Releasing a solo debut album when you’ve been a member of one of the most popular bands on the planet is a difficult thing to do. Music history shows us there’s plenty of fans and critics ready to nitpick over your work; to highlight what’s missing when your usual collaborators aren’t around; and to huff that perhaps you’ve gotten too big for your (stacked and shiny) boots. With Bella Donna, however, Stevie Nicks silenced any potential detractors and served noticed that she was capable of delivering the goods on her own.
Listen to ‘Bella Donna’ here.
A unique singer and gifted songwriter
Joining Fleetwood Mac on New Year’s Eve 1974 had been a serendipitous move for Nicks. The following year brought the release of the group’s self-titled 1975 album – a huge success that featured her own compositions Rhiannon and Landslide. It’s 1977 follow-up, Rumours, was even bigger, becoming one of the most successful albums of all time. In 2020, following a spate of viral TikTok videos set to the Nicks-penned Dreams, that song even re-entered the Billboard Top 10, 42 years after its original release.
All of this is to say that Nicks had, by this point, proven herself as a unique singer and gifted songwriter more than worthy of releasing a solo album. Nicks began working on the record in 1979, while Fleetwood Mac were recording Tusk. Demos for what would become Bella Donna were recorded and subsequently scrapped, but in late 1980 Nicks approached the idea again. By 27 July 1981, Bella Donna was on the shelves.
A star-studded affair
The album was a star-studded affair, with guest appearances from Tom Petty and Eagles’ frontman Don Henley. Producer Jimmy Iovine, who had been working with Petty, wanted to market Stevie Nicks as the female counterpart to The Heartbreakers’ frontman. In a stroke of genius, he arranged for Nicks to duet with Petty on Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around. With its shimmering Americana sound – Petty’s classic style – the song offered the perfect framework for both singers’ voices, which have just that bit of grit that cuts through the smoothness and gives the song its angry, sexy feel.