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Lindsey Buckingham Has Long Dreamed of Solo Success. ‘Holiday Road’ Is His Legacy

A song he dashed off for the ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation’ soundtrack wasn’t his biggest hit. But that’s apt for an artist who’s never fully escaped the shadow of Fleetwood Mac

Lindsey Buckingham doesn’t have a lot to say about “Holiday Road,” the song he wrote for National Lampoon’s Vacation. In a 2017 interview, The Guardian’s Peter Robinson asked him, “Can we talk about ‘Holiday Road’ please?”

“Sure,” Buckingham responded.

“Do you look back fondly on it?” Robinson wondered.

“I look back briefly on it. … It was just one of those things that happened to work very well for that movie.”

For Gen-Xers, “Holiday Road” is synonymous not just with National Lampoon’s Vacation but also a brief moment in movie history when comedies featured original songs on their soundtrack. Nowadays, you might hear an established hit or a nostalgic oldie playing over the opening credits. But for Harold Ramis’ 1983 smash, he got a brand new track from the leader — or, at least, one of the leaders — of Fleetwood Mac. It wasn’t a leftover Buckingham had sitting in the can. He wrote this earworm for Vacation.

Just over two minutes long, “Holiday Road” is, admittedly, kind of a nothing song. A simple, catchy groove and the memorable repetition of “Holiday roooooaaaaddd” at the end of each verse — it doesn’t even have a chorus. “Holiday Road” was never a hit, barely cracking the Top 80 on the Billboard charts. Compared to all the success Buckingham had with Fleetwood Mac, “Holiday Road” is pretty forgettable. 

But as Buckingham adjusts to his post-Fleetwood Mac career and releases a brand new solo album, Lindsey Buckingham, the stubborn cultural ubiquity of “Holiday Road” is worth noting, and marveling at. Precisely because it’s a little flimsy both musically and lyrically, this sneaky earworm has managed to become a pleasant sonic adornment for anyone who’s thinking about going on a trip. I don’t think there’s anything that’s actually a holiday road, but Buckingham created the idea in our mind.

Buckingham will turn 72 in two weeks, and for most of his life he’s been associated with Fleetwood Mac, a musical unit that morphed from a blues band to a more pop-rock outfit. Buckingham was instrumental in making that change happen: When he and girlfriend Stevie Nicks joined the band for 1975’s Fleetwood Mac, the band suddenly started getting serious U.S. radio airplay thanks to hits like “Rhiannon” and “Say You Love Me” — although it’s worth pointing out that those songs were written by, respectively, Nicks and Christine McVie, not Buckingham. But that was one of the band’s major appeals: They didn’t have just one first-rate songwriter, they had three. 

Fleetwood Mac was just the beginning. Two years later, the band followed it up with Rumours, one of the bestselling and most storied albums ever made. It’s easy to focus on Rumours’ behind-the-scenes dramas — Relationships were falling apart! Band members were having affairs with one another! Everybody was on so many drugs! And all of it was channeled into the music! — but even if you’d just arrived on Planet Earth and were unaware of all that background, the record would still be an absolute monster of perfect pop songs and thorny romantic subtext. And the band’s principal songwriters all shone: Nicks had “Dreams” and “Gold Dust Woman,” McVie had “Don’t Stop,” “Songbird” and “You Make Loving Fun,” and Buckingham had “Second Hand News,” “Never Going Back Again” and “Go Your Own Way” — probably the three most spiteful songs on the record. 

That spite wasn’t invented. Buckingham and Nicks’ relationship was over by that point, and they addressed its end back-and-forth on Rumours, essentially giving listeners a window into its dissolution. But those musical diary entries had been part of their M.O. since they joined Fleetwood Mac, which happened after the band’s drummer and co-founder, Mick Fleetwood, ran into Buckingham in the studio while he was in the midst of working on material for a follow-up to 1973’s Buckingham Nicks. Instead of making a second Buckingham Nicks record, the duo were encouraged to bring their material to Fleetwood Mac, including “Monday Morning,” in which Buckingham detailed the couple’s contentious love-hate relationship. 

“‘Monday Morning’ was very reflective of the early dynamic that was later to become a hallmark of Fleetwood Mac, which was couples breaking up, the angst of having to push forward,” Buckingham said earlier this year, later adding, “[I]t really does sort of herald what became one of the big attractions of the band, which was the fact that we were this living soap opera, musical soap opera, that managed to push through to follow our destiny.”

