Love Letter To A Song

Are you familiar with Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way?” If not, give it a listen:

Actually, go ahead and enjoy it even if you’ve heard the song a zillion times. It’s a great tune and a great performance. But….have you ever noticed how intensely weird the rhythm is? The electric guitar and acoustic guitar start off playing neatly intersecting rhythms, but then the drums kick in and…wtf is going on there? Leaving aside the fact that this very straightforward pop song is dominated by Mick Fleetwood’s tom toms, it’s a really odd pattern. I’ve never heard anything remotely like it in popular music.

I’ve spent some time researching this. The guitar and vocal lines are clearly in good ol’ 4/4, but the drums seem to be on another plane. I’ve heard it described as “4/4 with very odd accents and an occasional 2/4 measure thrown in for giggles” and you that may, technically, be what’s going on. But when I count it out, it fits neatly into a 1-and-2-and-3-and-1-and-2-and-3-and with the lone snare falling on the 2. What I think is going on is that Mick’s playing the verse in 3 and then switching to a more conventional 4 in the chorus.

The vocals are exceptional, too. Lindsey Buckingham is not just a great vocal arranger (which is, as much as anything, his calling card), he’s a genuinely gifted vocalist. If you’ve never heard the isolated vocal track, here’s a treat for ya:

Buckingham throws in a rare guitar solo as well, giving the song a driving urgency which is sometimes missing in Fleetwood Mac music.His later solo work demonstrates his increasing deftness with the guitar, but he didn’t get to show off very often with the Mac.

It’s a terrific song. Even when stripped of all nuance and rhythmic strangeness, it remains a catchy tune. Check out this butchered version by NOFX featuring Brett and Greg from Bad Religion on backing vocals:

It still works, doesn’t it?

For me, the thing that elevates this song is the bizarre drumming. Buckingham and Fleetwood were just magical together. The drums on “Tusk” were another example of “stuff you’d never expect to hear on Top 40 radio” and Buckingham’s first solo hit, “Trouble,” was built entirely around a Fleetwood drum loop.

I have approximately zero sense of rhythm, so all of this seems like sorcery to me. I can at least understand a great melody and interesting chord changes. I would never, in a million years, come up with something as clever as the drum line for “Go Your Own Way.” I’m stunned that something so strange, so out there, would show up in the lead single on what was, at the time, the best selling rock record in history.

And yeah, I still grin every time I hear it.

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