Lindsey Buckingham Reveals Stories Behind His Solo Songs And Whether He’ll Ever Rejoin Fleetwood Mac
“It certainly has been … a surprising year,” Lindsey Buckingham joked from the stage at Manhattan’s Town Hall last week. Fleetwood Mac’s erstwhile singer and guitarist is playing shows in support of Solo Anthology, a career-spanning collection that’s somehow his first-ever hits package 37 years into a successful solo career. The just-released 6xLP version of the set marks the first time some of his most beloved songs have been available on vinyl, too. But the big surprise this year is that Fleetwood Mac are also on tour, without him.
Buckingham and his fans were shocked when, following an all-star tribute concert in January, he was unceremoniously kicked out of the band via a phone call from manager Irving Azoff at Stevie Nicks’ behest. Neil Finn and Mike Campbell were hired to replace him and consequently Fleetwood Mac shows now include songs by Crowded House, Split Enz, and Tom Petty. The silver lining is that Buckingham was freed up to do this solo tour featuring some tunes he had never before played live.
From 1981’s Law And Order to last year’s collaborative LP with Mac bandmate Christine McVie, along with a handful of movie soundtrack contributions, Solo Anthology is an overdue showcase for the more adventurous side of Fleetwood Mac’s principal songwriter and arranger, not to mention his blazing fingerstyle guitar work. While he was in NYC, I sat down with the 69-year-old father of three at a restaurant near Central Park to learn the stories behind a selection of his solo tracks, get an update on his lawsuit against Fleetwood Mac (he revealed it was settled a few weeks ago), and find out what’s next for one of rock’s most gifted guitarists.
STEREOGUM: “Trouble” was your first solo single. You played basically everything on Law And Order, but “Trouble” had George Hawkins on bass and a drum loop from Mick Fleetwood.
BUCKINGHAM: It was probably a departure from much of that album, and much of what I am not as much a fan of about it now is that it was kind of a reaction to the political climate in a post-Tusk environment. In a moment when I realized the only way I was going to explore the left side of my palate was to do solo work, Law And Order was a bit, shall we say, sarcastic as a body of work, a bit camp, maybe a bit too camp, almost verging on a comedy album in some ways in terms of the irony that was there and the sensibility. “Trouble” was a song that was very absent of that, and that’s probably one reason that they picked it out as a single.
STEREOGUM: Why only one song from Law And Order on this compilation?
BUCKINGHAM: There are other songs that I enjoy, but as I was listening to them as I was trying to make them work in the context of a larger body of work, they just didn’t seem to want to go on there. Again, completely subjective and perhaps maybe I have a bad attitude about that album. I mean, I wanted the anthology to have a certain elevated tone that had a level of sincerity to it. I think much of Law And Order doesn’t speak in a sincere way. It speaks more in an ironic way, a tongue in cheek way.
“Slow Dancing” (1984)
STEREOGUM: After Fleetwood Mac’s Mirage, you returned with Go Insane. “Slow Dancing” from that album is a song you are now playing live for the first time, 34 years later.
BUCKINGHAM: There are quite a few songs we’re doing that I had never put together for a live presentation, so that’s part of the appeal of the set for all of us and hopefully for the audience. “Slow Dancing” was kind of a contemplation on the romantic notion that often happens when you’re young and you’re in a situation where there’s seemingly a range of possibilities at any given time. And if you’re out of a relationship … It’s funny how whenever I would connect with someone, you always try to give it a level of at least romantic aspiration, if nothing else, because you want to make a human connection.
Musically that was just a really nice counterpoint to “Go Insane” in terms of having a 4/4 dance beat and having a similar use of computer sounds.
STEREOGUM: You were using early Fairlight CMI and LinnDrum.
BUCKINGHAM: It was an 8-bit Fairlight, but it had so many things in it. It opened up so much on a cinematic level for me. It was just great. Yeah, that’s all over that album.
STEREOGUM: The “Trouble” video is iconic in its own way, but for the videos for this album — “Slow Dancing” and “Go Insane” — you got costumes and sets and visual effects.
