Sep 06

FLEETWOOD MAC – “Albatross”

FT + Popular77 comments • 9,162 views

#264, 1st February 1969


The appearance of not one, but two instrumentals in the late 60s lists shouldn’t be taken as any great sign of a revival: the first months of the year are generally the time when minority tastes can break through. This represents a hiccup in their long decline, but the days of pop instrumentals regularly reaching the top had long gone. Those older hits were light, frisky, dance-ready; “The Good, The Bad…” and “Albatross” are both thicker concentrates of pure mood.

In the case of “Albatross” there’s not even a film to prompt you, so its associations need to be even more compelling. Of all the instrumentals to reach number one, “Albatross” is closest to the ‘exotica’ and lounge music that enjoyed 50s and 60s popularity: a collection of ruthlessly pared-down sound-ideas. The tidal throb of the bass and drums, the seaspray brushes and cymbals – this is soundscaping the Martin Denny way, with a one word title setting the tone like a cherry in the cocktail glass.

It teeters close to kitsch (and is no worse for that) but the glory of the record is the marriage of this briney confection with Peter Green’s wistful, wandering guitar line – an element of subdued individuality that is quite foreign to exotica. Green’s appearance in the track is like a single figure on a postcard seascape – it lends the vista scale and makes it feel more wild and mysterious and lonesome, not more human.



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  1. 1
    pˆnk s lord sükråt cunctør on 9 Sep 2006 #

    This is an excellent comparison, soundwise — but I’m not sure I believe that “Albatross” was actually made a HIT by crossover Denny fans in a slow season. Or do you mean that Dennyism was given crossover impulse into a different un-Dennyist market by a group that could plausibly present themselves as interlopers on the lounge niche. ie The post-Stone blues-only audience were given the then-equivalent of the “ironic” figleaf to enjoy a sound they would not have moved towards had a figure less credible than P.Green been involved?

    In terms of artistic heritage, all Brit guitarists of a certain age revered Hank Marvin as GOD, and possibly secretly er hankered to step out and be him. Even after the all the rock vs pop turmoil had renedered him an unperson with their primary audiences.

    (In the other direction, this of course looks forward to Hillage, chillage and all things ambient… )

  2. 2
    Tom on 9 Sep 2006 #

    I’m not sure how much actual Denny fans had to do with it – probably nothing! – I’m saying that the methodology of Dennyism, selecting and applying these particular signifiers advertising style, is what Mac are doing here as well as their lonely bluesman thing. The “minority taste” in para 1 is Mac fans, not (or as well as) instrumental fans – it’s an early example of the January/February fanbase-mobiliser No.1 I think, a la Iron Maiden.

    The KLF actually sample it on Chill Out IIRC.

  3. 3
    pˆnk s lord sükråt cunctør on 9 Sep 2006 #

    yes that seems much more plausible — also interesting that the “pure blues fanbase breakthrough” actually rides on a relatively anomalous song, puritywise — which can appeal to purists as well their foes, by a kind of triangulation into a third zone, untreatening to either

    there’s possibly lots of other examples of this, actually

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    pˆnk s lord sükråt cunctør on 9 Sep 2006 #

    oh oh and the “third zone” — whatever it might have meant BEFORE it was a hit (different things to different people probably, inc.secret nostalgic marvinism ) — BECOMES and indeed INVENTS ur-chillage once the zone has been created, by the use it’s put to (i mean the BUYERS invent ur-chillage, not the players)

    (possibly the grateful dead had already moved into this territory — long gentle work outs you could spliff up to — but off the top of my head i can’t think who else had yet) (few UIK buyers would know abt the dead in early 69, tho i imagine the mac did)

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    Tom on 9 Sep 2006 #

    Yes! (Though “Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter” may not be one of them).

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    pˆnk s lord sükråt cunctør on 9 Sep 2006 #

    oh haha oops i know who had already broached this territory in the UK: PINK FLOYD of course — because even though their long instrumentals were hugely loud live, you can turn records down quiet

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    Marcello Carlin on 9 Sep 2006 #

    That doesn’t explain it returning to #2 on re-release in spring ’73 though. Interestingly this was pretty much the exact time that the Shadows disintegrated and IIRC there was much dark brooding in the Marvin/Welch quarters of the “oh fuck why didn’t we think of that” variety (even though it’s essentially Santo and Johnny’s “Sleep Walk” a decade on and four floors below in the basement, imagining skies, and freedom, and pinkness) – compare minimalist approach of “Albatross” with maximalist, all-strings/FX out approach of “Slaughter On Tenth Avenue,” the Shads’ final single (at that stage), five-and-a-half minutes long, which sold about five copies.

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    Marcello Carlin on 9 Sep 2006 #

    plus of course they went on to have two further number two hits in ’69 (“Man Of The World” and “Oh Well Pts 1 & 2”) so it wasn’t just a seasonal blip. The bleakest pair of number two hits I can think of.

