Friday, 16 October 2020

Fleetwood Mac - Heroes Are Hard To Find (1971-1974)

  

Future Games (1971)


Woman Of 1000 Years/Morning Rain/What A Shame/Future Games/Sands Of Time/Sometimes/Lay It All Down/Show Me A Smile   
                                                                      
It is often thought that Fleetwood Mac had two distinct phases - the Peter Green blues band and the Buckingham/Nicks soft rockers. It is often forgotten that from 1971 to 1975 there was the Bob Welch era of folky, often acoustic material. Welch replaced Jeremy SpencerChristine McVie joined officially and the group, despite Danny Kirwan still being there initially, became a bit like AmericaCSNY or Bread. What is in no doubt is that they sounded nothing like Peter Green's original Fleetwood Mac, they were already a different band.

Woman Of 1000 Years is a sleepy, acoustic dreamer of a number typical of early seventies blissed-out soft folk rock, full of gentle vocal harmonies and chilled out acoustic strumming. Morning Rain ups the tempo on a vibrant piece of country rock, with a few funky guitar licks thrown in. It is all very, very CSNY if you ask me. So very 1971. Kirwan's guitar still shines out, though, ringing like a bell. The vocal harmonies are quite Beach Boys-inspired too, from their music of the time. The band all merge together vocally in a convincing and cohesive fashion. It is actually quite uplifting to hear it all come together. I'm rambling a bit here but listen to the song, I am sure you will get what I am saying. This was a band offering something completely different to their previous sound and enjoying it.

What A Shame shows that the group had not completely lost their rock edge on a punchy, brassy, chunky instrumental workout with some edgy, choppy guitar and some saxophone featuring, the cut rocks along solidly. Future Games is a beguiling, eight minute long Bob Welch song that rambles along in a folk rock way, punctuated by some fine guitar. It is very hippy/psychedelic in feel and is probably a couple of minutes too long but at the same time there is a certain addictiveness to it.

Sands Of Time was a single, not a successful one, but it has an appealing psychedelic pop sound that goes well with the America-style harmonious vocals. Nice bass on it too, and lead guitar for that matter. It is definite grower of a track. It is over seven minutes long, but it doesn't seem it as it flows on its smooth, untroubled way. Sometimes is a pleasant, melodic and lengthy Elton John-ish number while Lay It All Down is probably the album's rockiest cut, in an early seventies Mott The Hoople sort of way. The final number, Show Me A Smile, is a laid-back Christine McVie ballad. It is ok, but doesn't quite hit the spot that some of the other tracks does. Overall, though, this was a much underrated, little-mentioned album that deserves some attention.




Bare Trees (1972)


Child Of Mine/The Ghost/Homeward Bound/Sunny Side Of Heaven/Bare Trees/Sentimental Lady/Danny's Chant/Spare Me A Little Of Your Love/Dust/Thoughts On A Grey Day  
                            
This was the album, from 1972, where Fleetwood Mac properly set out their post-blues rock direction. It is a pretty typical early seventies soft-ish rock album, but muscular enough to keep it from being thought of as country rock. In many ways, it actually is the band's most cohesive and complete album thus far. It is sort of ethereal and easy on the ear. Very Traffic-like in places. Future Games had got half way there but this one went the whole way in terms of re-inventing the band. Make no mistake, this is a proper seventies rock album. In the midst of all that glam rock stomping, mature, musically creative offerings like this tended to get forgotten. It lacked the prog-rock indulgence that was so popular at the time so it seemed doomed not to be given much attention, which was a pity.

Child Of Mine is an excellent rocker to kick off with. Danny Kirwan is still contributing his impressive guitar and the rest of the band back him up in fine fashion. Mick Fleetwood's drumming is as rock as it has ever been and John McVie's bass rumbles reliably away. Bob Welch's The Ghost sounds so like much of the Traffic-influenced material Paul Weller would record some twenty-thirty years later, even down to the flute, while Christine McVie's Homeward Bound is a superb riffy rocker that captivates from the very first Honky Tonk Women cowbell notes. I really like this and am enjoying listening to it properly for the first time. The sound quality is excellent too.

