Backstory: Songbird by Willie Nelson

By on June 16, 2023

Willie covers this song, written and recorded by Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac. The 55th Studio album by the red haired stranger, it was produced by Ryan Adams, and released in 2006. A song about guilt, it seems that it was important to Willie to record this song, and name the entire album for this song.

Willie Nelson performs at Farm Aid, 2008 in Boston, MA. (Photo Credit: Larry Philpot)

“Songbird” is a classic ballad written and performed by the British singer-songwriter Christine McVie, who is best known as the keyboardist and vocalist of the legendary rock band Fleetwood Mac. The song was released in 1977 as part of the band’s album “Rumours”, one of the four songs solely written by McVie for the album.

With its gentle piano melody and heartfelt lyrics, “Songbird” is a poignant ode to love and devotion. The song’s simple and stripped-down arrangement highlights McVie’s vocals, which are delicate and vulnerable, yet also strong and powerful. The lyrics express a sense of longing and commitment, as McVie sings about the enduring nature of her love and the importance of her partner in her life, but seen now in retrospect.

The exact inspiration behind the lyrics of “Songbird” has not been explicitly stated by the artist, but it is widely believed that the song was written about her then-husband John McVie, who was also the bassist of Fleetwood Mac. The couple was going through a difficult time in their relationship at the time the song was written, and many fans and critics have interpreted the lyrics as a reflection of the emotional struggles that McVie was experiencing. I believe this is a song about guilt toward then-husband John.

Christine had begun an on-the-road affair with the band’s lighting director, Curry Grant, during her marriage to John McVie, the band’s bassist. The affair reportedly began in 1976, and lasted for about a year. She wrote “You make Loving Fun”, reportedly inspired by Grant.

The extramarital relationship eventually came to an end, and Christine and John McVie divorced in 1977, the same year that Fleetwood Mac’s seminal album “Rumours” was released. Despite the end of their marriage, the two continued to work together in the band for many years and maintained a cordial relationship. McVie frequently sang the song at the end of Fleetwood Mac concerts. She passed away November 30, 2022.

Willie has not spoken of his motivation to cover the song, but saw fit to name the album for the song. Songbird is the 55th studio album by Willie Nelson released by Lost Highway Records on October 31, 2006. It was produced by contemporary country rock musician Ryan Adams. Adams, along with his band The Cardinals, performed on the album’s eleven tracks. It peaked at #87 on the Billboard 200 on November 18, 2006. Hear it again, for the first time:

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