It there’s a quality I enjoy more than any other in a song, it’s wistfulness. And wistful is hard to do.
Wistful is poignant, but not sad. Thoughtful, but not self-indulgent. Reflective, but not rambling.
And when I’m looking for a good example of wistfulness, Fleetwood Mac’s “Man Of The World” is often the song I turn to.
Now, this isn’t the Fleetwood Mac most people instantly think of. It’s not the Christine McVie/ Lindsay Buckingham/ Stevie Nicks incarnation of the band. It’s not the Fleetwood Mac of the “Don’t Stop”, “Dreams” and “Go Your Own Way” era.
Before the worldwide success of their “Rumours” album, Fleetwood Mac were a very different band.
The original Fleetwood Mac was formed in the late 1960s when guitarist Peter Green and drummer Mick Fleetwood left John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers to set up on their own. They were joined shortly after by John McVie…the “Mac” in “Fleetwood Mac”.
Peter Green was an extraordinary talent. Although not a well-known name any more, guitar players still speak of him in hushed, reverential tones. To give you an idea of how talented he was, Peter Green replaced Eric Clapton in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and Clapton’s exit was barely noticed. That’s how good he was.
But Peter Green found fame hard to cope with and disappeared in the early 1970s, giving most of his money away. He wouldn’t perform in public again for 30 years.
Peter Green wrote “Man Of The World” towards the end of his time in the band. If we knew then what we know now, we might have considered this a cry for help. But at the time, it was just a wonderfully wistful and reflective song, written by someone at the top of their songwriting game.
Shall I tell you about my life
They say I’m a man of the world
I’ve flown across every tide
And I’ve seen lots of pretty girls
“Man Of The World” starts out by painting a picture of success. It’s about a sophisticated and successful person who’s accustomed to jetting around the world…always in first class…and equally at home in London, Paris or New York, wherever high society is to be found.
Or at least that’s how it appears on the outside…
I guess I’ve got everything I need
I wouldn’t ask for more
And there’s no-one I’d rather be
But I just wish that I’d never been born
By now, that glamorous jet-set lifestyle isn’t looking quite so good, is it?
One of the reasons “Man Of The World” is such a special song is that it’s a very personal song. It’s not a song about an abstract concept, it’s a song about a real person’s life and feelings. It’s beautifully written, but wasn’t taken as the cry for help at the time it probably should have been because it stayed the right side of the line as “wistful” rather than “depressing”.
Songs that are out-and-out depressing are rarely major hits…the works of Morrissey aside…although we all have a place in our hearts for poignant, thoughtful and wistful songs like “Man Of The World”.
We all experience hard times. And in those times when we feel there’s no-one else in the world who cares about us, a beautiful, thoughtful, wistful song like “Man Of The World” helps us feel that someone else has been down our path, someone else has felt out pain, someone else shares our sadness.
Wistful songs help us to pull through when there’s no-one else around to do it, not even ourselves.
I could tell you about my life
And keep you amused, I’m sure
About all the times I’ve cried
And how I don’t want to be sad any more
And how I wish I was in love
Yes, even in the darkest times, we can pretend everything is ok. We can tell self-deprecating jokes which come across like funny stories, but are actually one of the ways we beat ourselves up for our failures…instead of moving on, we repeat them over and over, reminding ourselves of our lapses, but wrapping them up as humorous asides so nobody else realises the pain we go through every time we tell them.
We keep you amused….while we beat ourselves up. Those stories are our “tears of a clown”.
And there comes a time when we’ve cried too much. There are no tears left, but we keep crying anyway, because we’ve forgotten how to live any other way.
We just want someone to love us. When you strip everything away…the cars, the houses, the society parties…that’s all any of us wants.
Peter Green wrote the most perfect song to describe all this, using his own feelings as inspiration.
As wistful songs go, there’s none better than Fleetwood Mac’s “Man Of The World”…I defy you to listen to it without a tear forming in the corner of your eye.
And if it does, spare a moment to think of Peter Green. A largely-forgotten figure, but the creator of some of the most beautiful songs ever written.
Here he is with the original Fleetwood Mac line-up, showing what a great songwriter, guitar player and vocalist he was…it’s “Man Of The World”…
PS — just before we get to the video, if you enjoyed this article, please give it a “clap”. You can also follow me on Medium (here)to get new articles as soon as they’re published. And why not check out my book “No Words, No Song”, where I write about more great songs like this one, available in the Kindle Bookstore (here).