My Favourite Song: ‘Rhiannon’ (1980 live version) by Fleetwood Mac

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Stevie Nicks

Ok, so if you haven’t heard already, the truth is out: my taste in music is retro. I love what others deem to be hippy music, dad rock, dinosaur rock or bygones from another era. People often tell me my taste in music is ‘too old’, or that I’m ‘too young’ to have heard of such bands- relics from the 60s and 70s mostly-they often seem surprised and taken aback that I know- and love- trippy, unique bands such as Jefferson Airplane and Barclay James Harvest. But music is a great passion of mine, and has been throughout my life, so I decided to introduce what I consider to be my favourite song, just to try and describe, in words, the power and feeling that listening to such music gives me. The classic rock I love is, for me, unapologetic, talented, fearless and awesome to dance around to. Often the lyrics, too, are surprisingly moving, and sung by people who could/can actually sing, rather than auto tuned dance numbers. Sure, sometimes those kind of tracks  are fine, but for real soul-stirring stuff, I don’t go to an invisible, computerized MP3, I go to a dusty old record shop and spend ages browsing through each worn, thumbed record, until I find one that fits my mood. And a lot of the time, the voice coming through the speakers belongs to Stevie Nicks.

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Stevie Nicks, for those not in the know, is the the rock and roll queen of legendary 70s-80s band Fleetwood Mac. She’s sometimes dismissed as some kind of hippy-dippy chiffon-scarf-waving warbler, but I hate these kind of snide comments- it seems like all too often female singer songwriters are derided and dismissed purely on the basis of their appearance, or worse, on their attractiveness in the eyes of men. On the other hand, critics are seemingly all too keen to bring up her drug addictions- ‘Gold Dust Woman‘ is about Nicks’s addiction to cocaine- an addiction which almost killed her- and her tumultuous, hard-living rock and roll days as part of Fleetwood Mac, where at one time, everyone seemed to be dating everyone else in the band.
Nicks was in a long-term relationship with Lindsey Buckingham, and ‘Rumours’ was written whilst Christine and John McVie were sadly separating. It’s arguably true that heartbreak has played a vital role in Nicks’s songwriting- the classic ‘Dreams‘ was written about the end of her relationship with Buckingham, whilst the song ‘Beauty and the Beast‘ was written about her relationship with Mac drummer, Mick Fleetwood.
My point is -Nicks not only survived the drugs, the drama, and the scandalous relationships within the band, she ultimately thrived as a solo artist in her own right, releasing classic albums such as ‘Bella Donna’ and ‘The Wild Heart’.  It just goes to show, you can’t keep a determined woman down, and Nicks, the pint-sized powerhouse (she is a teeny tiny 5 feet and 1 and a half inches) is for me the epitome of determination, resilience, and courage. Of course, she also has badass style- long flowing blonde hair, Bambi eyes, silver jewelry, thigh high platform boots, scarves, glitter, elbow gloves and plenty of black swishy dresses. I’m not  the only one who thinks so, though- there are a plethora of Tumblr and Pinterest boards dedicated to Nicks’s definitive style, and you can buy Stevie Nicks T-shirts and badges dedicated to her. I myself have a tour T-shirt from when I saw her live.
Image result for stevie nicks 70s
But, at the same time, she is so much more than that. Nicks (or Queen Stevie, as I like to call her) is in my estimation one of the most unique, talented and individual singer songwriters of an era that spurred on the rise of greats like Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Carole King and many others, and the signature song she penned for Fleetwood Mac- ‘Rhiannon‘- has to be my favourite song of all time. Simply because I’ve listened to it so damn much- over and over again, until I know practically every word of the amazing version that is on their 1980 live album ‘Live.’ Imaginative title, I know, but their live versions of ‘Rhiannon‘ are legendary- in my estimation far better than the non-live version, which is still good but lacking in the sheer dynamism Nicks brings to her live performance.
Don’t take my word for it, though-a quick surf on YouTube brings up a good handful of live performances, each one unique as Nicks sings/invokes the spirit of the mysterious Rhiannon who ‘rings like a bell through the night.’   On stage, she seems to adlib some of the lyrics (which I enjoy)and in the live versions- such as the one for the live DVD ‘The Dance’– the beginning lines are accompanied by a beautiful piano solo from Christine McVie– a shivery, plaintive sound like the sound of a ghost’s footsteps. Whilst the the end lines of the song, in contrast, are usually dynamic, heart-thumpingly, adrenaline-rushing,  foot-stomping good- part invocation, part screech, part rock and roll roar of defiance, with lyrics that shift and change like the sea. (I’ve jumped the needle to this part so much my record is slightly scratched.)
