Lindsey Buckingham has long told the story of reaction inside and around Fleetwood Mac when 1979’s Tusk fell far short of sales for its predecessor, Rumours. “The conventional wisdom was, ‘You blew it,'” Buckingham recalls with a laugh. “A lot of people were pissed off at me for that.”
Not so now.
The often experimental Tusk — which will be celebrated with a deluxe edition box set on Dec. 4 — may not have lived up to Rumours?’ diamond-certified status, but it was still a double-platinum release that hit No. 1 in the U.K. and No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and spawned a pair of top 10 hits in “Tusk” and “Sara.” More importantly it became a sonic inspiration (and has been cited as such) for many that followed and, in Buckingham’s mind, gave Fleetwood Mac a broader artistic license that his bandmates would later appreciate.
Listen to an alternate version of the title track, which Billboard is premiering exclusively below.
“For me, being sort of the culprit behind that particular album, it was done in a way to undermine just sort of following the formula of doing Rumours 2 and Rumours 3, which is kind of the business model Warner Bros. would have liked us to follow,” Buckingham tells Billboard. “We really were poised to make Rumours 2, and that could’ve been the beginning of kind of painting yourself into a corner in terms of living up to the labels that were being placed on you as a band. You know, there have been several occasions during the course of Fleetwood Mac over the years where we’ve had to undermine whatever the business axioms might be to sort of keep aspiring as an artist in the long term, and the Tusk album was one of those times.”
Coming in three- and five-CD versions — the latter of which comes packaged with two vinyl LPs and a DVD — the Tusk (Deluxe Edition) is brimming with outtakes, demos and remixes, particularly of the title track and “I Know I’m Not Wrong.” There’s also The Alternative Tusk comprised of unreleased outtakes and two discs of live tracks recorded during shows in St. Louis, Omaha, Neb., and London during 1979-90. The studio material in particular demonstrates just how ambitious Buckingham was in making the album, recording vocals in bathrooms and deploying a variety of effects on its 20 songs.
“My big rap on stage was how I would’ve loved to have been a fly on the wall when Warner Brothers first put that album on in the boardroom, ’cause they really didn’t hear it until it was done and we gave it to them,” Buckingham says. “From a marketing point of view it was not what they wanted or what they expected. It was a ballsy thing to do.”
Tusk has, of course, stood up to the test of time and now enjoys a kind of classic status for its creative adventurousness. Ironically, last spring Fleetwood Mac found itself back in the same studio — Studio D at the Village Recorder in Los Angeles — working on new material which has yet to see the light of day, while Buckingham is gratified that high regard has replaced any reservations about Tusk back in the day.
“I’d like to think the younger generation has certainly been able to understand that, not only in terms of appreciating the music but more importantly understanding why we did it — just a philosophy of taking risks, which is not something that you necessarily even get the chance to do,” Buckingham says. “So it kind of worked out OK, I guess, but it did take some time because it was immediately embraced by a certain faction but it was a much more marginal faction that seems to embrace it now, from what I can tell.”