35 Years Ago: Why Lindsey Buckingham Got So Dark and Weird on ‘Go Insane’
"I'm trying to break down preconceptions about what pop music is," Buckingham told Rolling Stone. "I'm struggling to be original." Mission accomplished.
The keyboard-driven, remarkably dark Go Insane represented the zenith of the same adventurous sensibility that once drove Fleetwood Mac's Tusk. Only this time, there were no bandmates to bridle his ambitions.
The album, released on July 3, 1984, didn't do nearly as well as Tusk, or even Buckingham's Top 40 solo debut, Law and Order. But Go Insane showed Buckingham meant all that stuff about going your own way.
"There's an axiom, which is, if it works, beat it into the ground," Buckingham told MTV, "and I don't buy that. I think you have to be responsible to your own needs as an artist. You can't shoot for the stardom, per se. You've got to shoot for the quality of the work, and the growth. And if that means going from a Rumours to something that's going to confound a lot of people's expectations, then so be it."
Problem: Tusk went "only" double platinum, while 1977's Rumours has sold more than 20 million copies in the U.S. alone – and Buckingham said he received an ultimatum. "When it became clear [Tusk] was not going to sell another 16 million copies,” Buckingham later told the Los Angeles Times, "there was kind of a backlash that said, 'Lindsey, you're not going to do this in the group anymore.'"
So, the next Fleetwood Mac album – 1982's Mirage – became far more conservative, while Buckingham's next solo project got much, much weirder.
He got there by once again ensconcing himself in a studio, creating Go Insane with almost no outside input beyond co-producer Gordon Fordyce (who also added keyboards to "I Want You") and Bryant Simpson (who played bass on the title track). That afforded Buckingham a wide vista to explore different instrumentation (notably, some cinematic experiments with an 8-bit Fairlight), uncharacteristic arrangements and new song forms: He wrote a two-part tune called "Play in the Rain" and an extended album-closing suite for Dennis Wilson, the Beach Boys star who died during the sessions.
Watch Lindsey Buckingham's Video for 'Go Insane'
The results weren't as accessible as Fleetwood Mac but really, they weren't meant to be – so Buckingham didn't shy away from the assertion.
"I'm aware that I'm a studio rat, and I'm aware that a lot I have to offer is tied in to a studio situation," Buckingham told the Times. "I perceive the recording studio as just another musical instrument, a canvas on which you can paint. It depends on your point of view, if you see that as being suspect."
Besides, being alone wasn't exactly a choice at this point. Buckingham had just ended a seven-year relationship with Carol Ann Harris, so he was also pouring his feelings into Go Insane.
Buckingham met Harris when she was a youthful Tulsa-born receptionist at the recording studio where Fleetwood Mac were mixing Rumours. Friends said their relationship was intense, and very happy at first – but eventually she said they descended into drug use, estrangement and then recrimination. Buckingham's tendency to lock himself away to work on his music didn't help.
"It was very lonely," Harris told Rolling Stone in 1984. "I think I lived my life for Lindsey. I really felt it was important for me to be there for him, whether or not he was there physically, but for him to know I was there at home. He needed me there emotionally. It was rough."
Harris claimed in her memoir that the title-song single, which reached No. 23, was specifically about her. "She got pulled into this whole little world that maybe she wasn't ready for," Buckingham admitted to Rolling Stone. "She's a girl from a small town who found herself in a world of people who were not particularly responsible."
All of this made Go Insane a decidedly risky proposition, in particular the sense that some parts hit uncomfortably close to home. Yet, Buckingham didn't regret getting personal.
"I didn't have too many second thoughts," he noted, "mainly because it was either that or go to a shrink. I know that sounds a little flippant. I think it was something that had to be addressed. People who write things that mean something, usually they're a little too personal for somebody else. That's a risk that has to be taken."
Listen to Lindsey Buckingham's 'Slow Dancing'
And that, more than anything, was the message surrounding Go Insane: We all need to color outside the lines sometimes. "I think that's one of the things the album is saying – it is okay to go insane," Buckingham later mused.
"It can be quite cathartic actually, to watch yourself go out to the edge and sort of reel yourself back in – now hopefully you do reel yourself back in. Another point the album makes is if you happen to be with someone else who takes that sort of behavior too far, and you're not willing to give up whatever that relationship might be – then you will tend to go a little bit insane with them."
The tension between these emotional narratives and the album's glossy synth sheen certainly makes for an intriguing juxtaposition. That said, not all of it was dark: The barely charting second single, for instance, focused on the soaring feelings that surround a relationship's start.
"'Slow Dancing' was kind of a contemplation on the romantic notion that often happens when you're young and you're in a situation where there's seemingly a range of possibilities at any given time," Buckingham told Stereogum in 2018. "And if you’re out of a relationship: It's funny how whenever I would connect with someone, you always try to give it a level of at least romantic aspiration, if nothing else, because you want to make a human connection."
Those lighter moments must have come too few and too far between for your everyday Fleetwood Mac fan. "Slow Dancing" stalled at No. 106, while Go Insane could get no higher than No. 45. Buckingham took that in stride too.
"I think it's important to challenge the listeners slightly, to make them grasp for it a little bit," Buckingham told MTV in 1984. "The whole ethic of the way I approach music is, you must take risks. It's very important not to rest on your laurels. It's very important to move forward – or at least move somewhere."
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