In 1973, they'd release an album, Buckingham Nicks. They'd been living in the Miracle Mile section of Los Angeles, recording demos on a four-track Ampex at Buckingham's father's coffee plant from the evening until the morning (7:30 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.) until they had seven songs with which to shop their act around. Everyone turned them down except Polydor who offered a one-album deal with Keith Olsen engineering. A tour found the duo well received in some places (Atlanta and Birmingham, among other stops) but Polydor wasn't interested in a second album.
It could have been the end (bills needed paying and job-jobs that would pay those bills seemed to fall solely on Stevie's shoulders) but they ended up joining another group. As the years go by, the stories get murkier but Keith Olson wanted to work with Fleetwood Mac and that's still agreed on. Whatever took place between Olson and Mick Fleetwood (bandleader of and drummer in Fleetwood Mac) took place at Sound City (recording studio in Van Nuys). Bob Welch was leaving the Mac. That would leave Mick, Christine McVie (singer, pianist and songwriter) and John McVie (bassist) in the group. They needed a guitarist with Welch out.
Nicks and Buckingham were brought in to rehearse with the Mac (payment for which was $300 a piece). Maybe it was a try out, maybe it was to keep the Mac focused while Mick looked for a guitarist, maybe Nicks and Buckingham were already in the group. (As we noted earlier, it all gets murky with the passage of time and everyone behind the scenes, including Joe Gottfired, trying to carve out credit.) December 31, 1974, they were in the band.
This isn't the story of an English-American rock band.
So to move things along, the first album went gold (sometimes called "the white album" -- Fleetwood Mac's Fleetwood Mac). Rolling Stone crucified Stevie Nicks (as they would steadily for over fifteen years). But the band was a success and she and Christine McVie wrote the bulk of the hits. In 1978, she did a duet with Kenny Loggins on "Whenever I Call You Friend" which would hit number five of the charts, a feat that would matched the following year when she did "backing vocals" on John Stewart's "Gold." ("Backing vocals" because we'd argue "accompanying.")
She was ready to try recording solo. [In 1978, Nicks, Paul Fishkin and Danny Goldberg formed Modern Records as a boutique label for Stevie to do her solo work on.] She wasn't leaving the Mac, she just had a lot of songs waiting . . . and waiting and waiting -- a pattern throughout the life of Fleetwood Mac which is why the nineties live recording of "Silver Springs" was a hit but the studio recording was relegated to a B-side and didn't even make it onto Rumors. Rumors? The mega-selling 1977 album that got Warner Bros. really interested in the group. She'd composed (and sang lead on) the number one hit from the album "Dreams." Between that, the work with Loggins and Stewart and the fact that she was easily the most popular member of the band a solo career didn't seem that far out of the norm even though few were doing solo recordings and staying with their groups.
Following a party for the solo album on the Free Spirit in Marina Del Ray, Bella Donna was released. The multi-platinum album would win many accolades . . . from listeners. Some critics (especially Rolling Stone) were less kind. (Absent from the critcs' picks for the annual RS awards, Nicks was named in the reader's section.) The album, whose back cover beckoned "Come in -- out of the darkness" would spawn many hits -- among them the duet with Tommy Petty & the Heartbreakers ("Stop Dragging My Heart Around") and the song Destiny's Child sampled and nearly wrecked ("Edge of Seventeen.") Between the two of them, there seemed to be some idea that Stevie was hard rocking on the album. She wasn't. "Edge of Seventeen" was an instant rock classic for good reason (and for years, an AOR staple). But the rest of the album was more like the other two hits -- "Leather and Lace" with Don Henley and "After The Glitter Fades" -- a little bit softer. Jimmy Iovine produced the album. A host of LA session musicians played on it (the Heartbreakers played on "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around"). One thing that would stand out here and on the album to follows was Nicks' love of vocal interplay. That wouldn't lead her to multi-track her own vocals -- providing lead and backing -- the way Diana Ross or Lindsey Buckingham would.
