Fleetwood Mac ‘1969 to 1974’ Revisited in New Boxed Set: Review

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Like the Bee Gees and a handful of other bands, Fleetwood Mac was lucky enough to have enjoyed more than one life. In their first incarnation, with guitarists Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer, they were a British blues-rock outfit. (For the best of this period, don’t miss the superlative six-disc The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions 1967–1969.) By the early 1970s, with Green and Spencer gone and players like Christine McVie, Danny Kirwan and Bob Welch on the team, they were evolving from blues rockers into more of a West Coast U.S.-influenced pop/rock group. Then, at the end of 1974, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined up, which triggered Fleetwood Mac’s third act and helped turn them into the international superstars responsible for “Go Your Own Way,” “Rhiannon” and a long list of other megahits.

It’s the transitional second period that’s the focus of the recently issued 1969 to 1974, an eight-CD, clamshell-boxed collection. The bargain-priced set (about five bucks per disc) includes remasters of all seven of the studio albums that the group issued during this period: Then Play On (1969), their last album with Green; Kiln House (1970), on which they begin to sound more affected by American rock and roll; Future Games (1971), their first LP with Christine McVie and Welch as official members and their last with Kirwan; Bare Trees (1972), which features Kirwan’s songs predominantly, despite his departure, but also includes compositions from Welch and Christine; and Penguin (1973), Mystery to Me (1973, and Heroes Are Hard to Find (1974), pop-rock entries that prominently showcase Welch and Christine.

Listen to the early hit “Oh Well (Pt. 1)”

Bonus material augments all of these albums except Penguin. Most of those add-ons—such as previously released single versions of LP tracks—are nothing to write home about. But the box also offers some non-LP singles, a few interesting obscurities and one previously unavailable studio recording, Welch’s “Good Things (Come to Those Who Wait).” Plus, the package devotes an entire disc to a previously unreleased December 1974 concert from the Record Plant in Sausalito, Calif., that was originally simulcast on the radio in San Francisco.

Watch Fleetwood Mac perform “Angel” at the 1974 Record Plant concert

The studio albums are uneven but loaded with highlights. Kiln House, for example, has Spencer’s “Buddy’s Song,” an amiable Buddy Holly tribute, and a beautiful cover of “Mission Bell,” Donnie Brooks’ 1960 pop hit, while Christine McVie’s lilting “Spare Me a Little of Your Love” and “Come a Little Bit Closer” enliven Bare Trees and Heroes Are Hard to Find, respectively. And then there are the many hook-laden contributions of the late Bob Welch, such as Bare Trees’ “Sentimental Lady,” Mystery to Me’s “Emerald Eyes” and “Hypnotized,” and Heroes Are Hard to Find’s “Angel” and “She’s Changing Me,” all of which underscore just how much he added to this chapter of the group’s history.

Listen to “Come a Little Bit Closer”

Some of the earlier material in the box harks back to the group’s blues roots, but elsewhere they sound a lot like the latter-day Fleetwood Mac. That’s not surprising, given that many of the numbers feature vocals by Christine as well as drummer Mick Fleetwood and Christine’s then-husband, bass guitarist John McVie, all of whom would still be on board for the band’s superstar era.

Related: Peter Green died in July 2020

The boxed set’s 73-minute concert incorporates versions of some of the best material from throughout the years covered by the anthology, including “Spare Me a Little of Your Love,” “Sentimental Lady,” “Black Magic Woman” and a nearly 11-minute reading of Welch’s “Bermuda Triangle.” It offers a cogent summary of the strengths of the band during this period—a period that ended only weeks after this performance, when Fleetwood Mac’s newly reconfigured lineup entered Southern California’s Sound City Studios to begin work on the eponymous album that would turn them into household names.

Jeff Burger

3 Comments so far

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  1. Gigging Guy
    #1 Gigging Guy 27 December, 2020, 15:53

    Obviously, appreciation of music is subjective, but still I was surprised to see you list the highlights of the Kiln House album as “Buddy’s Song,” and a cover of “Mission Bell”. Everyone I know, which includes a lot of other musicians, vastly prefer the original songs Station Man and Tell Me All the Things You Do to those 50’s retreads.

    Both have killer riffs. Station Man’s is deployed in a slow burn tempo while Tell Me rocks with soaring guitar, both with great vocals.
    I have covered Tell Me onstage many times, and people always respond, whether they’ve heard it before or not, and the other band members love doing it. FWIW I would highly recommend that people check out those two tunes.

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  2. Scheebs
    #2 Scheebs 28 December, 2020, 16:14

    My all time favorite song “Hypnotized” and the entire fabulous Heroes are Hard to Find album come from this timeframe.
    Not a commercial success, but the best music to be made by the group.

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  3. Cillydood
    #3 Cillydood 30 December, 2020, 19:26

    It’s about time they compiled a boxed set from this period. Most fans don’t realize that some of the songs written by Christine McVie are the best she’s ever done. She sounds great and the songs aren’t overproduced like they became later on. It’s also good to hear the late Bob Weston’s guitar work from Penguin and the Mystery to Me. It’s too bad that he had an affair with Nick fleetwood’s wife, because that lineup could have gone so far.

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