Stevie Nicks has said that her vocal style evolved from female singers like Janis Joplin and Grace Slick. She was inspired after seeing Joplin live. Nicks’ career success has inspired such modern artists as The Dixie Chicks, Michelle Branch, Mary J. Blige, Sheryl Crown, Tori Amos, and the list just goes on. If one judges artists by who they were inspired by and who they inspired themselves, Nicks is a prime example of a tremendous musician. Artists obviously aren’t judged this way, but, in Nicks’ case at least the conclusion is true. Nicks is a fantastic musician and her musical, lyrical, and even clothing and jewelry style has been an influence to many modern musicians. In this post, we will specifically focus on her lyrics.
Nicks was born in Phoenix, Arizona, to a corporate executive and a homemaker. Her grandfather, Aaron Jess Nicks, was a struggling country singer. He taught Nicks how to sing quite early in her life (try before the age of five). After receiving a guitar for her 16th birthday, Nicks wrote her first song “I’ve Loved and I’ve Lost, and I’m Sad But Not Blue,” and joined her first band while attending Arcadia High School in California. While attending Menlo Atherton High School as a senior, she met Lindsey Buckingham at a Young Life social event. He was playing “California Dreamin’” and she provided some harmony. They became a unit and eventually started recording duos together. They were signed briefly to Polydor records who helped release an album Buckingham Nicks in 1973. It was not a commercial success and the label dropped them. Nicks was sent into a stage where she worked several jobs and even wrote one of the songs I will be profiling today “Landslide” while debating whether to continue to pursue music. But, like every successful and lucky artist, Nicks and Buckingham caught their break on New Year’s Eve, 1974, after playing their track “Frozen Love” for Mick Fleetwood in Studio City, California. He originally only extended the offer to Buckingham, but, after Buckingham insisted they were a duo, Fleetwood caved and allowed Nicks to join the ride. This was most likely the best decision he ever made. No, seriously, passed the cliché, if he did not allow them to join no one would know the name Fleetwood (unless they were using the home company).
Why? Well, in 1975, with Nicks’ voice and lyric at the helm, the band released the eponymous Fleetwood Mac which hit number one and had three top 20 songs. After the album was released, Nicks ended her relationship with Buckingham and the band went into to the studio to record Rumours. The sessions for Rumours were lined with band tension, drug use and various other issues. This, oddly, was the formula for success. Rumours was released in 1977 and is now considered one of the better albums of all time. Once again, Nicks’ work was instrumental to this success.
She became a symbol. Yes, there were problems along the way (the band did eventually fall apart). Nicks’ personal love life and drug use did certainly
take a toll. But, her music and lyric are extraordinary. They are rich with emotional symbolism and they are delightfully airy and ethereal. She is also known for the image she created for herself. This attributes to her status as an icon or, as Rolling Stone Magazine called her, “The Reigning Queen of Rock N’ Roll.” Nicks is known for her somewhat anagogic wardrobe that is Gothic and almost witch-like. Hence, witchcraft rumors that have followed her. Nicks humorously is known to have stated, “I am not a witch. Get a life!” Her dresser is full of chiffon skirts, lace, top hats and platform boots. Her style has been worked on by Californian designer Margi Kent since the 1970′s.
But, this is not an article about clothing. So, how about some lyrics. Let’s first explore “Edge of Seventeen,” which was released on her 1981 solo début album Bella Donna. The song focused in on the grief she was feeling because of the death of her uncle and the murder of John Lennon which occurred during the same week in December of 1980. It features a simple chord structure and great, noticeable riff. The lyrics hit you right away:
The white winged dove (Mark A. Hicks, illustrator.)
“Just like the white winged dove… sings a song …
Sounds like she’s singing…
Just like the white winged dove… sings a song
Sounds like she’s singing…
And the days go by….
like a strand in the wind
In the web that is my own…
I begin again
Said to my friend, baby…Nothin’ else mattered”
Nicks has said that the “dove” in the lyric represents the spirit leaving the body after death. It is a wonderful portrayal of grief. Nicks stated in an interview with BAM in 1981, ” The most recent [song on Bella Donna] is Edge of Seventeen, which is also my favorite song on the record…. Edge of Seventeen closes it [the album] ~ chronologically, anyway ~ with the loss of John Lennon and an uncle at the same time. That song is sort of about how no amount of money or power could save them. I was angry, helpless, hurt, sad.” She portrays this with her rich symbolism quite well.
My favorite Nicks song is definitely “Landslide.” It was released on Fleetwood Mac’s first album. Nicks said in an interview, “”looking out at the Rocky Mountains pondering the avalanche of everything that had come crashing down on us…at that moment, my life truly felt like a landslide in many ways.” She wrote the song while sitting in a friend’s house in Aspen, Colorado. Good setting! Here are my favorite lyrics:
So, take my love, take it down
Climb a mountain and turn around
And if you see my reflection in the snow-covered hills
Well, the landslide will bring it down”
These lyrics are sung so delicately by Nicks that you cannot dislike them. But, the symbolism is certainly there. She feels like she is falling. She dedicates this song to her father. Great song. Great artist. Great lyrics.