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Best Mick Fleetwood Performances: 10 Career-Defining Songs
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Best Mick Fleetwood Performances: 10 Career-Defining Songs

With a unique feel and love of experimentation, the best Mick Fleetwood performances have powered Fleetwood Mac’s globe-straddling success.

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Fleetwood Mac, founded in 1967 and named after drummer Mick Fleetwood and bass player John McVie, have sold more than 120 million records worldwide, making them one of the most successful bands in the history of music. Drummer Fleetwood, born in Redruth, Cornwall, on 24 June 1947, was integral to their success, and the best Mick Fleetwood performances have defined many of the group’s finest songs.

Fleetwood is one of pop music’s most celebrated drummers – his simple, distinctive style and ability to keep a perfect beat has been the glue that has kept Fleetwood Mac together for more than five decades. He has also remained a mainstay of the band through all its personnel changes, including the classic Rumours quintet of Fleetwood, McVie, Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie.

Fleetwood once said that he plays “very physically” – including as a guest star, which he famously did on the Warren Zevon hit Werewolves Of London. Here, however, we pick out the ten best Mick Fleetwood performances with the group he helped take to worldwide fame.

Listen to the best of Fleetwood Mac here, and check out our best Mick Fleetwood performances, below.

10: Rattlesnake Shake (from ‘Then Play On’, 1969)

Fleetwood Mac co-founder Peter Green, a guitarist who’d worked with Fleetwood and McVie in the 60s as part of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, wrote Rattlesnake Blues, the stand-out track from Fleetwood Mac’s 1969 album Then Play On. The song showed off Fleetwood’s ability to play hard-edged blues. “On this song, you hear structure, yes, but you also hear me being incredibly free to break into the shuffle at the end, which was not supposed to happen, but it did, and we went, ‘Oh my God, we really like that.’” Fleetwood recalled in 2012. “I really loved that because it was my way of participating in creating the character of the song. It incorporated the freedom to go off on a tangent, to jam.”

9: Tango In The Night (‘Tango In The Night’, 1987).

“I’m not Gene Krupa. When all is said and done I’m just a guy who gets out his own emotions though a pretty simple formula of technique. I pride myself on time,” Fleetwood told Modern Drummer. Even when he was beset by personal struggles in the 80s, Fleetwood still managed to perform at a high level, and his blend of booming percussion and clever snare drum work was one of the keys to the success of the hit 1987 album Tango In The Night, including on its stirring title track.

8: Oh Well (Part One) (single A-side, 1969)

Oh Well (Part One) was first issued as a single in 1969 and became a staple of Fleetwood Mac’s live shows (one of the best versions is on the 1980 double-album Live). The drummer showed off his skills as a rapid percussionist on the track, which starts off with shakers and cowbells. One of the best Mick Fleetwood performances, it offers a fine example of his ability to fashion a grooving rhythm. “It’s two minutes of madness that I love,” he said. “The structures that I was able to put together make it something that is very unique. I always jump at the chance of doing it.”

7: Love That Burns (from ‘Mr Wonderful’, 1968)

Fleetwood (whose full name is Michael John Kells Fleetwood) has always been self-deprecating about his own abilities, telling Esquire magazine in 2014, “I come from a blues background, which is all about feel and not really overly complicated. I was never a huge technically astute player, but I did do my homework and found a home playing blues.” He believes that one of his most significant performances was on Love That Burns, which he called “me in my full-on training ground”, a tune on which he found a way of playing that laid the ground for his later work on Rumours’ Oh Daddy. Fleetwood creates a marvellous shuffle on this slow blues written by Peter Green.

6: Oh Daddy (from ‘Rumours’, 1977)

Christine McVie claimed she wrote Oh Daddy specifically for Fleetwood, who had two daughters at the time. Fleetwood, who creates a masterful slow tempo to back the songwriter’s soulful slow vocal delivery, also plays castanets on the track. “I’m a sucker for this one because it really is a structured song, which is so appealing to me as a player. Basically, it’s me playing a slow blues with Christine,” said Fleetwood. Producer Ken Caillat, who wrote the 2012 book Making Rumours, talked about the qualities that define the best Mick Fleetwood performances. “He’s got feel. Most other drummers sit there, and they can be really good – the pros can be really good – but he has this feel. He was a little bit behind the beat, but it was just enough that it felt aggressive and laidback at the same time. Really powerful toms, great beat… I mean, maybe I’m using too many words to describe the fact that he’s just an amazing drummer.”

