Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Rock A Little

Time to spend some time with my first girlfriend, Stephanie Lynn Nicks. At least that's how my parents referred to her, because I was hot for some Stevie Nicks back in the day. Stevie Nicks was da bomb, looking slammin' with her gypsy woman hotness. Sure she could get a little girly with her fantasy lyrics, ballet spins and preoccupation with shawls, but that just made her hotter. Fleetwood Mac's resident welsh witch Rhiannoned her way into a solo career by being the superstar of the band. After years of being paired up with Lindsey Buckingham's production touches, could she make it on her own? The answer was given swiftly by the public with the release of her debut album...

Bella Donna (1981)

Nicks had saved up a wealth of "A" material for her debut and wisely hooked up with Producer Jimmy Iovine. Iovine kept Nick's sound earthy and grounded with deft arrangements and meaty performances. Maybe taking into consideration how her voice was often linked with Buckingham, the album features two duets: The Tom Petty outtake "Stop Draggin My Heart Around" and the quiet harmonious "Leather & Lace" with Don Henley. The Petty song was a smash hit, combining the bare knuckle power of the Heartbreakers and allowing two nasal vocalists really go at it. A great sing along song. The other duet, the Waylon Jennings inspired "Leather & Lace", had a nice Country tinge and Henley's rasp compliments most singers.

Although I liked her music I also thought I liked it because of her looks, so I surprised myself in the early 90's by playing her tapes and finding it was really the songwriting and performance that drew me. Album tracks like the mysterious "Outside The Rain", the swoony "Kind Of Woman" and the large scale "Bella Donna" are all excellent. And of course I can't forget one of Nick's biggest hits, the rocker "Edge of Seventeen". That jittery guitar lick matched with a barking Nicks and a big beat amounts to big rock and roll thrills (and a memorable sample into a Destiny's Child song). Nicks had arrived as a star in her own right, her mystic combination of symbolism and personal emotions intact.

Wild Heart (1983)

I once read a book that said this was one of the worst album covers ever. Looking at it, I can't defend it too much. It's like a time lapse photo of watching a wiccan sit on the lawn. The sequel to the debut, Nicks lined up Iovine to Produce again. While not as consistent as Bella Donna, cuts like the rollicking "Enchanted" and the Fleetwood Mac-ish "Nightbird" were equal in quality. Yet in a sign of things to come, Nicks became more interested in synthesizers which paved the way to her signature solo hit, "Stand Back". You know, though I like the tune "Stand Back" is not one of my favorites of hers - I thought it was too dance oriented and the video reeked of Fame dancer cheese. The other hit song, "If Anyone Falls", was cushioned by even more synths as it more or less wafts on a keyboard line. One of my favorites off this album has been buried by time, that's the Tom Petty / Nicks sequel duet "I Will Run To You". I've never seen this one show up on best of comps for either performer which is too bad, its a good song. What really makes the album worthwhile is the opening title track, where Nicks lays out her "Wild Heart". I didn't play this one as much as Bella Donna, but it was still good.

Rock A Little (1985)

It's no secret that Stevie Nicks had a love affair with Cocaine and at this stage in her career she was cutting a bunch of white winged doves with a razorblade on a mirror. I'm pretty sure around this time she even fell off a stage while performing. Rock A Little was the next phase of "Stand Back", an album packed with synth rockers. The songwriting began to deteriorate, masked by a pile of electronic noise. Chas Sandford was brought in for "Talk To Me", hot off his success helping John Waite create the smash "Missing You". While it was a Top 10 hit, I found it disappointing and much of this album left me cold. Only the clangy rocker "I Can't Wait" held my attention with it's overkill arrangement and urgent Nicks vocal. For some reason hearing that song on the way to the ski slopes in Lake Tahoe has stuck with me over the years. Other than that, Ms. Nicks was rocking too little for me.

