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KSanders writesRediscovering Our Record Collections: Fleetwood Mac’s “Tango In the Night”

written by Kyle Sanders

In a pop cultural world soaked in nostalgia (remakes, reboots, and revivals--oh my!), even reissues can be a saving grace to a long forgotten, often underrated work of art. A band like Fleetwood Mac may not be underrated by any means (and some naysayers, perhaps, find them a bit overrated), but thanks to the nostalgic mentality of reminiscing, one would find that this year alone has found the musical group celebrating a handful of milestone anniversaries.

In 2017, not only has the band celebrated fifty years of making music, they've also celebrated the fortieth anniversary of their best-selling album, Rumours, the thirty-fifth anniversary of their early eighties contribution, Mirage, as well as the twentieth anniversary of their biggest comeback, The Dance.

Since that well-received reunion special, the band has maintained a solid presence in the touring circuit, as well as frequent pop-ups on classic rock radio stations. Just recently, their signature track "The Chain" was used to promote the blockbuster sequel Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and was featured on that film's soundtrack as well.

Yet while most remember the band as a Seventies Supergroup, few often regard their album Tango In the Night as a notable musical foot note of the late 1980s. Coincidentally, that album celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this year, and in recognition of that album's birthday--as well as the sixty-ninth birthday of notable band member Stevie Nicks--let us take look back at an album that remains lesser known yet still influential in the world of pop music.

At the start of the eighties, MTV was born, and it goes without saying that the cable channel changed the way music was made. Not only did music have to sound great, but it also had to feature a visually great video to accompany it. Most bands of the previous decade would falter under such aesthetic pressure, but the Mac fully embraced it. With their first album in a post-video world, Mirage, Fleetwood Mac used the medium to promote two of its singles: "Hold Me" and "Gypsy." From the start, the Mac had a concept for each video.

There was no "let's have the band stand behind a mic and just lip-sync for five minutes without a single cut" mentality, there were stories to be told. "Gypsy" in particular, was by far the lushest video the band would ever produce, featuring scenes in black and white and in color and a grand finale featuring a large dance ensemble. It would be MTV's first music video to cost $1 million. Needless to say, Fleetwood Mac was game for music television.

After that album's release in 1982 (eventually peaking at number one on the Billboard charts and selling two million copies), the group sort of disbanded and ventured into solo projects. Mick Fleetwood had his Zoo band and both Christine McVie and Lindsey Buckingham released solid solo albums. None of the band members however was more productive than Stevie Nicks, who by the mid-eighties had released three albums that were all commercially successful and had spawned several top twenty hit singles. Nothing spelled the end of Fleetwood Mac necessarily, but nothing was for certain either. 

In 1985, Christine McVie was commissioned to contribute a cover of "Can't Help Falling in Love" for the soundtrack to Blake Edwards' A Fine Mess. She brought in Buckingham, Fleetwood and bassist John McVie to lay down the instrumentals during production, which eventually led to negotiations to produce a new album.

Initially, Tango in the Night was to be a solo album for Buckingham; however, with the snowballing force that is Fleetwood Mac, things were working much faster for the band than they were for the singer, so Buckingham acquiesced and contributed more time to the band's album. After eighteen months of recording lush, expansive sounds and elaborate production work, Tango in the Night was released on April 14, 1987. 

Released ten years after the smashing success of Rumours, Tango in the Night suggested a lot had changed with Fleetwood Mac's sound. No more sunny California coastal tunes sprinkled in cocaine, the production of Tango was much slicker and pop infused than any preceding record. If Mirage was a callback to Rumours, Tango in the Night was another Tusk-like attempt at shaking things up within the band's repertoire.

Technology had changed and advanced since they had last put out a record, and Buckingham--the perfectionist producer that he had become within the band--worked meticulously on each track, building an orchestra out of sounds he could manipulate and blend into any shape or form he designed. With a third of the band either in or getting out of rehab, much of the work was left to Buckingham's artistry. 

Yet behind the syrupy sweet compositions, there was the usual melancholy themes of heartache and loss familiar to the Fleetwood Mac catalog. Each song filled with anxieties and suspicions, yet their melodies so catchy it unsurprisingly inspired a handful of hits, including Buckingham's "Big Love" ("I wake up alone with it all/I wake up but only to fall") and McVie's "Little Lies" ("No more broken hearts/We're better off apart"). 

