The twists and turns of making a number one album
The early 1980s really became a pivotal part of music history. The late '70s ended with disco being the rage, and rock staples like Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles were going down individual paths while bands like Journey, The Tubes, Hall and Oates started making big strides on the charts.
In 1980 after the monstrous success of Fleetwood Mac's album Rumours, Stevie Nicks wanted to develop her own solo voice and showcase a large body of music that she had written. She would still be a part of Fleetwood Mac but she was anxious to temporarily step away from the drama that surrounded her and the band.
She had wrapped up a ten year relationship with band mate Lindsey Buckingham and fell into a three year affair with Fleetwood’s Mick Fleetwood, which upset the band as he was married to a well-liked Jenny Boyd. While the tension loomed over the band, the one thing that they could still do together was make good music.
Stevie turned to Jimmy Iovine to help her produce her first solo album Bella Donna. Jimmy Iovine was one of the most coveted record producers. He worked on Bruce’s Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town albums, was John Lennon’s recording engineer, worked on Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, U2, Meatloaf, Patti Smith and the list goes on.
Stevie’s album Bella Donna would set her solo career soaring while at the same time spark and rekindle some interesting relationships with some of rock’s premiere musicians.
As Stevie and Jimmy Iovine collaborated on her album they both developed a fondness for each other and Jimmy suggested that they move in together which would help in creating a great album. She took his advice and moved in.
Jimmy was a busy guy, many artists wanted Jimmy to produce their music and lend his golden ear to engineering. Enter Tom Petty. Jimmy had produced Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers', Damn the Torpedoes, and was working on a new album Hard Promises that Jimmy was going to produce.
Tom Petty, Jimmy said, was pretty needy in wanting Jimmy’s undivided attention. That was going to be a small problem as Jimmy was also working with Stevie on Bella Donna. So Tom Petty calls Jimmy and says he’s on the way over. Jimmy doesn’t want Tom to know that Stevie is at his house because he’ll know that his devotion to Stevie and her album will take precedent. So Jimmy has Stevie hide in the basement when Tom comes over.
This goes on for a couple of weeks, Stevie doesn’t like to be pushed in the basement, Tom Petty wants the attention and Jimmy is pulling out what little hair he has left. Jimmy finally says that’s it, he tries to convince Tom Petty that Stevie would be great on his song Stop Dragging My Heart Around. Tom says forget it, he had already produced and cut the song, it was in the can.
Tom Petty was not happy, Jimmy says that he’ll work with Stevie, cut a new version and if he doesn’t like it, he’ll scrap the idea. That solves two problems, getting Stevie out of the basement when Tom showed up and adding another song to Stevie’s Bella Donna.
Jimmy added his magic over the vocals with Stevie’s voice and presto, another big hit.
Bella Donna the album also included a duet Stevie did with Don Henley from the Eagles. Don and Stevie had a brief romantic encounter in 1977 after she and Lindsey Buckingham broke up. They recorded Leather and Lace which was the second hit released from her Bella Donna album.
Stevie’s first solo album Bella Donna reached No.1 on the charts on September 5, 1981. It would be the start of a solo career for Stevie Nicks that would eventually land her in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame not once but twice! The first induction for her involvement with Fleetwood Mac and the second induction for her solo work.
I learned about much of this story from Jimmy Iovine himself. Years ago my boss at the time wanted me to attend a music industry show in New York. I’m not a fan of those but I went and was invited to the VIP lounge for a cocktail party.
I was surrounded by industry record executives, producers and radio personalities mostly from New York. My boss was talking with a group of industry friends and I found myself at a table by myself for just a minute when Jimmy Iovine turned around to leave the small group that he was talking with. He saw me came over and we started to chat. I was in awe of his accomplishments and I found him so very engaging. They are both tremendous talents, Jimmy Iovine and Stevie Nicks. No wonder the album went to number one. Thanks for the music.