Fleetwood Mac – Then Play On

fleetwood-mac-then-play

Finally a remastered edition of this underrated classic

Along with Eric Clapton, Peter Green was often considered as being at the forefront of the British blues boom in the 1960’s. Although unlike Clapton, whose guitar style ranged from Chicago electric blues, to full on psychedelic hard-rock, Green’s own style and approach was far more pure, earthy even, similar to a B.B King or Albert King, where less was often more. Also, at least as far as the early days were concerned, Green was also a far better song writer than Clapton. One only has to listen to “The Supernatural” from John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers’ 1967 LP A Hard Road to realise that Peter clearly wasn’t your average (white) blues guitarist.

Then Play On was Fleetwood Mac’s third, and depending on who you talk to, best LP. It was also their last. By 1969, when this album was recorded and released, Green was already grappling with mental illness as well as life’s other big questions. However despite these challenges, it was at this time that he was at his most creative, taking the band in a whole different direction from the one they seemed to be headed in on their previous two records.

This deluxe edition opens with “Coming Your Way,” written by Danny Kirwan, who was a far more versatile guitarist than the Elmore James obsessed Jeremy Spencer. Both Kirwan and Green complement each other perfectly, while Mick Fleetwood lays down some Santana-esque rhythms. Green’s “Closing My Eyes” is a reflective, almost dramatic piece, in the vein of some of his earlier material, namely slow, and painfully heartfelt guitar and lyrics. Fleetwood seriously shift gear on “Fighting for Madge”, a jam which is probably about the closest thing they ever came to in terms of hard-rock.

Kirwan’s “When You Say” just falls flat on its face, and indeed the album would have been a lot stronger without it. I mean, what is this, the Waltons? Fortunately Green and Co. rev things up a bit on the excellent “Showbiz Blues”, where Peter plays a mean dobro, just like an old bluesman from the 1940’s. The instrumental “Underway” gets off to a pleasant start, before suddenly being rudely interrupted by Kirwan’s “One Sunny Day,” that is actually rather good, unlike “Although the Sun Is Shining”, another Kirwan composition, which sounds like the Partridge Family on Panama Red. But that’s OK, because Green once again gets the party going with “Rattlesnake Shake,” a song made up of heavy, dirty riffs and a rhythm section that could turn an entire slab of marble into tiny pebbles.

Kirwan excels himself on the touching “Without You,” before returning to jam-mode on “Searching for Madge.” Obviously the band must have thought that the entire jam on its own wasn’t enough, hence all the edits and interruptions throughout (the complete version can be heard on The Vaudeville Years compilation). Still, even in its expurgated form it’s one of the most exciting recordings the early Fleetwood ever made. “My Dream” has some exquisite guitar but little else to recommend it, while “Like Crying” is also rather forgettable.

Green’s “Before the Beginning” is like “The Supernatural” only with lyrics. It’s a haunting song to be sure, and is a showcase for Peter’s inimitable style of songwriting. “Oh Well” must go down as one of Green’s greatest riffs, and perhaps one of his greatest tunes. The first half (Part 1) sees the band in full hard-rock flight, where as the superb Part 2 is the sort of thing one would expect to hear on a Spaghetti Western soundtrack.

The intense “The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)” represents a man riddled by demons and who doesn’t really give a damn any more about what he’s doing or why he’s doing it. Listening to “Manalishi” is akin to hearing a man experiencing a nervous breakdown through one’s stereo, which is likely not too far from what was probably going on in Peter’s mind when he recorded it.

The last song, Kirwan’s lightweight “World in Harmony” was the b-side to “Manalishi” and is the entire opposite of its counterpart, in that this short instrumental is rather cheerful and uplifting, and a major yin and yang if there was ever one.

What might have happened to Fleetwood Mac had Green remained with the group is anyone’s guess. Would they have continued to be a blues band, or gone on to explore far more interesting and increasingly complex musical territory? Who can say? My own supposition is that Green was unfortunately always destined to burn out due to the simple fact that Peter himself wasn’t mentally equipped with the necessary wherewithal to handle all the fame and popularity a successful band can bring. Because there are some people in this world, no matter how talented, just want to be left alone, to exist within themselves and not be troubled by too many outside forces.

Even if he chose to never play guitar again, what he achieved has left an indelible mark on the music industry, and more importantly, on many people’s lives, especially those who continue to buy his records, and appreciate his important legacy.