Fleetwood Mac are a band that have seen their troubles. There’s the mental health struggles, the drugs, the ever-changing lineups, the divorces, the breakups, and, most recently, the firing of Lindsey Buckingham (for the second and probably not the last time) in 2018. But for all the turmoil, it’s the music that defines them. While there’s always some doubt about who’s in the band from one day to the next, the one thing that’s never in doubt is their significance to pop history. Here, we take a look back at their legacy as we rank all 18 Fleetwood Mac albums.
Even great bands can make bad albums, and in 1995, Fleetwood Mac dropped a stinker. Farout Magazine describes Time as an “embarrassment” and “the only Fleetwood Mac album not worth listening to for any reason whatsoever.” It’s a pretty accurate summation. The first album to be made without either Lindsey Buckingham or Steve Nicks, it’s a travesty. It failed to chart (the first Fleetwood Mac album not to do so since 1968’s Mr. Wonderful) and quickly got forgotten about when Buckingham and Nicks came back to the fold for the following album. Avoid.
Penguin isn’t quite as bad as Time, but it’s not far off. Released in 1973 by a band that clearly didn’t know if it was coming or going, the only redeeming feature is the partnership between Bob Welch and Christine McVie. But even that’s let down by a lack of grit to offset the soft rock. A forgettable album that’s failed to redeem itself with age.
16. Mr. Wonderful
The problem with Mr. Wonderful is that it was made too soon. The band had no sooner released their debut album than they were back in the studio. And the ideas simply weren’t there. Whereas their debut had been new and raw and original, the follow-up is a ragged compilation of badly executed blues covers. Jeremy Spencer manages to do something wonderful with a classic rendition of Elmore James’ Dust My Broom, but that’s about the only positive note on the entire album. After their stellar debut, Mr. Wonderful came as a big letdown.
15. Future Games
As What Culture says, very little can be said about Future Games as Future Games has very little to say for itself. Jeremy Spencer had gone, taking with him any last trace of the blues. Danny Kirwan assumed a more central role, and for some reason, decided soft rock prog was the way forward. It wasn’t. The end result is an unfocused exercise in self-indulgence that even the most devoted Fleetwood Mac fan would struggle to find a kind word for.
14. Behind the Mask
Remember when Lindsey Buckingham got replaced by Billy Burnette and Rick Vito? No? You’re not alone. The band’s first album of the 1990s is apologetic, lacking in conviction, and remarkable only for being so completely unremarkable, even people who’ve heard it would struggle to name a single song. No wonder Stevie Nicks soon followed Buckingham’s lead and quit.
13. Kiln House
Kiln House is by no means terrible. In some way, its pick and mix approach to different styles and genres is endearing. The problem is, it doesn’t work as an album. Peter Green had gone, Christine McVie had arrived, and the band wasn’t entirely sure who it was anymore. Ultimately, this was where the band started to shift away from their original focus and move towards the smooth brand of California-infused pop that would later come to define them. But it would take a few more years and a couple more albums before they’d find their sound. For now, there’s very little trace of it.
12. Fleetwood Mac in Chicago
Fleetwood Mac in Chicago was recorded in 1969 with the classic lineup of Peter Green, Danny Kirwan, Mick Fleetwood, and John McVie, together with a number of famous Chicago blues legends. Clearly, the band are in awe of playing with their heroes, but they manage to keep it together enough to produce a listenable, if ragged, album. Recorded in just one day, it’s a little ramshackle, but the jams are tight and the playing is spirited. The band can’t quite match what Willie Dixon, Shakey Horton, Otis Spann, et al are doing around them, but you can’t fault their enthusiasm.
11. Heroes Are Hard To Find
Heroes Are Hard To Find is where things start to get interested (at least for fans of the Rumor’s era line up. For fans of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, this was the final nail in the coffin). As ultimateclassicrock.com notes, Bob Welch leaves behind some of his best songs, while simultaneously setting the stage for Buckingham and Nicks’ arrival. Over on drums, Christine McVie is firing on all pistons on tracks like Come a little Bit Closer. It drifts too much into dreamy stoner rock to be a classic, but it’s clear that something big was afoot.
10. Say You Will
2003’s Say You Will was originally intended as a Lindsey Buckingham solo album, something that’s obvious from the edgier, sharper tone than you’d normally expect from a Mac album. But somewhere along the line, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie were pulled in to help out on rhythm, and Nicks followed shortly after. It’s not a perfect album by a long shot – there’s too much focus on Buckingham and Nicks, not enough editing, and the warmth of Christine McVie, who’d retired in 1998, is noticeable in its absence – but it’s an interesting effort. If you ever wanted to know what Buckingham and Nicks would have sounded like had they continued their journey as a duo rather than join the band, this is probably as close as you’ll come to finding out.
