Listen to this track by ’60s British blues-rock progenitors Fleetwood Mac. It’s their pre-Rumors, proto-metal 1970 single “The Green Manalishi (with The Two Prong Crown)”, a song about greed, and possibly about a disturbed state of mind, too. This is a composition from one of the group’s founders Peter Green, one of the finest guitarists of the era.
After their start as a blues band that covered Chicago blues and R&B standards, Green had moved Fleetwood Mac away from a blues purist approach. His material drew the group into a space that provided a more defined template for blues-rock and metal into the next decade. He would write the band’s most enduring songs during its first incarnation; “Man of The World”, “Oh Well”, “Black Magic Woman” (covered famously by Santana), and others.
But, on a personal level a great distance would open up between Green and his bandmates. This was due in part to his excessive LSD use and the beginnings of his struggles with schizophrenia, undiagnosed at the time.
Months before he left the ‘Mac to the leadership of co-founders Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, he wrote this song after waking from a vivid nightmare. But, what lies behind this song, apparently driven as it is by the forces of darkness?
The nightmare he’d had was a vision of a dog-like creature, for which he felt attached and responsible. But in the dream, the creature was already dead, and Green believed that he would be dead too if he wasn’t able to shake himself loose from the creature and return to his sleeping body. Terrified, he wrote the song upon waking.
Green has since asserted that the song is about money and its ability to corrupt. This interpretation holds a certain amount of credence, given that the dance between creativity and commerce is a pretty well-traveled theme among songwriters. But, it was Green’s own journey down a very dark path that many consider to be the underlying thread to be found in this song, struggling as he was with his grip on reality due to struggles with mental illness arguably exacerbated by drug use. “The Green Manalishi (with the Two Prong Crown)” can be thought of as an updated version of what Robert Johnson was writing about on his “Hellhound On My Trail”.
The song itself is appropriately ominous in that earlier blues tradition, with a heavy, almost leaden quality that is full of dread and foreboding. Drummer Mick Fleetwood’s heavy thud on the toms replaces the expected backbeat, making his drums sound like pursuing footfalls. The guitars and bass wind around between the verses, supporting the effect of being stalked by some shapeless menace. But, it’s the echo-drenched, chilling yowls in the background from Green that are really the finishing touch to a song that is ultimately about being weighed down by oppressive forces.
And in the end, the exact source of that oppression in this song isn’t ultimately important. It could be about greed, addiction, mental illness, or even a bad relationship. It could be about anything that makes one to do what one doesn’t want to do while under its influence.
In addition to connecting on that broader level of human experience, the song also fed into what would become the NWOBHM (the new wave of British heavy metal). Judas Priest had such success with a cover of this tune in 1979, that many fans thought it was a Priest original.
Peter Green would leave Fleetwood Mac soon after the release of this song, with his last appearance with the band in May of 1970. In his absence, Fleetwood Mac would eventually transform themselves into a California-based, extremely successful soft-rock radio-friendly pop group with a now-classic line-up. This version of the band and the music they made can be considered to be pretty far away from the blues-rock and hard rock milieu that the original group pursued years earlier under Green’s creative leadership.
And yet, Fleetwood Mac are one of those few bands who have been able to create distinct catalogs of work that make each era and incarnation of the band to be vital in its own unique way. And it was Peter Green that defined this earlier period with music that was perhaps not as ready for global AM radio play in the same way as Rumors, but is certainly infused with a power of its own enough to influence a whole new generation of players.
Peter Green would go through a wilderness period for many years during the rest of the decade upon his departure from Fleetwood Mac. His struggles with mental illness would last into the next decade too. But, by the 1990s, he’d make a comeback with the Peter Green Splinter Group. These days, he tours under the name Peter Green and Friends.
For more information and news, check out the Peter Green & Friends Facebook page.