BUCKINGHAM: I think we did both videos for that over in England, as I recall, but the video form was something that appeared after we had become successful. It was hard to tell for a group like Fleetwood Mac, or even as a solo artist, whether it was an extension of our sense of possibility or if it was some sort of intrusion into something more pure in terms of a connection with listeners. Because clearly, you can make the case that the form of the video is something like an extended commercial, and yet there were so many that became iconic for how artistic they were, little four-minute movies and a lot of people with a lot of talent. David Fincher, for example, came from that form.
I think after the video for “Trouble,” which really was basically a set piece of standing in front of the camera and had very little editing and no narrative, the idea of doing a couple of videos that were far more complex in terms of the number of shots, in terms of the rhythm of the editing, in terms of the use of effects, those were not my ideas…
STEREOGUM: But you didn’t contest it.
BUCKINGHAM: Oh, no. I thought it was great fun to do, and I thought that in some ways the video form seemed to align itself better to my sensibilities, which were somewhat off to the left, potentially anyway, than it would for Fleetwood Mac. That may be the case. There aren’t a lot of Fleetwood Mac videos that didn’t suffer from some element of being flawed by virtue of just the collective persona of the band not jiving with the sensibility of the video.
“Holiday Road” & “Dancin’ Across The USA” (1983), “Time Bomb Town” (1985)
STEREOGUM: The Go Insane era was bookended by these memorable soundtrack songs, “Time Bomb Town” from Back To The Future and “Holiday Road” and “Dancin’ Across The USA” from National Lampoon’s Vacation. I take it when you wrote “Holiday Road” you did not predict that it would become one of your most enduring songs.
BUCKINGHAM: That often happens though when you’re doing something where you perceive that the stakes are quite low, when you’re doing something that’s outside of your basic wheelhouse. Harold Ramis called me up and asked me if I would write a beginning and a second song to go over the credits, which was “Dancin’ Across the USA,” my attempt at recreating the Mills Brothers. It’s one of those things, you almost want to say, “I don’t do that.” It wasn’t part of my discipline. I wasn’t sure I could do it, but that was also freeing because he wanted me to try.
We came up with this thing, and I remember very clearly him coming out to the studio with a couple of his people, producers, Matty [Simmons], I think, and listening to this song for the first time. He was literally blown away at how effective it was and how some of the subject matter, without me even having seen the film, was addressed.
STEREOGUM: I was going to ask if you’d watched the movie first.
BUCKINGHAM: It had dog barks in it — I didn’t know there was going to be a scene in the movie where a dog gets dragged behind a car without them knowing it. Obviously, I knew it had to be somewhat uplifting and a little bit funny, which it is, but somehow we nailed it beyond his expectations certainly. He was like, “Holy crap.” A lot of that was just luck. Then when I got asked to do the title song for Ghostbusters, I said, “Nah, you know, I did this really well once. It’s not something I want to get into as a repetitive part of my identity.” “Time Bomb Town,” on the other hand, which by the way when I listened to that again, I was like, “Wow, that is really great.”
STEREOGUM: It is. It’s still not on streaming services, but before MP3s and YouTube it was really hard to track down. You didn’t have a greatest hits or anything.
BUCKINGHAM: It wasn’t a single either. The single was, who was that that had the single…
STEREOGUM: Huey Lewis.
BUCKINGHAM: Huey Lewis, right. “Time Bomb Town” was buried somewhere behind some scene in a movie, and it was on the original album, but it wasn’t something that they gravitated to as a single. That’s understandable. Huey Lewis was someone who had a much more visible identity. Of course, this all gets back to my, I won’t call it a problem, but again the irony of being someone who’s been in a big band and been so visible and then chosen to live in the world as more of an artist and how you lose nine-tenths of your audience by doing that. That’s a trade off you make. Talk to Jim Jarmusch or somebody and he’ll tell you the same thing.
“Time Bomb Town,” I knew it was good. I loved the chord changes in it. I hadn’t heard it in so long, and when I got back and listened to it again, I was really surprised at how well it held up. Richard Dashut and I did that in my garage, and it was just kind of a goof.
STEREOGUM: Had you seen that movie beforehand?
BUCKINGHAM: I never saw the movie because it wasn’t my kind of movie. Was that Zemeckis who did that?
BUCKINGHAM: I didn’t see a lot of his stuff.
STEREOGUM: Back To The Future is pretty good.
BUCKINGHAM: Okay. Well, I’ll check it out then a little after the fact.
STEREOGUM: Yet “Time Bomb Town” you have still never played live.
