Long before Rhiannon rang like a bell through the night, Peter Green started hammering out the British blues with Jeremy Spencer, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood. Their first studio album, Fleetwood Mac (1968, later to be known as Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac) was a smashing success across the pond in the band’s native England, topping off at #4 on the UK charts (and staying on the charts for 37 weeks). The fledgling Fleetwood Mac followed up with Mr. Wonderful (1968) and Then Play On (1969). Let’s take a look at them, shall we?
Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac is a fun album. This is a fact that cannot be denied. PGFM is loaded with fast, entertaining songs like “Shake Your Moneymaker” (an Elmore James cover) and “Hellhound on My Trail” (also a cover). But Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer excel at a slightly more mournful, slower sound that kind of moves under your bones. Personal highlights for me on this album (and I listened to the original track listing, not the 1999 re-release called The Original Fleetwood Mac) include “I Loved Another Woman,” “Long Grey Mare,” and “The World Keep On Turning.” In particular, “I Loved Another Woman” hit me as beautiful. It tasted like the roots of “Black Magic Woman,” and it was exciting, but sad. All in all, PGFM is a fun blues-rock album that probably deserved a pinch more attention in the USA.
Following PGFM came Mr. Wonderful, which was released in the same year (1968) as the first album.
Mr. Wonderful is nice, but sadly not wonderful. However, this album features a young Christine Perfect (eventually to be Christine McVie) who was then a member of the band Chicken Shack on the keyboard and singing it up in a handful of Green’s songs. Mr. Wonderful is another blend of Green/Spencer originals and covers by artists like Elmore James. Mr. Wonderful introduces us to Fleetwood Mac + saxophones, and as I am a huge fan of saxophones, this is a brilliant combination. However, Mr. Wonderful loses its steam when you get halfway through “Need Your Love Tonight” and check the track listing to find out just how long is this song “Doctor Brown” anyway. That’s because four different tracks on Mr. Wonderful begin with an identical riff by Elmore James. I’ve got absolutely nothing against using Elmore James, but when you do the same thing in four different songs, it’s a little dodgy. I guess my other complaint would be that Mr. Wonderful isn’t as exceptional or as outstanding as PGFM. It’s almost like they put out a second album of all of the stuff they knew wouldn’t make the cut onto PGFM but that they still had an emotional attachment to. Sometimes I feel like it should be called “Mr. Bland” instead of “Mr. Wonderful.” However! I am not saying to write off Mr. Wonderful as a sad little secret in the discography of Fleetwood Mac. The album definitely has merits (“Stop Messin’ Around”), and it makes beautiful background music for other tasks.
After Mr. Wonderful, Fleetwood Mac put out Then Play On (1969), home of several firsts and lasts for the still green blues-rock band. Then Play On is the first album that features Danny Kirwan and the last with Peter Green. It’s also Fleetwood Mac’s first release with Warner. Also, tidbit: The title of this album is a reference to Duke Orsino’s opening monologue in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (If music be the food of love, play on).
Now, there were a bunch of different releases of Then Play On. There was the original UK release, which featured fourteen tracks. Then there was the first US LP, which featured twelve of the fourteen songs on the British release. Then came the revised US LP, home to the spliced-up “Oh Well” and some funky fading from track to track. Finally, Then Play On settled into the CD track listing which features thirteen tracks.
Before I listened to this album, I read up on all of the different versions of Then Play On (none of which are compiled as an album on Spotify). I ended up listening to the CD listing via Youtube here. And from the beginning of track one, I was pleased. Then Play On brings in not only the blues-rock vibe of the previous two albums, but it has drums (drums!) that do more than just mark time. Both of my sisters are percussionists, so fun drum parts always stick out to me. And Then Play On has them. This list also has “Oh Well” and both Madge songs, and “Rattlesnake Shake.” Apart from the notable awesomeness that is “Oh Well,” I’m a huge fan of “Although the Sun is Shining.”
So far, Then Play On has been my favorite of pre- Buckingham/Nicks Fleetwood Mac. It’s definitely a different sound from the pop-rock that the band would become in time. But I’m a fan of the blues, and the ride through this iconic blues-rock music has been a blast.
Keep checking back for the next Mac Attack! on Kiln House, Future Games, and Bare Trees!! Until then, check out this live recording of “The World Keep On Turning” :