The Making of ‘Albatross’: Fleetwood Mac’s instrumental chart topper
19 October 2022, 12:22
Before Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham or Christine McVie, Fleetwood Mac, led by Peter Green, topped the charts with a stunning instrumental.
While most number ones in UK singles history have had vocals and lyrics, there have been a handful of magnificent instrumental highs over the years.
There’s “Let’s Have Another Party” by Winifred Atwell, “Apache” by the Shadows, “Telstar” by the Tornados and, as good as all of them, “Albatross” by Fleetwood Mac.
Many of Fleetwood Mac’s most enduring songs have come from Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie, but their early hits came before these incredible writers and musicians even joined the band.
In 1968, “Black Magic Woman” peaked at number 37. Then “Need Your Love So Bad” peaked at 31. Then came “Albatross”, which went all the way to number one.
Do you know who wrote ‘Albatross’? Or which Beatles song did it inspire? Keep reading to find out.
Who wrote (and performed on) ‘Albatross’?
As we’ve said before, “Albatross” was written, recorded, and released long before later-era Mac stalwarts Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, or Christie McVie joined the band.
In their early days, Fleetwood Mac was managed by Peter Green, and it was Peter who wrote “Albatross”.
He was reportedly inspired to write the song by Santo & Johnny’s 1959 song “Sleep Walk”, while other influences would include a slowed-down solo by Eric Clapton and Chuck Berry’s 1957 track “Deep Feeling”.
Another influence? “I heard John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers cover of blues singer Jimmy Rogers ‘The Last Meal’, Peter Green is quoted as saying in 1000 hits No. 1 in the UK.
“I thought I would take it and develop it.”
Green also played guitar on the song, as did Danny Kirwin, while the band’s sole representatives, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie on drums and bass respectively. It was produced by Mike Vernon.
Although Jeremy Spencer, then the band’s pianist and slide guitarist, is seen “playing” slide guitar in the video for the song, he actually mimics Peter’s playing and does not appear on the recording at all.
Where does the song get its name from?
An albatross is not just any old bird, but a reputed bird with great power, believed by sailors to bring bad luck.
The albatross features in Samuel Coleridge’s 1798 classic The Rime of the Ancient Sailorthat Peter Green had read as a child.
Mick Fleetwood’s deft use of timpani mallets and Green’s soloing on the song combine to set the mood of a relaxed boat trip, undisturbed by the bad vibes of the albatrosses flying overhead.
When was ‘Albatross’ released and when did it reach number one in the UK charts?
“Albatross” was released on November 22, 1968, with “Jigsaw Puzzle Blues” (written by the band’s James Kirwan) on the B-side.
It entered the charts on December 10 at number 36 and rose steadily, reaching number one on February 4, 1969 where he stayed for a week. To date, it remains Fleetwood Mac’s only number one single.
The song was re-released in 1973 and did nearly as well, reaching number two on its second run.
‘Albatros’ is officially Gold certifiedmeaning it sold 400,000 copies, while some claim it actually exceeded double that.
The song was recorded between the Mac’s second and third albums Mr Wonderful and Then play it and was never featured on a studio album by the band.
Instead it was featured on the UK compilation The pious auspicious bird in the UK and English rose in the USA.
It has since appeared on numerous Fleetwood Mac best-ofs, usually one of the few Peter Green-era songs to sit alongside the band’s later hits.
Which Beatles song “Albatross” inspired?
You might not immediately realize it because they don’t look alike at all, but John Lennon was inspired by “Albatross” for his Abbey Road song “Sun King”.
“At the time ‘Albatross’ was out, with all the guitar reverb”, George Harrison said in 1987.
“So we said, ‘Let’s be Fleetwood Mac doing ‘Albatross,’ just to get going. It never really sounded like Fleetwood Mac…but that was the original point.”
Who covered ‘Albatross’?
‘Albatross’ has been covered a surprisingly high number of times for an instrumental track.
The first of the blocks were session sounds making a version for those top pops recorded in January 1969, while James Last jammed it into a medley of ‘Albatross’ / ‘Crimson and Clover’ / ‘Something’s Happening’ for his Non stop dancing 69 album the same year.
The Shadows tried out in 1980, while American indie supergroup Lee Ranaldo Band with J Mascis recorded a cover for 2012 Just Tell Me You Want Me: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac.
The bleepy 8-Bit Arcade gave “Albatross” its spin in 2020.
On February 25, 2020, Mick Fleetwood enlisted an all-star cast for the Mick Fleetwood & Friends Celebrate The Music Of Peter Green And The Early Years Of Fleetwood Mac concert, which featured Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour on a jaw-dropping version of “Albatross “.