Fleetwood Mac

Oh Well

Composed by Peter Green

Song Review by

"Oh Well" was a major British hit single for Fleetwood Mac, reaching number two in late 1969, and was arguably the best track the band cut in its original incarnation, when guitarist Peter Green was the band's principal creative force. Although it's a classic hard rock song (at least for its first half), it actually isn't all that well known or frequently heard on the radio in the United States, though its reputation has risen with the passing of time. The first half of "Oh Well" is a grinding hard rock song, but one whose constant changes of tempo and probing lyrics set it far above many other loud blues-rock songs past and present. The spindle of "Oh Well" is a coiling, rapid blues guitar riff, not much different from what you might have heard from many mid-20th century Delta bluesmen. It was quickly seconded and counterpointed by a much louder, spikier electric guitar riff, which tortuously ascended the scale until it reached a tense, piercing high note that came to a dead stop, like an omen that judgment day was at hand. Green's brief sung lines during the verses were also grave in mood, seeming to reflect a low self-esteem and offer questions about the purpose of existence that couldn't be easily answered. The instruments took a break while Green sung those lines, only to come back with a vengeance to the main riffs when he took a breather. It's those riffs, especially the ones peeled off during the instrumental break, that have made the song viewed by some critics as of a piece with early blues-hard rock-heavy metal crossover records, like the ones by Led Zeppelin. For many listeners (particularly British singles buyers, as the 45 split the track into two different parts), this first, vocal half of the song was the only one they were familiar with. However, it's essential to hear the second, instrumental half of the track (as you can on the Then Play On album, without any interruption between the halves) to appreciate the full magnificence of the recording. While sticking to the same key and somber mood, this second half is almost totally different from the first, much as the instrumental second half of Derek & the Dominos' "Layla" is both different from and complements what has come before. It's almost a classical piece, with seductive though melancholy blends of Spanish-like acoustic guitar strumming, low sustained electric guitar notes, medieval-sounding recorder, cello, and piano. The tempo speeds up and mood becomes more portentous as it draws to the end, but this section is for the most part placid, coming to appropriately melodramatic resolutions in which the percussion booms softly and the recorder trills get more pensive and hopeful. Though the different parts might seem incongruous, "Oh Well" melds them together brilliantly, creating an epic that stands as Green's finest achievement as a composer. His peer Jimmy Page certainly recognized its merit, as he covered the song on his 2000 Live at the Greek concert album with the Black Crowes.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Then Play On 1969 Reprise 8:56
Fleetwood Mac [1975] 1975 Reprise / Rhino Flashback 0:00
Man of the World 1978 Epic
Tusk 1979 Rhino / Warner Bros. 0:00
No Image 1986 Shanghai
Sounds of the Seventies: FM Rock, Vol. 2 1992
Various Artists
9:00
The Vaudeville Years of Fleetwood Mac: 1968 to 1970 1998 Sanctuary 2:47
Boston Blues 2000 Recall (UK) 3:14
The Best of Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac [Columbia] 2003 Sony Music Distribution / Columbia 9:05
Green Shadows 2003 Metro 2:47