FLEETWOOD MAC – ” Tango In The Night “

Posted: March 23, 2018 in MUSIC
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In December 2012, three members of Fleetwood Mac cried together, in public, at the memory of something that had happened all of 25 years previously. Singer Stevie Nicks, guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and drummer Mick Fleetwood were doing a round of media interviews to announce the band’s 2013 tour when they were asked about the events of 1987, when Buckingham quit the band following the release of the album “Tango In The Night.” 

Tango In The Night was released on April 13th, 1987. The first single from the album, “Big Love“, was already a Top 10 hit on both sides of the Atlantic, It was their fourteenth studio album, 

Buckingham did not respond directly to the interviewer. Instead he turned to Nicks and Fleetwood and reiterated his reasons for leaving the group at a critical stage of their career: foremost among them, his sense that Nicks and Fleetwood had lost their minds and souls to drugs. 

“What Lindsey said in that interview was very moving,” Fleetwood says. “He told us: ‘I just couldn’t stand to see you doing what you were doing to yourselves. You were so out of control that it made me incredibly sad, and I couldn’t take it any more.’ It was really powerful stuff. This was someone saying: ‘I love you.’ It hit Stevie and me like a ton of bricks. And we all cried, right there in the interview.” 

It was a moment that Mick Fleetwood still describes as “profound”. But even after all these years, his memories of that time in 1987 are still raw. For when Lindsey Buckingham walked out on Fleetwood Mac, he did not go quietly. When Buckingham told the band he was leaving, it led to a blazing argument that rapidly escalated into a physical altercation between him and former lover Nicks, in which she claimed she feared for her life. 

“It is,” Fleetwood says, “a pretty wild story. It was a dangerous period, and not a happy time.” And yet, for all the drama that came with it, “Tango In The Night” was a hugely important album for Fleetwood Mac. It became the second biggest-selling album of their career, after 1977’s 45-million-selling “Rumours“. 

In 1985, Lindsey Buckingham was writing and recording songs for what was planned as his third solo album. Fleetwood Mac had been on indefinite hiatus since 1982, following a world tour in support of their album “Mirage“. In that time there had been solo albums from all three singers: Nicks’ The Wild Heart sold a million copies; Christine McVie’s eponymous album yielded a US Top 10 hit with Got A Hold On Me; but, to Buckingham’s chagrin, his album Go Insane had not made the Top 40. 

There had also been problems for them over these years. Nicks had been treated for drug addiction. More surprisingly, Mick Fleetwood had been declared bankrupt following a string of disastrous property investments. “At that time,” Buckingham later admitted, “the group had become a bit fragmented.” 

By the end of ’85, Buckingham – working alone at his home studio in Los Angeles – had three songs finished: Big Love, Family Man and Caroline. But while he was busy making music, Mick Fleetwood was busy making plans to get the band back on track. 

The wheels had been set in motion when Christine McVie recorded a version of the Elvis Presley hit Can’t Help Falling In Love for the film A Fine Mess – backed by Mick Fleetwood and the band’s other remaining founding member, her ex-husband John McVie. She invited Buckingham to produce, alongside engineer Richard Dashut. 

“It was the first time for nearly five years that we’d all been in a working environment together,” Christine said. “We had such a good time in the studio and realised that we still had something to give each other in musical terms after all.” Mick Fleetwood was more forthright. “The reality,” he says, “is that Fleetwood Mac were intending to make an album. And Lindsey was in many ways pressured into it. ‘Hey, we’re making an album – let’s go!’” 

Buckingham relented, partly out of a sense of duty. “I had a choice,” he said, “of either continuing on to make the solo record, or to sort of surrender to the situation and try and make it more of a family thing. I chose the latter.” What Fleetwood didn’t know is that Buckingham’s agreement was conditional. “I had the idea,” Buckingham said, “that that was going to be the last work with the group.” 

The biggest problem for Lindsey Buckingham was, of course, Stevie Nicks. “I’ve known Stevie since I was 16 years old,” he said. “I was completely devastated when she took off. And yet I had to make hits for her, So on one level I was a complete professional in rising above that, but there was a lot of pent-up frustration and anger towards Stevie in me for many years.”

