Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Oh Well, Fleetwood Mac (1969)

Can't help about the shape I'm in / I can't sing, I ain't pretty and my legs are thin / But don't ask me what I think of you / I might not give the answer that you want me to

I must have been in the habit of singing these words around the house a lot, because when I was a high school senior, my dad could pretty much recite that whole verse by heart.

Other than the rhythm section of drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie, the band that gained lasting notoriety as Fleetwood Mac bears little resemblance to the original, which was a standard bearer of the late-60s British blues movement.

Fleetwood Mac was fronted and founded by guitar virtuoso and songwriter Peter Green, who earlier replaced Eric Clapton in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers during one of Clapton's many career changes, and whose signature style tended toward free-form instrumentals. Those inclinations were showcased to fabulous effect in Oh Well Parts 1 & 2, a two-verse song that had a radio version and a lovely extended version that went on for 9 minutes. Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer completed this particular incarnation's lineup.

What was it about Oh Well? Well ... there was nothing else at the time that was quite like it. Call it progressive blues - it wasn't full throttle rock, but it totally belonged. The distinctive guitar workout and use of percussion was just so appealing, and the two quirky verses lodged in the brain. It was a song that, when you heard it, quite simply demanded your attention.

Fans of Green know well the sad story of his descent into schizophrenia, brought on at least in part by one too many LSD trips. He famously sold his 1959 Gibson Les Paul to Skid Row and Thin Lizzy's Gary Moore, who paid impressive homage to his hero in Blues for Greeny (stay to the end of the video for a cameo appearance by Green). Thanks go out to my sister Dawn for her contribution of this factoid, which had completely eluded me.

His departure from Fleetwood Mac in 1970 set the stage for the personnel changes that ultimately morphed the band into the pop-rock institution comprised of Fleetwood, McVie and his wife Christine, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. A worthy band in its own right, but a far cry from its blues-infused beginnings.

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