9. Bare Trees
Bare Trees was the final Fleetwood Mac outing for Danny Kirwan, whose folksy, jazzy influence had been integral to the band’s development since 1969 but whose volatile nature was about to get him fired when he refused to join the band on stage after criticizing their performance. Unfortunately, his last outing with the band wasn’t his finest moment. The album is full of lovely moments, but few come from him. It’s songs like Bob Welch’s dreamy Sentimental Lady and Christine McVie’s Spare Me a Little of Your Love that carry the album, and which ultimately resulted in it going platinum.
Mirage is a slick piece of 1980s pop that’s far too smooth for its own good. It’s too glossy, too polished, and any authentic emotion gets lost in the production. Coming after the weird but wonderful Tusk, Mirage sounds like someone at the record label had ordered the band to wind their necks in and make something for the radio. Mirage certainly fits the brief, even if it’s to the detriment of the album. That being said, it’s not a lost cause, with Nicks’ ethereally beautiful Gypsy easily ranking amongst one of the band’s best-ever songs.
7. Mystery to Me
Described by The Telegraph as “smooth, lush, funky, easy-going rock,” Mystery to Me took Fleetwood Mac one step closer to Rumors and two steps closer to greatness. It doesn’t have enough grit or personality to rank among the band’s greatest albums, but it’s still exceptionally good, with Bob Welch’s stunning Hypnotized standing out as a particular highlight. Released in November 1973, it peaked at No. 67 on the Billboard 200 and was eventually certified gold.
6. Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac
In 1968, Fleetwood Mac burst onto the scene with their debut, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac (or Fleetwood Mac, as it was originally titled). A rollicking, high-spirited collection of blues covers and originals, it was a phenomenal introduction to the band. Mental health struggles would eventually doom Peter Green to obscurity, but his raw potential here is astonishing. Jeremy Spencer might be the one providing the vocal high kicks, but it’s Green’s ability to blend toughness with sensitivity that makes the album what it is. The album was a major hit in the UK, peaking at No. 4 and staying in the charts for an impressive 37 weeks. It was a different story in the US, where it peaked at a disappointing No. 198.
5. Then Play On
After the disappointment of Mr. Wonderful, Fleetwood Mac made a return to form with their third album, Then Play On. Epic in ambition and precise in execution, it’s delightful. Newcomer Danny Kirwan’s gentle, folky approach lends an appealing softness, but it’s Green’s prowess as both a performer and a writer that brings the whole thing together. A melting pot of prog, soft rock, and blues, it’s a far more approachable album than its predecessor and one that still sounds as potently alive today as it did in 1969. Released on 19 September 1969, it reached No. 6 on the UK Albums Chart, becoming the band’s third album to reach the top 10.
4. Tango in the Night
Tango in the Night is among a handful of recordings that began life as a Lindsey Buckingham solo project but that morphed into a Fleetwood Mac album along the way. Not every element of the album has weathered well – the songwriting isn’t always on point and the 80s arrangements are woefully dated. But when it works (as it unfailingly does when Buckingham’s guitar takes center stage), it’s sublime. The brilliantly bonkers Big Love stands out as a particular highlight, while the radio-friendly Little Lies is still as fabulously listenable now as it was back then. Released in 1987 as the last album from the Rumor’s era lineup of Lindsey Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, Christine McVie, John McVie, and Stevie Nicks, it became the band’s second-biggest selling album after Rumors, peaking at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 and spending more than 10 months in the top 40.
After the success of Rumors, Fleetwood Mac were given carte balance to do whatever they wanted. What they most wanted to do, it turned out, was confuse us. Tusk is a cocaine-fueled exercise in self-indulgence that, after the approachable pop perfection of Rumors, is a lot to handle. A sprawling double album that veers from punk to pop and rock to new wave, it’s a bracing, bonkers experiment that at times (especially on Buckingham’s titular track) seems almost purposely designed to trip the listener up. For all that, it’s still a thing of beauty – when all the disparate parts come together, it’s astounding. With just a touch more editing, it could be up there with Rumors.
2. Fleetwood Mac
As socurrent.com heralded the rebirth of Fleetwood Mac after the departure of Peter Green and the addition of singer-songwriting duo Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. Together, Nicks and Buckingham firmed up the band’s sound and turned them into a pop juggernaut. Tracks like Say You Love Me, Rhiannon, and Over My Head were pure dynamite, sprinkled with enough pop fairy dust to awake the interest of millions of fans. Little did they know, but this was only the start of things.
Rumors came at a point when tensions in the band had never been higher. Mick Fleetwood was in the middle of a divorce, the McVie’s marriage had ended, and Buckingham and Nicks’ volatile relationship had gone up in flames. A lesser band might have crumbled under the pressure. Fleetwood Mac didn’t. Instead, they created one of, if not the, greatest breakup albums of all time. From start to finish, it’s pure perfection. If you haven’t already heard it already, now’s the time to do it.