Words: Matthew Barton
“I can’t say that I’m so glad that gay people like my music, because I have never looked at gay people as different from any other people. We are all one consciousness. The fact that anybody loves my music makes me feel very good, because this is what I do.” – Stevie Nicks on her gay audience, 2014.
Where would we be without Stevie Nicks? An artist of rare grace, power, and integrity, Stevie has built up a long-lasting career of some fifty years in various incarnations through the peerless beauty of her music.
Whether she is singing tender ballads, titanic rock epics, or harmonising on some of pop music’s most enduring and sensitive hits, Stevie’s reputation is founded on her inherent musicality and relatable musings on life, love, and loss.
Sure, she has cemented her reputation as a cultural icon in recent years – there are the TV appearances (American Horror Story), the appropriation of her distinctive look in drag culture (the annual Night of a Thousand Stevies in New York, Thorgy Thor on RuPaul’s Drag Race), and recent collaborations with Lana Del Rey and Taylor Swift – but you cannot survive for half a century in the music business without a core foundation of songs that resonate with the human experience.
Stevie has inspired a raft of musicians across genres, genders, continents, and generations, and remains as relevant a cultural and musical force now as she has ever been. There is not a rock singer on earth who moves with such ease and dexterity between velvety-voiced elegance and full-throated, towering blasts of fire and fury, sometimes within the same song.
Within the broad rock firmament, she transcends styles and generic conventions – she can be a little bit country ('Leather and Lace'), or a little bit blues ('Angel'), or even a little bit synth pop ('Stand Back'), and she is responsible for some of the most haunting melodies of any songwriter in pop music.
Whether she records or performs solo or with Fleetwood Mac, her on-and-off band of many trials and tribulations for more than four decades, Stevie always delivers on the promise of raw power and serene beauty, of lyrics that are both poetic and hard-hitting, of melodies that soar and glide, and of course on her characteristic uniform of platform boots, shawls, and flowing chiffon.
So to celebrate this truly incredible artist, performer, singer, and songwriter on her 74th birthday (26 May), here we take a look at 11 key Stevie Nicks clips that remind you why Stevie Nicks is the definition of living legend...
This is the mesmerising, definitive version of 'Rhiannon', Stevie’s mythic magnum opus. This was the song on which Stevie first built her rock goddess reputation, transforming the lilting soft-rock FM classic of Fleetwood Mac’s studio original into a bewitching, propulsive epic.
Stevie and her singer-songwriter-guitarist boyfriend Lindsey Buckingham had joined Fleetwood Mac on New Year’s Eve 1974 as a struggling duo, and within the year were cast-iron rock icons.
Lindsey is electrifying here on guitar, and the rhythm section piles on the intensity, but this is all Stevie – listen and watch for how she goes into full-scale incantation mode in the coda, and witness the birth of her fabled witch persona with her twirls and black chiffon.
This version of 'Rhiannon' never fails to stand the hairs on end.
'Sara' - Tusk Tour (1979)
Some of Stevie’s greatest songs – 'Dreams', 'Storms', 'Outside the Rain' – are atmospheric gems that musically are quite simple but have such a captivating, hypnotic quality to their melody and production.
One such is the dreamlike 'Sara' from 1979’s Tusk, which is both romantic and sad, a song of hope and loss, of life and death. Here is one of the song’s most memorable live performances from the Tusk tour. Is “I think I had met my match / he was singing / and undoing / undoing the laces” one of the sexiest lyrics in rock?
'Blue Lamp' - Bella Donna recording sessions (1981)
Stevie’s 2007 hits collection Crystal Visions came armed with some bonus clips of recording sessions for her first solo album Bella Donna – manna for fans.
It’s a fascinating insight into Stevie’s recording process, and any of the clips are worth watching, from the beautiful, yearning country of 'After the Glitter Fades' to the livewire lead vocal of 'How Still My Love', but the 'Blue Lamp' clip shows us several sides of Stevie, including fun goofing around with her harmony singers Lori and Sharon, and it’s an opportunity to hear this dusky, magnificent song that unquestionably should have been included on Bella Donna.