“He got very angry with me,” Nicks has said. “He tossed a Les Paul across the stage at me once and I ducked and it missed me. A lot of things happened because he was so angry at me.” Buckingham’s frame of mind was not helped by the not inconsiderable success that Nicks enjoyed in her solo career. In 1981, her solo debut, “Bella Donna“, went to No.1 in US. Other hit albums and singles followed. Buckingham’s solo records sold next to nothing. 

For all that, Buckingham threw himself into the album. He either wrote or co-wrote seven of the 12 tracks that made the finished album. He also acted as co-producer with Richard Dashut. And it was at his home studio that most of the recording was done. 

What was unusual about the recording of Tango In The Night was the absence of Stevie Nicks for much of the process. Nicks actually contributed three songs to the album, but was in the studio for only two to three weeks. 

One trick of Buckingham’s, in Big Love, was especially brilliant. For the song’s climax, he used variable speed oscillators on his voice to create the effect of a male and female in a state of sexual excitement – the “love grunts”, as he called them. 

“It was odd that so many people wondered if it was Stevie on there with me,” he said, a little disingenuously. Although there were other great songs on the album – slick pop rock tunes in the classic Fleetwood Mac style, such as Christine’s “Little Lies” and “Everywhere”, and Stevie’s “Seven WondersFleetwood calls Tango In The Night “Lindsey’s album”. But for Buckingham himself, there was a sense that in the transition from solo album to band album, something had been lost. A perfectionist, intensely analytical, he felt that Tango In The Night was too predictable, too safe. 

“She was not hugely present,” Fleetwood says. “I don’t remember why. And I don’t think we would remember. Fleetwood says that he and Nicks were doing more cocaine during the making of “Tango” than when they were recording “Rumours” an album on which they seriously considered thanking their drug dealer in the credits. 

“Certainly, I smoked a lot of pot. But I was never a big user of coke,” Buckingham adds. 

“Actually,” he admits, “it was way worse on “Tango In The Night.” For sure.” 

While Tango was being recorded at his home, he found a way of keeping the two cokeheads – plus assorted hangers-on – at a safe distance.

Lindsey had a Winnebago put in his driveway,” Fleetwood says. “And that’s where Stevie and I would go with our wrecking crew. With me, the party never stopped. It wasn’t until years later that I asked him: ‘What was all that about?’ And he said: ‘I couldn’t stand having you punks in the house. You’d turn up at the studio with people that you’d met from the night before, and you’d start gooning around. You were too fucking crazy.’ Lindsey was never a drama queen, enjoying the 80s drug culture like Stevie and me. It wasn’t his scene.

The drug taking was only one part of the problem. There were other things eating away at Buckingham.

Just as Rumours had done in the 70s, so Tango In The Night defined the soft rock era of the 80s. Perhaps most significant of all, it marked the third coming of the Mac, following the successes of the Peter Green-led blues rock Mac of the late 60s and the Buckingham/Nicks-fronted AOR The the Mac of the 70s. And for Mick Fleetwood, it represented a personal triumph. Mick Fleetwood is not sure it is simple coincidence that Fleetwood’s two biggest-selling albums, “Rumours” and “Tango In The Night”, were made when the band was at its most dysfunctional. “Also,” he says, “I’m not sure I should be so proud of it.” 

While he freely admits that his own drug-fuelled insanity was instrumental in Lindsey Buckingham’s exit, it was Fleetwood who kept the band together once Buckingham had gone. And this was key to the success of “Tango In The Night“. In the 90s, Buckingham re-joined Fleetwood Mac, and, more importantly, made his peace with Stevie Nicks. They have both come a long way since that dark day in 1987: Buckingham now married and a father of three, Nicks happily drug-free. All that remains between them is what Mick Fleetwood calls “the good stuff”. 

“My motto” Fleetwood says, “was ‘the show must go on’. It was almost an obsessive-compulsive desire to not give up. And it worked.”

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