Courtney: One thing you’ve always done, I realized recently, is write about these muses, these other females, these goddesses. These parts of yourself. You don’t write big, sexy love ballads about men. I wondered why that was for you? Because I do the same thing. I was listening to a song of Billy Corgan’s yesterday called “I Need a Lover”. It’s sexy, okay. But I’m listening and I’m going, “I can’t write like this.”

Stevie: You know who else asked me that same question a long time ago? Prince. We were really close for a while - we never went to bed together, but we had something that was very, very special. And he always said, “Why don’t you write songs that are more sexual?” And I said, “Well, because that’s not the way I am in my real life. I am not a person who walks naked through the house. I will always have something beautiful on. It will be beautiful, and it will enhance me.”

Courtney: Maybe what Prince was trying to say is you should be more, “I want to fuck you, baby”?

Stevie: But I believe that there is a certain amount of mysticism that all women should have, that you should never tell all your secrets, that you should never tell everybody all about you. I never have.

Spin magazine (October 1997)

Sara - remastered demo
  • Sara - remastered demo
  • Stevie Nicks
Play

"Sara" by Fleetwood Mac - The Remastered Demo (1978/9? – 10min 45sec)

Some parts of Stevie’s lead vocal on this are very different from both the earlier Cleaning Lady Demo and the final Album Cut. The biggest variation is in how she sings the ‘laces’ lines and the second, third and fourth instances of the ‘Drowning in the sea of love’ line. The fourth one – around 8:30 – is especially good and has a real swagger to it. Other parts sound identical to the Album Cut, to the extent that I wouldn’t be surprised if they were spliced in. There’s a lot of those ‘ooh-wah’ background vocals in the last minute or so.

Percussion sounds human rather than a beatbox and the most distinctive part of the bassline is exactly what John plays on the Album Cut. So my guess is that it’s an overdub tape made when they transferred the (8-track?) Cleaning Lady Demo onto the 24-track Studio D machines (hence the ‘remastered’ tag).

This is one of the versions where Stevie sings ‘He reached out gently’.

Sara - live 20 May 80 (Richfield, OH)
  • Sara - live 20 May 80 (Richfield, OH)
  • Fleetwood Mac
  • Live versions
Play

"Sara" by Fleetwood Mac: Live on the Tusk tour in Richfield, OH (20 May 1980 – 7min 43sec)

My favourite from this time period. The Tusk material is well-oiled by this point, and the chugga-chugga groove towards the end is exactly what Stevie’s solo ensembles have never been able to get near to with this song. ‘Sara’ is dominated by a killer backbeat, and you have to tear at it, not swing it.

I’m always floored by the ending, especially the last time Stevie sings that soaring ‘Sara’.

 

There’s a heartbeat and no it never really died

Never really died

Swallow all your pride

Oh it was such a heartbeat, yeah

And listen to the crazy wind because it will make you smile

Sara… oh my, my Sara…

Sara…

 

Thanks again to memoriesearthquakesandflashes for sending me a transcription of Stevie’s ad-libs at the ending. (I think you have might have this one mislabelled as ‘Cleveland, OH’, though?)

EDIT: Sorry for my poor US geography. Richfield is a suburb of Cleveland. Thx, memoriesearthquakesandflashes.

10

Expressing a little Stevie & Chris love

“I like phrases that roll off the tongue. I’ll find different way to put things, different ways of phrasing a certain feeling, that goes lyrically and emotionally with the track. I think Lindsey is a bit like that, too. For Stevie, the words are of prime importance; the song moves around the words, rather than the words moving around the song.”

Christine McVie, interviewed by Bruce Kaplan, Songwriter Connection, October 1984

"When ‘Sara’ came out on Fleetwood Mac’s dense 1979 Tusk album, there was a theory going around that the song was about Bob Dylan’s ex-wife, sung from Dylan’s perspective. And though that theory has been debunked by Nicks herself, it remains a tantalizing possibility. Isn’t it obvious that Nicks is a Dylan-head, always has been? Listen to her phrasing, her verbose, opaque, myth- and legend-referencing lyrics. Of course, nobody knows what Dylan’s talking about sometimes, either, but nobody ever called him an airhead.”