But what is the song actually about? The truth is viewed through a glass darkly. The figure of ‘Rhiannon‘ is as mystical as rock ‘n’ roll magic woman Stevie herself, who spins around on stage with a tambourine and glittering shawls (I know this true, because I actually saw the Mac live about three years ago, and Nicks was AMAZING. And yes, she did have a glittering shawl. And a tambourine.) But this Rhiannon also takes no bullshit, and no prisoners- she’s ensnared the heart of the unnamed poor soul Nicks sings to, so plaintively and so powerfully. In the version from ‘The Dance’, Nicks croons: ‘and you still cry out for her/ don’t leave me, don’t leave me, now…’
But of course it is too late, Rhiannon has flown off into that night ‘like a cat in the dark’, leaving her spurned lover yearning for more. Nicks is all too aware of this- as she herself sings knowingly: ‘wouldn’t you love to love her?’
The answer is of course, yes– for how could you not? the Rhiannon character is both desire and freedom personified,- ‘she rules her life like a fine skylark’ and freedom is irresistible to everyone and anyone. But whether that is possible is another matter, with the song’s lyrics just as elusive and mysterious as the song’s heroine itself.
You realize, by the end of the song, that it is Rhiannon‘s spurned lover who is actually the ‘dreamer, silly dreamer’-as they are called in the ‘Live’ album version- for ever thinking that he (or even she, the gender is not specified) could pin Rhiannon down. She’s already flitted away, still powerful, still mysterious, each syllable of her name a primal scream of the sheer raw intensity that unfettered womanhood can bring. What could tame her? What could bring her down? Not the sound of her name, repeated over and over again as the chorus, not gravity, not even dreams. ‘Dreams unwind’ after all- they can be lost, they can be found, they can be sold and bargained for and they can spool out in front of us in like a ball of string even as we try to keep hold of them. They can float away like balloons, or skylarks. They are shifting, fragile things, like love itself, just a ‘state of mind’, and yet at the same time also strong enough that we can pin our whole lives onto them- they can be both touchstones and albatrosses around our necks.
Rhiannon knows this, of course- perhaps it’s her who is threatening to unwind dreams, warning that love is just a state of mind- something illusory, something unreliable. But can we trust her? Surely love is stronger than that? Who knows? And perhaps feeling your dreams unwind is a pleasurable experience, somehow- a sense of freedom in the loss of control? As Nick sings in some versions, ‘your life knows no answer,’ for this haunting song leaves more questions than resolutions.
Queen Stevie’s Rhiannon is arguably is the id against the ego, the dark but ever alluring shadow self, the Rolling Stones’ Ruby Tuesday,  the Eagles’ ‘Witchy Woman’– the line, ‘see how high she flies’ could have been written about her, or even for her. She is the hedonist, the lover, the wild, untamed woman in all of us, that Nicks brings into the light. She could even be an alter-ego of Stevie herself. Plus, the song is LEGENDARY- a thumping, rock and roll anthem you can’t help but stomp, whirl and chant to. It isn’t just Rhiannon who ‘takes to the skies’, it is the listener also, ‘taken by the wind’, taken by the sheer force of something raw and free. Perhaps dreams have unwound into something more, something stronger, something tangible. Perhaps Rhiannon herself is the catalyst for this- an arbiter of profound and poetic change. When I listen to this song, it feels like I am the one soaring, and that’s the best thing about it- this isn’t just any song, it’s a song that makes you fly.
Lyrics- ‘Rhiannon’ by Fleetwood Mac
Rhiannon rings like a bell through the night
And wouldn’t you love to love her?
Takes to the sky like a bird in flight
And who will be her lover?
All your life you’ve never seen a woman taken by the wind
Would you stay if she promised to you heaven?
Will you ever win?She is like a cat in the dark
And then she is the darkness
She rules her life like a fine skylark
And when the sky is starless
All your life you’ve never seen a woman taken by the wind
Would you stay if she promised to you heaven?
Will you ever win?
Will you ever win?

Rhiannon
Rhiannon
Rhiannon
Rhiannon

She rings like a bell through the night
And wouldn’t you love to love her?
She rules her life like a bird in flight
And who will be her lover?
All your life you’ve never seen a woman taken by the wind
Would you stay if she promised to you heaven?
Will you ever win?
Will you ever win?

Rhiannon
Rhiannon
Rhiannon

Oooooh
Taken by
Taken by the sky
Taken by
Taken by the sky
Taken by
Taken by the sky

Dreams unwind
Love’s a state of mind
Dreams unwind
Love’s a state of mind

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