In 1975, when Fleetwood Mac was seeking a new guitarist, Mick Fleetwood told keyboardist Christine McVie that “there’s another girl involved. You’re going to have to meet her and see if you like her.” Lindsey Buckingham, the main candidate for the guitarist position, would only join the British-founded group – then made up of Mick Fleetwood and spouses John and Christine McVie – if his artistic and romantic partner at the time, Stevie Nicks, could participate as well. The drummer’s comment to Christine reflected the clichés and sexism of the music industry at the time. Within an overwhelmingly male-dominated space, the idea that two talented women (both songwriters and singers) who didn’t know each other would share a stage seemed potentially dangerous to some. But that was not at all the case for the women themselves. Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks’s alliance and mutual support as they battled egos and clashes with their soon-to-be exes saved them and the band itself from the chaos that accompanied Rumours (1977). The title of their best-selling album – which made history and sold around 45 million copies – references the many headlines about the band’s romantic dramas and the heavy alcohol and cocaine consumption that defined the 10 months they spent recording in Sausalito, California.
After learning about Christine McVie’s sudden death on November 30, Stevie Nicks took to Instagram to express her grief. “A few hours ago I was told that my best friend in the whole world, since the first day of 1975, had passed away. I didn’t even know she was ill …until late Saturday night. I wanted to be in London; I wanted to get to London – but we were told to wait,” Stevie wrote. Nicks also posted the lyrics of a song that she said had been “swirling around in my head” since she heard the news, “Hallelujah,” the song that Alana Haim, of HAIM, dedicated to her best friend who died in a car accident.
“We met and I instantly liked her. She and I are not competitive in any way at all. We’re totally different, but totally sympathetic with each other. We are dear, dear friends. We don’t have any competition on stage,” McVie told Rolling Stone of her bandmate Nicks in 2014; that was but one of the many compliments the two artists have exchanged in public over the years. “We made a pact, in the very beginning, that we would never be treated with disrespect by all the male musicians in the community. And we really stuck to it. I think we did the pinky swear thing that, if we ever feel like we’re being treated like that, we would just get up and walk out – and we did. We would just say, ‘Well, this party is over for us,’” Stevie told The New Yorker earlier this year.
Barely two years went by between the day the five artists first met in a Mexican restaurant in 1975 and the release of Rumours. In the meantime, they had recorded their first album (Fleetwood Mac, 1975), which began the group’s commercial success and ended their romantic relationships with other bandmembers. By the time they returned to prepare the next album, John McVie, the bassist, and Christine were separating after eight years of marriage. She had begun a relationship with the lighting director who accompanied the band on tour, for whom she wrote “You Make Living Fun”; the song was included on the new album. “When they found out I was seeing him he got fired shortly after – because of it! I didn’t really bring fellas on the road with me after that,” the keyboardist told The Guardian in 2014.
Nevertheless, McVie told the same newspaper that her in-studio tensions with John were more manageable than the ones between the group’s other couple, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. She was never “as melodramatic” as her American colleagues, who called it quits during the same period and drifted into a complex love-hate relationship, the tension of which never quite dissipated. In 2018, Lindsey was fired from the band for good. The work of one or the other was featured in hits like “Dreams” and “Go Your Own Way.” Things became even more tense when Nicks and Mick Fleetwood, the drummer, had an affair. Mick Fleetwood had not come out of recording Rumours unscathed, either; around that time, he discovered that his partner, with whom he had just had a baby, was cheating on him with his best friend.
Disappointment and pain mixed with copious amounts of alcohol and cocaine and did not help calm the spirits in Fleetwood Mac, which earned the popular nickname “the rock soap opera.” The recording sessions began at 7pm and lasted into the wee hours of the morning. Taking drugs was the order of the day; it was almost a prerequisite for the profession. “You could go shopping and buy beautiful little coke bottles that you would hang around your neck: gold, turquoise, all kinds of colors, with diamonds, and a little spoon. Stevie and I would wear them, it was very aesthetic,” Christine explained to the British newspaper. She said that the boys “were given cocaine in Heineken bottle caps on stage, but Stevie and I just did it with the teaspoons.”
Despite considering herself a moderate drug user compared to the rest of the bandmembers, McVie acknowledged on the Desert Island Discs radio show that “I don’t know if I would have written Songbird had I not had a couple of toots of cocaine and a half bottle of champagne …or written any of the songs that were on that album because I think we were all pretty loaded.” In any case, she fared better than Stevie. McVie got clean during her retreat to Switzerland to record her first solo album in 1984, while two years later Nicks checked into the Betty Ford Center for rehab and subsequently developed an even stronger dependence on Klonopin (a sedative).
“We were cool onstage,” Nicks says. “But offstage everybody was pretty angry. Most nights Chris and I would just go for dinner on our own, downstairs in the hotel, with security at the door,” Stevie Nicks recalled of the band’s post-Rumours tours in a 2014 interview with The Guardian, which McVie and Nicks did together for their first reunion tour with the whole band. The tour took place 15 years after Christine McVie left Fleetwood Mac to pursue what she called her “delusion that I wanted to be an English country girl” and retired to her mansion in Kent.
At that time, the two women also reflected on the professional and personal disparities of life on the road. They decided to leave their boyfriends at home to avoid behind-the-scenes drama with their exes. That situation made planning a family difficult. “There were never any children [for me],” she says. “There was always a career in the way. It was a case of one or the other, and Stevie would say the same. The lads went off and had children but for Stevie and I it was a bit difficult to do that. So that was never able to happen. And I never found the right man. Not through want of trying.” As Tim Jonze, the journalist who interviewed Nicks and McVie for The Guardian, observed, “Pragmatism, and a sense that they really were above such petty things, seems to have kept the two women sane, and quite probably the band together.”
Moreover, the 1988 release of Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits demonstrated that the women were the songwriters behind the band’s most successful songs. The album contained 16 songs, eight of which were authored or co-authored by McVie and four by Nicks, compared to Buckingham’s three.
Between 2018 and 2019, McVie joined Fleetwood Mac on a second reunion tour, this time without Lindsey Buckingham’s participation. In one of her last interviews, speaking to Rolling Stone in June upon the release of her album Songbird (A Solo Collection), Christine explained that distance had affected her relationship with the band and Stevie: “I don’t communicate with Stevie [Nicks] very much either…When we were on the last tour, we did a lot. We always sat next to each other on the plane and we got on really well. But since the band broke up, I’ve not been speaking to her at all.”
McVie’s sudden death after a brief undisclosed illness caught Fleetwood Mac’s other members by surprise and prompted Nicks to dedicate the following words to her friend: “See you on the other side, my love. Don’t forget me.”