In a study conducted in 2012, researchers took a documentary following the recording of an iconic 1997 album to observe the “complexity of an ongoing group that created a high-caliber product even in the face of substantial interpersonal issues”. That album, it may come as little surprise, was none other than Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. Recorded during a time in the band’s history where relationship breakdowns took place inside studios and venom was spilled into songs, it’s any wonder that Rumours was ever finished.
Through layered harmonies, commanding bass lines, thudding drums, intricate keys, dobro guitars and of course lyricism that is scathing and heartfelt in the same beat, Rumours cemented itself as a particularly perfect pop record and Fleetwood Mac as an iconic bands nine years after their first LP came out. Almost four decades after its release, it’s impossible to say anything new about the album, but that is simply testament to its power and place in rock and pop history.
When I was small, I used to steal away to the dusty front room of our house. I recall it as empty but for a record player with a built in cabinet that housed part of an extensive and colourful vinyl collection. For a long time, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were simply strange characters I encountered on the slightly yellowed sleeve of an old album. I just liked looking at the pictures. I didn’t really care about the music because I didn’t know it yet.
That indifference toward Fleetwood Mac turned to disdain somewhere around the age of 15 when the opening bars of Second Hand News soundtracked my waking moments at full volume every day for over a year. I don’t think it was until year 11, really, that I started to appreciate Rumours and Fleetwood Mac as more than just some cruel way of ripping a teenager from their slumber and sending them off to school.
The second impossibility faced when discussing Rumours is in trying not to get caught up in the mythology that surrounds it and the American-British band who pieced it together over the course of a tumultuous year. In 1975, Fleetwood Mac released their first significantly successful album. Self-titled (a second in the discography) and the first LP to feature new members Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac the album landed the band three Top 40 singles with Over My Head and Say You Love Me written by Christine McVie and Rhiannon, which was penned by the band’s second female member, Nicks. With the number of hits Nicks would go on to craft for the band, it’s worth noting that she only held a position in the re-vamped lineup after her then-partner, Buckingham made her inclusion a condition of his joining the band. Together, Christine McVie, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham went on to write all but one of the songs found on Rumours between them.
Second Hand News opens Rumours with a misleadingly upbeat timbre, lead by Buckingham and his handpicked dobro guitar, it’s filled with influences from Scottish and Irish folk music. The tensions sparked between Buckingham and Nicks by the lyrics aside, the bassline proved a point of aggravation for Buckingham. The original bassline written by John McVie was said to be melodic with a beautiful flow, but when McVie was out of the studio, Buckingham changed it to the one of his own. The controlling nature of Lindsey Buckingham and his approach to his songs would go on to become notorious.
The relationships between many of the tracks on Rumours, like those between the band members, are at times intense and direct:
“She broke down and let me in / Made me see where I’ve been / Been down one time / Been down two times / I’m never going back again” – Never Going Back Again
“Well, did she make you cry? / Make you break down? / Shatter your illusions of love? / Is it over now?/ Do you know how? / To pick up the pieces and go home?” – Gold Dust Woman
This manner of call and response between not only these, but so many other songs on the album, is clearly linked to the influence the band drew from soul music. Folk and country music were also great influence on the five piece and I Don’t Wanna Know is Fleetwood Mac’s pure country-rock moment. You Make Loving Fun, conversely, is injected with the funk of a rumbling bass line, a lustrous guitar solo and McVie’s clear, rich vocals.
Dreams, a lush, ethereal track, is widely considered to be Stevie Nicks’ crowning glory. However, I personally reserve that title for Silver Springs. It’s tortured, climactic bridge is one of my favourite moments on Rumours. Likewise, Christine McVice’s Songbird slows things down after the brash, anthemic, guitar powered Go Your Own Way with a parred back piano and her melodic voice finally on proper display. Learning that the song was recorded on a stage with a recital in mind conjures up images of a solo performance with a spotlight cast on McVie.
The only song on the album to credit all five members as songwriters, The Chain was one of the first the band worked on and revisited during their entire time recording Rumours. For a song which there was little-to-no interaction between members for, it’s immensely powerful: spiteful, commanding, poignant. The three vocalists play off one another perfectly: Buckingham and Nicks on lead, McVie adding her sweet harmonies beneath. The double tracked dobro and electric guitars are grounded by Mick Fleetwood’s constant thud while John McVie’s bass forms a commanding underbelly to the song before leading a roaring instrumental section with a solo. If there’s one thing the world could do with more of, it’s off the cuff bass solos. Picking a favourite track on Rumours is difficult and it changes a lot, but I through revisiting the album time and again I often find it in The Chain.
In the years between the release of Fleetwood Mac and Rumours, Christine and John McVie divorced, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham split up and Mick Fleetwood was dealing with his own marital breakdown. The success that had come with Fleetwood Mac also came with the pressure to create a stellar follow-up. In their era of drug excess, fuelled by a new-found wealth and creative and personal tensions, the fact that Rumours exists at all, let alone that almost 40 years after its release it remains one of the highest selling albums of all time, is something of a legend.