Classics Revisited: Fleetwood Mac - 'Rumours'

Fleetwood Mac’s album Rumours famous for many things, from pop-rock and soft-rock concoctions, introspective lyricism, but most could be overshadowed by the history of it. Following the album's 45th anniversary, Maia Gibbs looks back at the iconic album.


A triumph is an understatement when it comes to this album. Fleetwood Mac were a successful band before this, don’t get me wrong, but Rumours left all previous albums stranded in the dust. It sold 10 million in its first month, of February 1977, climbing and climbing till it reached 40 million worldwide. It is the longest charting studio album, staying for 928 weeks. It included four top 10 singles, Dreams reaching No. 1. It won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year, later being inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry.


About the album, co-founder and drummer, Mick Fleetwood told Mojo magazine: “I didn’t want someone that was going to mimic what we’d done before. That would have been hokey. Lindsey and Stevie came to us fully formed. It worked right from the start. Chris, Lindsey and Stevie’s voices created these wonderful harmonies.”


The cross-Atlantic chemistry of Buckingham Nicks and Brits Fleetwood, keyboardist/vocalist Christine McVie, and bassist John McVie saw a mixture of experimentation and traditionalism, genre blending and transforming that launched the band into the realm of cult favouritism. 1975’s Fleetwood Mac (aka The White Album) was a breakthrough, introducing the American duo, as a force to be reckoned with. It saw hits such as Nicks’ Rhiannon and Landslide, and Buckingham’s Monday Morning. It revitalised the entire band. And with their foot firmly in the charts, their relatively UK based success was about to global.


"The five-some, shrouded in success and the music industries’ highest acclaimed accolades, were not exactly able to bask in their success"

It’s the stuff of rock & roll legend. The five-some, shrouded in success and the music industries’ highest acclaimed accolades, were not exactly able to bask in their success. Between Fleetwood Mac/The White Album and Rumours there was what some might say a tiff. Buckingham and Nicks broke up. The McVies ended their eight-year marriage. Fleetwood’s wife Jenny began an affair with one of the drummer’s best friend. Heartbreak had become the trend, and all the members were extremely fashionable.


As Fleetwood recalled: “Pain, anger, heartache, it was everywhere, every time you turned around. It was like, ‘When will this end?!'” It was the marking point of any bands natural break-up. You would think. But as the old rock n roll proverb goes: the show must go on. And what a show it was. “The bottom line is this is what we do. We make music, and accept this as an unfortunate situation,” Fleetwood said in the Classic Albums documentary about Rumours. It all came down to the love of music. And even as the members began to hate each other personally, they could not deny that they were musically destined to be together. Soulmates in creation, even if they proved themselves not to be so romantically.


Buckingham told Mojo, “There was never any consideration of, ‘Do we want to stay together? or ‘Do we want to approach this in a different way?’ We had to play it out. The only way to do that was to take all the feelings… and sort of cram them into one corner of the room and get on with [the album].”

Christine McVie added: “I am often still flabbergasted at how the hell we managed to make it in the first place. But that was what tied us together—we knew that the music was good.”


"The work was fuelled by cocaine, each member of the band taking it extensively in and out of the studio"

So they battled, a word I do not use lightly, and made the album. In late 1976, Fleetwood Mac, co-producers Ken Caillat and Richard Dashut all locked themselves in Record Plant in Sausalito, and got to work. The work was fuelled by cocaine, each member of the band taking it extensively in and out of the studio. Becoming more of a necessity than pleasure, it helped to battle sleep deprivation and shot nerves. Nicks said that “You felt so bad about what was happening that you did a line to cheer yourself up.”


“You can look at Rumours and say, ‘Well, the album is bright and it’s clean and it’s sunny,’” Buckingham told Uncut magazine in 2003. “But everything underneath is so dark and murky.” Or white and powdery. Fleetwood, ever the mathematician, hypothesised that if he lined all the cocaine he had ever snorted into a single line it would stretch for seven miles. The drug played such a role in the making of Rumours, there was a consideration of placing their dealer in the album credits. That was until gangland violence cut him down short. “Unfortunately, he got snuffed – executed! – before the thing came out,” Fleetwood wrote in 1990’s Fleetwood: My Life and Adventures in Fleetwood Mac.