BUCKINGHAM: Maybe next year. We’re probably going to do one more leg of this, and then we’ve got more stuff to do. We’ll see what makes it down the line. I’ve heard a couple of people say, “No ‘Time Bomb Town’?”
“Street Of Dreams” (1992)
STEREOGUM: Out Of The Cradle is a masterpiece and it came eight years after your previous solo album.
BUCKINGHAM: The time lag in some ways was the subject of a repeating theme that would happen when I wanted to maybe make a quicker transition into a next solo project, but Fleetwood Mac would always say, “Well, we gotta do this.” After Go Insane, which I didn’t tour, there was Mirage, and there was a tour behind Mirage. Then they wanted to go in and do even another album. During that time I was preparing for another solo album but again had to put it aside, put it on the shelf.
STEREOGUM: It’s wild you never played solo shows before Out Of The Cradle.
BUCKINGHAM: It is. There may have been a certain reticence to tour based on some element of thinking that what I was doing solo-wise was more marginal, but I think mainly that it was more prevented by the logistics of the big machine.
Of course, Tango In The Night was so dysfunctional. I mean, it’s actually something I’m so proud of now when I listen back to how well that album turned out, but it was such a dysfunctional situation that that caused me to actually take leave of the band at that time. I couldn’t conceive of going out on the road, which is usually way crazier than being in the studio.
If you reel out the kind of behavior that could be considered a cliché from the ’70s to a real extreme with Mick and Stevie in particular, it was crazy. I think what happened was I left, and I let the dust settle for a while. Then I started reexamining the work that I had done and thought I needed to do some more work, especially in the context of what had happened with Fleetwood Mac at that time. Out Of The Cradle in retrospect was a little overdue in terms of the time [since] Go Insane.
STEREOGUM: There’s eight tracks from the album on this anthology. I wanted to ask about “Street Of Dreams.” The free jazz bassist Buell Neidlinger, who passed away earlier this year, played on that and “All My Sorrows.”
BUCKINGHAM: That’s part of the appeal of the song is that it has kind of a musician-y subtext.
STEREOGUM: It’s intense.
BUCKINGHAM: I was examining what you gain and what you give up again by making a certain set of choices, by choosing not to define yourself as those from the top-down would try to define you…
The other side of that is do I want to be an artist; do I want to call my own shots; do I want to engage in what is vital or seemingly vital, what seems important to me in that moment and not worry about what the outcome is on a commercial level. That sensibility — which began on Tusk — was very starkly pitted against the other four members of Fleetwood Mac, who really didn’t want that.
They did love Tusk when it came out, but when it became clear that it wasn’t going to sell 16 million albums, then Mick comes to me and says, “Well, we’re not doing that again.” So, okay, well, that leaves me a little bit treading water because what, am I going to turn around and swim back to the shallow end?
I think the song really is, it’s about the exercise and the discipline and the essence of dreaming dreams and acting on those and how lonely that can be, how satisfying it can be ultimately, but how it takes a certain amount of wherewithal to do that. In the process, which I go into in the bridge of that song, I’m imagining myself at the cemetery where my father is buried and talking to him, because my father had passed away about a year before we joined Fleetwood Mac. Stevie and I had already moved down to LA, but we hadn’t become successful yet. I was imagining myself talking to him, asking him, “Will I ever stop trying to attain this particular sensibility?” In my head, he’s looking at me going, “No, you’re always going to be that person, dummy.” That’s what the song is about. Then at the end, “I was praying you’d be staying,” so in the midst of all that you’re looking for someone to love because all this is about that anyway and looking for someone to share that sensibility, support that sensibility with you, which for many years was not that easy to find.
STEREOGUM: It’s not on the anthology, but “Wrong” is also a cool track from that album. It was a not-so-thinly-veiled dig at Mick, inspired by his 1991 memoir My Life And Adventures In Fleetwood Mac.
BUCKINGHAM: Totally inspired by Mick’s book. Well, Mick was a person who was always trying to self-promote, was always trying to do things that would bring in some income. But would also bring in perhaps what I would deem as the wrong kind of visibility for himself — clothing lines, being a judge on Puttin’ On The Hits. I’m going through a list in the song. I didn’t have a lot of respect. I mean, I understood that it was out of a certain neediness, but at the same time as much as I loved Mick and I still love Mick [despite] whatever weaknesses or lack of perspectives he has shown in the last year, I couldn’t love that part of him. Yeah, he came out with his book, and it was just kind of a real trashy thing. There’s nothing wrong with a book. I’ll probably do a book, but he doesn’t have a mechanism for self-editing in that way or perhaps discerning where the line is.
