Backstory: Songbird by Christine McVie
After an extramarital entanglement with a touring band member, this song came to Cristine late in the evening, and to keep from losing it, she stayed up all night until she could get her producer to write it down the next morning.
“Songbird” is a classic ballad written and performed by the British singer-songwriter Christine McVie, who is best known as the keyboardist and vocalist of the legendary rock band Fleetwood Mac. The song was released in 1977 as part of the band’s album “Rumours”, one of the four songs solely written by McVie for the album.
With its gentle piano melody and heartfelt lyrics, “Songbird” is a poignant ode to love and devotion. The song’s simple and stripped-down arrangement highlights McVie’s vocals, which are delicate and vulnerable, yet also strong and powerful. The lyrics express a sense of longing and commitment, as McVie sings about the enduring nature of her love and the importance of her partner in her life, but seen now in retrospect.
The exact inspiration behind the lyrics of “Songbird” has not been explicitly stated by the artist, but it is widely believed that the song was written about her then-husband John McVie, who was also the bassist of Fleetwood Mac. The couple was going through a difficult time in their relationship at the time the song was written, and many fans and critics have interpreted the lyrics as a reflection of the emotional struggles that McVie was experiencing. I believe this is a song about guilt toward then-husband John.
Christine had begun an on-the-road affair with the band’s lighting director, Curry Grant, during her marriage to John McVie, the band’s bassist. The affair reportedly began in 1976, and lasted for about a year. She wrote “You make Loving Fun”, reportedly inspired by Grant.
The extramarital relationship eventually came to an end, and Christine and John McVie divorced in 1977, the same year that Fleetwood Mac’s seminal album “Rumours” was released. Despite the end of their marriage, the two continued to work together in the band for many years and maintained a cordial relationship. McVie frequently sang the song at the end of Fleetwood Mac concerts. She passed away November 30, 2022.
McVie wrote “Songbird” in half an hour around midnight, but didn’t have anyone around to record it. To ensure she did not forget the chord structure and melody, she remained awake the entire night. The next day, McVie played the song for producer Ken Caillat at the Sausalito Record Plant.
Caillat (father of singer Colbie Callait) loved the track and suggested that McVie record it alone in a concert style approach. Their first venue of choice, the Berkeley Community Theatre, was unavailable, so the band instead booked the Zellerbach Auditorium for March 3, 1976. To create the appropriate ambience, Caillat ordered a bouquet of flowers to place on McVie’s piano. He then requested three spotlights to illuminate the flowers from above. When McVie arrived at the auditorium, the house lights were dimmed so her attention was immediately brought to the illuminated flowers on the piano.
For the recording session, 15 microphones were placed around the auditorium to capture the performance. The recording session went into the next morning due to the difficulty of recording the song live in one take. Lindsey Buckingham strummed an acoustic guitar offstage to keep the tempo. (background notes: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Songbird_(Fleetwood_Mac_song)