Many words have already been typed to memorialize Christine McVie, the stalwart Fleetwood Mac singer/songwriter/keyboardist who died November 30 after a brief illness. But really, it was right there in the name all along: before that fateful marriage to John McVie, she was born Christine Perfect. How she'd live up to that name over time.
McVie, a founding member of the British blues band Chicken Shack, joined her bass-playing husband in Fleetwood Mac in 1970, a year after they were wed. Almost immediately, her talents were recognizable: she was a fan of the work the band had done with early members Jeremy Spencer and Peter Green, but had a knack for melody that moved them ahead of the pack of British blues-rockers. As members began to come and go, her gorgeous contralto was a constant in a churning musical sea. That steely power would become apparent as the band hit its rockiest waters yet. The McVies and drummer Mick Fleetwood moved to America and took on a singer/songwriter duo: wired guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and the exotic Stevie Nicks. Two of her songs from 1975's Fleetwood Mac, the quintet's first album together, were among their first to crack the U.S. Top 40: the relaxing "Over My Head" and the rollicking "Say You Love Me."
What happened next, of course, is the stuff of rock and roll legend: the McVies' marriage, Fleetwood's own marriage, and Buckingham and Nicks' relationship fell apart simultaneously, and they recorded an unbelievable album through the chaos. Christine's duet with Buckingham, the epochal jam "Don't Stop," and her sensuous "You Make Loving Fun" - written about the lighting director she was having an affair with but claimed to be about a dog to appease her soon-to-be-ex husband - were among Rumours' staggering quartet of Top 10 hits.
From here, we can detect the true power of Christine McVie. As Buckingham became a brilliant, intense studio rat and Nicks dialed up the mysticism to staggering heights (both in the band and on her own), her powerful pop hooks served as an oasis when the personalities of her bandmates got too big. The sugar-sweet power-pop of "Think About Me" helped hold together the sprawling Tusk, and "Hold Me" - with its cascading chorus vocals and stunning piano playing from her hands - would become the biggest hit on Mirage. (Only after Buckingham and Nicks dove headfirst into solo projects did Christine try her own: a 1984 self-titled album featured a killer Top 10 in "Got a Hold on Me.") And when the seams were finally splitting on this neoclassic lineup of the Mac, it was again McVie who saved the day and kept Tango in the Night grounded with blissful hits ("Little Lies," "Everywhere") and sterling deep cuts ("Mystified," "Isn't It Midnight").
Such was McVie's quality that her absence signaled a more fallow period in the group's history. In the '90s, she eased up on touring (save for the quintet reunion of the late decade), and she was essentially absent from the band's final full-length album, 2003's Say You Will. Her return to touring in the 2010s helped renew interest in the band (which never really went away) and continued through an album co-credited to Buckingham but featuring everyone in the Mac but Nicks. When tensions again resulted in Buckingham's ouster and the addition of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers' Mike Campbell and Neil Finn of Crowded House in his place, McVie remained once more a port in a storm.
It's telling that in the wake of her passing, the tributes from fans have not nearly settled on one song rising to the top with which to memorialize her. (Nicks' own heartbreaking memorial didn't even use a song by their band.) But then, there it is: at the end of Rumours' first side, away from the thrash and stomp and quaver of broken hearts and broken promises, is McVie's achingly beautiful "Songbird," holding the band together with a message of love. (Little wonder that this year's solo McVie collection took its name from that cut.) "To you, I'll give the world / To you, I'll never be cold," she sings. "'Cause I feel that when I'm with you / It's alright, I know it's right..."
That all sort of nails it. But so too did McVie herself, describing the song's meaning to Uncut years later. "It doesn't really relate to anybody in particular; it relates to everybody," she said. A lot of people play it at their weddings or at bar mitzvahs or at their dog's funeral. It's universal. It's about you and nobody else. It's about you and everybody else. That's how I like to write songs." And that's how we like to hear them from her. May they last forever.