STEREOGUM: Your next solo album could’ve been culled from a collection that ended up leaking in 2001 which fans called Gift Of Screws, years before your actual Gift Of Screws album. Could you talk about how that got shelved?
BUCKINGHAM: “Gift Of Screws” is on a group of songs that was cut with Mick and Rob Cavallo in Hollywood that was meant to be a follow-up [to Out Of The Cradle].
STEREOGUM: Was it presented to Reprise as a finished album?
BUCKINGHAM: No. It was a bunch of songs we had, but what happened at the end of that, and I’m not so sure Rob Cavallo, who was working at Warner’s at that time, wasn’t in on this … I said, “Rob, would you like to go in the studio for like a month and cut some tracks, and maybe we’ll get Mick to come in and play.” Mick came in. John [McVie] came in. I think at some point because I’d left the band, and of course in the interim Fleetwood Mac had gotten Billy Burnette and Rick Vito. Then Stevie, after that one album, Behind The Mask, had left. Here you’ve got Christine and Mick, and then they got Dave Mason. It was just kind of a mess, kind of like it is right now. I even know what to call Fleetwood Mac right now, a cover band. Certainly not honoring the legacy the way it should be, and that’s the only thing that bothers me about what’s going on right now.
Anyway, I think they had gotten to this point where they realized they wanted to try to get me back. So near the end of these sessions, there was all of this intrigue going on that ended up in a dinner over at Christine’s house. By this time I was with the woman who would later become my wife, Kristen, who I had met during those sessions, had come down to photograph. The two of us went over to Christine’s, and it was like this intervention where they all stood around me in a circle and said, “You gotta come back. You gotta come back.” I said, “Okay.”
STEREOGUM: This was before The Dance.
BUCKINGHAM: Would’ve been like ’97, maybe, ’96. The idea was to do a live show that would get filmed and put out an album of that show, which was The Dance, with the five of us. But yes, “Gift of Screws” was a song that had been cut before that, as was “Down On Rodeo,” “Someone’s Gotta Change Your Mind,” “The Right Place To Fade” …
We cut all this stuff with Mick, and it all got shelved. Then of course what happens after The Dance, then they want to go in and make a studio album.
STEREOGUM: So some ended up on Say You Will, your first album with Fleetwood Mac in 16 years.
BUCKINGHAM: Yes. “Bleed To Love Her” ended up on Say You Will, “Murrow Turning Over In His Grave,” “Come” … but there were still all these other ones. I wanted to make a double album, but they wouldn’t do it. Then I did Under The Skin and Gift Of Screws back to back.
“Down On Rodeo” (2006)
STEREOGUM: “Down On Rodeo” is one of the highlights on Under The Skin.
BUCKINGHAM: That was about Anne Heche, who I was dating for about a year. I think more broadly it was just about people who spend all their time window shopping through their life. I don’t mean literally window shopping. I mean looking through the window at stuff and not going in and engaging, or keeping a distance. Even relationships that you’ve had for a long time, a lot of people don’t get beyond a certain point. I mean, I could be one of them. I don’t really know, but it’s the idea of connection through the glass. It was just an analogy to being down on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and window shopping looking at all the pretty stuff.
STEREOGUM: On Gift Of Screws your wife and son got co-writing credits.
BUCKINGHAM: Kristen wrote a lot of the lyrics on “Did You Miss Me,” and what’s the other one? There’s one other one, maybe “Love Runs Deeper.” Will actually came up with the chorus for “Great Day.” He was walking around, he’s going, “Great day, great day,” one day, and I went, “I’m going to use that. Is that okay?” He was seven at the time, so.
“Time Precious Time” (2008)
STEREOGUM: Familial themes tie into this spectral folk song I wanted to ask about, “Time Precious Time.”
BUCKINGHAM: I had my first child when I was 48. I held off because literally I saw so many people that had gotten married at a more “normal” age and had screwed it up, had not been able to live the “rock and roll lifestyle” and make the marriage work and more importantly even, had maybe not done right by their children in the process.
