Analyzing four live versions of a Fleetwood Mac song = Important Work
Version: Rumours (Deluxe)
Provenance: “From the group’s ’77 world tour” (according to label website)
A good starting point for your journey into the live versions of “The Chain.” Kind of a workingman’s version of the song. Not super magical. Tempo is true to recorded version. Buckingham takes a few liberties with the guitar stuff in the intro, but nothing over the top. I like how he growls his way into his vocals. The word “listen” becomes “huh-listen.” “Running” becomes “huh-running.” And so on. You get the point. Whether this is a cocaine fueled affectation is anyone’s guess. I guess yes. I think he might growl “Huzzah!” in the drum fill leading into the second chorus? So that’s pretty cool. I don’t want to undersell this version. It’s solid. The playing and harmonies are crazy tight. Sounds to me like a band at the height of its powers, but maybe not on a particularly inspired night. I mark off points for the big rock star ending, but then again, I’m not sure how else to end a song like this. Plus, 70s and cocaine and stuff. So fair enough.
Version: Tusk (Deluxe)
Provenance: Wembley, 20 June, 1980
Now things get serious. A crazy slow, syrupy opening. Opens with guitar, not drums. How’s that even possible? The world is all wrong. But we’ll roll with it. Bluesy-ish intro. Please tell me they will pick up this tempo eventually. Lindsey taking his time, noodling intro. I kinda dig it. This is a dark night nocturne version. Vocals come in way more contained, almost whispery, almost conspiratorial. No growling. Smoother. Sticking with that slow concrete sludge tempo and now I like the commitment. Weird coke dealers in London or whatever. Stevie trying to exorcise those demons coming out of chorus 1. Lindsey whispering “night night night” in verse 2. “Damn.” DAMN DAMN DAMN DAMN YES YES! Lindsey screaming is the best thing that’s ever happened on this planet. He’s alternating between breathless and screaming. NEVER NEVER LOVE ME AGAIN. Never. Break. The chain. I really like Lindsey’s meltdown in the outro. His screaming is…believable. I hope he had is white guy afro lucifer wolf man look going at this point. I wish I could have seen these shows. Tempo picks up on the way out, and I can dig that. You can’t contain this momentum. Cocaine pouring down from the Wembley rafters. Cocaine combined with finely ground coffee. Everyone possessed by demons. Rock and roll.
Version: Mirage (Deluxe)
Provenance: Los Angeles Forum, 21-22 October, 1982
Lindsey plays more with the guitar stuff in the intro. Sounds more confident somehow. More at ease. Stevie sounds more…possessed by fiery demons who are twisting her arteries from the inside while filling them with demon cocaine? Lindsey…same. This one gives me a lot of goosebumps. Stevie’s tormented scream coming out of first chorus = best thing that’s ever happened on this planet except for the birth of my daughter. Wild yelping going into second chorus! Coked up hyena sounds! Stevie cannot be contained! Get out of her way! Run for your life! Wild eyed syncopated yelling! Mick loses the tempo coming out of second chorus because he’s too busy plying a gong with felt mallets and transforming into an extra from Game of Thrones. There will literally be cocaine on your earbuds after listening to this. YES I’M RUNNING YES I’M RUNNING. SNORT SNIFF SATAN COCAINE LOS ANGELES RRRRRRRAAAAARRRRR (Note: as of this moment, I’ve decided I’m going to get into cocaine. It seems pretty great. Years of heavy coffee drinking served as a good training ground.)
Version: The Dance
Provenance: Burbank, 1997
Aging California super secret pleated slacks republicans seated in plush theater seats sipping white wine. Kept afloat by mellow cocaine cut with herbal supplements. The song is now in a lower key, and that tells you a lot. When bands play in lower keys, it’s all over. I’d rather hear you miss the high notes than hit them in the wrong key. This version is heart breaking, and not in a good way. OK, I’m not being fair. They actually sound pretty damn good. But I can’t get those VIP plastic surgical faces out of my head.
For me, it’s neck and neck between the slow-coke Wembley version and the super jumbo caffeine early 80s coke version from the Forum. The late 70s version is a good primer. The version from The Dance is best left alone.