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Thursday, June 1, 2023

The 25 best Stevie Nicks songs

For every great rock and roll legend, almost everything comes back to the power of the song. No matter how many bells and whistles might be put on in the studio, it takes a master’s touch to sit down with an acoustic guitar or a piano and write something that feels like it’s been ripped from the heavens. Some people might find the art of songwriting as bloody murder when starting, but Stevie Nicks always makes songs that feel like they come from her soul.

From her early days in Fleetwood Mac and onward, Nicks has made some of the most open-hearted songs in the rock canon, always understanding when to tug on that extra heartstring that can make any rock fan shed a tear. Although plenty has been documented about her troubled relationship with Lindsey Buckingham, that heartache also brought out some of the best songs in her arsenal.

Nicks has always been more than just her relationships, and some of her best moments come with the character pieces she portrays in her music, either making tunes that sound like they are ripped from the headlines or from a rock and roll soap opera. For as much detail Nicks crams into her songs, most would swear that she knew every character personally, carefully giving her songs a mystical energy every time they come on.

From her early days cutting her teeth to some of the most epic songs of her solo career and beyond, Nicks’s progression has taken her to places that most songwriters can only dream about reaching one day. Songwriters don’t get to songs like this without practice, and the time Nicks spent with every song has all but affirmed her status as a mystical rock and roll goddess.

The top 25 Stevie Nicks songs:

25. ‘Landslide’ – Fleetwood Mac

Of all the members of Fleetwood Mac, Nicks was never the most skilled instrumentalist in the group. What she had in lieu of technical prowess was heart, though, and her voice matched with Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar was a sound created in heaven on ‘Landslide’.

Although the steady sounds of the guitar provide a nice heartbeat for the track, Nicks’ vocal delivery is the real showcase of the piece, talking about the different hardships that come with life and having some wisdom to conquer them as she grows older. Though the studio version was miles ahead of what people expected, an even better version exists on their live album The Dance, as Nicks finally transforms into the old woman with newfound wisdom.

24. ‘Rhiannon’ – Fleetwood Mac

One of the common attributes of all Stevie Nicks songs is her way of tapping into something a bit more mystical than most. Although Nicks liked to dress in various witch-like regalia whenever she was onstage, it was only a matter of time before she created a song that had that tortured spirit across its runtime.

From the haunting sounds of the opening guitar to Nicks’ timid vocal at the beginning, the listener knows they are stepping into something out of the ordinary on ‘Rhiannon’, transforming a simple pop song into a siren song for the lost witch that has long since departed from this reality. Despite the enduring power of the classic from the 1970s, Nicks would take on the role of Rhiannon whenever they played live, looking like she was trying to exorcise demons from her soul through the power of music. All the listeners heard was music, but something supernatural was bubbling up from underneath.

23. ‘Dreams’ – Rumours

The entire road to making the album Rumours was drought with tension, with Nicks going through a fairly messy separation from Lindsey Buckingham. Whereas Buckingham was content to scream out his pain on songs like ‘Go Your Own Way’, ‘Dreams’ shows Nicks taking a far more subtle approach.

After coming to the end of their relationship, Nicks wishes Buckingham peace in the separation, knowing that their parting just comes from the nature of relationships falling through and how even the heartache will pass away. The thunder might only happen when it’s raining, but Nicks is prepared to weather any storm that the world throws her way, romantically or otherwise.  

22. ‘Rooms on Fire’ – The Other Side of the Mirror

For all of her star power as a ‘70s rock goddess, Nicks would be an even bigger star in the next decade. Now free from Fleetwood Mac, The Other Side of the Mirror was when she came into her own as an independent songwriter, with ‘Rooms on Fire’ as one of her sturdiest love songs.

As much as Nicks talks about the pleasures of having someone in her life that she feels understands her, there is still that hint of anxiety, as if she knows that any kind of staying power with this person might be fleeting. Although Nicks doesn’t know if this will last forever, she’s content with staying in the burning room if only to preserve the moment with her lover. She might get burned in the process, but it’s a fair trade if it means being happy. 

