Fleetwood Mac Is Nyacht Rock and That's Okay
by Jeff Morris
Lately there has been some musings around Fleetwood Mac’s Yacht Rock status. On Beyond Yacht Rock episode Yacht or Nyacht Vol. 7, the hosts dissected two tracks from 1987’s Tango in the Night album, “Little Lies” and “Everywhere”, and scored these low on the scientifically-airtight Yachtski scale. While I have listened to Fleetwood Mac records for 20 years, I never considered any of their tracks close to Yacht. I started asking myself, what is it about some of their work that fools people into believing this is a valid question?
I have been a huge Fleetwood Mac fan since my mid-teens. While my 90’s peers were succumbing to Brittany and the Backstreet Boys, I started digging down the Fleetwood discography, digesting even their lesser known tracks. I get the sense that every time the BYR cast is asked “Is this [song] Yacht or Nyacht?” the sub-question felt being asked is “Do you even like this song (or group)?” – The answer, for me, is an unequivocal ‘Yes’ – I do love these songs and these band members.
We’re talking the super-star soap-opera lineup from ‘75 – ’87: born, thriving, and fading on twin timelines to Yacht Rock. Start with a tight rhythm section, add a pianist, a SoCal guitar/vocal duo, and finish by settling in California for production. Sounds great, but as individual artists, their talents and tastes skewed from Yacht Rock ideals.
As Lindsey Buckingham took a larger production role in the group following Rumours, there is little evidence that his country-bluegrass influences were compatible with the jazz foundations of Yacht. Lindsey offers singer/songwriter acoustic arrangements with massive vocal dynamics, and even though his guitar technique is amazing, you may not find him anywhere near the marina.
Stevie Nicks captures a mystical and poetic relationship with her music. While her voice is a unique mix of etherial yet raspy, she often depicts imagery of air, birds, wind, rain, and witches, leaning more toward Easy Wickening than Yacht Rock.
Finally Christine McVie: a classically trained pianist, she frequently leaves her most intricate work for her beautiful ballads, which Gene Yachtski does not smile upon. Her up-tempo work takes cue from blues-based progressions and while they exhibit decent bounce, they are not sophisticated enough for the ride. Her vocals are the towline that pulls Fleetwood Mac closer to YR than any other member. Her style and range is the closest we get to a female version of Michael McDonald.
But put them together, maybe they could be the ingredients in a strange recipe for smooth sailing, but they are not. Let's dissect some of their more yacht-close tracks and find out why:
Title: “Over My Head”
Album: Fleetwood MacYear: 1975
Vocals: Christine McVie
Even though this track was recorded during YR’s conception, it may be the closest Fleetwood Mac ever comes to the pier, with its rolling organ, soft groove, and McVie’s contralto vocals. Yet, the sound lacks bounce, harmonies, and a stray chord change. Recorded while the group’s relationships were still intact and amicable, the music emits a bluesy yet positive vibe, resonating with audiences too: it was the band’s first hit single (#20 US). This number’s not on the boat, but I can hear it on the external speakers at the dockside bar.
Title: “Sugar Daddy”
Album: Fleetwood Mac
Vocals: Christine McVie
That piano bounce. That bass line. Catchy, yet too bluesy, simplistic, and repetitive for the Yacht. The car horn at 2:24 isn’t enough brass, so we’ll have to leave this vehicle on land.
Vocals: Stevie Nicks
Sara reached #7 in 1980 with an acoustic introduction followed by a sailable groove. We hear an opening similar in 1980’s “Sailing” by YR royalty Christopher Cross. Unlike the latter, the tempo is too driven, the arrangement is too acoustical, and the lyrics too distraught and depressing (Stevie has confirmed the song speaks about a lost pregnancy) even though she pulls out some nautical metaphors, our Yacht will not be ‘drowning in the sea of love’.
Title: “Hold Me”
Vocals: Christine McVie/Lindsey Buckingham
A Christine McVie-penned hit (#4 US) with bouncy E.Pianos and simple chord progressions. The song has a catchy but intrusive bass riff, while the constant dual vocal lead yields no interesting chorus. The staccato rhythm guitar further disrupts our ride, leaving us with only a taste of yacht, but just like the album title describes, it is only an illusion.
“Hold Me” is co-written by Robbie Patton. Fleetwood Mac stalwart producer Ken Caillet and Christine McVie also produced his 1981 album Distant Shores, which spawned his only charting track: “Don’t Give it Up” (#26 US). His lesser-known track “Alright” may even make it onboard. It seems Ms. McVie might have caught YR fever for a weekend in ’81, but the larger Fleetwood Mac production cured it too fast before this track could come aboard.
Title: “Only Over You”
Vocals: Christine McVie
Christine goes back to repetitive blues progressions that made her famous seven years earlier. This rolling ballad is in her wheelhouse; however, this slow number isn’t going in the same direction as our cruise. It lacks a bounce and any interesting melodic qualities.
Title: “Welcome to the Room…Sara”
Album: Tango in the Night
Vocals: Stevie Nicks
Without a doubt, the band-named veteran rhythm section (Mick Fleetwood, John McVie) laid down many smooth foundations. Take “You Make Loving Fun” from 1977’s Rumours – that groove alone could place it somewhere respectable on a fictional proto-Yachtski scale (similar to Boz Scagg’s “Lowdown”), however the arrangement is too steady, with only minor areas of harmony and a straightforward 4-piece sound. Perhaps another potential passenger is “Dreams,” the group’s only #1 hit. Great harmonies are on showcase here, yet the tempo is too slow and the arrangement too simple.
In conclusion, Fleetwood Mac is blues, soft rock, rock, pop, and ballads. So much of their library was created out of tumultuous struggles in their own romantic relationships. Their internal depressive soap opera that fueled their attractiveness to worldwide audiences was Yacht kryptonite. By the peak of YR (‘79 – ’82), their romantic relationships were completely dissolved, leaving the music pressed with dissonance, rhythmic breakdowns, distraught lyrics, and experimental production techniques. Hence, much of the work feels the opposite of ‘smooth’.
They were mainstream yet extraordinary talents, and they might never step onboard the Yacht – and we should be fine with that. Their catalogue displays bounce, horns, harmonies, and smooth grooves – but with Fleetwood Mac, I’ve found that these qualities never arrived at the same harbor at the same time, so they’ll have to wave at us from their oceanfront estates.