As it is, you can find it on the Heavy Metal soundtrack or Bella Donna’s deluxe edition from 2016. (Also: wait for her dance to 'Edge of Seventeen' at the end.)
'Insider' - (with Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, 1981)
Stevie honed her harmony vocals in high school and later with Lindsey Buckingham in both their duo Buckingham Nicks and bands Fritz and Fleetwood Mac, and her enduring work with the late Tom Petty generated some of rock’s most notable duets.
'Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around' was the big hit, but 'Insider', from Petty’s Hard Promises LP, is simply beautiful and shows Stevie’s wonderful ear for plaintive harmonies. Could she be the best harmony vocalist of her generation?
'Wild Heart/Can’t Go Back' - Rolling Stone photoshoot (1981)
This special clip is the fulcrum where three Stevie projects – her solo records Bella Donna (1981) and The Wild Heart (1983), and Fleetwood Mac’s Mirage (1982) – meet.
At a Rolling Stone photoshoot in support of Bella Donna, Stevie sings an early version of 'Wild Heart' over a demo of Lindsey Buckingham’s 'Can’t Go Back' in between make-up touch-ups.
It’s a perfect window into off-the-cuff, behind-the-scenes Stevie and her innate musicality as she wraps her own burgeoning lyric and melody around another song.
'Edge of Seventeen' - Red Rocks, Colarado (1986)
'Edge of Seventeen' is to Stevie’s solo career what 'Rhiannon' was to her Fleetwood Mac one. It is an epic, driving tour de force, replete with oblique imagery referencing the deaths of her uncle Jonathan and also of John Lennon, a haunting chorus that dives in and out like a spectre, and an impassioned vocal that builds and builds.
The bewitching guitar riff was famously and inventively sampled by Destiny’s Child on 'Bootylicious' twenty years later, but go to the source for the full effect. It remains a live stalwart and a career highlight. This live version Red Rocks, Colorado, is a classic.
'Nightbird' - Solid Gold TV performance (with Lori Nicks, 1983)
Stevie’s TV performances were invariably iconic, and this is no exception.
This beguiling cut from The Wild Heart comes alive in this Solid Gold performance, where the camera lingers on Stevie’s magnetic saucer eyes, and on the microphone shared with her sister-in-law Lori. Props also to Stevie for refusing to lip sync on this show, as was the custom.
'Silver Springs' - The Dance (1997)
The emotive longing of 'Silver Springs,” one of Stevie’s most personal songs, was left off Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 LP Rumours due to time constraints, and was relegated to the B-side of 'Go Your Own Way'.
Twenty years later, on Fleetwood Mac’s reunion tour immortalised on 'The Dance', the band dusted it off, performed it live, and gave it the due it deserves. The intensity with which Stevie directs her ireful lyric at former beau Lindsey (“you’ll never get away from the sound of the woman that loves you”) is a sight to behold.
'Landslide' - Say You Will Tour (2003)
'Landslide' is a perennial classic that has lost none of its poise and beauty since its first release in 1975. Stevie always sings it with the same wisdom and heart, and the melodic segue into “well I’ve been afraid of changing…” remains one of her most beautiful pieces of writing.
This is a special version from the 'Say You Will Tour' in 2003 performed with Lindsey that shines the spotlight on the lyric, which, with the passing years, has only taken on more resonance.
'Bella Donna/The Wild Heart' - 24 Karat Gold Tour (2016)
Stevie is still rocking it out on the stages of the world, and her recent solo tour has brought up some mouth-watering highlights, not least a new medley version of Bella Donna not played since the early 1980s, and The Wild Heart, for which the embryonic photoshoot rendition had previously been the only available “live” clip.
Stevie knows and loves her audience, and a performance like this is why she continues to engender such a rapturous, loyal following.
'Storms' - The Unleashed Tour (2009)
Thirty years after its inclusion on Tusk, Fleetwood Mac performed 'Storms' live for the first time on their 2009 tour. There aren’t words that can justifiably describe the beauty of this sorrowful song, so just enjoy this performance from Stockholm.
Happy birthday Stevie! Here's to many more to come.