Bob Welch, the underrated powerpop songwriter responsible for several late 70s hits and some of Fleetwood Mac’s most memorable songs earlier in that decade, committed suicide yesterday at his home outside Los Angeles. According to news reports, he was 65. A remarkably terse lead guitarist gifted with a knack for catchy hooks, Welch’s career took off when he joined the pre-Lindsay Buckingham version of Fleetwood Mac in 1971 and became their main songwriter and frontman. He remained a member of that band until 1974, playing on the albums Future Games, Bare Trees, Penguin, Mystery to Me and Heroes Are Hard to Find. After leaving the band, he went solo and scored a hit album with his 1977 solo debut, French Kiss, which included the singles Ebony Eyes and the uncharacteristically cloying easy-listening ballad Sentimental Lady, which ironically would become his most best-known song. The title track to his 1979 follow-up, Three Hearts was also a top 40 hit.
Lyrics weren’t Welch’s main concern. What he excelled at was artsy, often psychedelic arrangements that mirrored the epic grandeur that darker bands of his era like Pink Floyd and Nektar would reach for. Check out the title track from Future Games, a blue-eyed soul groove so smooth it’s creepy…and then it explodes at 3:38, and eventually goes out with a long, raging doubletracked guitar vamp. Or The Ghost of Flight 401, a popular album rock radio track from Three Hearts, an understatedly creepy, hypnotic narrative about a 1972 Florida plane crash which at the time was the deadliest in US history. Then there’s Hypnotized, arguably Fleetwood Mac’s finest moment as a straight-up pop act, an irresistibly swaying psychedelic soul song with a subtly moody undercurrent. What a cruel irony that the band would strike it rich after they’d passed their peak, without the guy who wrote most of their best songs and whose contributions had been so crucial in paving the way for that success.