Skip to main content

Enter your email below to be the first to hear about new releases, upcoming events, and more from Dig!

Please enter a valid email address
Please accept the terms
Why Christine McVie’s Self-Titled 1984 Album Was “More Sophisticated” Than Fleetwood Mac
Warner Music
In Depth

Why Christine McVie’s Self-Titled 1984 Album Was “More Sophisticated” Than Fleetwood Mac

Released 14 years on from her debut solo album, Christine McVie’s self-titled 1984 album was well worth the wait.

Back

Christine McVie sits at a piano. She’s on a gently curving, grassy hill in Wiltshire, in the South West of England, gazing at the pinkish-blue sky. “It was so cold that the frost was about an inch thick on the trees,” McVie said in 1984 about the cover artwork to her self-titled second album, Christine McVie. “It looked gorgeous, but we had to be there at six in the morning, and wait for the light to be right. That didn’t happen until three in the afternoon. That’s when everything was finally right.” It’s a good metaphor for Christine McVie’s first solo album since 1970: the product of a patient artist waiting for the perfect time.

Listen to Christine McVie’s self-titled second album here.

The backstory: “I didn’t really feel artistically together until I joined Fleetwood Mac”

Christine McVie officially became a member of Fleetwood Mac in 1970, just after her first solo record, Christine Perfect, was released. That album was of the British blues world, reflecting her time in Chicken Shack; yet it also added in a unique soul-folk quality, distinct from anything McVie had recorded before. It is a very vocally flexible album, McVie tackling challenging cover versions, such as Etta James’ I’d Rather Go Blind, alongside original material.

However, in the decade after its release, McVie revealed that she was increasingly unhappy that her first solo album was – as she saw it – naïve and underdeveloped. “When I made that record, I wasn’t really sure about my talent, or about what direction I wanted to go in musically,” she said. “I didn’t feel artistically together until I joined Fleetwood Mac.”

As her musical, vocal, and songwriting confidence grew in Fleetwood Mac, McVie began thinking about recording a follow-up to Christine Perfect. “I had wanted to do a solo record for a long time, but I was nervous about it,” she has said. “After all, I’d been so used to being a fifth of a band.”

The momentum: “The stuff I’ll be doing on my own is more sophisticated”

Speaking in 1983, McVie revealed to Record Mirror that her second solo album was now a definite. “I’m getting the songs together for it,” she said of what would become Christine McVie. “I’ve got to wait until June to go into the studio because my producer is working with Paul Simon at the moment. It should be out by Christmas though. If anything, the stuff I’ll be doing on my own is more sophisticated.”

The producer in question was Russ Titelman, who was indeed producing Paul Simon (1983’s Hearts And Bones). Titelman had defined a certain 70s singer-songwriter sound; working with artists including Randy Newman, James Taylor and Ry Cooder, Titelman was acclaimed for his adult, urbane, intelligent approach. This suited the tone McVie was seeking for her self-titled second album, a conscious opposite to the rawness of Christine Perfect. “I chose Russ because I really like him as a person, and I trust his decision-making process,” she said.

McVie was also clear that, though the album would come out under her own name, it was a collaborative effort. Along with Titelman, a key partnership was with guitarist Todd Sharp, who wrote or co-wrote eight of the record’s ten tracks. “We literally went into my music room at my house and played with ideas and riffs that we both had and wrote the music and words together,” McVie said. “I enjoy writing that way now because when you can inject somebody else’s personality as well as your own, the songs come out stronger.”

The songs: “I feel pretentious writing about things I don’t really feel”

In a group such as Fleetwood Mac, bursting with talented songwriters, McVie’s contributions were only ever going to be part of the wider whole. But on her second solo album there was more scope to consider an overall feel that represented her recent experiences. “I write about love, feel comfortable writing about it, but that puts me with many others,” she reflected in 1984, around the time of the album’s release. “I feel pretentious writing about things I don’t really feel. Male-female relationships are better for me to write about. And all the songs are not autobiographical.”

