‘Dreams’. I admit I’m probably the only person alive who doesn’t like ‘Dreams’. But it became the band’s only number-one in the U.S., and it’s often regarded as the group’s biggest song (particularly in the days of TikTok). ‘The Chain’ became a live staple; not least because its iconic bassline has bled into British culture as the longtime theme of Formula 1. The album’s opener, ‘Second Hand News’ is a thumping soft rock track which proves both catchy and rambunctious, chemically imbalanced if not for McVie’s softer ‘Songbird’ and bassy ‘You Make Loving Fun’. ‘Don’t Stop’ is, well, just an exquisite song, and Rumours’ closer, ‘Gold Dust Woman’ proves a testament to Stevie Nicks’ unwavering talent.
I have to say it, Rumours is about as close to a perfect record as you can get. And to think Fleetwood Mac struck gold (nay, platinum) in the middle of all that heartache? Genuinely amazing. The band embarked on a titanic worldwide tour, and it’s since become one of the best-selling albums of all time. Rumours isn’t just a ‘big album’. There is no understating how impossibly massive it was at the time. And so for commercial reasons, for the album’s legacy, its timelessness, and its quality, Rumours will always be Fleetwood Mac’s magnum opus. There’s no other contender.
Mac Number: 80%
And there you have it. All seventeen of Fleetwood Mac’s albums, two of their live releases and an EP to boot – ranked. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Everyone knows album rankings are arbitrary anyway, but it gave me an excuse to brush up on the rich tapestry of this British-American band, and I do mean ‘rich’. From their bluesy years to spiritual suites, pop-rock groovers and hard-edged dalliances with punk. From the Carribbean to country, art rock to the experimental and all the way back round again. Few bands can boast the highs of Fleetwood Mac. Fewer still could endure what they had and persevere, even when band members left, addiction took hold and public tastes changed. But these guys could. Through thick and thin. Through hardship and pain. Wherever they might be now; whatever their respective parts are doing, there will always be something that holds them together. And that chain could never break, no matter the distance it spans.