“Don’t you know that the stars are a part of us?”
Being a member of Fleetwood Mac, the biggest band of the 1970s, should have been a dream come true. Instead, for Stevie Nicks, it was beginning to feel like a punishment. Stevie was a vital member of the band, providing them with hits like “Rhiannon” and “Landslide”; her song “Dreams” had given the band its only number one hit. She was also the public face of the band, with her eccentric stage outfits and charisma. Still, her songs had to share space on Fleetwood Mac albums with songs by her best friend, Christine McVie, and those by her ex-boyfriend, Lindsey Buckingham. She was lucky to get two or three songs per album. Since Stevie was a prolific writer, she had accumulated dozens of songs that had not yet been recorded.
Pouring all of her passion into her songs, Stevie felt they deserved to be heard. She cofounded a record label to ensure that she would have control over the resulting recordings, and began to work on her debut album, Bella Donna, in between Fleetwood Mac tours and recording sessions. Released in 1981, the album was an immediate hit, topping the charts and going on to sell over four million copies.
The album veers through several genres, from haunting piano ballads like the title track and the serpentine “Kind of Woman”, to the rock edge of “Outside the Rain”, to the country charms of “After the Glitter Fades”. Enlisting members of the Heartbreakers and Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, Stevie was able to record top-notch performances. She skillfully worked with these distinctive musicians while maintaining her own unique sound.
Despite her ethereal looks, Stevie was not afraid to sound earthy. Her raspy voice, with its velvety undertones, could make any lyric sound world-weary and tough. On the hit duet “Leather and Lace”, with Don Henley, she scolds, “I have my own life, and I am stronger than you know.” On the album’s other hit duet, “Stop Dragging My Heart Around”, she more than holds her own with Tom Petty, and eventually tells him, “You need someone looking after you.”
Stevie was also in a unique position to examine her rock star reputation. On “After the Glitter Fades”, she reflects, “I never thought I’d make it here in Hollywood; I never thought I’d ever want to stay/What I seem to touch these days has turned to gold, what I seem to want, you know I find a way”. After discussing fading dreams and one night stands, she concludes, “Even though the living is sometimes laced with lies, it’s alright/The feeling remains even after the glitter fades.”
Perhaps the most enduring song from Bella Donna is the blistering “Edge of Seventeen”, a song Stevie wrote after hearing about the murder of John Lennon. “And so, with the slow graceful flow of age/I went forth with an age-old desire to please/On the edge of seventeen”, she sings, before dissolving into a guttural growl. In concert, this song became the centerpiece of the show. The clip below is from the final night of Stevie’s solo shows; her tears at the song’s conclusion are due to the end of the freedom of her own tour, since the next day she was due to rejoin Fleetwood Mac to begin recording their next album. Happily, Stevie was able to revisit her solo career, as she continues to release solo albums and tour. Bella Donna remains the most perfect encapsulation of her vision.