Bella Donna, Stevie Nicks’ debut solo album, was released on July 27, 1981, but most of its songs were written years before. In Fleetwood Mac, nearly everyone was a songwriter, and their albums had only so much space. Releasing a solo album became a necessity for Nicks, who had an overabundance of songs that didn’t fit on band records, as well as a chance to explore her creativity outside of the group.
Nicks began recording the album in the late ‘70s, between sessions for Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk. Following 1977’s Rumours, they were the biggest band in the world. For Nicks, however, the group had become a gilded cage. She’d split with bandmate and musical collaborator Lindsey Buckingham, and what she felt were her best songs were relegated to B-sides or discarded altogether. Fleetwood Mac were also in tumult, having finished the epic recording and touring behind a double album that pushed them to their limits, only to be greeted with mixed reviews. For the sensitive Nicks, the band was becoming a thing she lost herself in rather than something she was part of.
So she struck a deal with Fleetwood Mac to record a solo album using the songs they didn’t want. Sessions for Bella Donna started between the sessions for Tusk, with Nicks recording demos that wouldn’t see release for more than two years. When the tour in support of the album ended, Nicks went into the studio with producer Jimmy Iovine to begin work on her own record.
A constellation of people helped her bring the LP to life, including backup singers Sharon Celani and Lori Perry, who are credited on the album just below Nicks and who helped conceive the vocal arrangements; musical director Benmont Tench of the Heartbreakers; Tom Petty and Don Henley, with whom Nicks sings duets; and Roy Bittan of the E Street Band, who cowrote two songs. Nicks ended up spending three months in the studio. The album that came out of it shot to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and made Nicks a solo star.
Below we detail the songs that have made Bella Donna a classic.
This was the one song Nicks refused to give Fleetwood Mac because she was saving it for herself. It meant so much to her that it became the title track for her solo debut. “‘Bella Donna’ is a term of endearment I use, and the title is about making a lot of decisions in my life, making a change based on the turmoil in my soul,” Nicks told Rolling Stone in 1981. “You get to a certain age where you want to slow down, be quieter. The title song was basically a warning to myself and a question to others.”
“Kind of Woman”
Cowritten with Heartbreaker Benmont Tench, “Kind of Woman” actually started around the same time Nicks penned “Landslide” during a 1973 trip to Aspen, Colo., with Buckingham. She told Rockline in a 1981 interview that she wrote the track when he took a gig touring with the Everly Brothers while imagining her partner meeting and getting swallowed up by groupies as she continued working as a waitress.
“Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”
Bella Donna’s lead single was the only track on the album not written by Nicks. The story goes that producer Jimmy Iovine didn’t think the LP had a hit single and, since he’d worked with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers previously, he asked Petty for a song. The collaboration turned into a radio smash and a mainstay during MTV’s early days. “[Petty] gave me ‘Stop Dragging My Heart Around,’” Nicks told Rolling Stone. “Had he not given me that song, let me candidly tell you, Bella Donna might not have been a hit. That song kicked Bella Donna right into the universe.” The song led to a tour with Petty and a lifelong friendship.
“Think About It”
Another oldie, “Think About It” was written for Mac bandmate Christine McVie in 1974, when her marriage to John McVie was coming to an end. It was a tumultuous time for the band, as two relationships began to unwind. Nicks told WLIR in a 1981 interview that she also wrote the song for herself. “In those days, there were no wardrobe mistresses or speech therapists or anything, there was just me and Chris,” Nicks said. “So, all she had, really, was me. And so I really had to be her friend and really be strong beside her at that point because she was really going to leave [the band]. And I had had my problems with Lindsey, and I was really going to leave. And so this was just a song to remind her and remind me at the same time that we were giving up a lot if we left.”
“After the Glitter Fades”
This country-tinged track was written by Nicks in 1972 before she joined Fleetwood Mac and after her father underwent emergency open-heart surgery. “From that day onward, I was never the same,” she told Rolling Stone in 1981, noting that she felt music and her relationship with Buckingham didn’t matter in the face of such a life-changing event that forced her to face her dad’s mortality. Nicks reportedly wrote “After the Glitter Fades” with another singer in mind: Dolly Parton.
“Edge of Seventeen”
“Edge of Seventeen” has its origins in a pair of “white winged doves,” but there are references in the song to the loss of an uncle and John Lennon. Plus, the title was inspired by Tom Petty’s wife at the time; Nicks misheard her saying she met Petty when she was 17. The track has lived on though the years, most notably via a sample in Destiny’s Child’s hit “Bootylicious.” Nicks even appeared in the song’s video playing a guitar.
“How Still My Love”
Nicks has often called “How Still My Love” one of her favorite songs. It’s about a woman getting involved with a man no one thinks she should be with. With all of the singer’s high-profile romances, anyone could be the inspiration here: Mick Fleetwood, Jimmy Iovine, Don Henley … or maybe someone else.
“Leather and Lace”
Performed as a duet with Eagles’ Don Henley, this song was originally written at the request of country star Waylon Jennings for himself and his wife, Jessi Colter. But it didn’t make the cut, so Nicks kept it for herself. And because the song is about a man and woman in the music industry having a relationship, she wanted a fellow artist singing with her. “I felt in my heart that either I had to do this song with Don, or Waylon had to do it with Jessi, or Waylon and I had to do it,” Nicks explained to High Times. “Those were the only three possibilities for that song to be done.”
“Outside the Rain”
Nicks has said this song is the one connective thread between Bella Donna and Fleetwood Mac. “Outside the Rain” is a bookend to “Dreams” and one that her band would have been happy to have recorded. When performing the song at solo shows, she frequently bridges it with Fleetwood’s Mac 1977 hit.
“The Highwayman” is about Eagles, the male members of Fleetwood Mac and the masculine rock stars of the ‘70s. “They are the Errol Flynns and the Tyrone Powers of our day,” she told Rolling Stone in 1981. “So as long as I have to live with them, I try to make them into the most wonderful bunch of guys I can possibly think up.”
Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums Ranked Worst to Best
There have been more than 40 of these outside projects, which deepen and add to the band’s legacy.