BY HOWARD COHEN
On Friday, March 10 (re-scheduled till March 31), Fleetwood Mac releases a 30th anniversary expanded edition of one of its most popular and influential albums, “Tango in the Night.” The lavishly packaged reissue offers a remastered version of the original album, a disc of B-sides and outtakes, plus another disc of 12-inch dance mixes of its hit singles like “Big Love” and “Little Lies” and a vinyl LP.
For Stevie Nicks, the group’s star attraction, recording her parts for the 1987 album proved difficult. After the completion of a ragged tour for her third solo album, 1985’s “Rock a Little,” she went into rehab at the Betty Ford Center for a cocaine addiction. After her release, she was misguidedly placed on a Klonopin regimen. Few in her inner circle thought rehab would stick unless she was dosed on anxiety medication. They were wrong.
Her first test: joining her Fleetwood Mac band mates for the 1986 tracking sessions for “Tango in the Night.” The band hadn’t recorded since the release of “Mirage” in 1982.
Nicks’ ex-boyfriend Lindsey Buckingham, the group’s guitarist, was co-producing the band’s efforts, again, but this time the tension was poisonous, even by Fleetwood Mac’s standards.
“When I started recording for ‘Tango,’ they were recording at Lindsey’s house up on Mulholland somewhere. He lived there with his girlfriend Cheri and this record was being recorded at his house and I didn’t find that to be a great situation for me. Especially coming out of rehab,” Nicks said in an interview last year. “And then I was on Klonopin and not quite understanding why I was feeling so weird and this doctor kept saying, ‘This is what you need.’ It’s the typical scenario of a groupie doctor. Discuss rock and roll with you, so in order to do that he would keep upping your dose so you’d come in once a week.”
Nicks sets the scenario: “I can remember going up there and not being happy to even be there and we were doing vocals in their master bedroom and that was extremely strange. In all fairness, it was like the only empty room and they had a beautiful master bedroom all set up like a vocal booth but I found it very uncomfortable, personally. I guess I didn’t go very often and when I did go I would get like, ‘Give me a shot of brandy and let me sing on four or five songs off the top of my head.’”
At her urging, Nicks said, Buckingham would cue up one of his songs or Christine McVie’s. Stevie would blend in like she always had. Except it wasn’t like she always had.
“I’d leave and he’d take all my vocals off,” Nicks said. “And I’m not blaming him for that because I’m sure they totally sucked. Vocals done when you’re crazy and drinking a cup of brandy probably aren’t usually going to be great and Lindsey is very precise when recording. … I wasn’t into it.”
For all of its problems in creation, “Tango in the Night” was a hit with consumers worldwide. In the U.S. the album spent 44 weeks in the Billboard Top 40 and spawned five chart singles, the biggest being McVie’s infectious “Little Lies.” The album was ultimately a hit with Nicks, as well. She feels the songs Buckingham contributed to the album — “Big Love,” “Caroline,” the title track, “Family Man” and his cowrite with McVie, “Isn’t it Midnight” — represent his best set of songs on any Fleetwood Mac album.
“Tango” has grown in stature since its release. The band has oft-been cited as an inspiration by alternative pop, rock and country acts like the Dixie Chicks, Little Big Town, Smashing Pumpkins, R.E.M., Hole, Haim, Sheryl Crow, Mumford and Sons, Ladies of the Canyon, Best Coast and Camper Van Beethoven.
“Tango in the Night” songs have been covered by a growing number of next generation and vintage acts. Vampire Weekend and Moustache each recorded McVie’s “Everywhere,” as did R&B star Chaka Khan. Singer-actress Hillary Duff, Ari Hest and Anna Ternheim all cut “Little Lies.” One Direction might as well be covering a “Tango” or “Mirage” track, given how close the British boy band channeled ’80s Fleetwood Mac on the 2016 cut, “What a Feeling.” Ditto Little Big Town on “Night On Our Side,” a track from the country group’s new album, “The Breaker.”
Since McVie’s return to the band in 2014, the “Tango in the Night” material has once again taken its place in the band’s concert setlist with her “Little Lies” and “Everywhere” among the highlights. Nicks’ “Seven Wonders” even returned on the 2014-15 On With the Show Tour’s first leg for the first time in 27 years, thanks to its featured spot during her acting debut on FX’s “American Horror Story: Coven” in 2014.
The “Tango” reissue’s remastering reinvigorates the music in a way the original 1987 CD release never could. There’s a new sense of muscle to the Mick Fleetwood-John McVie rhythm section on the title track. There’s air in the mix, allowing for the intricate harmonies and instrumentation — both organic and synthesized — to reveal its subtle layers. Disc three of the deluxe package offers 14 tracks of 12-inch remixes by that decade’s prominent DJs and remixers Arthur Baker and Jellybean. Fleetwood Mac, like seemingly everyone else in the Me Decade, found its footing in the dance clubs.
Some of the unearthed B-sides and outtakes, like McVie’s exotic and percussive “Ricky” and Buckingham’s hook-filled “Down Endless Street” and reflective “Special Kind of Love” are superior to a handful of songs that made the original 12-track running order.
“Tango” remains the last studio album to feature Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” lineup. Alas, Nicks’ discomfort in the studio shows in her performances. Her best song here, “Seven Wonders,” was actually written by Texan composer Sandy Stewart. Nicks contributed one line. “I was so used to saying ‘All the way down to Emmiline’ so we used that. I asked Sandy, a really good friend of mine, and she said fine. It totally created a character. It was a song I loved. … And on that show [“AHS”] I got to make a full-on music video,” said Nicks.
“Welcome to the Room…Sara” is Nicks’ oddest song, with vocals that veer off-key, but as the reissue reveals, it’s among her most personal.
With lyrics cribbed from Nicks’ Bella Donna outtake, “Blue Lamp,” the song is redeemed musically mostly by Fleetwood’s inventive, island-flavored drum pattern. The music, Nicks said, was inspired by the 1986 David + David hit, “Welcome to the Boomtown.”
‘“Welcome to the Room … Sara’ was written about Betty Ford [Center.] I went in there as Sara Anderson – the one and only time I was married, to my friend Robin’s husband Kim Anderson,” said Nicks. “I was inspired by the fact when you go into Betty Ford it is like, ‘Welcome to the room whoever you are,’ because it is one big room and you spend 30 days in there. Quite an experience you go through from day one to day 30. … It is a little more weird when you are famous. People are a little harder on you. I will never do cocaine again. That was my mantra. I will never be ‘Welcome to the Room Again Sara’ here.”
Ironically, the Nicks songs that didn’t make the album’s final cut, the ones that wind up on the second disc of “Tango” B-sides and outtakes, are her most vital of the period. A driving Tom Petty-like rock version of “Ooh My Love,” later re-recorded in a more ethereal fashion for Nicks’ 1989 solo album, “The Other Side of the Mirror,” is a find. We almost had her bewitching, yet still raw, “Joan of Arc” demo, a song Nicks wrote inspired by primatologist Jane Goodall, but she pulled it off the disc last year. “I still want to record it,” she explained. “The song has its really good moments but it’s not good enough to go out as that version.”
Said “Tango” special edition producer Bill Inglot of the outtakes collection: “When I put that stuff together I wanted to create a disc that would be playable. If you can get away with it you try to create a record. I don’t want to put out bonus material or outtakes if people play it once. That’s not the goal to create something.”