After Rumours came Tusk, the prototypical “ambitiously overreaching follow-up to the blockbuster” album that helps drive wedges between band members. Tusk was Buckingham’s baby — the one where he tried to assert control over the group he’d joined — and he was determined to push Fleetwood Mac’s sound into challenging new terrain. “We really were poised to make Rumours 2,” he said in 2015, “and that could’ve been the beginning of kind of painting yourself into a corner in terms of living up to the labels that were being placed on you as a band. You know, there have been several occasions during the course of Fleetwood Mac over the years where we’ve had to undermine whatever the business axioms might be to sort of keep aspiring as an artist in the long term, and the Tusk album was one of those times.”

That creative restlessness has driven Buckingham to experiment — an instinct that hasn’t always pleased his bandmates or their fans. “Mick came to me a year [after Tusk came out], in the wake of it not being nearly as mega as Rumours, and said, ‘Well, we’re not gonna do that again,’” Buckingham told the L.A. Times this month. “So maybe I did feel like I had something to prove at that point. I knew I couldn’t give up that part of my palette. The audience that has the ears for your music, they’re gonna find it.”

And so Buckingham decided to do his first solo venture, 1981’s Law and Order, with the multi-instrumentalist handling just about every aspect of the recording. He got a Top 10 single with “Trouble,” which showed off his ornate guitar style and sophisticated pop stylings. But even so, the man understood his dilemma as the guy best known for being part of the multi-headed beast that was Fleetwood Mac. “I’m a long way from stardom,” he said at the time, “and I’ve got a long way to go before I have any laurels as a solo artist. Most people don’t know who the hell I am. But that’s not really important.” Law and Order allowed him to get a little weird — taking the sonic risks Fleetwood Mac would never tolerate — and when the band reconvened for their 1982 album Mirage, which was far more accessible than Tusk, it was a massive hit, doing far better than Law and Order

It was during this period that a little novelty known as “Holiday Road” came along. “Harold Ramis called me up and asked me if I would write a beginning and a second song to go over the credits,” Buckingham recalled in Stereogum, with that second song ending up being “Dancin’ Across the USA.” He didn’t leap at the opportunity, though. “It’s one of those things, you almost want to say, ‘I don’t do that,’” he said. “It wasn’t part of my discipline. I wasn’t sure I could do it, but that was also freeing because he wanted me to try.” 

Intrigued, Buckingham got into the studio with Richard Dashut, who’d been an engineer on Buckingham Nicks and was one of the producers on Rumours, Tusk and Mirage. In that same interview, Buckingham recalled that he considered “Holiday Road” the product of “doing something where you perceive that the stakes are quite low, when you’re doing something that’s outside of your basic wheelhouse.” But Vacation producer Matty Simmons, one of the architects of the National Lampoon magazine and its subsequent film productions, loved it. “He was literally blown away at how effective it was and how some of the subject matter, without me even having seen the film, was addressed,” Buckingham said.

For all his gifts with melody and arrangements, Buckingham has never been known as a brilliant lyricist — he’s better at conveying simple themes in direct language. And “Holiday Road” is a great example — here, in their entirety, are the song’s lyrics:

I found out long ago
It’s a long way down the holiday road
Holiday road
Holiday road  

Jack be nimble
Jack be quick
Take a ride on the West Coast kick
Holiday road
Holiday road
Holiday road
Holiday road  

I found out long ago
It’s a long way down the holiday road
Holiday road
Holiday road
Holiday road
Holiday road

“Obviously, I knew it had to be somewhat uplifting and a little bit funny,” Buckingham told Stereogum, “which it is, but somehow we nailed it beyond [Simmons’] expectations certainly. He was like, ‘Holy crap.’ A lot of that was just luck.”

The early-to-mid-1980s saw several members of Fleetwood Mac pursue solo careers, not just Buckingham. But the clear winner was Nicks, who had a string of hit albums and Top 20 singles. Whereas Buckingham discovered that he couldn’t quite break free of the Fleetwood Mac straitjacket, she had become a legitimate star in her own right. Meanwhile, his second solo disc, 1984’s Go Insane, failed to hit the Top 40. 

