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Stevie Nicks did not have the best time while Fleetwood Mac recorded 1979’s Tusk. While the album held some of Nicks’ best songs, including “Sara” and “Angel,” she hardly contributed much else.

Tusk took the group 13 months to record. With little to do, Nicks longed to break away, at least partially, to record her own songs, the way she wanted, and release just as successful an album. The result was her solo debut, Bella Donna.

Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac at the 1978 American Music Awards.
Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac | Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Stevie Nicks didn’t like being controlled

In a 1981 interview with BAM magazine, Nicks talked about recording her solo debut, Bella Donna, and what it was like continuing in Fleetwood Mac. She said she decided to record an album separately because she wanted to see if she could do it herself.

She liked being in control of her own music. In Fleetwood Mac, Lindsey Buckingham always changed and arranged Nicks’ songs. Not that Nicks didn’t trust Buckingham, but still.

“That’s one of the reasons I wanted to see if I could do it myself,” Nicks said. “When you work with somebody who is that much in control, and who has always been that much in control–from, like, 1970 on–you forget that you’re even capable of doing something yourself.

“I’d write my song and then Lindsey would take it, fix it, change it around, chop it up and then put it back together. Doing that is second nature to Lindsey, especially on my songs.

“He does better work on my songs than on anybody’s because he knows that I always give them to him freely. It’s a matter of trust. So it was interesting to work without him, because my songs pretty much stayed the same.”

Nicks said it was “exhilarating” thinking for herself. “Instead of just sitting around hour after hour, I got to be a part of it,” she said. “Working with Lindsey, it’s so easy to just let him take it. On this album I didn’t have to fight to do my songs the way I wanted to. The other players just did them the way I wrote them and they came out great.”

Recording Bella Donna was a breath of fresh air. Fleetwood Mac’s earlier record, Tusk, wasn’t.

Nicks said she had very little to do with Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Tusk’

The “Dreams” singer continued to tell BAM that she records differently from her Fleetwood Mac bandmates. She said they “labor over detail.” That was mostly boring for Nicks, especially if she had minimal songs on an album.

Nicks explained that she practically had nothing to do with Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk.

“Don’t misunderstand me,” Nicks said. “I love the way Fleetwood Mac sounds. I wouldn’t be in it if I didn’t. I’m just saying that on Bella Donna we managed to make a really good record a different way. We went in and we just did it.

Tusk took us thirteen months to make, which is ridiculous. I was there in the studio every day–or almost every day–but I probably only worked for two months. The other eleven months, I did nothing, and you start to lose it after a while if you’re inactive.

“You see, Lindsey, Chris, John and Mick all play, and I don’t. So most of the time I’d be looking at them through the window in the control room. After four or five hours, they’d forget I was even there, they’d be so wrapped up in little details. It was very frustrating.

Nicks continued, “I was always up-front about it. I loved the songs for the most part… I did not love sitting around for thirteen months and I never said I did. If Tusk had been terribly successful I wouldn’t have taken the credit for it because I was not that much a part of it.

“It was out of my hands. I didn’t want it to be called Tusk. I didn’t like the artwork. I’m being totally truthful–I had very little to do with that record.”


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Nicks wanted to record ‘Bella Donna’ after Fleetwood Mac recorded ‘Tusk’

Despite her limited work on the album, Nicks does enjoy certain songs on Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk. However, the extended recording time spurred her into action. Nicks wanted a change of scenery. That turned out to be Bella Donna.

“I love individual songs,” Nicks said. “Of my songs, I like ‘Sara’ and ‘Angel’ the best. I liked most of Chris’ stuff. Of Lindsey’s songs, I guess I like ‘Save Me A Place’ and ‘Walk a Thin Line’ the most. Those are beautiful songs.

“My main complaint with Tusk isn’t musical. It just went on too long. I think it could have been done in half the time. But again, I’m not a player. I’m the dancer and singer. I just want to get up there and dance and twirl my baton.

“I just decided when I came off the year-long Tusk tour that I wasn’t going to give up my life and die a lonely, overdone, overused rock star. That has no glamour. I didn’t want to be written up in 50 years as a miserable old woman who never got to do anything but tour and be famous for ten years and then everything was over.

“I’m far too intelligent to not know that there will be a time when I won’t be 33 anymore, when I won’t be that pretty anymore. I won’t be sparkly anymore, and I’ll be tired. I want to be able to know that I can still have fun and be part of the world, and that I didn’t give it all away for Fleetwood Mac. That’s what Bella Donna is all about. It’s the beginning of my life.”

Although Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk made Nicks feel a bit useless, at least it showed her what she really wanted, a solo career.

“It’s difficult to be a girl in a big rock ‘n’ roll group for six years,” Nicks told US Magazine in 1981. “You’re very protected and dependent. For so long you’re not allowed to make your own decisions that suddenly you don’t want to anymore. Doing my solo album was the only step I could take to show I still had control.”

Bella Donna certainly showed the world that Nicks was in control. She wasn’t a dying flower anymore either.