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‘Mystery To Me’: Why Is This Fleetwood Mac Album So Underrated?
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In Depth

‘Mystery To Me’: Why Is This Fleetwood Mac Album So Underrated?

Flashing Fleetwood Mac’s growing commercial appeal, the ‘Mystery To Me’ album is a gem deserving of greater recognition.

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The second of two Fleetwood Mac albums released in 1973, Mystery To Me is one of the hidden treasures of the band’s back catalogue. With the songwriting of Christine McVie and guitarist Bob Welch showing a marked progression, the album’s sound suggested a move towards the AM radio-friendly pop-rock of the Buckingham-Nicks era, while its tracklisting included some bona fide classics among the best Fleetwood Mac songs of all time.

Listen to ‘Mystery To Me’ here.

The backstory: “We sensed we were on the verge of a breakthrough”

After a rocky spell, things appeared to be on the up, as Mick Fleetwood wrote in his 1990 autobiography, Fleetwood: My Life And Adventures In Fleetwood Mac. “Mystery To Me was probably the best Fleetwood Mac album since Peter Green had left the band three years earlier,” the group’s drummer and co-founder reflected. “It was atmospheric and intelligent, and we knew it was going to be a big hit. We sensed we were on the verge of a breakthrough and had another real shot at the Big Time in the USA.” However, as is so often the case with this stormiest of bands, there was upheaval behind the scenes, resulting in yet another change to the ever-shifting Fleetwood Mac line-up.

Singer Dave Walker, formerly of UK R&B band Savoy Brown, had come on board for 1973’s Penguin album and the three-month US tour that followed. However, when the band reconvened in the UK for sessions at Benifold, the sprawling Hampshire mansion that served as their communal home and recording studio, it quickly became apparent that Walker wasn’t a good fit, and they parted ways. Walker later recalled that he recorded two vocals during the Mystery To Me sessions before departing – on the Bob Welch-penned Hypnotized and a Christine McVie song that he couldn’t recall. Neither take has yet seen the light of the day.

The recording: “I was interested in the paranormal… I incorporated a lot of those themes”

The band opted to continue as a five-piece – Bob Welch (guitar, vocals), Bob Weston (guitar, vocals), Christine McVie (keyboards, vocals), John McVie (bass) and Mick Fleetwood (drums) – but the sessions were still tense, not least because of Christine McVie and engineer/co-producer Martin Birch’s barely concealed romance. Fleetwood Mac would soon become one of the most famous bands in relationships, and, as was often the case over the years, the internal intrigue made for great material for songs – McVie’s tortured boogie Believe Me and the infatuated harmony-pop of Just Crazy Love were both written for Birch.

Meanwhile, Christine’s other contributions to the album – the contemplative The Way I Feel and the heartbroken blues of Why – showed further evidence of her development as a songwriter. One of the best Christine McVie songs, Why would go on to become a highlight of the band’s 1975 tour, with backing vocals from the newly recruited Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham breathing a new energy into the track.

The other Mystery To Me song which became a part of the group’s 1975 setlist was Bob Welch’s classic Hypnotized. Welch later explained the inspiration behind the lyrics: “The ‘playing field’ mentioned in one of the verses made a reference to the large green tennis court, which was part of the property [Benifold]… and kind of spooky at night. I was interested in the paranormal – UFOs, the Carlos Castaneda books about the Yaqui Indian ‘sorcerer’, Don Juan – so I incorporated a lot of those themes and references into the song.”

Welch’s spooked lyrics and minor chords are complemented by the band’s simmering blues-rock arrangement of the song, featuring an expressive, jazzy guitar solo from Weston, a harmony-laden chorus and mesmerising drumming from Mick Fleetwood. “Mick was, and is, one of the steadiest timekeepers,” Welch later enthused. “I don’t think anybody’s ever done such a metronomic beat as [on Hypnotized]. You ask any drummer to try to play that, give ’em about three minutes and they’ve had it, they have to go home and take a hot bath, it’s almost impossible. So that’s really him!”

Hypnotized had “hit” written all over it, yet the group’s record label claimed they couldn’t hear a single among Mystery To Me’s 11 songs. In a bid to appease the execs, a cover of The Yardbirds’ For Your Love was recorded. It was a fine version, but had nothing on Hypnotized and failed to chart.

It’s tempting to track a parallel universe in which the Welch song was a hit, followed up by his similarly radio-friendly Emerald Eyes. Welch also contributed the bluesy The City, embellished by fine slide playing by Weston, along with the rollicking Miles Away and Keep On Going, the latter sung by Christine McVie with a string arrangement from Paul Buckmaster, who came to prominence arranging Elton John’s early 70s albums.

The release and legacy: “Incredibly important for the survival of the band”

Released on 15 October 1973, the fan-favourite Mystery To Me peaked at No.67 in the US but would prove to be a slow burner, eventually going gold in late 1976. Despite the enormous success that came later, Fleetwood Mac never forgot how important this period was to the band, as Mick Fleetwood told Details in 2013.

“Those albums from what we call the Bob Welch period of Fleetwood Mac – along with, obviously, Chris and myself and John [McVie], a couple of other people who came and went – were incredibly important for the survival of the band people know as Fleetwood Mac,” he affirmed. “Artistically, there’s some really cool stuff that we did.”

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