21. ‘After the Glitter Fades’ – Bella Donna

It’s every artist’s dream to become one of the world’s biggest rock and roll artists. From the large stadium lights welcoming every gig to the thousands and fans cheering, the rush is unlike any other high available on Earth. When Nicks found herself at the top, she started to contemplate what would happen when she started falling out of the spotlight.

Written as a dissection of her celebrity status, ‘After the Glitter Fades’ is about Nicks’ apprehension about staying at the top, knowing that it can be only a matter of days before she finds herself back on the street without any songs to her name. Nicks’s persistence behind the microphone would not go quietly, sending her into the charts again as a solo star while The Mac was still strong. Some may be in it for the glory, but Nicks has gotten to where she is because she is still determined to write the next great song.

20. ‘Blue Denim’ –Street Angel 

Any artist is playing with fire when they decide to get back together with an ex-band member. After spending years away from Fleetwood Mac, Nicks reunited with her old friends for the inauguration of Bill Clinton in the early ‘90s. This would also mean going back onstage with Lindsey Buckingham, which shook Nicks to her core. 

Looking to document her feelings, ‘Blue Denim’ is about the sensation of seeing her old flame again, the title a reference to the colour of Buckingham’s eyes. Although the magic may have been there the day of the performance, Nicks is wondering just how long things will last and if she will be able to remember the good times amid all of the years of bad blood between them. However, Fleetwood Mac would continue for a few more years after their reunion as Buckingham and Nicks grew from former lovers to musical comrades reliving their past in song.

19. ‘Angel’ – Tusk

Most of Fleetwood Mac’s album Tusk has both the best and most questionable moments of the group’s career. Putting every songwriter against each other, fans are getting the most personal version of Buckingham, Nicks and McVie across each of their respective songs. With years having passed since Nicks’ first record, she still had those ghosts from the past on her mind.

Although ‘Angel’ has remained open to interpretation for years, Nicks has stated that the lyrics were written about Mick Fleetwood, whom she had a fling with during the making of Rumours. Where most songs would be milked for gossip, Nicks is singing more about the idea of Fleetwood as the band leader, constantly guiding the group through every hardship and being the one to come to for advice. Since most of Rumours was about the pent-up anger at her old flame, this is a loving ode to the one that got away. 

18. ‘Sara’ – Tusk

By the time Stevie Nicks got around to making Fleetwood Mac’s double album experience, she had been put through the emotional wringer. Having come off her rocky relationship with Lindsey Buckingham and contemplating whether to go solo, Nicks was also dealing with her fling with Mick Fleetwood and her unexpected pregnancy with Eagle Don Henley. Instead of being bitter about the hand she’d been dealt, Nicks approaches her situation with conviction on ‘Sara’.

Addressed to the woman that Fleetwood left her for, Nicks is also talking about the relationship she would have had with her unborn child had she gone through with her pregnancy, expressing both the romantic and motherly instincts as she yearns for this person to stay with her for just a little while longer. Through just a few words, though, Nicks’ performance can mean two totally different things depending on the listener’s age. It could be talking about someone walking out of someone’s life or the idea of finally having to let the child leave the nest. Either way, have the tissues handy.

17. ‘Seven Wonders’ – Tango In the Night

During the second act of Fleetwood Mac’s career in the ‘80s, Nicks had started to work outside the confines of the band for her songs. Although she had already achieved some success working with outside songwriters on her solo records, ‘Seven Wonders’ is the kind of Nicks track that seemed destined to become a Mac hit.

Working with Sandy Stewart, the lyrics have all the hallmarks of Nicks’ songwriting, talking about living long past her earthly body and living to see the different wonders of the world before her time runs out. Although the song does have a few hamfisted synthesiser lines thrown in, Nicks provides an heir of refinement with her vocals, which are far rawer than any of the sanitised elements of the tune. The ‘80s might have hit the band like the power of a freight train, but that didn’t mean that Nicks had lost her ability to inhabit her material.