It would mean bringing in Sharon Celani and Lori Perry who would often provide backup vocals throughout the years. Harmonizing (with others) would be one of the biggest differences between Nicks' solo work and her work with the Mac. (Anyone who wants to argue there was harmonizing in the Mac during the eighties should listen really closely to "Little Lies" backing vocals.) Bella Donna featured many mid-tempo songs and many ballads. One mid-tempo, "Outside the Rain" is seen as the second part of the story began in "Dreams." A ballad, with a country twinge, "After The Glitter Fades," dated back to 1972 when Stevie was working multiple jobs to pay the bills. It was a relaxed album. Some fans calls it "the acoustic album" due to the setting (but it's not acoustic -- among other instruments, the title track that opens the album features a synthesizer). This remains Nicks' best selling solo album. It's a quieter album.
Triva, David Letterman, a self-professed Stevie Nicks fan, frequently refers to the song "White Winged Dove." He means "Edge of Seventeen."
After reteaming and recording Mirage with the Mac (and touring with them), Nicks would release her second solo album, Wild Heart. This is album, music wise, that people associate with her solo career. Sharon Celani and Lori Perry are back for background vocals and Sandy Stewart (who would co-write several songs with Nicks including, on this album, "If Anyone Falls In Love," "Nightbird," and "Nothing Ever Changes") would do the call that Stevie would provide the response to on the chorus of "Nightbird."
Lyrically, this is the stronger of the first two albums and, as with music, the sort that fans associate with Stevie. On Bella Donna she was combining songs she'd written long ago and ones written more recently. ("Leather and Lace" had been written six years prior to the release of Bella Donna, intended as a duet for Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter.) The biggest hit from the album was "Stand Back" which featured an unidentified Prince on keyboards. Rolling Stone headed their two-star review of the album "Stevie Nixed." But Nicks' career was immunized to their carping by this point. The manner of dress had long been copied, but Nicks made "air waves" (a perm) popular in this period. (Whether people truly remember the Pat Benatar clones or just remember the scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, both Benatar and Nicks were emulated at this time.)
The harmonizing is stronger on this album and her lyrical metaphors are as well. "Beauty and the Best" (a staple in concerts and a fan favorite) would be the epic she composed for this album and the sound would be rounded out with a harp, violas, violins, cellos and E Street Bander Roy Bittan on piano. "My darling lives in a world that is not mine" Stevie sings and, on this song and others, you never doubt it. She never sounded so mystical before or after on any other album.
Which may have handed ammo to the critics who'd long dismissed her songwriting as something akin to fairy tales set to music, but she was also incredibly concrete.
"Something in my heart died last night, just one more chip off an already broken heart, I think my heart broke long, that's when I needed you, when I needed you most," those are the opening lines to the opening track ("Wild Heart") and in a bit of symetry, "Wild Heart" would be one of the first songs Chynna Phillips (daughter of Mama Michelle and Papa John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas) sang with Wendy and Carnie Wilson when they formed their group Wilson Phillips. [If you're lost, the Michelle and John Phillips penned "California Dreamin'" was the first song Stevie and Lindsey sang together, pay attention.] Demo-ed in Dallas, TX, Stevie immediately decided the song would go on the second album and it would be the title as well.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are back for "I Will Run To You" which received AOR play. The hits were "Stand Back," "If Anyone Falls" and "Nightbird." Making the TV rounds to promote the album, Nicks would surprise many by not lip synching on shows such as Solid Gold (and by vamping the lyrics as she had long done onstage). Though multi-platinum, the album was not as successful as Bella Donna. Fishkind felt it should have offered more potential hits.
A lot of people with a lot of ideas of what Stevie should sound like meant that the follow up, Rock A Little, would become her most announced and delayed album. It was supposed to come out in the fall of 1984, it was supposed to be produced by Jimmy Iovine (as the first two were), it was supposed to contain a reteaming of Nicks and Don Henley . . .
Well the fall became the winter.
Multiple recording sessions later, multiple changes later, multiple announcements later, Rock A Little finally was released in the fall of 1985. The lead single was "Talk To Me," a hit. It was also written by Chaz Sanford. A year prior, Madonna had a hit with the song "Crazy For You" which was intended for Nicks. When Stevie's third album came out, Heart was making a comeback . . . mainly with songs written by others. Why didn't Nicks record "Crazy For You" speculation had gone on for a year and now, with the first single, she was singing a song by an outside writer. A song that came out weeks before the album as the talk became that she was recording outside writers and co-writing a great deal for the album.