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    pˆnk s lord sükråt cunctør on 9 Sep 2006 #

    shadows slaughter recorded at abbey road acc.google! but i can’t work out the date — your post is ambiguous, marcello — is it 1968 or 1973?

    i presume once a breakthrough occurs, an act counts as a a “made” chart project, so doesn’t need the same conditions to apply the second time

  10. 10
    rosie on 9 Sep 2006 #

    I remember this so well. It was a cold February and there was snow on the ground when I went with my older sister to St Albans to buy it on Saturday – it would have been the 1st, the day Albatross hit the top of the charts (if they did that on Saturday – I always thought charts came out on a Friday in them days, but never mind). The following day I woke up feeling lousy – more ill than I’ve ever felt, before or since (and I include waking up from abdominal surgery in that.) Yes, I’d fallen victim to the Hong Kong ‘flu – or ‘Mao’ ‘flu as it was dubbed in those days – and Albatross became the soundtrack to that miserable February for me.

    I liked it, anyway, and I liked its more upbeat B-side Jigsaw Puzzle Blues, and I’d never heard of Martin Denny until just now (no relation tos Sandy Denny then. I was getting to be a big fan of Sandy around about this time.) Even for those who didn’t have the ‘flu it was a dank, cold month and a touch of South-Sea fantasy was probably just what was needed.

    It’s not the best manifestation of Fleetwood Mac’s bluesy incarnation, and it adds fuel to my theory that Number Ones seldom represent the best work of the performers. I loved Oh Well and Man of the World and Green Manalishi, and along with Christine Perfect’s rendering of I Would Rather Go Blind it was the beginning of the process of my falling in love with the Blues which would be sealed a year later when I was taken to see Memphis Slim live at Chateauvallon in France.

    I never learned to love the later ‘pop’ manifestation of Fleetwood Mac, and I’m the only person of my generation I know never to have possessed a copy of Rumours in any form.

    Tom, where do you get your sleeve images from? Unless I was missing something, singles in 1969 were still coming in paper sleeves without particular design – in this case a two-tone blue Blue Horizon sleeve.

  11. 11
    pˆnk s lord sükråt cunctør on 9 Sep 2006 #

    actually — sorry for posting so much on this!! — rosie’s and marcello’s comments make me think of something else: is this a sad-feel song (as blues-link and subsequent hits would imply) or a glide-away-from-sadness song? albatross = gorgeous bird in flight, but also bird of ill omen

    1967 = happy happy pop-will-save-the-world
    1968 = turmoil and chaos everywhere (which rock culture reflects and expresses)
    1969 = the grim morning after (even if you DIDN’T have the flu)

    so the strong entry into rock-culture pop of a sense of darkness and failure is likely to get a strong response

  12. 12
    Tom on 9 Sep 2006 #

    I was unaware of how successful the rest of this incarnation of F Mac was – thanks Marcello for pointing that out.

    Rosie – sleeve images come courtesy of google images, generally I pick the one which looks – typography and photo-wise – most appropriate to the time (i.e. there are some v.horrible looking 80s FMac reissues called Albatross: these are ignored!). Sometimes – as with the Gary Puckett entry – the image is working a little harder as part of the review, though.

    I’m not sure if I can come to terms easily with the mid-late 80s Fleetwood Mac, as they were a great enemy of mine at the time, but I have been listening to odd songs from the Rumours/Tusk era a lot recently, “Sara” and “Go Your Own Way” in particular.

  13. 13
    Tom on 9 Sep 2006 #

    I think European markets tended to have picture sleeves at this time, which is where they’re actually *from*. A lot of the websites I leech off have .de or .nl domain names, anyway.

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    intothefireuk on 9 Sep 2006 #

    A sublime piece which, as has been pointed out, was good enough to sell in vast quantities only 4 years hence. I would very much doubt that sales were driven by blues fans as it easily crosses over into lounge territory. It was an immediately familiar piece which would have stretched its credibility among rock/blues purists. Nearest comparison would be Floyd (set the controls ?) but without the accompanying melodic content and with more psychedelic menace. Certainly can’t see a case for quoting Hank Marvin here – completely different styles ! – However if Hank had dropped a tab or two who knows……….

    BTW Slaughter on 10th Avenue – Mick Ronson released an excellent version as a single in 1974 – after he’d been sacked by Bowie – it did nothing.

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    Doctor Mod on 9 Sep 2006 #

    The pious bird of good omen, no less. The phrase comes from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner–a lesson to any potential albatross killer. I remember seeing the cover of the FMac album by this name in a trendy little record shop where they actually sold imported LPs. (The ability to purchase non-US albums in local stores was very new back then.) The cover had a very sexy looking woman (dressed as a nun and presumably pregnant) with an albatross (or some such bird, real or otherwise) perched on her hand. I don’t know if the LP had a US release–if it did, surely it didn’t have this cover.

    This is the FMac I actually liked. I’ve never been able to deal with Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, who dramatically reduced the collective IQ of the group with their insipid lyrics (not to mention SN’s irritating nasality and the constant soap opera about their intertwined personal lives). (No, Rosie, I’m your age and I don’t have a copy of Rumours either.) I must say, though, that I’ve continued to like Christine Perfect McVie, who has an incredibly sexy contralto voice.