16. ‘The Chain’ – Rumours

By the time Fleetwood Mac was making Rumours, every member of the band had begun writing independently from each other. Though the recording process may have been stifled by one prolonged fight from each member of the band, they could always rely on the music to tether them together.

Based around a jam that Christine McVie had called ‘Keep Me There’, ‘The Chain’ is the culmination of everything Fleetwood Mac stands for, featuring Nicks sounding like a disembodied spirit over John McVie’s bassline and Lindsey Buckingham’s searing lead guitar. The road through Rumours may have felt like an unending journey through musical Hell, but when everyone locks in on the main groove of this tune, all earthly problems fade away.

15. ‘Crying In the Night’ – Buckingham Nicks

Long before even Fleetwood Mac had known her name, Nicks was still mining her own style with boyfriend Lindsey Buckingham, with Buckingham Nicks being the first record that she ever made. Although most debuts are meant to be rough around the edges, ‘Crying in the Night’ has everything most would come to expect already intact in terms of Nicks’ songwriting.

Despite Buckingham’s intense fretwork, the weathered soul of Nicks’s voice makes her shimmer across this entire tune, talking about the pain that can come with a woman that leaves her suitors out to dry, weeping as the night fades away. Nicks had a whole life of rock and roll excess ahead of her, but from the sounds of this first effort, she was already up to the challenge.

14. ‘Edge of Seventeen’ – Bella Donna

Every one of Nicks’ songs needs to have a personal touch to it, and leaving the Mac wouldn’t be any different. After coming up with the basic track for ‘Edge of Seventeen’, an offhand comment from Tom Petty’s wife helped inspire one of her most openhearted songs about heartache.

Being a misheard version of “the age of seventeen”, Nicks’ ode to the wildlife of a teenager adolescence transposed with the sight of a white-winged dove was more than just teenage freedom, being inspired by the death of her uncle and the recent tragedy of losing John Lennon. Some of the most important people can’t be around forever, but their souls will forever be entwined in the world of song.

13. ‘Stop Draggin My Heart Around’ – Bella Donna

Throughout her career, Stevie Nicks repeatedly mentioned how much she wanted to join Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Although Petty wasn’t exactly holding auditions for female singers in his band, her thank-you to Nicks became one of her first solo hits, being a pseudo-duet with Nicks about a romance on the rocks.

The song may have ended up doing a little too well for Petty, beating out the rest of the singles chart so badly that it knocked his promotional single ‘A Woman in Love’ off the charts entirely. Then again, Petty wasn’t about to hold a grudge. It may have been his song, but there was no way that any Heartbreakers take on the track would have done the song justice.

12. ‘Stand Back’ – The Wild Heart

As her solo career was taking off, Nicks found herself in a much better place than with Fleetwood Mac, on her to getting married and not having to worry about the horrible recording situations that populated Fleetwood Mac’s sessions. That nervousness never goes away, though, and Nicks projected into the future about what problems might lie ahead as well.

Being inspired by Prince when putting the song together, Nicks’s internal sense of romantic tension left her with a pop song that doesn’t mince words about the sour moments, based around a violent argument that had the possibility of getting even worse if both don’t talk to each other properly. Given the fact that Nicks would perform it occasionally with her main outfit, this could have been the lost Fleetwood Mac song that never was.

11. ‘Gold Dust Woman’ – Rumours

Fleetwood Mac will now and forever always be associated with cocaine. The sheer amount of white powder being snorted during the sessions for Rumours is legendary, with all five band members using the drug as an escape from the emotional volatility within the group. Nicks was one of the worst offenders, and her harrowing experiences under the drug’s spell would inspire one of her greatest songs.