Sunny Side Of Heaven is a guitar-driven, melodic instrumental that almost sounds, wiuth its twangy guitar sound, like The Shadows from the same era. Bare Trees finds seventies folk rock meeting gentle funk on another highly impressive number. Kirwan's guitar is again top notch, as is Mick Fleetwood's cymbal work.  Bob Welch's Sentimental Lady was a tender, laid-back number similar to some of the material The Beach Boys were putting out at the same time. Welch's American voice was giving the group their first US tone in their sound.

Danny’s Chant begins with some Hendrix-esque fuzzy guitar feedback before settling into a slightly funky, wah-wah guitar-driven semi-instrumental workout. Spare Me A Little Of Your Love is a wonderful slow rock ballad of the sort Christine McVie would come to specialise in post 1975. She began it here with this one. Parts of it remind me of Van Morrison’s Linden Arden Stole The Highlights, although that wasn’t recorded until 1974. Check out that rocking bit right at the end too. Dust is an Al Stewart-ish tender number and is the album’s last proper song, as Thoughts On A Grey Day feature an old lady (credited as Mrs. Scarrott) narrating a poem (from her home in Hampshire), which was an odd end. Let not that detract from the fact that this was a very good album and a real forgotten gem.
 



Penguin (1973)


Remember Me/Bright Fire/You Make Me Feel/(I'm A) Road Runner/The Derelict/Revelation/Did You Ever Love Me/Night Watch/Caught In The Rain   
                                        
By 1973, the hugely talented guitarist Danny Kirwan was fired after arguing with the other band members during the Bare Trees tour and he was replaced by guitarist Bob Weston and vocalist Dave Walker. It was the only album that Walker would appear on. It was the first Fleetwood Mac album that I was aware of, noticing the cover as I flipped through piles of albums in record stores as a teenager.

Kirwan would be a huge loss to the band as the entered a real bridging point before the renaissance of 1975. All traces of blues rock were now gone, permanently, and Bob Welch's West Coast sound, together with Christine McVie's tuneful, romantic songs dominated the group's output now, paving the way for the band's total re-invention in 1975. The album was the closest thing so far to what was to become the trademark Fleetwood Mac sound.

Remember Me is a harmonious Christine McVie soft rocker and Bob Welch's Bright Fire is as laid-back and unthreatening as his tracks were expected to be. You Make Me Feel is very much a Christine McVie prototype for her Rumours stuff. It is instantly recognisable as the sort of thing Fleetwood Mac would go on to do in the mid-late seventies. It is a good one, actually, very easy on the ear.

 

The group's cover of Jr. Walker & The All-Stars(I'm A) Road Runner is surprisingly muscular and stomping, with a fine vocal from Walker. If you heard this and didn't know who it was, you would 1000% not identify it as Fleetwood Mac. It is really enjoyable, actually.

The Derelict is a folky number with Walker again contributing a convincingly strong vocal. There is some fine harmonica on here too. the track is sort of solid country rock in style. This, along with (I'm A) Road Runner would be the only two tracks Walker contributed to. He left the group in mid 1973. Revelation is a deep, rhythmic rock number with an equally deep, mysterious vocal, some rolling drums and killer guitar parts. For a Bob Welch song, it is surprisingly brooding and grinding. I like it a lot. Did You Ever Love Me is the album's final Christine McVie song and it is a catchy, summery number with a vaguely Caribbean, steel band backing.

Night Watch is more recognisable as a breezy, sleepy Bob Welch song. Original guitarist played guitar on it but was strangely uncredited. The track has an extended instrumental fade-out. Caught In The Rain is a chilled-out acoustic and backing vocal instrumental to end with.

I have read quite a bit of negativity about this album, but I have always found it pleasantly enjoyable, with fine sound quality and musicianship throughout. Quite where it fitted in with the musical zeitgeist of 1973 is unclear, though.




Mystery To Me (1973)


Emerald Eyes/Believe Me/Just Crazy Love/Hypnotized/Forever/Keep On Going/The City/Miles Away/Somebody/The Way I Feel/For Your Love/Why    
                                                                                              

This was Fleetwood Mac's second album in 1973, following, in October, on from the underrated (in my opinion) Penguin. This is very much a Bob Welch/Christine McVie album, with both singer/songwriters contributing (Welch seven songs, McVie four). Incidentally, the album was recorded on The Rolling Stones Mobile Unit, as indeed was Penguin.

