You almost don’t need to hear Bella Donna to know what it sounds like. Name recognition alone will inform you that this is a solo album by the Fleetwood Mac frontwoman and visual figurehead. There she is on the cover, resplendent in a floaty dress, lofty heels, big hair and brandishing a cockatoo. Oh, and her name and the album title is in a ridiculously flouncy font.
Yup, this is early 80s soft rock, California style. Needless to say, Bella Donna sold in huge numbers.
Perhaps it is simplifying things, but it’s tempting to hear Bella Donna as Stevie Nicks’ reaction to finding herself fronting one of the most commercially successful rock bands of the era, and her general dissatisfaction with the fact that the follow up to their eye-waveringly successful 1977 album Rumours, was a sprawling and only vaguely coherent double album called Tusk that was pretty much masterminded by her ex-boyfriend Lindsey Buckingham. While Nicks wasn’t entirely sidelined by Buckingham’s big budget vanity project, one can only assume that it gave her the resolve to make a solo album with a backing band that consisted of a pair of Eagles refugees and 80% of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers.
Thing is, Bella Donna itself sounds like a vanity project. Sure, it featured a couple of big hits which saw Nicks duet with rock star friends Don Henley on the ho-hum “Leather and Lace”, and Tom Petty on the album highlight, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”, as well as the iconic and career-defining “Edge of Seventeen”. Oh and for some reason, “After the Glitter Fades” was a medium sized hit as well, despite it sounding like much of the rest of Bella Donna, which is a bunch of surplus songs that Nicks had kicking around because they didn’t fit on Tusk, and she wanted to prove to Buckingham that she didn’t need him to be successful.
Trouble is, “Edge of Seventeen” and the title track aside, Bella Donna actually doesn’t make much of a case for Nicks being a consistently great songwriter. When you consider that “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” was written by Tom Petty and Mike Campbell, the rest of the album is pretty much filler, and the only reason the album was such a huge success was on the back of three of it’s four singles, and even then, “Leather and Lace” is comprehensively overshadowed as a tune by “Edge of Seventeen” and “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”.
Listening to it today, Bella Donna sounds like an album that Stevie Nicks simply had to get out of her system, given the scenario she found herself in at the time. While it resulted in two brilliant singles, it’s legacy was to drive a wedge between her and the rest of Fleetwood Mac, as it proved that she was a star in her own right, and didn’t need the rest of the band in order to enjoy commercial success.