If anything, he was more culturally relevant because of the inclusion of his original composition “Time Bomb Town” in Back to the Future. This was an era in which popular films would have accompanying soundtrack albums filled with new songs by well-known artists. Of course, that started in the 1970s thanks to smashes like Saturday Night Fever, but whether it was Kenny Loggins’ “I’m Alright” (a Top 10 hit from Caddyshack) or Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters” (which went to No. 1) or Huey Lewis and the News’ “The Power of Love” (a No. 1 single from Back to the Future), film comedies were putting songs on the charts. By comparison, Buckingham’s “Holiday Road” only got as high as No. 82, although he’d had an opportunity to be part of an even bigger film of the time. As he told Stereogum, “[W]hen I got asked to do the title song for Ghostbusters, I said, ‘Nah, you know, I did this really well once. It’s not something I want to get into as a repetitive part of my identity.’”

That quest to define himself included consciously moving away from Fleetwood Mac, or at least trying to. Undaunted by Go Insane’s weak commercial performance, Buckingham was well into working on another solo record — but that’s when he ended up collaborating with some of his old cohorts on McVie’s remake of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” for the 1986 comedy A Fine Mess, which prompted talk about making a new Fleetwood Mac album. The material he’d written for himself reluctantly ended up becoming part of 1987’s Tango in the Night, which was mostly recorded in his home studio. 

“I had a choice of either continuing on to make the solo record, or to sort of surrender to the situation and try and make it more of a family thing. I chose the latter,” Buckingham would later say. Buckingham took charge of the record, the band’s most commercially successful since Rumours — and, for him, it was a fitting swan song, although his mates had no idea about his intentions. “I had the idea that that was going to be the last work with the group,” he admitted.

Ever since, Buckingham has engaged in a difficult dance with his old band. In the early 1990s, he put out Out of the Cradle, another solo record, letting it be known to the world that he was freeing himself of Fleetwood Mac’s baggage. Looking back at the era, he wrote, “I had made the decision to take leave of Fleetwood Mac because the creative and social environment had gotten too toxic due to other band members’ alcohol and drug use.” (Indeed, Nicks had barely been around for Tango in the Night, with Mick Fleetwood later claiming that he and Nicks did more cocaine during that album’s making than even Rumours’.) 

Out of the Cradle was filled with beautiful, sophisticated pop music that was far too esoteric to play on the radio, though, so it stiffed commercially. And, then, just a few months later, Fleetwood Mac reunited to play Bill Clinton’s inauguration, the band performing his campaign anthem “Don’t Stop.” And in 1996, Buckingham and Nicks got together to do a one-off single, “Twisted,” for the Twister soundtrack. (Mick Fleetwood played drums.) Then, the following year, the band put out The Dance, a new live album that topped the charts, prompting them to make their reunion more permanent. 

But even at the time, there was something awfully mercenary about the whole enterprise. In a 1997 Rolling Stone profile of the band, Nicks noted, “You know, Lindsey made a whole lot more money than everybody else did because he produces. The producers get paid first. And he probably didn’t spend nearly as much money as everybody else did; he lives way simpler. So he didn’t have to do this for money, you know. The rest of us would all like to put something away for, you know, our golden twilight years. But he has to want to do it, or we don’t want to do it, either.” 

Meanwhile, Buckingham — who had reached out to Mick Fleetwood for help on his then-in-the-works follow-up to Out of the Cradle, which ended up spearheading reunion discussions — seemed a bit wary of returning to the fold. “I had some ambivalence about Mick,” he told Rolling Stone. “He was clearly into my album, and yet I knew he was to a substantial degree instigating this whole band thing. I couldn’t be mad at him, because Fleetwood Mac is his life’s blood, really. He’s spent his whole life trying to keep the ship afloat. Everyone has said to me, ‘This is going to be a good thing for you,’ and, of course, you kind of are suspicious of their motives, too. I’m a suspicious guy. I’m working on that.”

