If the Bard had the gift of words unmatched in the English language, to many guitar aficionados, Peter Green was the “to be or not to be” pillar of perfection on 6-string. This magnum opus was their 3rd, and his last as member of the band he formed, named after the rhythm section Mick Fleetwood/drums and John McVie/bass, Fleetwood Mac. It was also the first participation of Danny Kirwan who balanced guitar and vocal roles with the oft-shy, introverted Green. Then Play On was released in the fall of 1969 (Warner/Reprise) and charted #6 in the U.K., and subsequently their 3rd top ten album.
The album opens with Kirwan’s lead vocals and Fleetwood’s latin-style drums on Coming Your Way, setting the tone with a loose laid-back approach spread over the 13 tracks, making it their best, and most cohesive creations; the definitive Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac record. The following track Closing My Eyes is vintage Green, painting an emotional landscape with tones and harmonics that still sound as fresh as the day they put it to vinyl. The melancholic guitar licks and mournful lyrics carry this gem to haunting yet breathtaking levels, “So I’m closing my eyes/to hear the people laugh/for they’re all aglow/not knowing where to go/but is it asking too much/when the question is what to do/with the life I’ll have…”
The instrumental Underway, sees Green brandishing his ‘59 Gibson Les Paul (with out-of-phase pickups), as another example of how the man puts emotion into every note, lifting the sound to psychedelic heights that you can almost smell. Observe the album’s artful cover of a painting by Maxwell Armfield called “Domesticated Mural Painting” which conveys the feeling the music explores, the heady, floating ride, carrying the listener to where he wants you to be.
The crowning jewel of the record is Oh Well, a nine-minute opus that is undoubtedly Green’s best or most popular compositional work. Mick Fleetwood describes the character of the song, “It incorporated the freedom to go off on a tangent, to jam - the classic ‘Do you jam, dude?’ we learned that as players. You hear that alive and well in the double-time structure that I put in at the end, which on stage could last a half an hour. It was our way of being in The Grateful Dead”. The song comprises 2 parts, the first a biting blues/rock riff by Green leading to an acapella statement, “I can’t help about the shape I’m in/ I can’t sing, I ain’t pretty and my legs are thin/ But don’t ask me what I think of you/ I might not give the answer that you want me to…”, and then hang on for the ride (like the fellow of the horse - cover art), because it takes off with some wicked riffs building to a crescendo and stops. Then, part 2, a beautiful acoustic walk reminiscent of a soulful western film soundtrack. This classic has been cited as the inspiration to Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog, which is somewhat evident. Some more light-hearted numbers include When You Say and Rattlesnake Shake. The latter is a ballsy rock puncher that gets down to business saying, “He do the shake/The rattlesnake shake/Yes, he do the shake/And jerks away the blues/Now, jerk it” which breaks from the album’s intense melancholic feeling towards a ‘better’ feeling altogether.
Like Crying is a blues ditty that sounds like a casual rehearsal caught brilliantly on tape, as are My Dream and Searching for Madge -Then Play On, which jam away at full speed then fade into more introspective orchestral noise only to jump back into the original beat at the end. The closer, Before the Beginning is as Green as it gets; mystic and restless, with a beautifully crafted touch on guitar and soft rattling drums in the back.
The album’s lasting appeal is its loose, laid-back feel, as mentioned above, and showcases the brilliance of Peter Green as an elite guitarist and composer.
It is truly one of the best albums to come from the British blues movement in the late 1960s. If the music be the food of love, and indeed what moves the soul, Then Play On. -Fleetwood Mac.