There’s one thing that bugged me in the media coverage of the death of Christine McVie, it’s the phrase “soft rock” when applied to Fleetwood Mac, which felt a lot like damning with faint praise. In the binary hard-soft, especially in music, soft feels pejorative, doesn’t it? 

When applied to Brexit, hard was obviously bad (catastrophic, even) favoured by the kind of people who have been planning to profit from the misery it caused. On the other hand, you do want a soft landing, soft lighting, a soft heart, and those soft skills are in short supply.

When it comes to rock music, I have never liked hard rock, and I’ve eaten just once at its café. On the other hand, I enjoy a hard boiled detective, and they do say a hard man is good to find. It is also hard to be humble.

Soft rock: what does it mean? Melodic? Smooth? The thing about Fleetwood Mac, and I say this as someone with only a minor interest, is that they’re way too odd and spiky to be pejoratively dismissed as soft. The main thing about the Mac is the groove: it’s in the band’s name. The drummer Fleetwood and the bass player Mac lay down such a groove. And when it comes to the Rumours line-up, there’s something a bit weird everywhere you look. Take guitarist Lindsey Buckingham. Like Wilko Johnson, he plays guitar without a pick; his style of playing is unique. He even plays an unusual guitar (the Rick Turner Model 1, which I’ve never seen anyone else play). He’s also got an uncomfortably intense, prickly personality, which has clearly led to great upset and drama over the years. Then there’s Stevie Nicks, another unique personality whose vocal style is surely too distinctive to be considered as bland as soft implies.

Softness wasn’t the secret to Fleetwood Mac’s success. The sweetness of Christine McVie was a necessary balance for the sourness of Buckingham-Nicks. For me the band’s success comes down to their membership of a particular club: the group with three strong lead vocalists. There’s an elite club of three-headed monsters of rock. The Beatles; The Band; Eagles; Fleetwood Mac; CSN&Y; 10CC; I’m sure there are others. Some people might say The Bee Gees, but I wouldn’t file them under Rock; and some might say Queen, but no. It’s the chemistry of different, sometimes clashing, talents and personalities that works to lift these bands up; and the inevitable tensions are also part of what makes them tick. The word soft doesn’t seem to fit the spiky personality profiles of bands like this. Soap opera rock is what it is.

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