Why This Song Is So Good: The Chain

Song: “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac

This video is of a live performance of “The Chain” done twenty years after the song was first released. Yet the middle-aged Macs are rocking this song in 1997 harder than ever.

The structure of the song puzzled me at first. It doesn’t really have proper verses. Rather, it seems to be just two interwoven choruses. It opens with what I call chorus 1:

      Listen to the wind blow
      Watch the sun rise

But it’s chorus 2 where things really get going:

      And if you don’t love me now
      You will never love me again

Although all five band members are listed as the writers of this song, my guess would be that the lyrics are primarily by Stevie Nicks. They feel like her lyrics: suitably vague, designed to be repeated over and over, incantatory style. She’s not in the story-telling business, she’s in the emotion-telling business. With her best lyrics, there’s always a line that sticks in your head for all time, whether you want it there or not.

So how did they do it? Often bands play twenty-year-old songs because the songs were hits that fans want to hear exactly as they heard them when they were younger. But interestingly, Fleetwood Mac has changed up the song’s arrangement in this performance.

Some of the changes are minor. For example, in a song that already had a fairly long intro by pop song standards, it’s now a full minute before the vocals start.

The big change is the switch to Lindsey Buckingham for the solo lyrics. And he really pulls it off, bellowing and barking as though this song was always his to sing. For a band known for the lead singing of its two female members, Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks, this change might be surprising if you’re familiar with the original. (The original recording, I believe, is what you hear, not once but twice, on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.)

The sterling rhythm work of Mick Fleetwood on drums and John McVie on bass can’t be overlooked even with three such prominent vocalists up front. This song features solos by both, notably the brief but memorable bass run at the 3:35 mark, which is quickly joined by Buckingham’s guitar.

If for some reason you don’t like rock, or don’t understand what rock fans are all about, listen for the moment just after Buckingham joins in where the sound builds to something uncanny, creating the magical driving feeling that rock fans live for. When the song ends, the look on Fleetwood’s face tells us that he knows they nailed it.

Many bands can be put into one of two categories: Musicians from similar backgrounds playing the kind of music they all were playing before they got together, and musicians from dissimilar geographical or musical backgrounds. The Beatles and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers would be in the first category, The Band and Fleetwood Mac in the second one.

The Fleetwood Mac in this video was formed by the remnant of a British blues band bringing in two California folk-rock musicians (Buckingham and Nicks). The resulting band was able to create something that neither group of musicians could do on its own.

Here’s a cover of this song featuring four female vocalists, with a violin taking on Buckingham’s distinctive guitar part:

© 10 Franks 2022

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