For that, we turn to Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham, who might top our list of favorite musicians over the past 45 years or so--at least among artists who are mere mortals. Don Henley (Eagles), John Fogerty (Credence Clearwater Revival), Burton Cummings (Guess Who), and Robert Lamm (Chicago) would be other strong competitors for the No. 1 spot. (We would have to designate Lennon and McCartney as immortals, deserving of their own private pantheon.)
At the least, Buckingham would be tied for No. 1 on our list, even though he once rarely ventured into political or social territory. That has gradually changed over the past 10 years, both in his solo work and his occasional forays with the still mega-band Fleetwood Mac.
If I had to pick the five most profound issues facing our nation heading into the November elections, the list definitely would include these two:
(1) The expanding income gap between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else;
(2) The failure of the mainstream press to hold public officials accountable, especially on matters of justice;
I recently realized that two Buckingham tunes, one of recent vintage and one that goes back about a decade, address both of these weighty matters. The first is from his most recent solo release, 2011's Seeds We Sow. "One Take" is a biting, searing commentary on the dangers of greed. To my ears, "One Take" is a complex, multi-layered tune, with several possible storylines going on at once.
First, the chorus hearkens to Buckingham's folk roots by borrowing from Brewer and Shipley's 1971 classic, "One Toke Over the Line." Second, the lyrics could be a meditation on fame, focusing possibly on a bad actor in the world of film or stage. ("I've got a publicist who covers up the avarice.") Finally, Buckingham dispenses with ambiguity and seems to make it clear that this bad actor is from the ugliest side of the corporate world:
I'm just another madman
Looking for another fall
And I got to make a killing
Cause a journey of a billion
Always starts with something small
I'm just another madman
I turn it off, I turn it on
And I won't be denied
No, I won't be satisfied
Til the middle class is gone.
The character at the heart of this song is not a nice guy. Sounds like he could host a Mitt Romney fundraiser.
Let's give "One Take" a listen:
Perhaps Buckingham's turn toward social commentary started with "Murrow (Turning Over In His Grave)," from Fleetwood Mac's 2003 release, Say You Will. Behind a blistering musical track, Buckingham mocks a somnolent mainstream press that has come to be owned by corporate interests. Here is a live version of "Murrow," featuring Buckingham's solo band:
"One Take" and "Murrow" definitely fall in the category of quirky, left-of-center songs for which Buckingham has become known. But he still is capable of turning out pop classics that would fit in the Top 40. One example from Seeds We Sow is "When She Comes Down," which features the kind of gorgeous, layered vocals that evoke the Beach Boys of the Pet Sounds era. It has a celestial, otherworldly feel, and one YouTube commenter said, "I want this to be the last song I hear in this earthly body." I can understand that sentiment:
Finally, we have a song that combines Buckingham's social sensibilities with an accessible pop track. It's a Fleetwood Mac tune called "What's the World Coming To," from Say You Will. Here is a live version, featuring splendid vocal harmonies with Stevie Nicks. Modern rock music doesn't get much better than this. Enjoy: