How Christine McVie wrote the song that gave Fleetwood Mac their future

Fleetwood Mac in 1975
(Image credit: GAB Archive)

Where do Fleetwood Mac begin? For purists, it's with Peter Green. For others, it's the arrival of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. Some would even argue that Bob Welch was the catalyst that defined the band. But if we're talking about the moment that the Mac became the movable feast of dysfunctional relationships and shimmering pop masterpieces, it would be September 1975, with the release of Over My Head.

The Christine McVie song was a bellwether and blueprint for everything that would follow. The band's first Top 40 hit in America, it fades in, like an unveiling of something new. Pedaling on a single chord, it has the gauzy feel of one of those spring-winter fulcrum days, all blue sky and possibility, with a hint of a chill. “You can take me to paradise, then again you can be cold as ice,” McVie sings, matching the mood. “I'm over my head, but it sure feels nice.” 

She would later reveal to the BBC that the song was written about her fascination with new bandmate Lindsey Buckingham. “He was that kind of guy, he could be cold as ice, and then he could be great. So I took that feeling I was feeling, and I turned it into a song.”

Bandmates writing about each other, prodding their mercurial personalities with cloaked lyrics and cheerful hooks. That's the Fleetwood Mac way, and it began with this song.

But really, the change in the band's style was afoot as soon as McVie joined in 1970. In the late '60s, she was playing with blues boom combo Chicken Shack. They sometimes opened for Fleetwood Mac. And even when they didn't, Christine was often at their shows, eyeing their “shy, but funny” bass player John McVie. She soon fell in love and left Chicken Shack, with the intention of just being a wife. But then guitarist-vocalist Peter Green suddenly quit Fleetwood Mac, after a mind-wrecking acid trip.

“It was heartbreaking for them when Peter left,” McVie told The Guardian in 2022. “They were rehearsing at Kiln House, and I was down there with all the wives. They came out of the rehearsal room and said, 'Hey Chris, do you want to join?' I couldn't believe my luck. 'Are you serious? I'm just a girl who plays piano.'”

Ten days later, the new line-up was on the road in America.

Releasing five albums between 1971-74, Fleetwood Mac began to evolve away from their strict blues pedigree. “The style had to change because I was a keyboard player,” McVie told The Guardian. “And it developed a more commercial bent. It was thrilling, and I have to say to this day, it still kind of is, knowing I did that.”

From the start, Mick Fleetwood recognized McVie's gifts, encouraging her to “launch out and do something a bit commercial” with her songwriting.

You can hear the road to Over My Head being laid out with early McVie compositions like Morning Rain, Remember Me and the shoulda-been-a-hit Just Crazy Love. She would always say that the blues she'd soaked up from listening to Fats Domino was the basis of all her songwriting. And that was the key to her singular style. Part boogie blues, part blossoming melody (“I suppose I must be good with hooks,” she once reasoned modestly) – listen to You Make Loving Fun, Don't Stop, Over And Over, Everywhere.

As with several other Mac hits, Over My Head wasn't recognised as such at first. “It was the last track we recorded and we really didn't know what we were going to do with it,” McVie told Goldmine in 1997. “All it had was a vocal, a dobro guitar and a drum track.”

When she added a Vox Continental organ and Buckingham overdubbed his percolating guitar figures, it came into focus. The song reached #20 on the US charts, but it changed the perception of Fleetwood Mac forever. Nestled in the fifth spot on 1975's self-titled “white album,” it led the way for an impossibly rich slate of singles from the same record, including Rhiannon, Say You Love Me, Blue Letter, Landslide and Monday Morning.

Ever modest, McVie later said, “Over My Head was the last track we ever thought would be a single.”

Bill DeMain

Bill DeMain is a correspondent for BBC Glasgow, a regular contributor to MOJO, Classic Rock and Mental Floss, and the author of six books, including the best-selling Sgt. Pepper At 50. He is also an acclaimed musician and songwriter who's written for artists including Marshall Crenshaw, Teddy Thompson and Kim Richey. His songs have appeared in TV shows such as Private Practice and Sons of Anarchy. In 2013, he started Walkin' Nashville, a music history tour that's been the #1 rated activity on Trip Advisor. An avid bird-watcher, he also makes bird cards and prints.