By the time I met Kristen, I probably had figured, well, it ain’t going to happen for me, but then I met her. We had this connection, and things just happened. At least I was sort of ready for it. Your parents used to say to you, “It goes so quick,” and you’re like, “Yeah, yeah.” “Time Precious Time” specifically was just about taking the time you need for something but remembering that time is precious. That was also an interesting song because I’m someone who is always looking for tunings that will facilitate a specific intention I have. Even going back to Buckingham Nicks, “Frozen Love” was this really weird tuning which was just something I found because there were certain things that I wanted to do that I could hear in my head. Well, “Time Precious Time” started off as me wanting to emulate a piece I’d heard in a Terrence Malick film [The New World] that was Wagner.
“Seeds We Sow” (2011)
STEREOGUM: Seeds We Sow is your most recent solo album aside from last year’s collaborative LP with Christine, and the title track is included on the anthology. How’d you end up deciding to self-release that one?
BUCKINGHAM: I don’t know that it really made much difference because Warner Brothers, by the time we got to Under The Skin, they weren’t putting money in for videos or anything. Again, you don’t expect to reach … I mean, back during Go Insane or Law And Order, maybe I’d sell 300,000. By today’s standards, you’d sell a tenth of that.
STEREOGUM: You especially can’t measure success by sales numbers these days.
BUCKINGHAM: I don’t really have a metric that I can measure in that way. I mean, maybe when I come out with this next year it’ll be a little easier to tell because with someone like Irving Azoff managing you, who only follows the money. In all the time he managed me [he] only came to one solo show, at which point the only thing he said after the show was, “The balcony wasn’t full.”
There is a quote from Jim Jarmusch saying, “We got to get this scene right because dozens of people are going to see this movie.” It’s been attributed to him. Whether he actually said it, I don’t know, but that’s the way you got to think about it.
“Hunger” & “Ride This Road” (2018)
STEREOGUM: You have two “new” songs on this, previously unreleased.
BUCKINGHAM: Yeah. They made me do that.
STEREOGUM: Were those earmarked for another project? You mentioned you’ll likely have another solo album next year.
BUCKINGHAM: I did this thing with Christine last year, which was actually a really nice album. We had a ball taking it out on the road. Initially, the idea was that maybe we do a Fleetwood Mac album. She was still not in the band, but Mick and John and I had gone in with Mitchell Froom and cut some songs. So a few of the things of mine were already there, and of course when we got to that point and tried to engage Stevie in that idea, she didn’t want to do it.
STEREOGUM: Didn’t want to do an album?
BUCKINGHAM: No. And I’m the one who gets fired, right?
STEREOGUM: I read you haven’t spoken to any of them since then.
BUCKINGHAM: I haven’t spoken to any of them. Once we signed some papers a few weeks ago, I did hear from Christine in an email, as I expected to. I know Mick would probably like to, but I think he’s too embarrassed and just a little too weak-willed to do it. I won’t hear from Stevie because it was all her trip anyway. Again, I just have to forgive them because it’s really just Stevie being so needy for a certain kind of attention and maybe not wanting to compete with the vitality that I have.
STEREOGUM: Do you think you’ll ever end up back with the band?
BUCKINGHAM: Look, it’s Fleetwood Mac, anything’s possible. Maybe they’ll get it out of their system. If they ask me to come back, would I? Sure, because to me I think the lack of a proper farewell tour, if that’s what we’re doing, that doesn’t undercut, like I say, the legacy that we have so carefully built as the five of us, which they’re not doing right now. I don’t know what they’re doing. It’s a cover band kind of deal, and Stevie may be enjoying that, and that’s fine. If she is happy doing that, there is no one outcome that I think is going to be okay. The way I look at it is it’s giving me an opportunity to do some things in a more rapid-fire way with some new people who actually care about what I’m doing and not just about getting the money from Fleetwood Mac. Look, I mean it does make me question who these people are, but again, to look at it compassionately, I think it’s all coming from a lack of perspective and to some degree a certain weakness on their parts. I can’t stop loving them because of that.
Solo Anthology: The Best Of Lindsey Buckingham is out now via Rhino on 3xCD, 6xLP, digital, and an abridged single CD set.