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Included are both the studio recording and a live performance, as well as the superb cover by the Dixie Chicks, just because.

Landslide was one of the standouts on Fleetwood Mac’s first hugely successful album, the eponymous release of 1975, on which newcomers Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham first rounded out the lineup to complete the transition of what started out as an English blues outfit into the radio-friendly pop juggernaut it soon became. I was 14 at the time, and not much into the group. I was far more interested in the music of the prior decade, as I slowly let go of my youthful Neil Diamond fixation and entered my British Invasion phase, while discovering, to my lasting delight, that there was a lot more to the Beatles than the Red and Blue Albums, that the Rolling Stones were actually great, and that there were other acts out there, like the Who, and the Kinks, who might merit some investigation. Through my brother Mark, I learned to appreciate Buffalo Springfield, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and those terrific early albums by Rod Stewart. As to Fleetwood Mac, and all those other West Coast Eagles-type outfits? Meh. Mind you, our household, like just about everybody’s, had a copy of the record, I suppose purchased by my brother – it was practically compulsory, the thing was everywhere, selling over seven million copies. You remember it:

Just as an aside, this seems, in retrospect, rather an odd choice for what amounted to an inaugural album cover, featuring only drummer Mick Fleetwood and bass guitarist John McVie, both looking a little odd and scruffy. Maybe there’s a story there. Maybe Nicks seemed a bit too glamorous, a little too apt to hog all the attention, though I don’t know how they persuaded the marketing people that they didn’t want this woman’s face on the sleeve:

Were they thinking that nobody whose name wasn’t Ronstadt could look that good and still be taken seriously? One tends to doubt it. Nicks, from the get go, was always a whole lot more than just another pretty face, as Landslide, a painfully soulful meditation on life’s worries and challenges, soon made abundantly clear to anyone who might have doubted it. For many, it was the highlight of the album. It might even be their signature song, though that’s hard to say, since, as the reader will no doubt recall, Fleetwood Mac had a lot of really big songs, perennial favourites like Rhiannon, Over My Head, Don’t Stop, Everywhere, and Go Your Own Way, just to rattle off a few. Yet over the years, Landslide has prevailed as probably the group’s most lasting and beloved track, and certainly, I’d say, their most moving. It really is something, lovely but troubled, weary, introspective, and philosophical, written straight from the heart at a moment when its composer was taking stock of her life, and thinking it might be time to make a radical course change before it was too damned late.

Hard to think of anything more relatable than that.

Joining Fleetwood Mac, and enjoying any sort of commercial success, were still remote prospects when Landslide was written. It was 1973, and she and boyfriend Buckingham were at a particularly low ebb. They’d just released their recording debut, titled, somewhat prosaically, Buckingham Nicks, which landed with such an awful thud that their record label immediately dropped them. It was shattering. They’d had an intoxicating taste of it, what it was like to rub shoulders with the pros in a big record company studio environment, and now they were cast out, having blown what might have been their only shot. The hell of it was, they thought they’d made a really good album. Nobody liked it. What now?

The two were treading water, and not on the best of terms, when Lindsey went out on tour with Don Everly, while Stevie decided to take up an offer to go stay in brother Phil’s place in Aspen, where she found herself sitting in a living room with a glorious, floor-to-ceiling view of the snow-covered Rocky Mountains. She stayed there for about three months, rolling things over in her mind, and taking in all that scenery, especially all that snow, literally millions of tons of the stuff, she’d never seen anything like it, so beautiful, but so terribly dangerous; she couldn’t help but fret about how little it would take, just one wrong move, one loud bang, to bring the whole mass sliding down the slope, killing anybody unlucky enough to be in its way:

I realized then that everything could tumble, and when you’re in Colorado, and you’re surrounded by these incredible mountains, you think avalanche. It meant the whole world could tumble around us and the landslide would bring you down. And a landslide in the snow is like, deadly. And when you’re in that kind of a snow-covered, surrounding place, you don’t just go out and yell, because the whole mountain could come down on you.

The whole mountain could come down on you. Maybe, in a way, it already had. It sure felt that way. Maybe, then, it was time to give up on music. Maybe it was likewise time to give up on romance and other such empty dreams, and just go back to school, where she might learn how to do something better than wait tables and clean other people’s houses, the only other skills she possessed at that point to keep her head above water. Or perhaps she’d never make anything of herself at all, that seemed possible too, she was still only in her mid-twenties, sure, but time was passing, and she was getting nowhere.

Angst, for an artist, isn’t all bad. It can serve as powerful inspiration, just as much as joy, infatuation, or wonder. It certainly was for Stevie. One day, still in the doldrums, the song poured out of her, just like that, lyrics and all, in a span, she later reckoned, of only about five minutes. It was the words that came easiest, really. She just had to put her thoughts and feelings into writing, almost verbatim, while she was still in the moment.

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

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

She decided she could, that she and Buckingham had to keep on going, and in later years said that writing Landslide was actually the emotional turning point. This is what she told the interviewer at Performing Songwriter magazine in 2003:

So during that two months I made a decision to continue. “Landslide” was the decision. [Sings] “When you see my reflection in the snow-covered hills”—it’s the only time in my life that I’ve lived in the snow. But looking up at those Rocky Mountains and going, “Okay, we can do it. I’m sure we can do it.” In one of my journal entries, it says, “I took Lindsey and said, We’re going to the top!” And that’s what we did. Within a year, Mick Fleetwood called us, and we were in Fleetwood Mac making $800 a week apiece (laughs). Washing $100 bills through the laundry. It was hysterical. It was like we were rich overnight.

There, now. Who says there aren’t any happy endings in real life?

One comment on “Song of the Day: Fleetwood Mac – Landslide

  1. What a beautifully written and heartfelt tribute to Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide! It captures the emotion behind Stevie Nicks’ iconic song and its lasting impact.
    founder of balance thy life


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