‘Gold Dust Woman’ isn’t just about cocaine: it’s also about privilege, lost love, confusion, power, denial, and moving on. As sparse and unnerving as anything she had ever written, Nicks weaves one of her most hypnotic webs within the open spaces of ‘Gold Dust Woman’. Although she often had to fight to impose her will, getting ‘Gold Dust Woman’ to close out Rumours was a major power move from Nicks.

10. ‘Silver Springs’ – The Dance

During the making of Rumours, Nicks was informed that there was no more room for one of her greatest compositions. ‘Silver Springs’ was another ode to the disintegration of Nicks’ relationship with Lindsey Buckingham, but its slower tempo and extended length caused the song to be cut from the final mix. Nicks’ resentment over the snub would eventually lead to her leaving Fleetwood Mac in the early 1990s.

When the Rumours-era lineup reunited for 1997’s The Dance, ‘Silver Springs’ was given new life. With a potent mix of spite and validation, Nicks sang ‘Silver Springs’ straight to Buckingham’s face, packing in as much tension and emotion as was possible. It was great theatre, but it would have meant nothing had the heartbreak and longing of ‘Silver Springs’ not been so perfectly engineered in the first place.

9. ‘Has Anyone Ever Written Anything for You?’ – Rock a Little

Throughout the 1980s, Nicks was in a tumultuous relationship with Joe Walsh, the Eagles’ wildman guitarist. During that time, Nicks learned of the tragic death of Walsh’s first daughter Emma, who was killed in a car accident at the age of three. In his grief, Walsh placed a fountain and memorial plaque to his daughter in a park in Boulder, Colorado.

While Nicks and Walsh were touring together, he took her to the fountain. The tragedy stuck with Nicks, who wrote a tender ballad dedicated to a young girl who didn’t live long enough to get many proper tributes. ‘Has Anyone Ever Written Anything for You’ is a compassionate ode to strength and resilience, even if Nicks wrote it about someone she never actually knew. 

8. ‘I Don’t Want to Know’ – Rumours

It was an impossible decision: after being informed that ‘Silver Springs’ was being cut from Rumours, Nicks was faced with two options. She could either lay down lead vocals for an older song, one that the rest of the band had recorded without her knowledge, or only get two songwriting credits on the album. With her back against the wall, Nicks begrudgingly sang ‘I Don’t Want to Know’ in order to be fully represented on Rumours.

As it turned out, that amount of anger and spite was the perfect touch to the kiss-off that was ‘I Don’t Want to Know’. Originally written in the days of Buckingham Nicks, ‘I Don’t Want to Know’ featured close harmonies that forced Nicks and Buckingham to gel perfectly while also singing about how terrible they were to each other. It’s the perfect alchemical mix for a Fleetwood Mac song, and if one song had to be put in over ‘Silver Springs’, it’s probably good that it was ‘I Don’t Want to Know’. 

7. ‘Leather and Lace’ – Bella Donna

In the early 1980s, outlaw country star Waylon Jennings asked Nicks to write him a duet. Jennings was an admirer, having recorded his own version of ‘Gold Dust Woman’ in 1978. Nicks wanted to tap into the rugged persona of Jennings, contrasting with the softer image she had of herself. To wrap it all together, she decided to use two of their respective style choices: leather and lace. 

Jennings didn’t wind up recording the song, so instead, Nicks saved it for herself. The only problem was that she needed a new duet partner. Enter Don Henley, the Eagles drummer and Nicks’ former romantic partner. Both had moved on by the time ‘Leather and Lace’ was recorded, but the feeling of a past love can still be felt in the pleading vocals delivered by each singer. 

6. ‘Talk to Me’ – Rock a Little

As cheesy as the 1980s ever got, Nicks’ ‘Talk to Me’ is a perfect time capsule of what just about everything sounded like in 1985. Partnering with Chas Sandford, the musician and songwriter who co-wrote John Waite’s ‘Missing You’, Nicks crafted a rock ballad that wouldn’t have been out of place in an episode of Miami Vice.

