Christine McVie (1943-2022) wrote more Fleetwood Mac songs than anyone; was the heart and soul of a turbulent band

(December 1, 2022).  Christine Perfect wasn’t that.  No one is. 

She was perhaps as flawed as any one of the other past or present members of Fleetwood Mac, a band known as much for its dysfunction as it was for its iconic, generations-spanning catalogue of pop-rock classics.

Christine McVie (née Perfect) died Wednesday, November 30, 2022, of an undisclosed illness

But Perfect, whose name changed after she married Fleetwood Mac member John McVie and later joined his and co-founder Mick Fleetwood’s band, was as essential a cog to the legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees as any of its other members, past or present.  

McVie, who passed away on Wednesday (November 30) after a “brief illness,” is being mourned by members of Fleetwood Mac as well as fellow celebrities and millions of fans around the world whose lives she touched for more than half a century.

She’s the first of Fleetwood Mac’s classic lineup—consisting of herself, ex-husband John, Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham—to pass away, bringing morbidity to the venerable band’s doors for the first time. 

McVie, who mastered the keyboards and later songwriting, got her start in the band Chicken Shack in the 1960s, at a time when very few women were represented in blues or rock bands.

She left that band in the late 1960s before releasing a solo album under her maiden name.  Like her material with Chicken Shack, that Christine Perfect album essentially went nowhere.  McVie eventually began contributing to her new husband’s fledgling band, first as an uncredited session musician on Fleetwood Mac’s early, less commercially successful albums and later as a full-time member.

Even as the Mac’s various male members—particularly those not named Fleetwood (as in Mick) or Mac (as in John McVie—came and went, McVie weathered the storm that was Fleetwood Mac.  As people like founder Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer, Danny Kirwan and others left, McVie was steadily promoted, going from session musician on the band’s second and third studio albums Mr. Wonderful and Then Play On in 1968 and ‘69, respectively, to credited contributor and cover art designer on their next album Kiln House in 1970, to full-time group member by the time of the band’s fifth album, Future Games in 1971.

McVie brought with her a pop sensibility that would set the stage for the direction the group would take as the 1970s progressed.  Fleetwood Mac would incorporate more of her songs into the group’s albums, which otherwise consisted of bluesy, progressive rock tracks that seemingly went nowhere directionally.

Even in their pre-heyday, McVie’s tunes stood out.  Songs like “Morning Rain” and the stellar “Show Me A Smile”—her first solo compositions for Fleetwood Mac (on their 1971 album Future Games) foretold of the positivity and optimism she would bring to the band for the duration of her time with them.

Christine McVie’s “Show Me A Smile” from Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Future Games’ (1971)

On its next album, 1972’s Bare Trees, McVie continued to write (and sing) of affairs close to the heart, including rocking out about the joys of home on “Homeward Bound” and pining over love (again) on the soulful mid tempo jam “Show Me a Little of Your Love.”

On the next two albums, McVie’s contributions continued to increase, going from two songs each on the prior albums to three compositions on 1973’s Penguin and four tracks on that year’s followup Mystery to Me.

By the time of the group’s ninth studio album, 1974’s Heroes Are Hard To Find, McVie and newer member Bob Welch were the principle songwriters.  Each contributed solo written pieces to the album’s track list, with Welch’s seven outnumbering McVie’s four, but her jangly title track standing out as one of the album’s best (and the group’s most commercially promising songs, pre-Buckingham/Nicks).

Another stellar McVie track from Heroes was the somewhat darker “Bad Loser,” which featured a rapid shuffling rhythm track and ominous backing vocals as well as Bob Welch’s electric guitar flourishes over McVie’s sparsely sung lyrics about, well, a bad loser.

McVie’s “Bad Loser” was on 1974’s ‘Heroes Are Hard To Find’

Fleetwood Mac’s standing on the charts was increasing steadily with each LP.  Heroes Are Hard To Find outperformed its predecessors and charted at No. 34 on the Billboard 200–the group’s first top-40 placement.  But another pending departure threatened to derail the band’s upward trajectory just as it was accelerating. 

That was in 1974 when fellow songwriter and lead singer Bob Welch left the band and was replaced by two unproven singer/songwriters: Californians Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks.

Fleetwood Mac’s classic lineup (from left): Mick Fleetwood, Christine McVie, John McVie, Stevie Nicks, and Lindsey Buckingham

The lineup that would become Fleetwood Mac’s most famous was about to begin as they released the next album, simply titled Fleetwood Mac.  

The addition of Buckingham/Nicks would prove lucrative, but it was McVie who penned the band’s first major chart success, the unlikely hit “Over My Head,” which reached the top 20 in the U.S. in early 1976.  

That song, McVie later admitted, was inspired by her new bandmate Buckingham, whom she thought could be “cold as ice” one minute and a great person the next.  It was the first real taste of how the band’s interrelationships would influence them artistically and otherwise in the coming years. 

