Albatross

Posted on Sat 12/13/2008 by

4


Precursor for Sunday Music.

Each day we open up the online news reports, and then go to the blogs we like to peruse, and the news reports and the commentary in those blogs in the main seems to be a little depressing. Reports of political upheaval, financial turmoil at every turn, Government bailouts, talk of Climate Change, and in the main, news that somehow seems to heighten stress levels.

So, on this Saturday, none of that here.

I want to highlight a music video, tell you an evocative story about it and then mention how it came to be, and the guys who made it possible.

The song itself didn’t do well in the US but was a ‘monster’ in the UK, not once, but twice. It also did well here in Australia. It’s a favourite of mine, and every time I hear it, I turn up the volume a little, and I’m taken to another place.

The song is called Albatross, and was recorded by the original Fleetwood Mac, and unlike nearly every other song of the time, it was a wholly instrumental piece. Don’t play the video until you read this short introduction.

The albatross is a large sea bird and they soar the wind currents mainly in the World’s Southern oceans. They are sleek, streamlined, and the largest of them has a wingspan sometimes up to 11 feet. Their narrow wings make them perfect for soaring in the updrafts and they have been known to travel many hundreds of miles searching for food to take back to the nest, those nests mainly on cold bare rocky outcrops on islands in the freezing Southern Oceans.

For this song, the bass guitar gently thumps the heartbeat and the pulse of the slow movement of the wings. The muffled head of the drumsticks on the cymbals provides the sound of the crashing waves, far below as the bird soars. The gentle sound of the two guitars playing in concert even while opposing, provides the sound of the bird and a partner as they soar. The slide guitar comes in with a gentle squawk as the two birds communicate. Then you will hear the screech as the seagulls join them, all the while the rhythmic pulse in the background lulling the listener to evocative images while the waves gently crash.
This is one of the most evocative instrumental pieces of music written in the modern era.
Now the stage has been set, press the play button and close your eyes. You will see exactly this image.

The technical side of this piece of music bears some explanation as well, because how the song came to be is a fascinating story in itself.
Peter Green composed the song, and was working on it during the original period of the band Fleetwood Mac. Sometimes, musicians have a spark of genius in them, and even though sometimes flawed, that genius gets to live on after them, and such was the case with Peter Green. He was the founder of the band and the Mac part of the name comes from John McVie. Both Green and bass player Mick Fleetwood wanted John McVie to join the band on drums, but that did not occur until just prior to the release of their second album. Around the same time, Green heard Danny Kirwan playing, and he took a gamble and asked Kirwan to join the band. Jeremy Spencer, also flawed, was sometimes reluctant to assist Green with compositions although he always performed well on stage. The gamble Green took with Kirwan was that Danny was barely 18 at the time, but the combination proved fruitful, as Kirwan helped him sort out this wonderful piece of instrumental music.
Mick Fleetwood’s Bass guitar work, and John McVie’s drum work was sorted, but the two guitar pieces still needed some work. Kirwan and Green sorted it out perfectly. Kirwan played the mellower tones produced from a Gibson Les Paul Custom, but Green couldn’t get the contrasting part right, and finally did it with a Fender Stratocaster which gave a different sound than what his own Gibson provided. McVie’s drum piece was accomplished with the large muffled heads on the sticks, and for this piece he used the Zildjian cymbals which give a better ringing sound whereas sometimes Paiste cymbals can tend to sound a little ‘tinny’.

This clip I have purposely posted rather than some produced later with the images of birds and computer graphics. I wanted this clip to show best the explanation for the piece. What you need to remember is that this clip is from 1969.

This was a full 8 years away from when Mike Nesmith virtually invented the music video with the clip of his song ‘Rio’. Nesmith spent more than $1 Million on making his music video for ‘Rio’. This was unheard of at the time, when sometimes, movie makers were not spending that sort of money on full movies. The gamble Nesmith took led to the explosion in music videos that we see today, but his ‘Rio’ was the forerunner.

However, back when this song became huge there was no such thing as music videos, and more often than not, after the song became a hit, then a camera would just film the band playing the song. More often than not, they faked it, as is the case here. The guitar leads go off into the distance, but they are not plugged into any amps, and the song was dubbed from the record onto the film, so that’s why it sometimes seems a little out of sync.
The first guitarist you see after Fleetwood and McVie start the song is the bearded Peter Green. Here he is playing his beautiful lemondrop 1959 Gibson Les Paul Custom, not the guitar he played for the original composition, because he could not get the sound quite right, because of a later discovered flaw in the Gibson which gave a slightly out of phase sound, because the magnetic pickup head was installed with the magnetic polarities reversed, which gave Green his somewhat unique guitar sound.
The second player you see is the young Danny Kirwan still only just 18 here, and he plays his own Gibson Les Paul Custom.
In the background is Jeremy Spencer, and he’s playing a Sunburst Fender Stratocaster. Notice he’s playing way down the fretboard, and if you look closely, you’ll see he has a slide on his small finger to give that unique sound. In most cases, to achieve this sound, the player would use a hollow piece of glass over that finger and in the main this was the sawn off and smoothed neck of a Coke bottle, hence the flash of green.
The 5 members of the band appeared for this clip, even though all the guitar work was only achieved with the original 2 guitars.

Not long after this, Christine Perfect, from the band Chicken Shack joined the band full time. She had appeared as a sessions keyboardist on all but the first album, and she married John McVie just prior to officially joining the band.
Peter Green left the band not long after that. Then Jeremy Spencer left the band in bizarre circumstances during their 1971 US tour. Bob Welch joined the band a little later to fill the vacant guitar slot, and not long after that Kirwan, now becoming flawed himself, also left the band.

Even though they were still quite prolific, it was not until people had come and gone, the three remaining members, Fleetwood and the two McVie’s, asked Lindsey Buckingham and Stephanie ‘Stevie’ Nicks to join the band, which started their new revival, following their relocation to the US, bringing us their own ‘White Album’, the fabulous ‘Rumours’ and then the twin opus that was ‘Tusk’.

Fleetwood Mac was a band made up of many musicians, nearly all of them flawed in one way or another.

Their music lives on, but when I hear the band name, I always think of this wonderful song which made Number 1 in the UK twice, following its original release in 1969, and then again in 1973. This song also has the distinction of being the only song that actually inspired The Beatles to compose a song, the only time they used another song for inspiration. That Beatles song was ‘Sun King’ from the legendary ‘Abbey Road’ album.

This video posted to youtube by numberonesongs4444

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Posted in: Personal, Videos