Let's Revisit Fleetwood Mac's Video For 'Tusk,' Which Was Filmed At Dodger Stadium In 1979
Fleetwood Mac will be performing at Dodger Stadium on Sunday for the L.A. leg of the Classic West fest. In honor of this weekend's show, let's rewind back to June, 1979.
Jimmy Carter was in the Oval Office and all of New York City was looking for little Etan Patz. Walter O'Malley, the Dodgers owner who brought the team to L.A., was still alive. Margaret Thatcher had just been elected as Britain's first female prime minister, the OG Walkman player was still a month away from being introduced in Japan... And Fleetwood Mac was almost done recording the most expensive record ever made.
On June 4, 1979, the band recorded the legendary video for "Tusk" at an empty Dodger Stadium with more than a hundred members of the USC Marching Band.
The wonderfully weird song, which the A.V. Club describes as "a work of strange savagery, overlaid with jungle sounds and a thudding, endlessly repetitive drum riff that drives everything that happens in the song," was a single from the 1979 double LP of the same name, which followed the chart-topping Rumours. It was savaged by critics—Mojo called it “one of the greatest career sabotage albums of all time”—but Tusk hit the number four slot in the U.S., and its title song was a top ten hit.
Much of the song's greatness (and strangeness) stems from what Mick Fleetwood would later dub "my lunacy" with the USC Marching Band, whose presence was inspired by a brass band Fleetwood had heard playing past his hotel room in a French fishing village.
“I was in a room in the town square with a horrific hangover, and I was woken by the sound of the local brass band that relentlessly went round and round the square," Fleetwood would tell British GQ years later. "As the day went on, they got drunker and drunker. But one thing was apparent. Everyone followed the brass band around the town, and I thought, ‘What a good idea!'”
"We had so much creativity working with them," he told The Australian in 2015. "It happened in my mind in a very lunatic way. It was out-of-your-mind stuff and I can take quite a lot of the responsibility for that part of it. I really enjoyed it."
According to the L.A. Times, longtime USC band director Arthur C. Bartner arranged the band instrumentals for the song alongside his staff. Bartner also conducted the Trojans from the stage. (Fun fact: "Tusk" would go on to become a USC anthem. It's "our unofficial fight song," trumpet section leader Emily Moneymaker told the L.A. Times in 2016). The approximately 120 members of the USC Marching Band who performed that day were each paid a dollar, according to Fleetwood Mac's Tusk (33 1/3).
"When I said I wanted to record the USC Marching Band at Dodger Stadium they were sure I'd gone round the twist, so I paid for it myself. We even filmed it and they really thought I'd blown it, way off the deep end," Fleetwood told Mojo in 1995.
Dodger Stadium in 1978. (Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection)
"That video was probably shot, considering it was June, that video was probably shot around 4 o'clock," according to Gretchen Heffler, who was a trumpet player with the USC Marching Band back in 1979. Heffler shared some of her memories of the shoot with author Rob Trucks for his 2010 book on Tusk.
"When we got to Dodger Stadium we pretty much knew what to do, but we were still struggling in the infield," she recalled. "That recording took a while to get. I remember the director and Mick getting a little frustrated with us. Everybody was trying because nobody was really messing around, and we were known for messing around, so everybody was really focused but it took a while and then they got enough to where I think they could splice it together, because a lot of it, I think, is a real cut-and-paste."
Here's how Lindsey Buckingham's then-girlfriend, Carol Ann Harris, described the day in her memoir Storms:
With sound trucks full of recording equipment set up inside the perimeter of the stadium, the marching band, in full regalia, gave a brilliant performance on the field as it played along with the basic track and vocals to the playback of the studio-recorded "Tusk." There was a video crew shooting the entire day to get live footage that would be turned into a promo video for the song, the first single taken from the album.
All of us were there except for John McVie. To represent him, the band had made a life-size cardboard cutout to stand in the middle of Dodger Stadium. Having completed his bass parts, John was sailing to Hawaii with three friends—a trip that caused a great deal of worry for some of the Fleetwood Mac family.
In between getting takes of the marching band, the film crew moved about the field with handheld cameras, shooting Fleetwood Mac throughout the day: Lindsey and Christine in USC Trojan helmets goofing with the students, Stevie twirling a baton with aplomb—a hidden talent that surprised us all.
"It was outrageous," Stevie Nicks recalled of the shoot in a 2012 BBC interview. "And I honestly think that that might be the very best thing that came out of that whole record because it was so crazy and the song was so insane and what we did with it with that video was so magical, that nobody, I don’t think any band has ever re-created something quite that cinematic."
Lindsey Buckingham would tell an interviewer many years later that it was a "beautiful place to do the filming," but "perhaps, uh, were one to speak to Mick’s accountant, there might’ve been a suggested alternative. Maybe more cost-efficient. Or maybe we got the thing for free. I don’t really know."