“Over My Head” was the first of the band’s three top-20 hits from that eponymous album, with “Rhiannon” (written and sung by new band mate Stevie Nicks) and McVie’s “Say You Love Me” both peaking at No. 11 later in 1976.  It was while the latter song was charting that Fleetwood Mac reached No. 1–more than a year after its release in 1975–setting a record for longest climb to the top of the Billboard 200 at the time.

With her “Say You Love Me” riding the singles chart at the time, one could argue that Fleetwood Mac’s record-setting No. 1 ascension happened on McVie’s watch.

It’s notable that the success of the album was buoyed by McVie’s singles, which bookended the three hits and featured her distinctive, deceptively husky voice and, again, those pop sensibilities that made the band far more commercially viable than it had been previously. 

But nothing would prepare Fleetwood Mac—or the world—for what would come next.

‘Rumours’ became Fleetwood Mac’s biggest Album in 1977, and propelled the group to superstardom

While the album Fleetwood Mac was still charting, the band was readying their next album, Rumours, for release.

That opus would include four hit singles—the first two by Buckingham and Nicks (“Go Your Own Way” and “Dreams,” respectively) and the last two by McVie: “Don’t Stop” and “You Make Lovin’ Fun.”

“Fun” was written by McVie about an affair she was having with the band’s lighting engineer, Curry Grant, according to the book “Making Rumours – the Inside Story of the Classic Fleetwood Mac album,” authored by the band’s producer Ken Caillat.  McVie had just divorced husband John—the band’s bassist—after an eight-year marriage.  Still this relationship between employer and employee had to smack just a little of inappropriateness, even in 1976/77. 

The backstory to “You Make Lovin’ Fun” was just a small part of the salaciousness that fueled Rumours, which famously featured songs centered on the dissolving (and budding) relationships involving all of Fleetwood Mac’s members.  Previous lovers Buckingham and Nicks (who also dated the band’s drummer Mick Fleetwood) played out their melodrama in their two hit singles plus album tracks like “The Chain” and “Second Hand News.”

McVie’s classic love song “Songbird,” was released as the B-side to Nicks’ “Dreams” but stands as Christine’s signature tune, one the band often performed at the end of  their concerts.  It was easily the most poignant of the album’s tracks, and maybe the only one not associated with controversy.

Christine McVie performs “Songbird” from ‘Rumours’

Rumours would speed to No. 1 in early 1977, taking just six weeks to get there—a far quicker rise than its predecessor, which took nearly ten times that long.  It would spend an incredible 31 weeks at the top, more than any non-soundtrack album and second-most (at the time) behind the West Side Story soundtrack, which spent 54 weeks at the top during the 1960s.

The four Rumours singles all reached the Billboard top ten, making it the first album to accomplish that feat, thanks again to McVie whose songs anchored the singles releases.  McVie contributed five of the landmark LP’s eleven songs, reflecting her hard-earned, if not official status as the band’s chief songwriter.

Neither the unprecedented four top-10 singles nor the record-setting run of Rumours at the top of the album chart would be eclipsed until six years later when Michael Jackson’s Thriller surpassed both (more on McVie’s unwitting connection to Thriller in a moment).

Fleetwood Mac (in 1979)

Fleetwood Mac’s new superstar status was cemented with its next album, the audacious 1979 double-album Tusk, which generated three more hit singles: one each by the band’s principal writers Buckingham (the weird “Tusk”), Nicks (the haunting “Sara”) and McVie (the poppy “Think About Me”).

It signaled a less formulaic direction for the band artistically (especially the USC Marching Band-assisted title track) but continued a pattern where McVie’s pop-friendly love songs anchored the hit singles released from the band’s albums, giving the veteran songwriter the sort-of last word in what fans wanted to hear Fleetwood Mac express artistically to the world. (The album’s ethereal fourth single, Nicks’ “Sisters of the Moon,” petered out at No. 86.)

This pattern continued with their next studio LP, Mirage, which began and ended, again, with McVie’s compositions.  

First up was “Hold Me,” an upbeat (and danceable) love song that belied the fractious relationships happening in the band at the time.  Christine, long divorced from ex-husband John McVie, was joyful sounding, almost exuberant at the thought of love, while her co-lead vocalist Lindsey Buckingham offered a striking, bitter-sounding harmony on the same lines.

It was an amazing juxtaposition of the two different characters, which underscored the mercurial nature of the band and highlighted their different personalities—or at least their public personas as we believed them to be.

Like Christine’s compositions on their previous hit albums, “Hold Me” etched its own place in history as it sped up the chart before stalling at No. 4–for seven consecutive weeks!  No song before then had spent seven weeks at any other chart position besides No. 1 or No. 2, which spoke to the endurance of “Hold Me,” but also its inability to get past some monster hits that summer (primarily Survivor’s “Eye Of The Tiger,” Steve Miller Band’s “Abracadabra” and John Mellencamp’s “Hurt So Good”).