Emerald Eyes is a dreamy, laid-back opener from Bob Welch. The sound is all very AOR now and the song leads into McVie's piano-driven rocker, Believe Me, which, although upbeat and lively, is still in the same mature vein. As on the previous album, she was laying down the foundations for the material that would form the basis of some of the group's trademark late seventies/eighties sound. She continues on the breezy, tuneful Just Crazy Love, showing just what a developed songwriter she was becoming. Those basic blues days of the late sixties seemed a long way away now.


Hypnotized is a delicious, slow and sort of psychedelic number from Welch that sorts of gently swirls around your mind with its subtly infectious understated rhythm. It is one of his best songs for the band. I am sure both Sting and Chris Rea had listened to it as I can hear both of them in there. 

In 1973, it seemed that everyone had to dabble in reggae, and Forever is the group's contribution to the trend. It is ok, but a tiny bit clumsy in places. Christine is back on the pleasingly low-key groove of Keep On Going. It is a Welch song but she takes lead vocals and indeed, it sounds like one of her songs. It also features some nice percussion and a Spanish guitar break. The City contains some bluesy wah-wah guitar as the group slightly revisit their heritage on the bluesiest cut they had laid down for a while. It is a fine track.

Miles Away is also a good one, an insistently rocking number again containing some good guitar and a mysterious, brooding vocal. Somebody, another Welch track, is similarly grinding but in a relaxing way, featuring more fine guitar interjections. It is almost funky in places and is another top quality number.

The Way I Feel is a plaintive but entrancing McVie ballad with an acoustic and piano backing and, of course, her winsome, smoky-sounding vocals. The YardbirdsFor Your Love is covered next, and it stands as a bit of an incongruous throwback to a previous era but, having sad that, it is solid and muscular and does the business in its seventies garb. A nice nod to the blues is found on the intro to the album's closer, Christine's Why. It breaks out into more typical fare but is none the less attractive for it. As with the previous album, this was a most underrated, mature and satisfying offering. The group's releases from this period deserve more exploration, I feel. This was a really solid piece of work.



Heroes Are Hard To Find (1974)


Heroes Are Hard To Find/Coming Home/Angel/Bermuda Triangle/Come A Little Bit Closer/She's Changing Me/Bad Loser/Silver Heels/Prove Your Love/Born Enchanter/Safe Harbour  
                                               
Released in September 1974, this was the last of the Bob Welch albums, that had begun back in 1971. He left soon after this and the group began their well-known re-birth in California. Actually, they had re-located there before the recording of this album. The Welch era is a sadly undervalued one, he was a talented individual and it was so sad that he eventually took his own life. His contributions over this period should never be forgotten.

The cover, once again, after Mr. Wonderful in 1968, has Mick Fleetwood displaying his horribly ribby-looking chest. Do us a favour eh, Mick.

Heroes Are Hard To Find is a catchy, rocking poppy number full of brass and a great Christine McVie vocal that was released as a single but was not, unfortunately, successful. If The Mac had released it three or four years later it would no doubt have been a hit. Coming Home is an Elmore James blues song, but it is covered here in typically Bob Welch spacey, dreamy style, rendering it almost like a new song. Angel is quite a heavy rock number from Welch and Bermuda Triangle is a mysterious, semi-spoken bluesy number that has echoes of Chris Rea's later material, for me.

Come A Little Closer is a beautiful Christine McVie piano-led ballad with breaks out into something majestic with her voice in full Songbird mode. It is a bit of a lesser-known classic. Welch's She's Changing Me is a catchy pop song while McVie's Bad Loser is a rumbling, drum-powered brooding rock number. Welch's Silver Heels is a rhythmic, vaguely Billy Joel-esque song with Welch wishing he could "sing like Paul McCartney". Actually, he sounds rather similar to him.

Christine's Prove Your Love is mellow and seductive, as her material so often could be. It is a lovely, warm and romantic song. Born Enchanter is a deep, bluesy grinder from Welch, full of sombre but melodic rhythms. Safe Harbour is a virtual instrumental (vocals right at the end) with obvious nods to Peter Green's Albatross.

So ends an often overlooked period in Fleetwood Mac's history that contained some really impressive albums. The stratosphere awaited now though....

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