Hi Everybody! Robert is back with another Going Solo article. Today, he is covering the legendary Stevie Nicks. My introduction to Stevie Nicks was her “Stand Back” video on MTV. I was blown away! I had never heard of Fleetwood Mac before, so this was a treat. Of course, now I’m very familiar with Fleetwood Mac. Stevie Nicks is my favorite member of the band, and I love all her solo work. “I Can’t Wait” to see what Robert has to say! So, take it away, Robert!
An Apology to Stevie Nicks
Dear Ms. Nicks,
I am writing you to apologize. You see, I am an enormous fan of ‘80s music; I grew up during this great era – graduated high school in 1987- went to college, you know, normal stuff. During all of the countless hours I spent listening to the fantastic tunes of the decade, I made one huge mistake. I never gave your music a chance. I knew you were a vocalist for Fleetwood Mac, but the band was never one of my favorites. Sure, I like some of those big hits – “Go Your Own Way”, “Don’t Stop”, “Dreams” – but not enough to listen to your solo music. That started to change a bit with Fleetwood Mac’s live album The Dance. I thought your vocals on “Landslide” were haunting and amazing, but it wasn’t enough. I still refused to listen to your solo work. Recently, I have listened to at least one American Top 40 countdown from the ‘80s every day. Your songs have been popping up all of the time. And I like them. I was familiar with your duets with Tom Petty and Don Henley, but now I was really listening to them. Now I had to reconsider “Edge of Seventeen” – a song I had always refused to pay attention to. I listened closely – and – what a great song!
I now feel the need to take a close listen to your first solo album Bella Donna. You released this album in 1981 after having wild success with the two previous Fleetwood Mac albums, Rumours and Tusk. You were clearly established in the rock world, but Bella Donna may have made you even bigger. The album reached #1 on the Billboard album charts, selling over four million copies and being certified quadruple platinum status. The album had four top 40 hits which are constantly played on classic rock radio stations today. This album is just a beginning to your wonderful solo career while you continued to work with Fleetwood Mac.
Shortly after recording Bella Donna, you discovered that your pregnant best friend had been diagnosed with cancer. She named you God mother and you took care of the child after she died. These must have been very difficult times for you, but you clearly preserved and showed drive and determination by touring for this album and releasing your second solo effort in 1983, The Wild Heart. The evidence was clear, I just didn’t see it. You are an icon of the rock world and your solo career is just as strong and worthy of attention as is your work with Fleetwood Mac. Bella Donna is an excellent album and worthy of all of the accolades it has received.
What a great way to begin the first solo album. There have been many interviews over the years and occasionally this song comes up. It seems that Nicks was making a personal statement with this song – one in which she is declaring her youth in the past and recognizing that it is time to move on. Nicks said of this song, “’Bella Donna’ is a term of endearment I use and the title is about making a lot of decisions in my life, making a change based on the turmoil in my soul. You get to a certain age where you want to slow down, be quieter. The title song was basically a warning to myself and a question to others.” I love this idea of recognizing the need to move on. If we never move forward we are doomed to be stuck in the past.
Another solid track that is centered around the much used idea of temptation. The speaker in the song has recognized that the man she loved has given into the temptation of another woman. She realizes that she could have made it with this man, but not now. He will be haunted by the memory of both women and the actions he took that changed everything. This song is highlighted by an excellent guitar solo that has its own haunting quality.
This song has the unmistakable voice of Tom Petty that accompanies Nicks. In addition, three other Heartbreakers help out on this song: Stan Lynch is on drums, Benmont Tench on keyboards, and Mike Campbell is on the guitar. Lyrically, this is a song in which the woman is seriously questioning the ability of her man to be worthy of the relationship. Her doubts are clear with, “Baby, you could never look me in the eye / Yeah, you buckle with the weight of the words.” I think this song can be connected to the first one, thematically speaking. As we mature, we are forced to see situations with clearer eyes – in a more truthful manner. Yes, this stinks, but if we do not then we are stuck in situations, or with people, that are not good for us.
