How Lindsey Buckingham Tried to Break Free From Fleetwood Mac on ‘Law and Order’
Fleetwood Mac were never far away as Lindsey Buckingham attempted to create a parallel solo career.
Buckingham began sessions for his debut album in February 1981, recording all by himself with a multi-track tape machine, a couple of mics and a small console, before being called away to collaborate on what would become Fleetwood Mac's Mirage. He returned to work on Law and Order that June, finally completing the project several weeks before its release date on Oct. 3, 1981.
Ultimately, this process gave Buckingham new perspective on his work, both with the group and away from them. On the one hand, Law and Order mirrored the broad musical complexity of Fleetwood Mac's most recent double album Tusk, yet its core material took a far more personal tack. The album's debut Top 10 Billboard single was only completed with the help of an old bandmate, whereas elsewhere Buckingham handled almost all of the instrumentation himself.
A brief loop of Mick Fleetwood's drumming was used on "Trouble," with additional fills and cymbal crashes by Buckingham himself to finish things. "The irony of that was that the original reason for having Mick play on the song was to approach the track completely live, as opposed to my usual technique," Buckingham said in the original press kit for Law and Order. "Ultimately, we achieved just the opposite, using the same four seconds of Mick's drums over and over again."
Buckingham was tentatively moving away from the shared fame of Fleetwood Mac, but he was nevertheless still inextricably connected with it. "I’m a long way from stardom," Buckingham admitted to the New Times in 1982, "and I’ve got a long way to go before I have any laurels as a solo artist. Most people don’t know who the hell I am. But that’s not really important."
What mattered, it seemed, was that Buckingham remained true to himself. With Law and Order, he remade a heady mixture of pre-war songs into his signature style, combining music that had been passed down via his recently deceased father's extensive collection of 78s (including the standards "September Song" and "A Satisfied Mind") with like-minded originals (like "Love from Here, Love from There") and a batch of '50s- and '60s-inspired rock and pop (notably, "It Was I"). His patented sense of wild-hair studio modernity held it all together.
"I’m not really concerned with the outer success," Buckingham told the New Times. "I’m in the position where I don’t have to make commercial music to feed myself, so I have the luxury of being more experimental, if that’s what I choose to do. I guess I’ve earned the right by being in the business for a while and paying the dues and taking the lumps. That’s why I feel that Law and Order was an inner success for me. It’s a question of quality work and not really going for the money."
Listen to Lindsey Buckingham Perform 'Trouble'
While "Trouble" went on to platinum singles success, however, Law and Order struggled to 300,000 in sales – a marked distance from the following year's double-platinum Fleetwood Mac release, Mirage. That's why Buckingham was already talking about the joys of solo work as being far more interior.
"Working on a Fleetwood Mac album is like doing a movie," he told the New Times. "Everything is very verbalized. It’s very consciously thought out. There are many links in the chain. When I’m working on an album by myself doing all the parts myself, being solitary, it’s much more like doing a painting as opposed to making a movie. It’s a very intimate one-to-one relationship that you develop with your work. It’s more of a subconscious process, and the work tends to lead you."
Not even a Top 10 single was enough to keep his label bosses from pulling him back into Fleetwood Mac. "Warner Bros. never really got behind the solo work," he told Sound Spike in 2011. "They always kind of drew a blank. I think they always were thinking, 'Well, this is nice, but let's get back to what's really important.'"
This gravitation pull was obvious, even then. When Buckingham made his first major solo television appearance, as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live, Mick Fleetwood was there – along with three other studio musicians. (Fleetwood was in the accompanying video, too.) A desolate song like "I'll Tell You Know," which revolved around an inability to communicate because the time just isn't right, framed this period of time for Buckingham – and, in fact, was written immediately after the sessions for Fleetwood Mac's Tusk.
Before long, Buckingham found himself right back in the fold. And, at least at this point, he happily went along.
"When Stevie Nicks and Mick and I started making solo albums, most people figured it was the beginning of the end for Fleetwood Mac," Buckingham told the Miami Herald in 1982. "Nobody wanted to see those solo projects for what they were. They were safety valves that improved things within the band and helped us to get through this new Fleetwood Mac album. In my case, for instance, the fact that I have a solo outlet made me want to do a more collective Fleetwood Mac album."
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