McVie particularly singled out Got A Hold On Me, which was to be the album’s lead single, as fictional (“’Cause at the time I wrote it, no one did have a hold on me,” she remarked). This track became one of her most famous songs, and is augmented by Steve Winwood’s synthesiser contributions.

Winwood was also instrumental in bringing another song, Ask Anybody, to fruition. This one definitely was autobiographical, having been written a few years previously, by McVie, about her wild relationship with The Beach Boys’ drummer Dennis Wilson. “He was a mess, but he was charismatic, charming and really handsome,” McVie said of Wilson. Although McVie had the words, it wasn’t until she worked with Winwood that the melody developed, too, making it another highlight among McVie’s self-titled second album.

For The Challenge, McVie enlisted Eric Clapton on lead guitar. “I clearly remember asking Eric to play on it,” she said in 2022. “And to my delight, he agreed. Like all of my songs, it’s about life and remorse and rejection.” Yet, despite this comment, McVie also felt that her 1984 solo album offered some optimism. She was offering another side to the heart’s pain. “You know, not everything is unhappy about love,” she said of the record. “This album is a very happy, very up album.”

The recording: “We were so well-prepared”

Stationed in Montreux, Switzerland, McVie found the recording of her self-titled 1984 album smooth and pleasurable. “We were so well-prepared that the album only took three months to make,” she said. “Montreux is a really beautiful place and I loved it there. I treated being away from home as an adventure. I mean, if you’re going to make a record, you might as well make it as much fun for yourself as possible.”

Some of the guest contributions were recorded back in England; others, including those from McVie’s Fleetwood Mac bandmates Lindsey Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood, took place in Montreux. One of the final songs to be written for Christine McVie, while in the studio, was the album’s final track – the gorgeous The Smile I Live For. Otherwise, barring a jam number called Too Much Is Not Enough (“A really good and raunchy rock’n’roll track,” McVie later observed, “but I wasn’t satisfied with the vocal”), there was no extraneous music recorded. “We didn’t over-record like some bands do,” she commented. “We were very compact.”

The legacy: “I wanted to please my own ears with it”

Though one of the best female songwriters of all time, Christine McVie was not egotistical. She would often underplay her own achievements, and this was particularly noticeable when she talked of her solo records. She had already spoken harshly of Christine Perfect, and she would go on to be self-deprecating about her third album, 2004’s In The Meantime. It was therefore unsurprising that she was modest when Christine McVie was released. “Maybe it isn’t the most adventurous album in the world, but I wanted to be honest and please my own ears with it,” McVie told Rolling Stone in 1984.

However, with the passage of time, McVie did allow herself some pride in the album. On the cusp of Fleetwood Mac’s return to megastardom, with 1987’s Tango In The Night album, McVie reflected on her second solo album’s strength of songwriting and purpose – and the artistic risks she took to create it.

“I have tremendous memories of making [Christine McVie],” she said. “I think it was a good record. I had some great musicians to work with… it’s definitely more pressurised than doing a Fleetwood Mac album. You don’t have any strong shoulders to lean on in terms of writers. But I definitely feel it’s a challenge.”

Buy the vinyl reissue of ‘Christine McVie’.

More Like This

Tequila Sunrise: How Eagles Wrote Their First Truly Classic Song
In Depth

Tequila Sunrise: How Eagles Wrote Their First Truly Classic Song

The song that kick-started the Don Henley and Glenn Frey partnership, Tequila Sunrise ushered in a new dawn for Eagles’ core artistic force.

‘Caustic Love’: Behind Paolo Nutini’s Bold And Adventurous Third Album
In Depth

‘Caustic Love’: Behind Paolo Nutini’s Bold And Adventurous Third Album

Sharp-tongued and full of vigour, Paolo Nutini’s third album, ‘Caustic Love’, broke a four-year silence from the Scottish singer-songwriter.

Sign up to our newsletter

Be the first to hear about new releases, upcoming events, and more from Dig!

Sign Up