Song of the Day: Fleetwood Mac’s “Albatross”

by M.C. Antil on October 2, 2010

M.C. Antil’s Song of the Day — October 2, 2010
A daily snapshot of songs you might not know…
but should.

Long before Fleetwood Mac became a Top 40 hit-making machine with the financial wherewithal of a small European country, they were a simple blues band.  Formed by John McVie, Mick Fleetwood and Peter Green, who played together in John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, the band’s sound combined the basic structure of traditional Mississippi Delta blues with the up-tempo rhythms and improvisational headroom of its bastard son, Chicago blues.

Vintage Mac: Mick Fleetwood, Peter Green, John McVie, Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer

The group’s artistic leader was Green, a lead guitarist so skilled at blues riffs as so loyal to the genre’s spirit that he was revered as a god by aficionados on both sides of the pond.  In fact, B.B. King once said of him: “He has the sweetest tone I ever heard; he was the only one who gave me the cold sweats.”

Two of Green’s earliest blues-rock compositions, “Black Magic Woman” and “Oh Well,” though minor hits in England when first released, went on to become two of the most iconic rock songs in history.

Late in 1968, two major changes occurred within Fleetwood Mac. First, Green started to become moody and unpredictable, leading many to believe he had started to exhibit traces of the schizophrenia that would eventually drive him from the music scene.

Secondly, the band hired a third guitarist, a 18-year old wunderkind named Danny Kirwan, who possessed an almost otherworldly talent for melody.  Green, who had been working on a simple instrumental composition for months, soon finished the song with Kirwan’s help, and in January of 1969 “Albatross” was released in the U.K.

The song, which was only released as a single at the time, was moody and evocative, and was built on an intoxicating two-chord hook and an ethereal, almost-hypnotic bass line by McVie.  Within weeks it had sky-rocketed to #1 in England. And though it was never even a marginal hit in the U.S., it remains an absolutely essential song in the Fleetwood Mac canon, as well as one of the only Peter Green-era songs to earn a spot on most of the band’s later compilation discs.

Why?  Because without “Albatross,” Fleetwood Mac might have stayed a straight blues band and might never have become the musical juggernaut they eventually became.  And because — musically anyway — if one were to trace the roots of Fleetwood Mac, the platinum-selling supergroup, those roots would wind back through the Lindsay Buckingham of “Go Your Own Way,” back through the Bob Welch of “Hypnotized,” “Sentimental Lady” and “Silver Heels,” back through the Danny Kirwan of “Sunny Side of Heaven” and “Dragonfly” and dead-end directly at the feet of Peter Green and his two-chord masterwork of atmosphere and melody.

In other words, this is the song that started it all.

So please, sit back, turn up the volume, and enjoy M.C. Antil’s Song of the Day for Saturday, October 2, 2010:  Fleetwood Mac’s 1969 instrumental classic, Albatross.

Title:  Albatross
Artist:  Fleetwood Mac
Composer:  Peter Green
Year Released:  1969

Fleetwood Mac – Albatross

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