(Pictured: Christine, Stevie, and Lindsey on the Tusk tour in 1980.)
The fall of 1979 was a remarkable season for rock albums: The Long Run by the Eagles, Led Zeppelin’s In Through the Out Door, The Wall by Pink Floyd, Damn the Torpedoes by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk were all released between August and November. Not quite so titanic but still significant releases in the same season included Fear of Music by Talking Heads, Cheap Trick’s Dream Police, Head Games by Foreigner, Blondie’s Eat to the Beat, and Regatta de Blanc by the Police. (And, hat tip to our man Kurt Blumenau, Aerosmith’s Night in the Ruts too.)
That fall, I was doing a show on the college radio station called Virgin Vinyl, where I’d play selections from the new stuff that had come in during the past week. When Tusk came in, I played the whole thing, possibly 40 years ago tonight, but most likely 40 years ago this week. Listen to it while I attempt to rank the tracks here in 2019.
20. “That’s Enough for Me.” By the time you have reached side 3, you have already heard several of Lindsey Buckingham’s punk-inspired, semi-experimental goofs, and “That’s Enough for Me” feels highly unnecessary.
19. “Never Make Me Cry”
18. “Honey Hi”
I will ride with Christine McVie to the end of the line. I adore her voice and how she does not play the piano as much as she caresses it. But these songs are casualties of a double-length album. They’re lovely, but they get lost.
17. “I Know I’m Not Wrong”
16. “Save Me a Place”
15. “The Ledge”
Tusk finds Lindsey, Stevie, and Christine going all White Album from time to time. Each of them seems to recycle ideas at least once or twice, but Lindsey does it most often.
14. “Sisters of the Moon.” This was the fourth single in the States and it bombed spectacularly, getting only to #86 on the Hot 100 in a three-week run in June 1980. KDWB in the Twin Cities took it to #17, but in the fall of ’79, when the station charted several cuts from several of its top albums.
13. “Never Forget.” See #19 and #18.
12. “Beautiful Child”
Stevie is in full ethereal goddess mode here, and that’s a compliment.
10. “Over and Over.” On the night I tracked this on the radio, “Over and Over,” track 1 on side 1, seemed like a less-than-scintillating way to start a record, certainly not like “Second Hand News” on Rumours or “Monday Morning” on Fleetwood Mac.
9. “Not That Funny”
8. “What Makes You Think You’re the One”
More Lindsey flavor. In college, we dug “Not That Funny” simply because of the way he sings “It’s not that funny, is it?” Meanwhile, “What Makes You Think You’re the One” could have been a hit single.
7. “Walk a Thin Line”
6. “That’s All for Everyone”
The more Lindsay involves the rest of the band on his songs, especially on vocals, the better the songs are.
5. “Brown Eyes.” For years, “Brown Eyes” went right past me without making much of an impression, but it deserved better. The former Mr. and Mrs. McVie play beautifully together, so much so that when the rest of the band comes in, I find myself thinking, “No, leave them alone, they’re doing fine on their own.”
4. “Tusk.” Now that we’ve all heard “Tusk” a million times, we can no longer capture the utter WTF moment we experienced the first time the marching band kicked in. The record is not really as foreign as it sounded in 1979. Mick Fleetwood’s insistent drum beat is engraved on human DNA, and the first half has the same ominous feel as “The Chain.”
3. “Think About Me.” The most obvious single on the album.
2. “Angel.” “Angel” would have made a better fourth single than “Sisters of the Moon.”
1. “Sara.” Stevie is a little more anchored and a little less the ethereal goddess on “Sara,” partially because the song is based firmly on her real life, often presumed to involve a child she didn’t have with Don Henley. Stevie herself has said it’s A) about her breakup with Mick Fleetwood; B) about Fleetwood’s ex, who was named Sara; and C) about “what all of us in Fleetwood Mac were going through at the time.” There’s evidence in “Sara,” for all of it and then some: desire, regret, hope, loss, it’s all in there.
As a double album, Tusk will always suffer next to its two predecessors, and also the album that followed it, Mirage. Taken on its own, however, it’s better than I have given it credit for over these last 40 years.