“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 (US). It was a major hit in several countries and became Fleetwood Mac’s only Number 1 hit in the UK Singles Chart, spending one week at the top. It was re-released in the UK as a single in 1973, and peaked at Number 2 in the charts. The piece was composed by Peter Green. The single has sold over 900,000 copies in the UK.
Santo & Johnny’s “Sleep Walk” (1959) reportedly inspired Peter Green for his 1968 instrumental “Albatross”, although the composition also resembles Chuck Berry’s 1957 instrumental “Deep Feeling”, itself derivative of the 1939 recording “Floyd’s Guitar Blues” by Andy Kirk and his 12 Clouds of Joy, featuring guitarist Floyd Smith.
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 Green’s guitar. It contains four chords, E, Emaj7, A, and F#m, played by Green on his Fender Stratocaster into an Orange Matamp OR100. 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 Kirwan’s input, Green completed the piece and it was recorded just two months after Kirwan joined, without Spencer present. Although he was not a part of the recording sessions, Spencer was shown in video material miming to Green’s slide guitar parts. Kirwan’s 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.
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 1969’s Abbey Road.