"All the characteristics of rock n roll – drug, sex, romance and partying – took a nasty twist"

It was no surprise that Buckingham called the making of Rumours “one of the most intense years I’ve ever spent, working.” Everyone and thing was balanced upon a very short thread. All the characteristics of rock n roll – drug, sex, romance and partying – took a nasty twist. Christine McVie used to have to keep her then-boyfriend Curry Grant, the band’s lighting tech, away from the studio – and out of range of a very angry John. Known to show up screaming outside her and Nicks’ complex, you could say their post-divorce relationship was not exactly harmonious.


The end result was five people writing break-up songs, to, with and infront of the people they’re about. Violative, aggressive and what I imagine to be cripplingly awkward, Rumours was a baring of the soul. “What would come out on tape was emotion… very raw,” Dashut remembered. “We were all writing songs about each other, basically, although we were all unaware of it at the time,” Christine McVie said. Buckingham, meanwhile, suggested that “If you look at the success that Rumours enjoyed, I think it goes a little bit beyond the music itself. […] You had these dialogues shooting back and forth between members of the band about things that were happening to all of us while we were recording all these songs.”



“It was one of those lightning in a bottle moments,” Buckingham recalled. “People around us were like, ‘Can you do that again?’ Well… no. Rumours was the result of circumstances, a lot of them unpleasant, that just happened. They weren’t planned, but they were responsible for what the album turned out to be. And as great as that album is, I don’t know that any of us would want to live through all that again.” The first single was released in December 1976, Go Your Own Way. It’s a vigorous, buoyant display of guitar pop. A Buckingham track, in which he struggles between letting a lover go (the lover presumably being Nicks) and knowing in his heart of hearts that he still loves her. Lamenting on what he wishes he could give, he beams: "If I could / Baby, I'd give you my world". It’s a defiant track, promising to Nicks and himself that’ll he move on and never return. Except maybe for a few more albums.


Whereas, Nicks’ most famous break-up song is arguably Dreams (the No. 1, a theorised rebuttal to Buckingham’s Second Hand News), a standout and most interestingly written in a calm period of Rumours production. To avoid friction with Buckingham, Nicks often retreated to an unused studio down the hall that had been built, specifically, for Sly Stone. “I would take a electric piano with me, and my crocheting and my journals and my books and my art and I would just stay there until they needed me,” she recalled in the 1997 documentary. It carried a long by an unforgettable bass lick from McVie, whereas Nicks’ vocals are distinctively gruff. Equally defiant, she hardly sheds a line of sympathy for the ex lover, while like Buckingham – swearing to never go back. Nicks knows her own worth with lyrics like: “Like a heartbeat drives you mad / In the stillness of remembering what you had / And what you lost and what you had and what you lost.” I imagine Buckingham had some food for thought. It’s pure, raw and so true to Nicks’ heart that it only took an hour to write.


"The real stand out songs to me are those written by Christine McVie"

But the real stand out songs to me are those written by Christine McVie. Criminally underrated and maniacally over talented – she is my favourite Mac. Don't Stop is an optimistic tune, that she crafted with Buckingham. The two found a harmony when working, noting that their own personal sensibilities paired beautifully. McVie's next track, Songbird is an introspective tune, about "nobody and everybody" – and nobody and everybody loves it. A glossed over song, that instantly gains a cult following when it’s given its dues. Oh Daddy is the knockout though. Written about Fleetwood and his wife Jenny (as previously mentioned), who had just got back together. As once again the Rumours saga proved itself to be the 1970s, Californian precursor to Love Island. Fleetwood’s nickname in the band was "the Big Daddy" – maybe for being the founder, or maybe for being ridiculously large. Now this is a sarcastic tune – lamenting on Fleetwood’s annoying tendency to always be right.


But it’s the last line for me which I think really encapsulates Fleetwood Mac. The couples, the love, the heartbreak, the mistakes and longing: "And I can't walk away from you, baby / If I tried".


Maia Gibbs

 

Edited by: Gemma Cockrell


Featured image courtesy of Fleetwood Mac via Facebook.