The Other Side Of The Mirror (1989)

Following a big Mac reunion in '87, Nicks returned to her solo career with an album that brought the attention back to plainer arrangements. She actually had some good songs too, the hit "Rooms On Fire" was on the radio a lot and I have nice memories of driving through the hot Sacramento weather listening to it. "Ooh My Love" had a strong melody and the low down rocker "Whole Lotta Trouble" had a nice bit of swagga. If only the rest of the album was as memorable, it drifts by pleasantly except for the over indulgent duet "Two Sides Of Love". Teaming up with Bruce Hornsby and saxophonist Kenny G, Nicks ballad felt stuffed with too much Hollywood to connect for me. And given her drug troubles, was it smart to give an album a title with the word "Mirror" in it?

Timespace...The Best Of Stevie Nicks (1991)
It was in...the liner notes of this CD...that I learned...Stevie Nicks loves ellipses...Her first greatest hits collection rounded up the usual suspects - "Edge of Seventeen", "Stand Back", "Talk To Me", etc. Like many greatest hits comps of that time, a couple of new tracks were recorded to try to give Nicks career renewed visibility. Bizarrely, Nicks decided to go hair metal. Recording songs written by Bon Jovi and Bret Michaels among others, Nicks went for the hairspray sound just as Grunge was coming in to wash it all away. The Jon Bon Jovi penned "Sometimes It's A Bitch" is supremely annoying when I hear Nick's voice on it. Just plain sounds wrong.

Street Angel (1994)

After that misstep and by her account struggling with anti depressants (the story was included in her tour program), Nicks returned to the limelight with the Adult Contemporary angled Street Angel. Notably, the song publishing dates had its widest range since her debut record - an indication of a lack of new material. Still, it wasn't too bad of an album. The midtempo "Blue Denim" I liked a lot as well as the searching "Destiny". Curios like a cover of Bob Dylan's "Just Like A Woman" and "Rose Garden", a song Nicks wrote as a teen, keep interest up. Maybe it was the lack of current pictures in the tape cover mixed with the older songs, there is a feeling of hiding within this album. I saw Nicks on this tour, she had noticeably gained weight (which happens, I've gained weight over time too) that may have explained the lack of new photos (at least they didn't seem new). She still could rock in concert though, seeing her on the big video screen croon out "Destiny"was a highlight.

Enchanted (1998)

Hot off the Fleetwood Mac reunion The Dance, Nicks doled out a three CD box set of her solo material. Given that her albums tended to be spotty in quality Enchanted may seem like a so-so proposition. Instead, the set mixes the big hits, good album tracks and B sides / unreleased material with flair. Previously unreleased tracks like the Warren Zevon written "Reconsider Me" and the lively "Gold and Braid" kick things up a notch. Even tossing in a track from the yet to be released in digital format Buckingham Nicks album boosts its value. Plus, my favorite Stevie Nicks song "Sleeping Angel" from the soundtrack to that landmark in American cinema, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, is included. Used to play these discs a lot while my wife and I lived in a smaller space, good thing she likes Stevie Nicks too. Enchanted is easily the best set of Nicks solo material outside of Bella Donna.

Trouble In Shangri La (2001)

After a creative dry spell that was the 90's, Nicks released a new solo album for the 21st Century. Shangri La showed a revitalized Nicks, the performance was sharp and had a feel of mixing the current with the past. Two songs written in the 70's, "Sorcerer" and "Planets Of The Universe" were high points effectively capturing the early magic. The single "Every Day" was decent while she rocked up a storm on "Fall From Grace". Trouble In Shangri La was a disc I played often that year, it was great to hear a good Stevie Nicks album again.

Crystal Visions - The Very Best Of Stevie Nicks (2007)

After another successful run with the Mac, Nicks dove back to the vaults for her solo career. This time it seemed to feature a lot of remixes and live versions to put a new coat of paint on the old warhorses like "Dreams" or "Landslide". Angled at fans Nicks may have picked up over the past ten years, I decided to skip this disc since I already had Enchanted. I did see her live at her tour kickoff in Concord and she put on a great show on a cold cold night.

Since then Stevie Nicks has been involved with another Fleetwood Mac tour in progress right now. Her solo career has seen its ups and downs, to me she'll always be that uniquely talented beauty who can warble with charisma and power. One of my favorite clips of her is what looks like a backstage shot of her practicing "Wild Heart". She recently released a live album that includes a cover of Dave Matthews "Crash Into Me", it'll be interesting to hear her on that song. I'm the king of the castle, you're the dirty rascal...

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