This set of five albums covers Fleetwood Mac's album releases from 1969 to 1973, excluding Penguin from 1973 and replacing it with Mystery to Me, their later release from 1973. It is an interesting and inexpensive package to explore the development of the group from Peter Green's blues rock through various styles including the emerging pop rock harmonies that would distinguish the Buckingham / Nicks hit making outfit of 1975 onwards. These albums were not mega sellers on release, although they continued to sell steadily as the group became popular. Then Play On reached number 4 on the UK charts and Kiln House charted in USA, UK and Australia, and both Future Games and Mystery To Me are now certified Gold and Bare Trees is certified Platinum.
The albums cover four incarnations of the group, but the propulsive and inventive rhythm section of Mick Fleetwood on drums and John McVie on bass remains throughout. The sound is ok - it could be better given that three of these albums were recorded using the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio - the transfer to digital would benefit from a remaster - I recently reviewed Howlin Wolf's London Sessions (DeLuxe edition) and the remastered sound on that 1971 double disc is superb.
Then Play On (1969) was the final Peter Green album and saw the development from a pure blues band to a blues rock unit which was prepared to use influences from Spanish Canto hondo to classical. A good album, this US version has two Mac classics, Oh Well Pts 1 & 2 and Rattlesnake Shake, as well as a number of strong songs and a couple of instrumentals and hot excerpts from jams. Note that this US issue replaced two Kirwan songs from the UK release, Without You and One Sunny Day with the UK hit Oh Well Pts 1 & 2. Jeremy Spencer contributes little but Danny Kirwan's guitar playing and song writing develop.
Kiln House (1970) sees Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan take the reins, with Christine McVie added on keyboards and backing vocals, although uncredited and not officially a band member. I recalled it as being an entertaining fun album with Spencer's love of 50s rock 'n roll coming to the fore. On stage, wearing his Elvis gold lame suit, his persona took a satirical edge, but here there is a cringe factor - Buddy's Song and Mission Bell being too fervent. Blood On The Floor is satirical, salacious Spencer and initially amusing. Listening now, the album is lifted by three good rockers, Station Man, Tell Me All The Things You Do, both primarily Kirwan compositions and Spencer's cover of Big Joe Turner's Honey Hush. Also, the Spencer opener This Is The Rock is faux Cliff Richard/Presley rock and quite good.
Future Games (1971) and Bare Trees (1972).
Exit Jeremy Spencer to the Children of God and hello to Bob Welch with his distinctive American twang and his pop/r 'n b compositional abilities. I found both Future Games and Bare Trees to be better than I remembered. There is some lovely melodic and textured guitar playing, courtesy of both Kirwan and Welch but Danny Kirwan for a young bloke in his early 20s wrote some beautifully accomplished material, lyrically at times with a whiff of patchouli, but musically adventurous with interesting arrangements. Christine McVie's compositional abilities develop beautifully and her keyboards and vocal harmonies take Mac towards pop rock. In the USA they were becoming bigger, in the UK the loss of the 'best English blues band' was bemoaned. Here in Oz they were regarded as 'underground' ie artistically relevant, not mainstream, and I recall hearing Rhiannon on our 'underground alternative' radio station 2JJ when it was released in 1975.
Mystery To Me(1973)
Exit Danny Kirwan after Bare Trees. As mentioned, the follow up album Penguin is not included and Penguin's successor Mystery to Me is here instead. To my taste they are similar with good songs on each, although MTM has the edge with a variety of styles, and shorter more focussed pop/rock material with some great guitar sounds from Danny Kirwan replacement Bob Weston. Highlights are the popular Bob Welch song Hypnotised [do they really mispronounce it??], his r 'n b rocker Miles Away, his funky Somebody, his soulful Keep On Going (sung by Christine McVie), Christine's succinct The Way I Feel and her wonderful Why. Even Bob Weston's reggae-ish Forever sounds good, but the album belongs to Bob Welch. The rhythm section is on target and inventive throughout. So, why was the late Bob Welch ( he died in 2012 ) excluded from the Fleetwood Mac members in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees when he was a major part of the band, artistically, from 1971 to 1974? Should this reflect on the credibility of the Hall of Fame?
In summary this is a bargain set, with jewels for the most jaded. I have the complete Blue Horizon box set of the Peter Green band and while not everything is good, most is worthwhile and some is perfect. The band also made good music between Green and Buckingham/Nicks and some tracks may not be for you but if so have another listen, there is a depth of musical intelligence, for your enjoyment.