Perhaps he was resigned to his fate. He is probably always going to be known as “the guy from Fleetwood Mac,” no matter his record-making talents and individual gifts. Nicks managed to create a whole universe away from the band — she crafted an indelible persona as the mystical spirit, the mysterious witchy woman — but did anything comparably concrete come to mind when you thought of Buckingham? Not really, which explains the appeal of “What Up With That?,” a popular, long-running Saturday Night Live sketch in which a lot of random weirdness happens during a talk show — including a running gag that guest Lindsey Buckingham (played by a smiling, amiable Bill Hader) is always bumped for time. Essentially, the joke was that Buckingham — as a guest and a cultural presence — is practically an afterthought.

Showing that he was a good sport, Buckingham appeared on the sketch one time, although he said later that he was too nervous to ask why, of all the celebrities in the world, they had picked him as the butt of the joke. “I had to assume somebody in that group was a fan,” he said. “And to some degree, the premise of the sketch resonated with me. Because look, I’m this guy, who has done a lot of things on their own terms, and solo work that’s been very well-thought of, but heard by a fraction of the people that would ever hear Fleetwood Mac. That’s the tradeoff. Even as a producer on all of the Fleetwood Mac albums, I never asked for the credit, and it took awhile for the politics of the band to say, ‘Okay, we’ve got to give him the credit now.’”

That solo work — as accomplished as some of it is — has mostly been forgotten, although he’s hoping Lindsey Buckingham will help remind people of his skills beyond Fleetwood Mac. But even in the recent L.A. Times profile, he confessed to “feeling unseen” in terms of his solo career. Ironically, it’s the song that he dashed off years ago that may end up being his greatest contribution away from his principal band. 

Of course, “Holiday Road’s” association with the Vacation films helped cement its popularity. Buckingham’s song was used again in the opening credits of the 2015 reboot/sequel, with Zac Brown Band doing a cover. And you hear odd redos on occasion, like one from the indie-rock artist Matt Pond, who did a mournful, wintery version in 2005. 

Then, in 2013, in what started as a very convoluted running joke online, the Chicago Blackhawks used “Holiday Road” as their playoff anthem, eventually winning the Stanley Cup that year. Twitter user Jon Wolter, who started the “Holiday Road” gag because he had the song stuck in his head and threatened “to convert to an all ‘Holiday Road’ tweet format to see how long it takes to lose every follower I have,” commented at the time, “My favorite thing about the joke is that it almost makes sense for the Blackhawks, but not quite — [Chevy Chase’s Vacation character] Clark Griswold wore a custom Hawks jersey, he lived in the Chicago suburbs, and it is so celebratory. But then if you really think about it, it has absolutely nothing to do with Chicago at all.”

What always made “Holiday Road” so likable is that it didn’t have any connection to really anything. It was just a very simple “road trip”/”vacation” song, with Buckingham dabbling in some of the New Wave-y sounds he was pursuing at the time. The tune just felt like a pleasurable little ditty — an invitation to get away from your life for a while. Really, you could apply “Holiday Road” to any personal desire to escape the daily drudgery — it always fit perfectly.

Buckingham’s solo career hasn’t been the most visible aspect of his musical life, but it’s the one he currently finds himself in — perhaps permanently. In that recent L.A. Times profile, he mentioned that his 2018 firing from Fleetwood Mac was prompted, in part, because he asked the band if he could have a little time to promote what would become Lindsey Buckingham before they all went on tour together. (They said no, and things went downhill from there.) The endless squabbling between him and his bandmates — specifically, Nicks — has always been at the core of fans’ fascination with Fleetwood Mac, but watching it be conducted by rich rock stars in their 70s is a lot less sexy and compelling than it was in their youth. (And, of course, he’s had other recent woes, including open-heart surgery in 2019.)

This past week, he was asked about those solo records, the ones that got good reviews but never made as much of an impact as Fleetwood Mac did. What did he enjoy about recording on his own?

“I’m playing everything and engineering it, it’s basically you and your work,” he replied. “It’s you and your canvas, so to speak. A musical canvas. I think the solo work has just allowed me to continue to improve, because that process has allowed for risk and pushing the envelope and discovery in a way that the political process of Fleetwood Mac sometimes disallowed.” 

He’s playing some of those old Mac songs on the new tour, along with a lot of solo stuff. Thus far, though, he hasn’t included “Holiday Road” in his setlist. He may have been anxious back then to be thought of as a “soundtrack guy.” But those two minutes may end up being the highlight of his ambitious solo career — the one time going it alone ended up connecting with the masses.