For as much of a successful solo artist she had become by the late eighties, Stevie Nicks' material on the record is by far her weakest contributions to any of the Mac's discography. Throughout the production of Tango, Nicks was either promoting her third solo album, Rock a Little, or checking into the Betty Ford clinic for cocaine addiction.

The only contribution of hers to be released as a single, "Seven Wonders," eventually cracked the top twenty, but was mostly written by her former co-writer Sandy Stewart (the "additional lyrics" in question belonging to Nicks was in fact a misheard lyric--what was meant to be "All the way down you held the line" was mistaken for "All the way down to Emmiline"). The other Nicks-penned tracks, "Welcome to the Room...Sara"--which detailed her stint in rehab--and "When I See You Again" barely register with incoherent lyrics and hoarse vocals too warbled even for her signature singing voice. 

Christine McVie is the true standout on this album, as two of her songs became big hits: the aforementioned "Little Lies" and "Everywhere." Yet even the lesser known tracks, "Isn't It Midnight" and "Mystified," showcase McVie's sorrowful vocals and penchant for melodic hooks. Buckingham's contributions should not go unnoticed though, as his "mad scientist" methods of producing served his songs well on this album too.

Besides "Big Love," there is the stirring title track that features one of Buckingham's most rousing guitar solos, a prime example of how underrated he is as a rock guitarist. But even his more pop-lite songs such as "Family Man" and "You and I, Part II" showcase a sound outside of the box, and that goes double for his other song "Caroline." A song that features a tribal drum riff, it sounds more like a rejected Peter Gabriel track than anything produced by Fleetwood Mac. 

For an album that sounded completely disjointed from anything associated by the band, Tango in the Night has become one of Fleetwood Mac's best selling albums, second only to Rumours. It eventually peaked at number seven on the Billboard Hot 100, and spawned three music videos that received enough airplay to keep the band relevant during the latter half of the decade.

Yet this is the last album produced by the "classic lineup" of the Mac. Just before they were about to set off on a promotional tour, Lindsey Buckingham quit the band due to what he deemed as "creative restraints" in what would later be recounted as a tumultuous event unlike anything the band had experienced before (as the story goes, when Buckingham announced his decision to quit, Nicks attacked him, shouting obscenities as she chased him out into the parking lot where he slapped her in the face and slammed her up against a car, causing the other members to intervene and split them up).

After Buckingham's departure, the band raced to replace him with another guitarist, eventually settling on two: Billy Burnette and Rick Vito. Both would carry on with the band after the tour, contributing tracks to later albums at the beginning of the nineties. Once again, after another dramatic change in the lineup, the band soldiered on in another guise before eventually returning to what worked best with 1997's The Dance reunion, which would occur with Buckingham's inclusion, ten years after Tango in the Night's release. 

Thirty years later, Tango in the Night sounds surprisingly fresh considering the influence it seems to have had in music today. Artists such as Hot Chip, Cut Copy, Haim, and Vampire Weekend all have this album to thank for their electro-pop sound. Even specific tracks have withstood the test of time. "Big Love" has evolved from intricate pop orchestration to stripped down solo acoustic performance ever since Buckingham debuted it during The Dance tour.

McVie's "Everywhere" has been covered by everyone from Vampire Weekend to Chaka Khan, and "Little Lies" often pops up in an eighties flashback playlist. "Seven Wonders" found a new audience when Stevie Nicks did a guest-stint on FX's American Horror Story: Coven, lip-syncing to the original tune during the cold-open of the series finale (coincidentally titled "The Seven Wonders"). The new exposure helped it reemerge on iTunes soon after the episode aired. Ever since Christine McVie's return to the band in 2014, the album has been receiving more attention in their set lists as well.

Like a phoenix, Tango in the Night has risen from the ashes to make its mark in pop music. The origins and the aftermath of the album's creation have become synonymous within the myth of Fleetwood Mac, and is finally able to stand up against the band's more enduring albums from the late seventies. Thanks to the enduring cycle of nostalgia, Tango in the Night is back, fully rejuvenated, and "looking out for love...big, big love," and to a new generation of music lovers, it will no doubt find it.

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Categorized: Rediscovering Our Record Collections

Topics: fleetwood mac

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