5: Walk A Thin Line (from ‘Tusk’, 1979)

Fleetwood believes that some of his best drumming performances came on outside projects – such as Warren Zevon’s Werewolves Of London and on You Weren’t In Love, for his own 1981 solo album, The Visitor – but he said his finest work was for Fleetwood Mac. He was particularly proud of his contribution to Walk A Thin Line, a song written by Lindsey Buckingham for the Tusk album. Fleetwood’s deft “military press-rolls”, inspired by the work of Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, anchor this ethereal gem.

4: The Chain (from ‘Rumours’, 1977)

The Chain, forever associated with the UK TV show Top Gear, demonstrated Fleetwood’s desire to use the drums in a way that enhanced the band’s iconic sound. “The Chain basically came out of a jam, and was very much collectively a band composition,” Fleetwood revealed. “Originally we had no words to it. And it really only became a song when Stevie Nicks walked in one day and said, ‘I’ve written some words that might be good for that thing you were doing in the studio the other day.’” Fleetwood’s driving, pulsating drum work provides the perfect backing for McVie’s bassline and Buckingham’s vocals – and the percussionist builds to a blitzing crescendo before the song fades out.

3: Dreams (from ‘Rumours’, 1977)

Fleetwood liked to use the word “greased” to describe a successful contribution to a song (he said that when the classic Mac rhythm section was working properly, they were “laying down a bit of grease” for the singers and guitarists), and he said he particularly enjoyed the tempo of the band’s hit song Dreams. Kicking off one of the best Mick Fleetwood performances, the superb drum introduction was in part inspired by the work of Al Green’s drummer Howard Grimes. “I think Dreams is the most famous song that Stevie Nicks ever wrote,” said Fleetwood. “The intro, I think, is one of those stupidly simple things that came from the drummer who played with Al Green and The Staple Singers, so it’s from my love of what I call ‘greasy music’. It has a real feel, and it’s lazy, behind the beat – stupidly simple, but well-thought-out.”

2: Tusk (from Tusk, ‘1979’)

In his memoir, Play On: Now, Then, And Fleetwood Mac, the drummer said that he credited some of the innovative nature of his unorthodox playing style to dyslexia. “Dyslexia has absolutely tempered the way I think about rhythm and the way I’ve played my instrument,” he wrote. “By nature, what we drummers do is manage a series of spinning plates… but my methods of keeping my plates spinning are entirely my own.” An example of this is his wonderful work on the song Tusk, and the way he created a jungle style matched with a military sound – an idea he said he got while watching a marching band during a holiday. On Tusk, he played floor toms and overdubbed Native American tribal drums. “It’s a whole hodgepodge of Kleenex boxes, drums, weird stuff, slapping of lamb chops and things. I got a big leg of lamb in there somewhere – I’m hitting it with a spatula,” Fleetwood said. He was also good with brush work, as he showed on another Tusk track, Sara.

1: Go Your Own Way (from ‘Rumours’, 1977)

Fleetwood comes in at bar six on Go Your Own Way, with some brilliant syncopated drum work to raise one of the best Fleetwood Mac songs to a new level. He offers a brilliant counterpoint to Buckingham’s rhythm guitar, and it’s no surprise that Buckingham praised Fleetwood’s amazing “instinctive” style. The drummer always loved to experiment, and he used snare and bass drums to set lots of different musical patterns in Go Your Own Way. Topping our list of the best Mick Fleetwood performances, Buckingham’s composition was ranked No.120 by Rolling Stone magazine on their list of 500 greatest songs of all time. “I love playing this song. It’s one of my favourites because I get to kick the hell out of my drums, and it’s got that wonderfully primal part,” said Fleetwood. “It’s a great ‘let loose’ stage song, in which I can revert to my old animal ways and not be quite so polite. Lindsey is a full-on rock’n’roller on this song.”

Check our best Fleetwood Mac songs to find out which of the best Mick Fleetwood performances made the cut.

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