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The Atlanta Rhythm Section Featuring Stevie Nicks

Updated: Mar 14

I recently heard about the freakish trick of playing back “Imaginary Lover” by the Atlanta Rhythm Section (1978) at a higher speed to sound like Stevie Nicks is singing the lead vocal. 

It’s true; not a hoax. Rather than rely on YouTube playbacks I ran the song through a digital transposer program and tried it all kinds of ways to make sure it worked as freakishly as reported, and it does.

Atlanta Rhythm Section

Imaginary Lovers Never Turn You Down

If you haven’t heard of this - no one under 50 will know or care what we’re talking about - it all happened by mistake in 1978. An FM DJ allegedly (I can’t confirm it) played “Imaginary Lover” by accident at 45 rpm instead of 33 rpm.

The phenomenon that occurs at 45 rpm is that the lead vocal by ARS’s late vocalist, Ronnie Hammond, sounds remarkably like Stevie Nicks. Not just in timber but in style. The lazy, straight-ahead vocal at a higher pitch is all her:

Imaginary lovers never turn you down

When all the others turn you away, they're around

It's my private pleasure, midnight fantasy

Someone to share my wildest dreams with me

Imaginary lover, you're mine anytime

Imaginary lovers, oh yeah

Atlanta Rhythm Section Featuring Stevie Nicks

It's My Private Pleasure, Midnight Fantasy

According to legend, following the misplay, the FM station received positive reactions about the song, including some who thought it was Fleetwood Mac. There has yet to be an official report of which station it was or where. However, Rolling Stone published a short story in 1978, recalling the incident.

News quickly reached Nicks in Los Angeles. She rushed out to buy the record and played it at the wrong speed. “I got chills,” says Stevie. “It sounds exactly like something I’d sing, the way I’d sing it. I even played it for Christine [McVie], mixed in with some other demos for the new album. She complimented me on it.”

At the time, it was common to broadcast the songs as played on the LP by the DJ in the control room over the air. A decade later, I was surprised to see a friend of mine as a jock at a prominent station outside NYC, and it was still the practice, as precarious as placing a needle on a record was.

The Atlanta Rhythm Section Featuring Stevie Nicks

Someone To Share My Wildest Dream With Me

How can this be the first time I’ve ever heard this story? I’ve owned ARS’s Champagne Jam album for years and never heard this story. I can confidently say I’ve played the song 500 times if not more. I know Stevie’s and Fleetwood Mac’s music just as well.

I saw ARS perform in the late 80s in a small outdoor venue in Orlando and they were impressive with their rich melodies and guitar work. They sounded much more Lynyrd Skynyrd or Allman Brothers than they did a band with songs on the pop charts.

Atlanta Rhythm Section Featuring Stevie Nicks

Imaginary Lover, Your Mine Anytime

Incidentally, “Imaginary Lover” reached number 7 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 with equal success of their single “So Into You (Ahh that nice Fender Rhodes intro).” ARS was an offshoot of the Classics IV band from the 1960s (“Spooky,” “Traces,” and “Stormy,” among others. Members Dean Daughtry and James Cobb played in both groups.

Fortunately, they'll long be remembered for the many fine songs they wrote and recorded, not the odd turn of fortune from a DJ pressing the wrong button. There’s no questioning the result, but I’m suspicious of how it came to light. Where is this DJ?

Imaginary Lovers, oh yeah.

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