Waking from her sleep one night in the apartment she shared with bandmate Stevie Nicks, “Songbird” popped into Christine McVie’s head around 3:30 in the morning as if she was being “visited” by someone, or something.
“I woke up in the middle of the night and the song just came into my head,” said McVie of Fleetwood Mac’s classic Rumours ballad. “I got out of bed, played it on the little piano I have in my room, and sang it with no tape recorder. I sang it from beginning to end: everything.” She added, “I can’t tell you quite how I felt. It was as if I’d been visited. It was a very spiritual thing. I was frightened to play it again in case I’d forgotten it.”
The next day morning, McVie took it to producer Ken Callait and put it down on a 2-track recorder. “I don’t know where that [song] came from,” added McVie. “I wished it would happen more often, but it hasn’t.”
Who/What is the meaning of “Songbird”?
The ambiguity of “Songbird” captures the selflessness of love—for someone or one’s self. McVie insisted that the song was never about anyone, or anything, in particular.
“It doesn’t really relate to anybody in particular; it relates to everybody,” said McVie in a 2017 interview on the meaning of the song. “A lot of people play it at their weddings or at bar mitzvahs or at their dog’s funeral. It’s universal. It’s about you and nobody else. It’s about you and everybody else. That’s how I like to write songs.”
For you, there’ll be no more crying
For you, the sun will be shining
And I feel that when I’m with you
It’s alright, I know it’s right
To you, I’ll give the world
To you, I’ll never be cold
‘Cause I feel that when I’m with you
It’s alright, I know it’s right
Opium Listening Party
McVie has said on many occasions that she wrote “Songbird” in just 30 minutes and needed to get the melody and lyrics out as swiftly as possible so she wouldn’t forget it.
“I called a producer first thing the next day and said, ‘I’ve got to put this song down right now,’” shared McVie. “I played it nervously, but I remembered it. Everyone just sat there and stared at me. I think they were all smoking opium or something in the control room.”
“Songbird” Saved Fleetwood Mac
Playing right in the center of the band’s 1977 album, Rumours, “Songbird” was a focal point, and perhaps a turning point for the band, which was tangled in intra-band relationships, drugs, and other dysfunctional behavior, prior to recording the album.
When McVie played the song for them, they all realized how much they loved one another.
Breaking from the Sausalito Record Plant where the band was finishing up their Rumours sessions, Caillat brought McVie to the Zellerbach Auditorium to record “Songbird.” Setting up 15 microphones placed around the auditorium, “Songbird” was captured with McVie, alone at the piano, as if she was performing alone, once everyone had left a concert.
Lindsey Buckingham sat offstage strumming an acoustic guitar to help keep the tempo.
Performed live, Fleetwood Mac would often close shows with the song, with McVie alone, sitting at the piano.
McVie’s spiritual connection, or “visitation,” to a song like “Songbird” is likely linked to her mother Beatrice Edith Maud (1915-1968), who she said was a psychic medium and healer. When Fleetwood Mac was first moving from London to Los Angeles, and after several lineup changes, Maud had a premonition that things would go wrong, but that “not to worry, because they would find their miracle in a sunny California orange grove,” according to McVie.
Shortly after meeting, McVie and Stevie Nicks instantly hit it off. “I liked her instantly,” said McVie of Nicks. “She was funny and nice but also there was no competition. We were completely different on the stage to each other and we wrote differently too.”
Coincidentally, the two moved in together in an apartment on Orange Grove Avenue.
Mick Fleetwood’s Send-Off Song
When asked what song he would want to be played at his funeral, drummer Mick Fleetwood named the McVie classic.”
“The song at my funeral, which will be in five minutes—wow, that is maudlin,” said Fleetwood in an NME interview. “I’d probably pick ‘Songbird’ by Christine McVie, to send me off fluttering.”
And the songbirds keep singing
Like they know the score
And I love you, I love you, I love you
Like never before, like never before,
Like never before
Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images