For those who've been weaned on Britty and the rest of the Disney kids, that might not be a big deal. For Stevie Nicks' core audience it was. When the album was released, the first concern of many was what did Stevie write? Nine songs -- three by herself. Rolling Stone noted the outside songs positively. In the midst of their war with Nicks that would last until the 90s, this can be taken as a sign that it's not Wild Heart. It's not a bad album and songs like "I Can't Wait," "Sister Honey" and "Imperial Hotel" are strong rock songs. "I Sing for the Things" is a very moving ballad (Nicks wrote this) and the title track is the sort of experimentation that fans live for.
"Talk To Me," as "Stand Back" had before, became a club hit. The follow up single, also a hit on the rock and pop charts, would come with a dance mix 12 inch single. "I Can't Wait." While "Talk To Me" featured a choreographed dance that, though popular and imitated, was seen by some as a little too slick for Stevie, "I Can't Wait" featured mock stage performance and, to some, the video that her song recorded by the Mac ("Sisters of the Moon") might have had if videos had been the rage in 1979.
Trivia note four? You're getting ahead of yourself if you know what's coming. Yes, Stevie's weight increases. It's during the tour, not the album, not the recording of the videos. Though rock stations would largely not care (there concern was whether or not Stevie was rocking -- she's one of the few women to get airplay consistently during the AOR days), pop disc jockeys (male) loved the weight gain. One of the crueler remarks (repeated not for a laugh -- it's not funny -- but to demonstrate the hostitlity towards Nicks at this time) was, "She should move to India, they worship cows over there. Mooo!" While Glen Frye did pump up during this period as he got lost in recording beer commercials and Miami Vice type songs, Stevie was far from the only one in her peer group to gain weight. She would be the sole focus of nasty jokes (often on air whenever one of her hits was played) until another person, a woman naturally, also had a significant weight gain (Ann Wilson of Heart).
It says a great deal about that time period, Reagan days, that women were the targets and that it was considered acceptable for a dee jay spinning Nicks' latest hit to attack her on air. (The balding and frequently pudgy Phil Collins was not mocked.) All of that combined with the emergence of Whitney Houston factored into the sales of this album.
Whitney Houston? 1985 was a big year for her. And in those days, radio stations, as Clive Davis would note to Rolling Stone, were leery of playing women one after the other. They felt they'd lose the audience if they played two songs by women in a row. Many saw that as part of the reason why the third single, "Has Anyone Ever Written Anything For You," charted so low. Another reason is it's not her best performance. On the road, she would turn this into a tour de force. (And change the sound of it -- both in terms of the music and her voice.)
Fair or not, many took to saying the best song from this album was the one not on it, "One More Big Time Rock And Roll Star" (the flip-side to the single "Talk To Me"). It had everything Stevie Nicks fans wanted in a song by Stevie (Nicks wrote the song solo), lyrically and musically. Where was the epic to be found on the album in the tradition of "Beauty and the Best," "Wild Heart," "Edge of Seventeen" or "Bella Donna"? It was a time when Heart, Aerosmith, Def Leppard and others were working with outside song writers and that was heresy to many rock fans.
The epic was there, written with her brother Christopher, "Nightmare" but many people missed it. With the dance video and the pop success of "Talk To Me," and the dance mix of "I Can't Wait," and the sexism always a part of the music world, Nicks began disappearing from rotation on AOR. A point missed by some, as the next solo album would demonstrate.
Before that, she would reteam with the Mac for Tango in the Night and the tour to promote the album. The weight jokes would be in abundance. David Letterman would use footage of Stevie Nicks from the "Stand Back" video, walking, match it with the hideous Buckingham composition "Big Love" (which featured Lindsey doing the pants but he'd play coy at first to drive up interest in the non-song) for jokes about Stevie on a treadmill. [Due to that bit, Stevie would avoid going on Letterman's show for years.] It wasn't a good tour for Nicks, she got ill, she lost her voice. Dates had to be rescheduled. Austin radio attacked her when bronchitis was given as the reason for that cancellation. It was open season on Stevie and every dee jay who rightly felt there was little rock to Tango In The Night (Stevie's composition "Welcome to the Room, Sara" was the closest but not only was Lindsey obsessed with studio gadgets but Christine McVie seemed more interested in synths and keyboards than the piano) aimed their ire at her.