    “Albatross” received a very singular honor before the year was up–its atmospheric quirks were obviously the inspiration for the intro to the Beatles’ “Sun King” on Abbey Road.

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    Pete on 10 Sep 2006 #

    Cripes, before any sort of critical consensus gets bricked up here, let me hang my hat firmly on later Mac, especially Tusk era but with an equally strong call out for the singles on Tango In The Night. Any of the Mac Greatest Hits are an impressive line up of tunes, on which Albatross feels almost like the afterthought odd instrumental. But possibly next to You Make Lovin’ Fun anything will sound wistful.

    From a pop-Mac perspective the idea of blues-Mac is both a bit disappointing and turgid. My Mac is about the gurls and the bloke with a gurls name. Without Lindsey Buckingham there would have been no Hall & Oats – but then I guess round here that might be seen as a bad thing too?

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    rosie on 10 Sep 2006 #

    Hey Pete, no need to get paranoid! It’s probably best to think of pop-Mac and blues-Mac as separate bands who happened to share an eponymous rhythm section. The latter had Peter Green and that’s good enough for me. By the way, you forgot about the bloke with a gurl’s name!

    As I’ve intimated, by this time I and most of my peers were parting company with the singles charts and taking more of an interest in the suddenly-burgeoning album market and alternative music – the driving force behind this was, no doubt, John Peel’s Sunday afternoon show which formed the backdrop to my weekend homework. It was the time of bitching in school on Friday morning about the eternal crapness of Top of the Pops, the breath of fresh air when they had Blodwyn Pig on not amounting to anything. Somebody must have been buying the pop stuff in droves, but it wasn’t my contemporaries. This for us was the age of Velvet Underground, The Doors, Leonard Cohen, Frank Zappa – which we felt to be ‘grown-up’ music. (It would be about this time that some of the lads would wave Trout Mask Replica about – something that it took me many years to come to terms with!)

  18. 18
    Chris Brown on 10 Sep 2006 #

    Yeah, I’d count the two Macs as seperate entities – and I presume that was the intention of the second incarnation (including the gurl with the bloke’s name) when they started with an untitled album.

    This is one of those records that I always think I like but on reflection I wonder how much I’d take to it outside the context in which I’ve most often encountered it; as a soundtrack to something else. I’d probably pick ‘Man Of The World’ as my favourite.

  19. 19
    Chris Brown on 10 Sep 2006 #

    Forgot to say, BTW, about the chart dates – the convention (followed by all the chart books) is to date them with the issue date of the music paper they appeared in, which is always a Saturday. Hence the chart which was announced earlier this evening is officially the chart of 16th September 2006. Of course, nowadays it’s done within hours but I think back then it took them the best part of a week to do all the maths.

  20. 20
    Marcello Carlin on 11 Sep 2006 #

    (multiple sinker xpost) the Shads’ “Slaughter On Tenth Avenue” came out early ’69.

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    Fleetfoot Mike on 12 Sep 2006 #

    “In the case of “Albatross” there’s not even a film to prompt you, so its associations need to be even more compelling”…

    Not so – there WAS a film – The BBC used it as the soundtrack to a piece of nature footage, after it had just been release, and that’s actually why it made the charts.

  22. 22
    Tom on 12 Sep 2006 #

    Ah! Thanks for that info.

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    Oh No It's Dadaismus on 13 Sep 2006 #

    I think I’m right in saying, The Ventures did “Slaughter On Tenth Avenue” before either The Shadows or Ronno

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    Marcello Carlin on 13 Sep 2006 #

    Indeed they did.

    Curiously the Ventures had one of their biggest American hits ever in 1969 with the theme to Hawaii 5-0, which didn’t chart at all in Britain.

  25. 25
    pˆnk s lord sükråt cunctør on 13 Sep 2006 #

    surfbands passed the uk by entirely, hitwise, didn’t they? (unless you count the shads) (which would be mental)

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    Pete on 13 Sep 2006 #

    And the Fatboys…

  27. 27
    Tom on 13 Sep 2006 #

    As I said in the beach boys review, Surf music in the UK starts with the Aphex Twin!

    (OK actually it seems that surfing itself at a hobby started in Britain in the early 60s in Newquay, so the community was far too small to a) make an impact on the charts itself or b) create the kind of glamour-profile which would have led to other people buying records about it)

  28. 28
    Marcello Carlin on 13 Sep 2006 #

    “Wipeout” by the Surfaris was UK Top 10 in ’63, and “Pipeline” by the Chantays UK Top 20 the same year, and Jan & Dean had some minor UK hits but that was about it.

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    intothefireuk on 14 Sep 2006 #

    the US had surf music we had Duane Eddy & Bert Weedon.

  30. 30
    Marcello Carlin on 14 Sep 2006 #

    that well known british musician duane eddy

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