And yet, it’s Nicks’ unique delivery and unmistakable lyrical approach that elevates ‘Talk to Me’ above the standard pop-rock fair of the time. When Nicks hits the chorus, ‘Talk to Me’ transforms from a standard ‘80s rocker to a timeless piece from a master songsmith. Even the requisite saxophone solo has an endearing quality to it. While most classic rock artists were stumbling their way through the decade, Stevie Nicks figured out how to make the 1980s work for her.

5. ‘Gypsy’ – Mirage

After finding solo success with 1981’s Bella Donna, Nicks had some important decisions regarding what songs she would give to Fleetwood Mac and what songs she would keep for herself. As Nicks was longing for her days before stardom, coupled with her mourning of her close friend Robin Anderson, she wrote ‘Gypsy’ to cope with the overwhelming emotions.

As a summation of her entire life up to that point, ‘Gypsy’ remains one of Nicks’ most startling compositions. A long, unhurried track that unfurls with images of paper flowers and lace, ‘Gypsy’ is Nicks’ persona distilled into one song. 

4. ‘Beautiful Child’ – Tusk

There was never a relationship that Nicks couldn’t mine for startling music. Between breaking up with Lindsey Buckingham and pairing up with both Mick Fleetwood and Don Henley in the 1970s, Nicks somehow found time to have a brief affair with Beatles publicist and music executive Derek Taylor. Because of their age difference, Nicks was occasionally infantilised by the older Taylor.

Nicks describes ‘Beautiful Child’ as almost being “a straight retelling of the last night of that relationship.” For anyone that was with the wrong person for any reason can attest, walking away can often have a weird sense of accomplishment to it. ‘Beautiful Child’ is the sound of growing up, even if it comes with some immature mistakes along the way.

3. ‘Beauty and the Beast’ – The Wild Heart

If there was a short list of people who would have been the absolute worst to fall in love with after Nicks’ relationship with Lindsey Buckingham came to an end, Mick Fleetwood would have been at the very top. Never mind that Fleetwood was the de facto leader of Fleetwood Mac, causing a strange power dynamic between him and the singer that he hired. The fact that Nicks allegedly “shacked up” with another band member was crazy enough.

But as is her wont, Nicks was able to romanticise the doomed relationship in ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Fleetwood and Nicks were able to maintain their professional status after they broke up, much in the same way that she did with Buckingham, but Fleetwood got comparatively fewer songs about him. ‘Beauty and the Beast’ remains perhaps the most obvious and lovely. 

2. ‘Planets of the Universe’ – Trouble in Shangri-La

For fans, 2001’s ‘Planets of the Universe’ had a striking resemblance to Nicks’ kiss-offs to Lindsey Buckingham in the late 1970s. That’s because Nicks did, in fact, write the song back when she and Buckingham first broke up. The track was even demoed for Rumours but was eventually cast off in favour of Nicks’ other material.

A full 25 years later, Nicks revived the song, keeping all of its dramatic weight intact even though she and Buckingham hadn’t been together in decades. As pessimistic as Nicks had ever been about love, ‘Planets of the Universe’ puts the weight of multiple worlds in the unsteady hands of someone who is more than willing to drop them. But Nicks never stopped looking for that light. 

1. ‘Annabel Lee’ – In Your Dreams

It probably shouldn’t have worked: Stevie Nicks takes on Edgar Allen Poe. Despite their obvious differences, there was some connective tissue between the two, specifically a love of gothic themes and doomed romance. More than anything else, though, Poe and Nicks shared an expertise in storytelling that went beyond their generational gap.

With some of Poe’s words clashing in wonderfully strange ways with Nicks’ iconic prose, ‘Annabel Lee’ is a throwback and something completely new all at the same time. It showed that Nicks was still willing to push herself artistically and creatively well after her best-known material had already been recorded. The book is never truly closed on Stevie Nicks.

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