Along with jokes about her weight, jokes about drug use (cocaine) became staples on pop radio. Nicks had been open about going into rehab and the reward for that was every missed date, every pound gained, became reason to add the drug jokes to the weight ones.
This was the environment that her fourth album was released during, 1989's The Other Side of the Mirror. "Rooms on Fire" kicked the album off with a hit. It really wouldn't be repeated. "Two Kinds of Love" (a duet between her and Bruce Hornsby) would make the charts but few were interested. What had happened to Stevie Nicks?
To hear the on air radio talk, she'd teamed up with the guy who'd helped revive Tina Turner's career (Rupert Hine) and lost her way. It was a huge mistake to release the ballad "Two Kinds of Love" as the second single. Her rock bonafides had been questioned for some time now. Hornsbey was known as a songwriter and most assumed he wrote the song. (He didn't, Nicks wrote it with Hine and Rick Nowels.) She'd slimmed down, which only got slammed her for that. (Dee jays never could decide whether Nicks or Ann Wilson's biggest crime was gaining weight or losing it.) No one cared (outside her loyal audience which is sizeable).
A real shame because while Rock A Little had moments that lived up to the best of Nicks' catalogue ("Sister Honey" and "Imperial Hotel" among them), this was her strongest writing since Wild Heart. It also had the worst production in the world. [Hine appears to think "Doing the Best I can (Escape from Berlin)" is going on the next Fix album.] It's also the worst sequenced. Lyrics and/or music had provided a connecting thread on her three previous albums. Here, no one seemed to know what to do after "Rooms on Fire" (whose production sounds like nothing else on the album) started things off. The natural follow up, "Whole Lotta Trouble," was instead relegated to track six. The best songs (production and compostion) on the album ("Alice" and "Juliet") came along at tracks nine and ten.
It was her worst selling album up to that point. (It did go gold in initial cycle.)
Triva 1, Sharon Celani and Lori Perry continue singing backup but Lori Perry is now Lori Perry-Nicks (she married Stevie's brother Christopher). Trivia 2, Kenny G plays sax on "Two Kinds Of Love" and "Alice." Trivia 3, Stevie performs Johnny Cash's "I Still Miss Someone (Blue Eyes)" on this album. Trivia 4, "Juliet," written by Stevie Nicks, first appeared as an instrumental on the flip-side of the Mac's "Little Lies" singles where, due to studio gadgetry contributions, it was credited as a Nicks and Buckingham contribution.
In the eighties, Nicks had recorded two albums with the Mac, toured with them twice, recorded four albums solo and toured behind each, joined Bob Dylan and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in Australia (until the lack of a work permit led to authorities putting an end to that), contributed to recordings to soundtracks, had a live top forty hit with Petty and the Heartbreakers ("Needles and Pins").
The nineties wouldn't be a fresh start for Nicks who would release on only one album. First up, there was a greatest hits packaging in1991, Time Space: The Best of Stevie Nicks. Like most greatest hits, it sold and continues to be an evergreen in terms of sales. Fourteen songs, three recorded just for the collection. Of the eleven other songs, only two were from The Other Side of the Mirror (the chart hit "Rooms On Fire" and the club hit "Whole Lotta Trouble"). For the collection, Stevie Nicks wrote down some impressions and some history for each track. She could have skipped writing about the two news songs she didn't compose.
"Sometimes It's a Bitch" was actually a mini-hit and played without "bitch" being blipped out on many radio stations. It was never Stevie's song (despite an amazing vocal). Not because she didn't write it but because, despite Jon Bon Jovi and Billy Falcons' claims otherwise, despite Stevie writing that Jon Bon Jovi had captured her life, it didn't have a thing to do with Stevie. It's the best Cher song Cher never recorded, it's just not Stevie Nicks.
The second new composition came from the boys of Poison whose chart days were already over. It's a sweet song called "Love's A Hard Game To Play," but the general consensus was: "If Stevie Nicks is going to record songs by would be hit makers, why doesn't she record some songs that might actually be hits?"
The third new song (the b-side to "Sometimes It's a Bitch") was written by Stevie Nicks, "Desert Angel."
Trivia, Lori Perry-Nicks becomes Lori Perry Nicks.
