Looking Back at Fleetwood Mac’s Ambitious ‘Tusk’

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tusk-album-coverHow does a band follow-up an album that sold tens of millions of copies, earned a Grammy Award for Album of the Year, yielded four hit singles and essentially cemented their classic rock legacy? In the case of Fleetwood Mac, they chose to record a more experimental album.

1977’s Rumours achieved every band’s goal imaginable. It was the #1 album in the U.S. for a whopping 31 weeks and in three years it had sold 13 million copies. Today, that number is reported to be north of 40 million. It yielded four Top 10 singles: “Go Your Own Way,” “Dreams” “Don’t Stop” and “You Make Loving Fun.”

Following the phenomenal success of Rumours, the band took a more experimental approach with their 12th record, Tusk, introducing sparser arrangements as well as punk rock and new wave production influences. It was also the most expensive rock album made up to that point, costing over a million dollars to record – a fact pointed out often in the 1979 press.

A Tusk publicity photo

It was scheduled to be released on October 15, 1979, as a two-record set, but was rushed to stores a few days earlier, on Oct. 12, when several stations began airing leaked copies.

The band’s lineup again featured Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Christine McVie, Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks.

But Tusk was really Buckingham’s vision. He wrote nine of its 20 tracks, many of which were recorded at his home studio. (Christine McVie wrote six; Nicks contributed five.)

In the midst of a surprisingly tough record retail climate at the time, the album received the biggest initial shipment in Warner Bros. Records history. “We’ve seen what happened [with the] three and a half million records [RSO Records] laid out [for the Sgt. Pepper movie soundtrack],” said the label’s SVP Ed Rosenblatt. “I’m not interested in moving records from our pressing plant to the warehouse. I want to get them out to where the consumer can buy them.

“I would rather be under-shipped than over,” he said.

A two-page ad for the album ran in the Oct. 27, 1979, issue of Record World

There are 20 tracks on the collection and Warner Bros. released six as singles, only two of which went Top 10: “Tusk” and “Sara.” Two didn’t even chart. While Tusk ultimately sold four million copies worldwide, it peaked at only #4 on the U.S. album chart and is considered a commercial failure, given the phenomenal success of Rumours.

Reasons (and blame) abound: its list price was extremely high for the time… $15.98; the RKO radio stations had played the album in its entirety in seven major markets nearly two weeks’ before its release and encouraged home taping; it was too “experimental,” and so on.

Regarding the list price, Rosenblatt said: “You have to remember that in effect you’re dealing with double costs. If we were to lay out four million [copies], it’s really eight million. We feel that at $15.98, it’s a great value.”

The band recorded the title track (and video) at an empty Dodger Stadium with the help of the USC Marching Band.

Watch the title track to “Tusk,” and yes, that’s Stevie Nicks twirling a baton at 1:14

October 10, 1979 was proclaimed Fleetwood Mac Day in Los Angeles, via a proclamation by Mayor Tom Bradley. The festivities included a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, followed by a party to play back the new album for 600 guests.

Listen to another one of the album’s singles, “Think About Me”

Fleetwood Mac toured in 2018-19, with a revised lineup featuring Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Stevie Nicks, and Christine McVie along with newcomers Mike Campbell and Neil Finn. In the year following Christine McVie’s passing in 2022, statements from Fleetwood and Nicks indicated that the surviving band members would no longer be tourin.

In 2015, Rhino released a super deluxe edition of the album. And for Record Store Day 2016, a limited edition Alternative Tusk vinyl version was issued.

Related: Fleetwood Mac, Lindsey Buckingham part ways… again

Best Classic Bands Staff

7 Comments so far

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  1. Jack
    #1 Jack 6 March, 2018, 05:37

    “Tusk” is, without a doubt, my favorite Fleetwood Mac album. I must admit though, that it took a little while to grow on me. I think the self-titled “Fleetwood Mac” and “Rumours” where no-brainers when it came to mass appeal, exceptional “West Coast” rock ‘n roll, almost simple and to the point.
    “Tusk”, on the other hand, was something totally different. Produced by Lindsey Buckingham, “Tusk” was exotic, strange and sometimes “out there”. Songs like “Not that Funny” and “What Makes You Think You’re the One”, and “Tusk” were much different than songs on the two previous albums. I think this threw a lot of people. But, man these songs grow on you!
    Songs like “Brown Eyes”, “Think About Me”, and “Save Me a Place”, did touch a little on the previous albums, but were still very different. It is, however, four Stevie Nicks penned songs that scream Fleetwood Mac! “Angel” is straight forward FM. “Sisters of the Moon” harkens back to “Rhiannon” and “Gold Dust Women”. And two ballads, “Storms” and “Beautiful Child” target the heart just like “Landslide”.
    I can’t say enough about this album. To me, it represented an incredible amount of courage on the part of Buckingham. It would have been easy to write another “Rumours”, but instead of feeding to the base, he took us in a totally different direction.

    Reply this comment
    • Sheikfreak
      Sheikfreak 14 October, 2020, 11:50

      I totally agree with you…all the songs you mentioned are some of my all time favorites of Fleetwood Mac ever. Love “Storms” & “Beautiful Child!”

      Reply this comment
  2. The DOCTOR
    #2 The DOCTOR 30 December, 2018, 12:12

    Hey, do you know why there was only a cardboard cut-out statue of John McVie in the TUSK video?

    Reply this comment
    • LJ65
      LJ65 22 September, 2019, 22:33

      If I recall correctly he was vacationing in Hawaii and was unavailable for the video shoot.

      Reply this comment
  3. The Bride of Tusk
    #3 The Bride of Tusk 25 November, 2021, 03:16

    Everyone had the chance to experiment as much as they pleased and as long as it wotked with LB’s vision. In the beginning most thought this is nuts! It’s like a two album box sent then slowly the seams smoothed out. LB had a vision which was a bit disconcerting when others felt a bit under utilized but like it or not earned that extra producer’s credit. I’ll leave instructions to the location and key to the lock box to be opened upon my departure from our dear Mother Earth. I would expect some fireworks and explosions many thought were long forgotten. Listen closely and you may the plaintiff whale of the fabled harmonica killer seeking yet another victim reminding and passing the collection plate. Here’s to you Dick la Palm and Geordie Hormel and most of all to my favorite glass ceiling breaker…Carla Frederick. Catch ya upstairs with a fine cigar and some Louis Tres

    Reply this comment
  4. davhop63
    #4 davhop63 16 October, 2022, 00:12

    It didn’t sell 40 million copies but still LOVED, Tusk and played it more than I did “Rumours”….the singles released were the best choices from this ambitious recording….31 weeks at #1 was gonna be nearly impossible to top….As I recall the whole industry was in a slump in a “post-disco” backlash and with many artists trying to re-establish credibility at that time. As we know now…FM later rebounded with a few more #1 albums and massive sales on into the next millennium.

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  5. SuperSoarEye
    #5 SuperSoarEye 13 October, 2023, 09:46

    I watched and listened as Buckingham played Tusk all by himself, with his head almost touching the stage. So cool.

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