This song really sounds like a positive breakup song – is that possible? No hard feelings, regret, or animosity? In some ways, lyrically this reminds me of a Journey song; the upbeat, optimistic song that serves to give the listener confidence and a belief that good things will come. Nicks writes, “Even when you feel your life is fading / I know that you’ll go on forever / You’re that good / Heartbreak of the moment is not endless / Your fortune is your life’s love.” Is there any chance that this song is a touch autobiographical considering her relationship with Lindsey Buckingham? I’m just saying.
Speaking of autobiographical. This song sounds as if Nicks is sitting down and talking to us about her life and outlook on her career. It seems that she is rather content with how things are going, “For me, it’s the only life I’ve ever known / And love is only one fine star away / Even though the living is sometimes laced with lies / It’s alright, the feeling remains / Even after the glitter fades.” Based on the title alone, I was fully expecting a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of stardom and the rapidity with which it fades. Instead . . . what a nice surprise. The video is a studio version of Nicks performing the song.
This is the song that really caused me to reexamine Stevie Nicks. Every day I listen to at least one American Top 40 countdown from the ‘80s; iHeart radio has a station that plays these in a somewhat random order. One week this song popped up three times and each time I liked it a bit more. Despite being the third highest charting single from this album, it is the song that most listeners recognize as Nicks truly becoming a solo artist. The meaning of this excellent song has been discussed by many listeners. I prefer to go to the source – the songwriter herself – who says this song is in memory and reaction to the death of John Lennon and her uncle, who both died as she was beginning to compile songs for this album. I think this song has some her most powerful lyrics that just add to the greatness of this song: “And days go by / Like a strand in the wind / In the web that is my own / I begin again.”, “The clouds never expect it when it rains / But the sea changes colors, but the sea does not change / So with slow graceful flow of age / I went forth with an age old desire to please.”
This song features an infectious slide guitar and adds a level of consistency to the album. This is not a great or memorable song, but it is good and shows how Nicks is able to show consistently strong song writing that maintains her style. The song builds to an effective climax – but I think it suffers a bit from being in between two classic tracks.
Sometimes I need to remind myself that songs do not need to be complicated or have deep lyrics to be truly great – this song is an excellent example of this. Here is a love song, a duet with Don Henley, that does not push any boundaries of originality. It uses simple imagery of leather and lace to show two people who seem to be opposites but have a close connection. There is a strong motif of home that is used to emphasizes this feeling of comfort-ability. This is a remarkable love song and Don Henley’s voice does nothing but make this song even better. The video is a live version and, unfortunately, does not feature Don Henley.
“Love is a word that some entertain / If you find it, you have won the game.” It is a mistake to assume that every songwriter composes songs that are strictly autobiographical. Take Phil Collins, for example. He has gone through a few nasty, public breakups. He himself has said that his second solo album is his “divorce” album and that all of the songs are about his failed first marriage. The relationship problems between Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham are very public and documented in several Fleetwood Mac songs. Nicks has been very open about the ups and downs of their relationship; so saying, I do not want to pigeonhole this song as being autobiographical, but is does have that feeling to it. It is nearly impossible not to think so when Nicks writes, “And it’s been like dying / No love is that hard to find / And I’m tired of – I’m tired of trying / Outside the rain / And the heart skips a beat – so you’re lonely.” If you notice a stronger presence of a guitar it is because Mike Campbell from the Heartbreakers is back. Solid stuff.
There is a famous poem published in 1906 by Alfred Noyes with the same title as Nicks’ song. She follows a similar ballad style, telling a story of a about a man who is striving for glory and a woman who is searching for love in that man. I have no idea if Nicks was using the Noyes poem as an inspiration but there are some real similarities. Being an English teacher, you know I have to link you to the poem: (http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-highwayman) – read it if you have some time. This song is a great end to an excellent album that leaves plenty of hope for future Stevie Nicks albums.
Ms. Nicks, I apologize with all of my musical heart. You are a fantastic vocalist who deserves to be deeply entrenched in the annals of ‘80s rock. You are a legend and all fans of ‘80s need to recognize your supreme talent. At times, these talents may be overshadowed a bit by your work with Fleetwood Mac, but your solo music deserves just as much attention. I have no good excuse for not appreciating your music when I was younger. Perhaps I just needed to get a little older to be able to truly tune into your songs. Whatever – I now hear your talents. I will always recognize you as one of the most important voices of the 1980’s.