Fleetwood Mac’s strangely savage “Tusk” was the band’s weirdest hit
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In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing.
For most of Fleetwood Mac’s life, the band has been a hits machine, and it used that reputation to propel a singularly weird song—one vastly different from its usual output—into the Billboard top 10 in 1979. “Tusk,” which is featured prominently and often in the première of FX’s The Americans tonight, is a work of strange savagery, overlaid with jungle sounds and a thudding, endlessly repetitive drum riff that drives everything that happens in the song. The lyrics are simple enough to be a Dr. Seuss exploration of a relationship that’s crumbling, Lindsey Buckingham softly crooning “Why don’t you ask him if he going to stay? / Why don’t you ask him if he’s going away?” over the horrors building up beneath him.
It all explodes in the chorus, when Buckingham and backing vocalists Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie hiss “Don’t say that you love me!” to the unseen addressee, while the USC Trojan Marching Band’s urgent backing music heads off in another direction entirely. It’s a song at odds with itself, the various voices all tugging at the tune in different directions until everything unites when the vocalists scream the song’s title, an enigmatic moment that means… what, exactly? This relationship was doomed to begin with? These people are going to kill each other eventually? All love has violence inside of it somewhere? That “Tusk” is able to suggest all three of these things—and also have elements of wounded tenderness inside of it—makes it one of Fleetwood Mac’s very best, yet also easily its strangest song to hit on the charts.