40 Years Ago: Fleetwood Mac Release ‘Penguin’
As 1972 rolled around, Fleetwood Mac were trying to re-invent themselves and move the band forward. 1973’s ‘Penguin’ album would do exactly that — but not before traveling a long, strange road.
1971 saw guitarist Bob Welch joining the ranks for the ‘Future Games’ LP. Both it and its follow up, ‘Bare Trees,’ helped the band gain ground in the US, but things were still slow moving. In early 1971, guitarist Jeremy Spencer abruptly quit the band as he became involved with the Children of God “religious group” (pronounced cult). In the fall of 1972, guitarist Danny Kirwan was sacked by the band after a drunken bust-up involving Welch. Amidst all this chaos, the band regrouped to record their next album.
“The result was ‘Penguin,’ an album that Bob Welch terms ‘obscure,’ and Christine [McVie] described as ‘weird,'” Mick Fleetwood wrote in his autobiography, ‘My Life and Adventures In Fleetwood Mac.’
The Mac had brought in guitarist Bob Weston and vocalist Dave Walker to round out the sound, but that turned out to be a wrong turn. “Halfway through ‘Penguin’ we started to wonder about our new lead singer, who was often drunk and disorderly around the studio,” Fleetwood recalled. Walker’s vocal character was nondescript at best, and didn’t really fit with their style. Despite the drama, the band came up with a mostly solid offering in ‘Penguin.’
Christine McVie contributed a couple of her finest moments in the Mac songbook. ‘Remember Me‘ and ‘Dissatisfied‘ are near-perfect pop songs in the classic McVie style. Had these tracks been cut during the later Buckingham/Nicks era, they probably would have been hits. Bob Welch also turned in some solid tunes in the form of ‘Bright Fire‘ and the dynamic ‘Revelation,’ which features some great lead guitar and some killer bass from John McVie.
The haunting ‘Night Watch,’ also written by Welch, features their former leader Peter Green on (uncredited) guitar, and is probably the album’s highlight. A clunky cover of the Jr. Walker & the All Stars hit ‘(I’m A) Road Runner‘ is totally unnecessary.
Released in March of 1973, ‘Penguin’ ended up pushing its way into the Top 50, outselling all of Fleetwood Mac’s previous efforts. Named for John McVie’s love of the bird itself, its penguin logo would be used by the band for years to come.
Dave Walker exited the band a few months after ‘Penguin’ was released, while Weston hung on through the making of its follow-up, ‘Mystery to Me.’
Listen to ‘Penguin’ by Fleetwood Mac