Lyrical Analysis of Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide

A timeless duet with a simplistic, folksy melody and lyrics with profound depth

Sloan Kettering
Oct 5, 2018 · 7 min read

Aspen, CO 1973 — A faltering young woman stares out the window at the crisp, white snow of the Rocky Mountains. Discouraged, lonely, and indecisive about what direction she wants to take in life, she begins writing down her feelings.

The lyrics took her only five minutes to compose and the resulting stanzas would go on to become one of the most popular and well-recognized songs in rock history. Although Stevie Nicks wrote “Landslide” when she was in her mid-twenties, she was burned out by her current situation. At the time, Nicks was working as a waitress while struggling to find success as a singer and songwriter. Performing as a duo with her longtime boyfriend, Lindsey Buckingham, Nicks felt discouraged and contemplated alternate paths she could take in life. Visiting Aspen after a fight with Buckingham, Nicks wrote “Landslide” during a moment of inspiration sparked by her pristine view of the snowy slopes.

“Wow, all this snow could just come tumbling down around me and there is nothing I can do about it.”

— Nicks

Three months later, Nicks received a call from Mick Fleetwood asking her and Buckingham to join his bluesy-rock group, Fleetwood Mac. The band released “Landslide” in 1975 on their self-titled album, which was an instant hit. Selling more than five million copies and launching the band into mainstream popularity, Fleetwood Mac reached #1 on the charts in the United States; eventually it was certified Gold in 2009.

Style and Sound

On its surface, “Landslide” is a simplistic song. At just over three minutes long, the song is a duet performed by the young couple — their chemistry brings out the raw emotion in the sound. Stylistically, the song combines elements from folk rock and blues, blending together into a serene, moody soft rock track. Accompanying the solitary acoustic strumming is Nicks’ distinctively gruff vocals, which makes for a melancholy pairing. Musically, the song maintains a peaceful, contemplative resonance throughout its run-time. Buckingham’s performance features a pensive riff with a whining electric guitar solo during the bridge.

However, the most notable component of this tune is the remarkable songwriting by Nicks. Poetic style and symbolism are staples of Nicks’ artsy lyrical style, but they especially stand out on this track. Carried by the raw vehemence of Nicks’ voice, the bittersweet lyrics invoke an array of overwhelming emotions — pain, loneliness, indecision, abandonment, nostalgia.

Aesthetic

Aside from the music, it’s worth mentioning Nicks’ mystical stage presence. Reminiscent of a gypsy, Nicks’ onstage costumes are comprised of flowing skirts, shawls, as well as her signature platform boots and top hat. This witchy aesthetic was inspired by the popular fashion boutique, the Velvet Underground.

“At 60 she is still working the gossamer tunics and shawls that have influenced two generations of Stevie acolytes, and given her performances the feel of a Wiccan ritual.”

— Ruth La Ferla, The New York Times

Theme

Thematically, “Landslide” deals with the confusion and uncertainty of growing up. Young adulthood can be a tumultuous and stressful period in life and Nicks definitely captures that frustration in this song. But above all else, “Landslide” is about the passage of time. Whether it be the hesitation of letting go of a familiar past, the loss of youthful innocence, a feeling that time is eroding away, or the longing for a lost sense of childlike wonder, the song circles around the theme of change. Part of the song’s beauty rests in that its themes are open for interpretation — the lyrics mean something different for everyone, but there are always the constant motifs of time and change.

Lyrics

The following is my personal interpretation of the lyrics.

I took my love and I took it down / Climbed a mountain and I turned around / And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills / ’Til the landslide brought me down

The first line of this stanza refers specifically to the preceding fight between Nicks and Buckingham that inspired the song. Invoking the peacefulness of nature, the image of climbing a mountain only to turn around also symbolizes the futility Nicks felt about her turbulent relationship with Buckingham. The serene image of the snow covered hills is contrasted with a landslide coming down and destroying the peaceful atmosphere. The landslide is a metaphor for the passage of time. Nicks sees herself in the tranquility of the snow until the chaos of change ruins her composure.

Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love? / Can the child within my heart rise above? / Can I sail through the changin’ ocean tides? / Can I handle the seasons of my life?

In this stanza, Nicks ponders the challenges she’s facing and wonders whether she can deal with overwhelming change. The mirror in the sky refers to man being created in God’s image — Nicks is praying, looking up at the sky and asking a divine power what she should do with her life. The child within her heart refers to youthful innocence, which she fears she may be losing as she grows up. In another metaphor, Nicks creates the image of herself navigating treacherous waves of change throughout the journey of life. Change is called back to again by the reference to seasons — just as the trees have to die before winter in order for new life to be reborn, people go through seasons of their lives where old things wither away to make room for the new.

Well I’ve been ‘fraid of changin’ / Cuz I built my life around you / But time makes you bolder / Even children get older / And I’m gettin’ older too…

Here, Nicks directly proclaims her fear of change, specifically her breakup with Buckingham. They had been together since 1966 and she can’t fathom her life afterwards. Nicks references the passage of time and how it hardens people. With age, idealism and optimism give way to cynicism and pessimism.

Following this stanza is the bridge, as if Nicks is now using this time to contemplate the inevitable changes of growing up. The guitar solo is emotional and profound, invoking an intense longing to hold onto the past. There’s also an implicit allusion to the reflection in the snow and mirror in the sky — one could imagine a mirror placed at this midpoint in the song, reflecting a mirror image of the stanza structure back. The symbolic significance of the mirror is that it shows a reflection, just as Nicks reflects on her life.

Well I’ve been ‘fraid of changin’ / Cuz I built my life around you / But time makes you bolder / Even children get older / And I’m gettin’ older too…

This stanza is repeated to emphasis the turmoil of change. Nicks longs to hold on to the past, even though she knows it’s impossible.

Ah, take my love, take it down / Oh, climb a mountain and turn around / And if you see my reflection in the snow covered hills / Well, the landslide will bring it down

This stanza differs in tone from its first occurrence. Nicks’ voice is softer, as if she’s coming to terms with the changes that she can’t control.

And if you see my reflection in the snow covered hills / Well, the landslide will bring it down / Oh, the landslide will bring it down…

This stanza is changed slightly from before. The first time, it was reflective of Nicks’ own life. However, this time she turns the mirror on Buckingham and wonders how he would feel if he, too, saw her image swept away by the passage of time.

Conclusion

Over forty years old now, “Landslide” is a timeless classic and remains one of the group’s most frequently performed songs. Over the span of her career, Nicks’ has earned the title of “the queen of rock and roll”. To date, Fleetwood Mac has sold more than 100 million records worldwide, making them one of the bestselling bands of all time.

Sloan Kettering

Written by

Writer/novelist. Political elections expert. Law school student. Fan of ‘80s new wave music. Nietzsche fanboy.

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