Over weekend, Stevie Nicks was be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. She becames the first woman to have the honour twice (following 22 men who have been double-inducted) — her first induction came as a member of Fleetwood Mac in 1998. This time, it’s about her solo career and individual contributions.
There’s a picture of Stevie Nicks hanging on my living room wall that I’ve had since I was a little girl in the ‘80s. It means a lot to me because it was taken by a beloved, late friend of the family at one of her Houston concerts, long before I was old enough to go to a concert. He knew I was a fan, even when I was a wee one, and blew the photo up and framed it for me. I’ve kept it all these years; it’s probably my oldest piece of music memorabilia — and one of my most treasured.
Nicks has always loomed large in my life; Fleetwood Mac’s landmark, multi-million selling 1977 album Rumours defined ‘70s rock and was released the year I was born. It is one of the best-selling albums of all time with an epic backstory that dominated music culture for multiple generations: Nicks broke up with guitarist Lindsey Buckingham while Christine and John McVie were divorcing, Mick Fleetwood divorced his own wife and had a subsequent brief romance with Nicks; they all wrote mean songs about each other and great songs about falling in love with other people. So, of course, I’ve been listening to Rumours all my life. It was always the songs by Nicks that were my favourites; there was never enough of her on the band’s albums, with songs evenly split between all the prolific songwriters in the group. It was after “Silver Springs” was dropped from the album for length and god knows what other reasons that the seed was planted: Stevie Nicks was going to have to work on her own projects at some point. She broke out on her own a few years later.
With her 1981 solo debut, Bella Donna, Nicks was flourishing. Working with producer (and future music industry titan and another of her paramours) Jimmy Iovine, she stepped out with an iconic duet, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. It was a radio smash and probably the only song of Petty career where the best thing he could do was get out of the way. The video was obsession-worthy: Nicks and Petty facing each other and singing, Nicks with those curly Russian Doll bangs we’re all obsessed with anew in drop feather earrings and what was, by then, her standard outfit: a black dress with sheer panels and skirts that hit the floor. It was like, after years of feuding with her ex-boyfriend and bandmate Buckingham, she finally wrote the parts for both of them: she got to burn him with lines like “this doesn’t have to be the big get even / this doesn’t have to be anything at all” while his proxy, Petty, could only say, “I know you really wanna tell me goodbye / I know you really wanna be your own girl.” It sounded like vindication — and freedom. In that moment, who didn’t want to be Stevie Nicks? Buckingham also released a solo album, that came out three months after Bella Donna. And, well, let’s just say that only one of them is a double-inductee to the Rock Hall.
There was also the Don Henley duet on “Leather and Lace” that is a song I didn’t appreciate until much later in life. But the sheer balls to leave your songwriting and romantic partner behind and then drop two singles with other men is something else. Don’t ever kid yourself that Nicks/Buckingham was, or is, less than a heated competition — that Nicks soundly won. One of the album’s other singles, “Edge of Seventeen” would become one of Nicks signature songs, along with “If Anyone Falls” and the synth-driven dance track “Stand Back” from her 1983 album The Wild Heart. Those were her most modern songs, the ones that pop radio embraced (the latter was a response to Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” that he ended up adding keyboard parts to — NBD, just one of the biggest artists in the world dropping in to collaborate). The trifecta of songs makes a weird juxtaposition to her 1982 hop back into Fleetwood Mac for Mirage, on which she wrote and recorded “Gypsy.” Their hard-driving synths and rock guitars were nothing like what the Mac did, and gave us full raspy-voiced Nicks, while “Gypsy” was the slow velvet ballads she’d long made her signature. Whatever flavour of Nicks might be your favourite, her voice and style were inescapable from 1977 to 1984. This era of Nicks influenced so many artists, from Lana Del Rey to Jenny Lewis to Destiny's Child to Shania Twain.
Nicks got heavily involved with cocaine and lost the plot a bit musically until she dropped “Rooms on Fire” in 1989. It’s a song inspired by dopamine, that shot of pleasure your brain sends when you’re newly in love and get a thrill from your paramour (in this case, producer Rupert Hine) that’s wrapped up in her particular sort of poetry meets magic aesthetic.
Nicks, along with Fleetwood Mac, fell out of favour as the ‘80s marched on. It was deeply uncool to like Fleetwood Mac. The punk that followed made “bloated ‘70s rock” like Rumours a guilty pleasure for a solid decade. As the ‘90s dawned, Wayne’s World made fun of it, condemning it to be a relic of uncool, suburban Boomer taste. But Stevie Nicks got the redemption she deserved with one live performance when Fleetwood Mac reunited with their core ‘70s lineup behind a live album and concert film after a decade of being broken up and bitter public battles. When the band performed 1997’s The Dance, a co-sign to Nicks’ songs had been given by Oscar-era Courtney Love, who had released her own take on “Gold Dust Woman” in an attempt to align herself with Nicks’ energy and nearly lost her shit at the taping (an I would have done the same). That album, along with the resurrection Nicks’ long-lost “Silver Springs,” shot them into a renaissance period.
If you’ve never seen someone crush a soul with music before, it’s exactly what happens when Nicks sings “Silver Springs.” After the first chorus, she starts staring down Buckingham, who the song was written about, and the way she leans in and makes eye contact when she later sings, “You’ll never get away from the sound of the woman that loves you” is enough to make your blood run cold. She then drags her mic towards him while putting her full weight into singing, “Was I just a fool?” and Buckingham, who knows there’s no getting out of this now, looks almost captivated by her performance. Twenty years later and those two were still working their shit out in the most dramatic and public ways possible.
These days, we remember the iconic witchy woman version of Stevie Nicks. She’s the beautiful centrepiece in American Horror Story: Coven and the iconic star of feminine energy from a generation past who seemed to both get liberation right and embrace her inner mystic. Ahead of this year Fleetwood Mac tour, the band had a nasty falling out with Buckingham, who is suing them over the injustice of it all. And it barely even matters — I bought a ticket to see Stevie Nicks.