The singer, songwriter and keyboardist Christine McVie, who died on Wednesday at 79, was the serene eye of the storm in Fleetwood Mac, one of rock history’s most tumultuous and beloved bands. She was also the glue that held the group together across drastically different eras, joining in 1970 shortly after the departure of its founding member, the blues guitarist Peter Green, and anchoring the band in its more commercially successful second phase, after Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks came aboard.
Sonically, the edgy Buckingham turned out to be an enriching counterpoint to McVie’s soft-focused style, and their musical collaboration continued up until the end of her recording career, when they released a collaborative album in 2017. But behind the scenes, the deep bond between McVie and Nicks — a mutually supportive friendship that flew in the face of then-prevalent stereotypes about women in music feeling competitive with other women — was also an integral part of what kept the band going. “We felt like, together, we were a force of nature,” Nicks said in a 2013 interview. “And we made a pact, probably in our first rehearsal, that we would never accept being treated as second-class citizens in the music business.”
McVie’s contralto voice had a pure, crystalline tone that gave her solo numbers, perhaps most indelibly the sparse “Rumours” centerpiece “Songbird,” a distinct emotional power. But she clearly enjoyed writing for Buckingham and Nicks, too, and made her mark penning the sorts of rollicking, harmony-driven singalongs that became some of the band’s biggest hits, like “Say You Love Me” and “Don’t Stop.” By the late ’70s, her keyboard playing began to bring soft rock and even new age aesthetics into Fleetwood Mac, but her rhythmic technique always remained grounded in the blues, providing an enduring connection to the band’s earliest days.
Here are 12 of her best, and best remembered, songs.
Chicken Shack, ‘It’s Okay With Me Baby’ (1968)
Before she married the bassist John McVie and joined his band Fleetwood Mac, Christine Perfect was the keyboardist and singer in a British blues band called Chicken Shack. It had a minor hit in 1969 with a smoldering cover of the Etta James song “I’d Rather Go Blind,” but the band’s debut single, “It’s Okay With Me Baby,” is more interesting to McVie’s evolution as a songwriter. She wrote it herself and sang it with a low, bluesy swagger.
Fleetwood Mac, ‘Say You Love Me’ (1975)
The biggest hit from Fleetwood Mac’s self-titled 1975 album — and its first as the classic quintet of Christine and John McVie, Buckingham, Nicks and the drummer Mick Fleetwood — was this cheery, mid-tempo track, destined to become one of the band’s signature songs. McVie’s electric piano certainly swings, but the sunny harmonies from Buckingham and Nicks are evidence of Fleetwood Mac’s new, pop-oriented direction.
Fleetwood Mac, ‘Over My Head’ (1975)
McVie’s songs often captured the blissful feeling of getting carried away, even inundated, by romantic love. On this soft-rock classic, she recognizes the risks of falling for a mercurial partner (“Your mood is like a circus wheel, it changes all the time”) but ultimately cherishes the sensation of succumbing: “I’m over my head,” she sings in a husky croon, “but it sure feels nice.”
Fleetwood Mac, ‘You Make Loving Fun’ (1977)
The high-budget studio wizardry of Fleetwood Mac’s epochal “Rumours” is on full display here, particularly in the pristinely funky sound of McVie’s opening riff on the Hohner Clavinet. McVie wrote the song about her new flame, the Fleetwood Mac lighting director Curry Grant, but according to Ken Caillat and Steve Stiefel’s book “Making Rumors,” McVie initially “told everyone the song was about her dog, instead of about Curry, to avoid flair-ups.”
Fleetwood Mac, ‘Songbird’ (1977)
As delicately elegant as a falling snowflake, this McVie piano ballad is Fleetwood Mac’s most enduring tear-jerker. It’s also, perhaps, the most brilliant moment of sequencing on “Rumours”: a restorative respite between sides and in the middle of some of the band’s most rousing rockers, “Go Your Own Way” and “The Chain.” “I think it was about nobody and everybody,” McVie said in an episode of the documentary series “Classic Albums.” “In retrospect, it seemed to me more like a little anthem than anything else. It was for everybody. It was like a little prayer almost.”
Fleetwood Mac, ‘Think About Me’ (1979)
Here’s McVie, as a songwriter, doing her best Lindsey Buckingham, rising to her bandmate’s challenge of bringing a punkier edge to the band’s sprawling 1979 double album “Tusk.” Buckingham and McVie always had special musical connection, and few Mac songs capture it better than this one: Their vocals sound particularly simpatico on the chorus harmonies, and McVie’s hard-driving electric piano provides a fitting complement to Buckingham’s fiery riffs.
Fleetwood Mac, ‘Never Make Me Cry’ (1979)
And here’s McVie doing her best Christine McVie. An understated, underappreciated gem buried on the C side of “Tusk,” this tender heartstring-tugger places McVie’s angelic voice front and center, the faintest hints of guitar and keyboards forming little more than an ethereal mist in the background.
Fleetwood Mac, ‘Only Over You’ (1982)
Speaking of underappreciated gems, this soulful McVie tune is a highlight of the band’s 1982 album, “Mirage,” with all due respect to the bouncy, irresistibly fun “Hold Me,” which McVie co-wrote with the singer-songwriter Robbie Patton.
Christine McVie, ‘Got a Hold on Me’ (1984)
McVie only released three solo albums:the bluesy “Christine Perfect” (1970), the low-key “In the Meantime” (2004) and, most memorably, a self-titled release in 1984, when the other members of the band were focusing on their solo careers. “Got a Hold on Me” sounds, in the best way, like it could have easily appeared on any ’80s Fleetwood Mac album — it even has Buckingham on lead guitar.
Fleetwood Mac, ‘Everywhere’ (1987)
A modern classic that’s still everywhere — including on a certain ubiquitous car commercial circa fall 2022 — this sparkling smash from the band’s late-80s return “Tango in the Night” remains one of Fleetwood Mac’s high watermarks. “I wanna be with you everywhere,” McVie sings on that infectious chorus, as succinct an encapsulation of falling in love as pop music can manage, as the sleek, glimmering production perfectly mirrors the butterflies she’s singing about.
Fleetwood Mac, ‘Don’t Stop’ (1997)
When McVie first wrote the anthemic “Don’t Stop,” she was trying to create a song that would cheer up her ex-husband, and also hoping that Fleetwood Mac would survive the making of “Rumours.” Twenty years later, when the band reunited for the live LP “The Dance,” the song had not only helped “Rumours” become one of the best-selling albums in history, but it had also been the campaign song of the then-current president. This celebratory finale from “The Dance” — featuring an entire marching band! — turned out to be, in retrospect, a bittersweet snapshot: “The Dance” would be the final Fleetwood Mac album to feature McVie. The following year, she left the band to live a quieter life off the road for nearly two decades; she returned for a tour in 2014.
Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie, ‘Feel About You’ (2017)
McVie’s final album was, fittingly, a reunion with her former bandmate, and an effortless-sounding display of their particular musical chemistry. Like much of “Lindsey Buckingham Christine McVie,” the doo-wop-esque “Feel About You” has a buoyant, playful spirit. After a long silence, it was a welcome return for McVie, and proof that the songbird was still drawing inspiration from places old and new.