Albatross is a guitar-based instrumental by Fleetwood Mac, released as a single in November 1968, later featuring on the compilation albums The Pious Bird of Good Omen (UK) and English Rose (USA). The piece was composed by Peter Green.
Santo & Johnnys Sleepwalk (1959) inspired Peter Green for his 1968 instrumental Albatross. The composition and its arrangement suggest a relaxing sea setting, with cymbals imitating the sound of waves (Mick Fleetwood played his drum kit using timpani mallets to give a muted sound) and a dreamy solo from Greens guitar. It contains four chords, E, Emaj7, A, and F♯m, and could be seen as an early ambient work. It is often assumed that Green used his Les Paul but he said it was his Fender Stratocaster, as there is subtle use of the vibrato bar. The Les Paul that Green used in Fleetwood Mac has a nasal tone like that achieved in the in-between positions of a Stratocaster, and heard in the tune.
Green had been working on the piece for some time before the addition to the band of 18-year-old guitarist Danny Kirwan. Slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer was not generally inclined to work with Green, who had felt unable to realise the overall effect that he wanted. With Kirwans input, Green completed the piece and it was recorded just two months after Kirwan joined, without Spencer present. Kirwans instrumental Jigsaw Puzzle Blues was chosen for the B-side in most territories. Albatross has been re-released many times as a single in various countries, with many different B-sides.
It has been suggested that the piece is associated with the metaphorical use of the word albatross to mean a wearisome burden. This use of the word Albatross, suggesting an encumbrance around someones neck, is an allusion to Coleridges poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798). It is unclear whether Fleetwood Mac intended the title to evoke this meaning or if it simply refers to the bird; but the title of the UK compilation album it appears on, The Pious Bird of Good Omen, alludes to and quotes from the Coleridge poem.
This composition is one of only a few tracks by the original line-up of Fleetwood Mac that is included on their later greatest hits and best of compilations. Many of their compilations only focus on hits from the 1970s and 1980s. However, other compositions from that period have gone on to become classic recordings in the hands of other performers Black Magic Woman as recorded by Santana for example. Another example, Oh Well has gone on to become a rock standard. Albatross is the only Fleetwood Mac composition with the distinction of having inspired a Beatles song, Sun King from 1969s Abbey Road.
One of the earliest uses of the tune was on the soundtrack for the Rainer Werner Fassbinder sci-fi virtual reality film Welt am Draht (usually translated as World on a Wire). It was featured (along with Jigsaw Puzzle Blues) in 1979s Rock n Roll High School It was also used by the BBC as the theme music to a long running travel programme in the 1970s.
The piece was used as the background music to Marks & Spencers 2005 advertising campaign. In March of that year, Q magazine placed it at number 37 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks.
Apart from being used in Welt am Draht (World on a Wire), the track can also be heard in the film Man on Wire about Philippe Petits 1974 high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of New Yorks World Trade Center.
The distinctive slide guitar motif is a recurring theme on The KLFs 1990 album Chill Out.
The tune found even more fans after being remade by a German ambient musical project B-Tribe on their album Suave Suave in 1995.
Fleetwood Mac became associated with this piece in the British public consciousness despite having numerous other well-received singles. In other territories, however, the greater iconic body of Fleetwood Mac hits came after the departure of Peter Green in 1970 and other line-up changes took place (including the addition of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham in 1975). This is particularly true of North America, where Albatross was not a hit.
While the tune influenced an entire generation of guitarists, Albatross was a clear influence on Pink Floyd's David Gilmour's playing style, from the single-string three note bends, the rhythmic pulsing bass and harmony guitars, to its spacey ambience. On numerous occasions Gilmour has acknowledged the influence of Green on his style, and performed Albatross on Jools Holland's BBC Radio 2 show on 10 November 2008.
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