Stevie Nicks, profiled by Joyce Millman, salon.com, 5 June 2001

Questioner: “You’re cast away on a desert island. You’re allowed one female companion either Stevie Nicks or Christine McVie. Which one would you choose and why?” 

Mick: “Obviously you’re not expecting me to say my wife - but you’re forcing me to say one or the other. That would be Stevie - having had a wonderful relationship with her at one point in my life.”

MF, Online Sun (March 2001)

Still can’t believe he actually fucking answered that question.

Anyway….. Happy Birthday, Fleetwood, you old rogue.

7

"Stevie was a glamorous and highly recognizable figure in the rock subculture. … Only five feet one in her stocking feet, she habitually* wore six-inch suede platform boots and walked with the confident, erect posture of a beauty queen."

Danny Goldberg, Bumping Into Geniuses (2008)

* sometimes

“So I think I probably write down the conflict of ‘Oh yes I do want to be in love, and yes I do want to be a loving, loving person and yes I do want to be the mother of many children but at the same time there’s a part of me that says but I’m also Lillian Hellman and I want to write the great novel of all time and I want to go on the beach with my silent typewriter and I don’t want anybody to bother me.’ Because I want to enhance this planet. I came here for a reason. I didn’t come here to be a mother. I didn’t come here to be a nun and I did not come here to be a cleaning lady. I came here to be a poet.”

Stevie Nicks, interviewed by Jim Ladd (1983)

Stevie's Tusk voice

“[On Tusk, Stevie] turned in a clutch of her most powerful songs yet, with ‘Storms’, ‘Sara’ and ‘Beautiful Child’. Across all three, her voice resonated with emotion, following on the path she had started in Fleetwood Mac, but more confident now, and stronger. In the old days, she admits, she almost wrecked her untrained voice, trying to keep things going onstage every night. Now she knew precisely what she was doing, and how she would do it, and while she would, of course, lose some of the natural beauty of her natural tones, replacing it perhaps with a more studied approximation, the alternative would have been disastrous.”

From ‘Fleetwood Mac - Never Break the Chain’ by Amy Hanson, Goldmine magazine (November 1997)

*****

I wonder what ‘natural voice’ Amy Hanson means?

Stevie’s Buckingham Nicks voice is very nasal, heavy vibrato, massive breath control. Kind of a Baez-style foghorn. Take, for example, the end of the ‘Sorceror’ demo. Her voice is huge there, and always makes me smile when I imagine that booming out into a deserted coffee factory in the middle of the night.

Her voice on the white FM album is shedding its folk/country blare and morphing into something altogether sweeter. There’s intimacy in the almost spoken quality of ‘Landslide’, and a lovely crooning quality to parts of the studio cut of ‘Rhiannon’ that makes it into the soft vamp of the legendary live renditions. But otherwise her live voice in 1975/76 was quite different: more reedy and, yes, at times raucous.

Rumours captured the Nicks voice that endures in the popular consciousness, and the one people mean when they claim she’s ‘lost it’. The flipping into her head voice in ‘Dreams’; the sinewy control and soaring sustain on ‘Gold Dust Woman’; the agility of her harmonies on ‘I Don’t Want To Know’ and ‘Second Hand News’. The vibrato is under control and she hits the highs without fear - despite how roughed up her voice was by the rigours of the road.

On Tusk, though, it’s not just her voice that’s been roughed up. Stevie herself, as a woman, as a human being, is almost on her knees during this album. And her voice is the voice of someone who knows her best bet for survival is to let this stuff bleed out of her, don’t fight the feelings, sit with it and let it pass.

The result is something extraordinary: a voice that gets stronger the more passive it is. Like when you’ve been trying to hurry home through pouring rain, but then realise you’re not gonna make it, and you’re soaked to the skin, can’t get any wetter, and suddenly - it doesn’t bother you any more. In fact, if you’ve been drenched and dried out again before, you can even find it darkly pleasurable.

Text
Photo
Quote
Link
Chat
Audio
Video