Fleetwood Mac’s “Hold Me” (1982)

“Hold Me,” which ranks as this blogger’s favorite Fleetwood Mac tune to this day, preceded one of the band’s other highly intriguing songs, Nicks’ “Gypsy,” which in turn was followed by McVie’s “Love In Store,” the third and final single in the U.S. from Mirage, which again gave the British singer-songwriter the de facto final word singles-wise.

As the individual members of Fleetwood Mac began embarking on solo projects in the early ‘80s, McVie released her second self-titled solo effort (she may very well be the only artist to have two eponymously titled albums, one bearing her maiden name, Christine Perfect, the other her former married and still professional name).

Featured on Christine McVie was the album’s first single, “Got A Hold On Me,” which inched up to the Billboard top ten on March 24, 1984, by edging out “Thriller,” the seventh and final single from Michael Jackson’s landmark album (“Thriller” was at No. 11 that week after a short top-10 run).  It was a bit of turnabout being fair play for McVie, after her band’s Rumours album had been eclipsed by all of Michael’s feats over the preceding year.

Christine’s “Got A Hold On Me” secured just enough sales and airplay to eclipse Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and get her lone solo top-10 pop hit in March 1984. McVie would exit the following week.

McVie, who was still with Fleetwood Mac at the time, would follow “Got A Hold On Me” with another upbeat ode to love from her solo effort, the moderate chart hit “Love Will Show Us How.”  After that, it would be another three years before she or her collective group would resurface with new hit material (although Stevie Nicks had several hits in the interim).

New stuff finally happened in 1987 when Fleetwood Mac released Tango In The Night, an album that returned the band to the pop spotlight and followed their tried and true formula of including songs from each of the three principle writers.

Following the pattern of Rumours ten years earlier, first single “Big Love” was a Buckingham piece, followed by Nicks’ “Seven Wonders.”  

Then came two biggies from McVie: “Little Lies,” the album’s biggest hit (No. 4 peak in November 1987) and “Everywhere,” which peaked at No. 14 in early 1988 but has proven to be the album’s most enduring track, thanks to a current tie-in to a Chevrolet ad for electric vehicles. 

The resurgence of “Everywhere” caused it to top the Billboard Rock Digital Song Sales chart this past October, matching a feat accomplished by Nicks’ “Dreams” exactly two years earlier after it had been made viral by a TikTok user’s video.

So “Everywhere,” one of McVie’s most upbeat takes on love in a catalogue full of similarly themed tunes, is now Fleetwood Mac’s most recent No. 1 single on a Billboard chart, another feather in McVie’s extraordinary songwriting cap and a sign that good times were still ahead for her and her legendary band, especially after the bad publicity that seemed to rock its foundation in ways that none of its dysfunctional relationships could even manage decades earlier.

In 2018, Lindsey Buckingham was fired from Fleetwood Mac after a very public dispute with the other members about their touring schedule.  This followed several other comings and goings of the classic lineup’s five members—including Christine, who took a lengthy hiatus from 1998 to 2014.

But Fleetwood Mac always pressed on, replacing those members with others (Buckingham’s full-time stand-ins were Mike Campbell and Neil Finn) until the legendary egos came to their senses and eventually returned. 

This longtime fan was holding out for the same to happen with Lindsey, just as Christine had done several years earlier. In a sort-of mini-protest, this blogger vowed not to attend any of the band’s concerts until McVie returned.  When she did rejoin the group eight years ago, I finally checked off that bucket list item and saw the band perform in concert in 2015 and again in 2017.

Another such concert will never again happen.  The sudden news of McVie’s passing means another reunion is an impossibility, a heartbreaking reality to yours truly and the millions of Fleetwood Mac fans from multiple generations who’d grown up with their hits.

It seems poetic that McVie would have the band’s first major chart success (1975’s “Over My Head”) and its most recent (this year’s return of “Everywhere”).  After all, she was credited with writing more Fleetwood Mac songs—50-plus—than any other member (at least ten more than the group’s next most prolific songwriter Buckingham).

It’s even more poignant that McVie—whose group’s most successful album Rumours was eclipsed on the charts only by MJ’s Thriller…the epic LP whose title track’s top-10 reign she ended to get her own—would die on the 40th anniversary of Thriller’s release (November 30).

Those ironies aside, Christine McVie was undeniably Fleetwood Mac’s most prolific member, one whose loss means the band will never again be the same.

She seemed to be the calm in the band’s ever turbulent waters, the love-focused center when the band’s other members took on darker themes.  

Even in Fleetwood Mac’s pre-Buckingham/Nicks days, just as it had been later, Christine McVie’s message was constant: love felt good if you knew how to do it right…and make it fun.  

Christine McVie will be sorely missed.  She already is.

Christine McVie (July 12, 1943 – November 30, 2022)

R.I.P. legend.

DJRob

Diehard Fleetwood Mac fan DJRob (he/him/his) is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.

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