By the early 1990s, Fleetwood Mac was running on fumes. The group’s 1990 album, Behind the Mask, peaked at No. 18 on the Billboard 200, and Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie, who died on Nov. 30, hinted that they were done touring.
Then the band got some valuable exposure from an unlikely place: Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. As Clinton told Billboard, a supporter who drove him to an event in Los Angeles suggested that he use the song and “I knew it was a brilliant idea.”
At the time, with George H. W. Bush in the White House after eight years of Ronald Reagan, the song was like a breath of fresh air: Upbeat, optimistic, and full of the rock n roll sensibility that Clinton symbolized as the first Baby Boomer to serve as president. Clinton himself was a musician – a saxophone player good enough to perform on The Arsenio Hall Show as well as a fan, so it made sense to have a song that reflected his perspective.
“Honestly, Bill and Hillary [Clinton], that was one of their favorite songs,” remembers Paul Begala, the chief strategist of the 1992 campaign who became a counselor to the president after he won. “He had grown up with dreams of becoming a musician and he loved that band.”
In some ways, “Don’t Stop,” which peaked at No. 3 on the Hot 100 in 1977, wasn’t an obvious choice. “Once I got in the race,” Clinton told Billboard, “some of my staff tried to get me to go with a more current song.”
But it worked.
“That song encapsulated everything,” Begala tells Billboard. “He started insisting we play it at every rally – he just loved it. He also loved that Garth Brooks song ‘We Shall Be Free,’ but he settled on ‘Don’t Stop’ because of the message.”
Some of that was the implication that the future belonged to the Baby Boomers. “His conception of Bush was that he was a good man but his time had come and gone,” Begala says. Some of that involved the concept of “future preference,” an idea Clinton learned about from his Georgetown University professor Carroll Quigley.
Quigley “said that America became the greatest nation in history because our people had always embraced two important ideas: that tomorrow can be better than today, and that every one of us has a personal, moral obligation to make it so,” Clinton said. “’Don’t Stop’ captured the sentiment perfectly with both its lyrics and its upbeat, simple melody.”
Fleetwood Mac appreciated his use of the song, and the Rumours-era lineup – Nicks, McVie, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood and Lindsey Buckingham – reunited to play its first show in six years at Clinton’s inaugural ball. That seems to have boosted the band’s sales, and the Feb. 6, 1993, issue of Billboard reported that the band’s Greatest Hits jumped from No. 30 to No. 11 on the Catalog Albums chart, while Rumours debuted on that chart at No. 36.
By 1997, the band’s classic lineup was back together again – first for a show that was recorded for the live album and TV special The Dance, then for a tour that ran through much of that year. The next year, Fleetwood Mac was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In January 2001, Fleetwood Mac reunited to perform at a farewell party for Clinton on the White House lawn. “On one of his last days as president, the staff organized a farewell party on the South Lawn and the band surprised him,” Begala remembers. “I introduced Fleetwood Mac and they started playing ‘Don’t Stop’ and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.” The band played an 11-song set.
“It was one of the most amazing moments of my life,” Begala says.
Clinton told Billboard that he would always be grateful to Christine McVie and her bandmates for letting him use the song, reuniting to play his inaugural ball and “for giving me a lifetime of great music and memories, and, of course, for that roadmap to the future.”