Three years later, Stevie releases her only studio album of the nineties, Street Angel. "Blue Denim" was the lead track and seemed determined to straddle both pop and rock which didn't please the last of rock purists and pop radio wasn't interested. What troubled some devoted fans was the word that Stevie was finally doing what she'd long threatened, crossing over into country music. Song titles like "Rose Garden" didn't ease their worries. (This is actually a song Nicks wrote and not the "I Never Promised You . . ." infamous country corn.) As if to taunt those who feared she might someday do worse than Bon Jovi and the boys of Poison, she recorded "Docklands." Lines like "And all the people who roam the docklands" seemed to indicate that Trevor Horn and Betsy Cook thought they were on to some new fashion craze or area in crisis.
Trivia 1, Lori Perry Nicks becomes Lori Nicks. Trivia two, Bob Dylan plays guitar and harmonica on Stevie's recording of "Just Like A Woman." Trivia three, Sara Fleetwood sings backing vocals on this album. Sara Recor met Mick Fleetwood through her friend Stevie. She's the Sara that inspired "Sara." (Sara and Mick Fleetwood divorced.)
Though not very popular in the US, the album did well in Europe. There were too many spright and mid-tempo numbers. Too few rockers (only "Greta") and the concern that Stevie was going country (confirmed to some by both "Rose Garden" and "Destiny" -- the latter of which is an update to 1983's "Enchanted" which had a more of country sound than anything on this album).
And that was pretty much it. She did soundtracks. A moderate hit with "If You Ever Did Believe" (off the Pratical Magic soundtrack) would peak interest in 1998 and Enchanted, the three disc boxed set, would attempt to place her career in context.
Disc one would provide CD formats for the B-sides "Garbo" and "One More Big Time Rock And Roll Star." Disc two would make the mistake of including a live version of "Edge of Seventeen" and a studio version of "Has Anyone Ever Written Anything For You." (It should have been the other way around. "Edge of 17" is a strong live performance but "Has Anyone Ever Written Anything For You" is the song she brought to life on the road -- see the Red Rocks concert available on video cassette and DVD.) Disc three would collect various soundtrack cuts and three songs she'd done with others (the "Gold" single with Stewart, the "Whenever I Call You Friend" single with Loggins and the previously unreleased Don Henley duet "Reconsider Me" which was recorded for Rock A Little but not on that album). Along with many people discovering songs like "Sleeping Angel" (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) and "Violet and Blue" (Against All Odds), she also closed the disc with a new recording, just her singing and playing the piano, of "Rhiannon" -- the hit that started it all for her when she joined the Mac. As the boxed set The Chain had done before for Fleetwood Mac, this collection both provided context and peaked interest in what more might be offered in the future.
The booklet provided essays (by Stevie and by Danny Goldberg), rare photos, and supposedly attempted to highlight the career. Supposedly? "Sometimes It's a Bitch" is absent form the page entitled "The Singles." (Not that we blame her.) Trivia, the listing for "Desert Angel," the b-side to "Sometimes It's a Bitch," also avoids noting that song in the booklet's track history.
In 2001, she released a new studio album. The best album she'd released in years, Trouble In Shangri-La, marred only by the sketch trying to pass for a song "It's Only Love." (Nicks didn't sketch the song, Sheryl Crow did.) Nicks was writing some strong songs again. Crow and others provided the production she hadn't had in some time. There was no attempt to 'pretty up' Stevie via synths and other gadgets. It was her stories in settings that enhanced them (as opposed attempting to make them sound like whatever was hot on the pop charts at that moment).
Trivia 1, for Trouble In Shangri-La, as always Sharon Celani and Lori Nicks contribute backing vocals. Trivia 2, Sheryl Crow produces some tracks, Natalie Maines duets with Stevie on "Too Far From Texas," Macy Gray, Crow and Sarah McLachlan contribute vocals on this album. (Crow also plays guitar and bass on some tracks.)
Stevie's studio albums ranked by committee (with the note that we listen to all of them underscored):
1) Wild Heart
2) Trouble In Shangri-La
3) Bella Donna
4) Rock A Little
5) The Other Side of the Mirror
6) Street Angel
Top ten favorite tracks (ranked by committee) from Stevie's solo work:
1) "Stand Back"
2) "Edge of Seventeen"
3) "Beauty and the Beast"
4) "Sister Honey"
6) "Fall From Grace"
9) "Candle Bright"