There is a little irony that Fleetwood Mac hit superstardom ten years into its existence, having jettisoned numerous guitar heroes — including the group’s founder, the inimitable and brilliant Peter Green — and did so as a West Coast soft rock band rather than the grimy British hard blues act that inspired contemporaries and was absolutely formative for Jimmy Page in his vision of Led Zeppelin. By 1975, beleaguered and getting old in the rock and roll tooth, and years since it had anything approaching a hit, the band made a last ditch, daring sea change that saw them bring on the largely unknown singer-songwriting couple Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, who radically reshaped Fleetwood Mac’s sound. 1975’s Fleetwood Mac was their breakthrough, while 1977’s Rumours proved the formula worked, as Nicks and Buckingham brought a finesse of songcraft sorely missing since Peter Green left the band. More than this, though, the two Americans integrated, rather than overlayed, their sound on Fleetwood Mac. Onstage, Nicks became Green’s “Black Magic Woman” incarnate, a gypsy witch with a unique vocal power (and a sexual presence that didn’t hurt the band’s progress), while Buckingham, a gifted, complete guitarist, could play lines summoning the group’s bluesy manalishi ghosts while feeding the ravenous pop machine he was building.
The last song on Rumours, Nicks’ “Gold Dust Woman” is an ode to coke, interwoven with the legendary California cartoon of disintegrating relationships and romantic triangles making up Fleetwood Mac’s lore. It completes side two of the LP as assuredly as “The Chain” begins it, the two songs dancing at the edges of Peter Green’s blues terrors, advancing into soft rock classic dark jazz torches like “Lush Life” while setting the stage for future L.A. creatures like “Babylon Sisters.” Like the LP it finishes, the song is a dark star, a downer completing one of the unlikeliest of pop albums. “Rock on, gold dust woman.”
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