The Class of 1970: Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Kiln House’
Fleetwood Mac has been in the news a lot this year. Back in February, drummer Mick Fleetwood held a special tribute show to the group’s founder, Peter Green. Then Green passed away July 25. And just last week, Warner Records announced the release of a superb new box set of albums chronicling the group’s seven albums during the period from 1969-1974 (with an unreleased live set as well).
Fleetwood Mac 1.0 was called Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, including Green on guitar and vocals, Jeremy Spencer on guitar and vocals, and (Mick) Fleetwood and (John McVie) Mac, formed in 1967. The next year, Danny Kirwan joined the band, also on guitar and vocals. They would claim the first three albums on CBS / Columbia from 1967 to 1968.
The last album by this initial core group was Then Play On in 1969, the first album on Reprise Records, part of the Warner family. Then Green split for other endeavors, leaving the group a quartet. And it was this band, Fleetwood Mac 2.0, that would record Kiln House during June and July, a simple superb set of music released 50 years ago today, on September 18, 1970. It represented a marked changed from the heavy blues approach of the original band.
It would also be the last album Jeremy Spencer would make with the group; he would leave soon afterward. He was only marginally involved with Then Play On; for Kiln House, he wrote or co-wrote four songs and had lead vocals on six. Meanwhile, it was the first time Christine (Perfect) McVie would appear on a Fleetwood Mac recording. Although her playing was uncredited on the album, she added vocals, piano, and Wurlitzer 200A, and she created the fanciful gatefold album cover, inside and out. Composers’ names are in parentheses.
“This Is the Rock” (Spencer) was the first indication that the group was turning to rock and classic (for the time) rock & roll. Spencer sang lead, and the backing vocals are superb. This is very Buddy Holley-like in style and playing, especially the guitars. McVie nails that old-school bass line.
“Station Man” (Spencer, Kirwan, McVie) starts very softly and slowly builds in volume until the first vocal stanza, Kirwan singing. McVie and Fleetwood are so on point here, and lead guitar and slide guitar wrap around each other. The harmonies are excellent, a harbinger of what we would expect from the group moving forward.
“Blood On the Floor” (Spencer) is a send-up — almost — of old rock & roll songs about break-ups, with Spencer singing in almost hillbilly accent. Harmonies and piano push this over the top.
Well goodbye world
It’s sad but true
Got a date with the hangman
I have to leave you
I shot my darling
Three times or more
The reason I’m going
Is blood on the floor
The nights are so lonely
The days are so long
I’m in the jailhouse
Because they say I’ve done wrong
I don’t say I’m sorry
I just say I’m sore
Well I came home one night
She were lying
With her legs around
Another man’s bum
She sawr me, stared laughing
But she cried, when she saw my gun
I guess we must part
They’re taking my life
Because I shot my sweetheart
I don’t say I’m sorry
I just say I’m sore
Often also called “Honey Hush,” “Hi Ho Silver” (Big Joe Turner) again features Spencer singing this non-stop rocker. Kirwan’s slide guitar is great, and Fleetwood’s drumming is at the heart of the tune. Note that original album credits were incorrect.
Like “Station Man,” “Jewel Eyed Judy” (Kirwan, Fleetwood, McVie) is a song in no hurry, perfectly paced. Kirwan sings lead, and the guitars are huge here, sometimes crashingly loud, more often carefully measured. Harmonies? You bet.
The CD booklet for Kiln House mentions “Buddy’s Song” (Ella Holley):
“Buddy’s Song” is a partial cover of “Peggy Sue Got Married” with new lyrics listing a number of Buddy Holly song titles. The song is credited to Buddy Holly’s mother, who received the writing credit after Buddy’s funeral from the original composer, Waylon Jennings.”
It is straight-up Holly love and could have been his tune except for the killer guitar that pops up here and there.
“Earl Grey” (Kirwan) is a gorgeous instrumental clearly indicating where Kirwan would take the band after Spencer’s departure: Future Games and Bare Trees. The interplay of guitars and piano is breath-taking.
Spencer made “One Together” (Spencer) another soft rock & roll song harkening back to Holly and music from the late ’50s. The two guitars complement each other so well. More fine harmonies here.
“Tell Me All the Things You Do” (Kirwan) simply soars: Fleetwood’s drums, stinging guitar leads, badass bass, relentless pulse, wah-wah abuse, electric piano, and Kirwan’s silky voice all combining for a real gem. The two guitars talking back and forth are awesome.
“Mission Bell” (Jesse D. Hodges, William Michael) is another right from the Buddy Holly sound, such a pretty song, with perhaps the best harmonies on the album. Christine McVie is certainly on this one, likely on others.
Kiln House was previously part of a five-album reissue on Original Album Series and will now be part of the Fleetwood Mac 1969-1974 box set. It deserves all the accolades it gets!