You’re the poet in my heart

FleetwoodMacSaraOn 16 February, 1980, “Sara” by Fleetwood Mac peaked at #7.

One of the more distinctive songs I’ve covered so far in this project has been Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk“, which is more a primal chant than a pop song.  With “Sara“, Fleetwood Mac is again doing something unconventional, but in a much more subtle manner. You can be sitting in your car, whiling your way through a traffic jam by humming along with this song, and then it strikes you… this song doesn’t rhyme!  That may not seem like a big deal, but for a song on top 40 radio, that’s unusual.  You would also be forgiven if you didn’t notice when you were shifting into the chorus.  This song doesn’t provide any prompts as to where it’s going:  no hokey key changes, no crescendos, no dramatic pauses.  It’s just a shuffle of a drum beat with a subdued, though oddly chaotic guitar strum, with elfin background vocals drifting in and out of a shimmering curtain of music, not sad, not mysterious, but certainly serious and… maybe wistful.

Or maybe those background voices are really entirely neutral and only pick up their wistful quality by association with Stevie Nicks’s lovely, lilting delivery of what is, effectively, a prose poem, saying much more about life and love in images than Kenny Loggins could say with direct statements.  There’s a man, both attractive and daunting, a great dark wing in the wings of a storm, but he was a restless soul (“when you build your house, then please call me home”).  And her consolation as she drowns, eagerly, in a lake of love is the knowledge that this powerful, restless heart once told her that she was his everything.

Sure, she’s a total sap, but she’s a total sap in the way everyone wants to be a total sap — dreamily and achingly.  She may have lost in love, but she’s found beauty in the experience.

Why don’t you tell me who’s on the phone?

TuskOn 12 January 1980, “Tusk by Fleetwood Mac was at #97, its highest position in the 80s.  Its peak position was #8 in 1979. 

So, all that complaining I’ve been doing about how all the music of the late 70s is the same?  I’m going to stop right here, because the music gods have brought us Fleetwood Mac, and Fleetwood Mac have brought us “Tusk“, a tribal anthem that’s just, well, downright weird.  And I love it. It’s got a chugging beat drifting in over a swirl of murmurs; it’s got half-whispered, half-mumbled voices of paranoia menacing us with “Don’t tell me you love me!” from the depths of an audio mist; it builds and builds and the voices shriek “TUSK!”, the brass section underscores the screaming howling in the background; it breaks down in a clamor of drumbeats and builds again and fades out like an army of witches and ghouls into an October night… How did this ever get on the radio?  Why did the DJs decide to play it enough to get it into the top 10 (number 8!)?  The only reason I can think of is that Fleetwood Mac simply could do no wrong; whatever they put out would get airplay.  Frankly, I’m happy it did, and wish classic rock stations today would continue to play “Tusk”, because I’m tired of hearing “Rhiannon.”

Good luck finding anything like this on the radio today.  The only thing I can think of off-hand in the past few years is “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People, a brooding menace of darkness that while not musically similar is at least emotionally similar.  It managed to get to #3 in 2010.