Why Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” is one of the Greatest Records of All Time
While Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album is considered to be one of the greatest rock records of all time, what makes it transcend into that musical stratosphere is the real emotion inherent behind the amazing harmonies and sound within the songs.
The emotional turmoil the members of the group were going through as they began recording Rumours in early 1976 was the perfect catalyst to create some of the most amazing songs that still stand out nearly 40 years later.
It’s been well documented how singer Stevie Nicks and guitarist/vocalist Lindsey Buckingham ended their relationship of several years right before heading into the Record Plant in Sausalito, Ca. to record the album. At the same time, keyboardist/vocalist Christine McVie and bass player John McVie had just divorced after nearly eight years of marriage. Drummer Mick Fleetwood also ended his marriage to his then-wife, Jenny.
Their feelings towards each other back then created the perfect charge in the songwriting and lyrics that emerged during recording, which lasted a year until Rumours was finally released in 1977, quickly going №1 on the Billboard charts. To date it has sold more than 40 million copies, making it one of the best-selling albums of all time.
The Songs Tell the Story in Rumours
The album’s finished title (the working title was Yesterday’s Gone) came from John McVie, who felt the band was writing diary entries about each other in the songs. And they were.
The acrimony of Buckingham and Nicks ending their relationship was the catalyst for Buckingham to write “Go Your Own Way” which deals with his feelings about Nicks at the time. It’s one of the best songs Fleetwood Mac has ever laid down. Naturally Nicks felt the lyrics were “angry, nasty and extremely disrespectful”. In fact, she tried to get him to change the lyrics “Packing up, shacking up is all you wanna do” but he wouldn’t. Also, listen to the guitar solo for Buckingham’s raw emotion.
And then, one song that didn’t make the original Rumours release was the Nicks-penned “Silver Springs”, a tale of her feelings about Buckingham. While being a standout track, it didn’t make the record because there wasn’t enough room, but Fleetwood Mac first released it — appropriately — as a B-side to the “Go Your Own Way” single. In “Silver Springs” the magic comes from Nicks belting out how she’ll “follow you down till the sound of my voice will haunt you. You’ll never get away from the sound of the woman that loves you.” You can see that in concert, every time she looks over to her left and sings to Buckingham. She’s bitter and angry, with her heart on her sleeve in that song. It’s so poignant, there’s a video of Fleetwood Mac playing it live in 1997, and Nicks clearly breaks down, hugging Buckingham at the end of the song.
It’s Christine McVie, a great songwriter in her own right, who brings the happy, optimistic light to the Rumours album with her songs “Don’t Stop”, “You Make Loving Fun” and “Songbird”.
Interestingly, the only track where every band member gets writing credit is “The Chain”, which paradoxically has the band writing “Chain keep us together….”. So there’s also a notion of holding it together in the midst of all the relationship and emotional turmoil. It was also the last recorded track on the album and stands today as the only song the classic Fleetwood Mac lineup wrote together.
Making Rumours: Working on Songs
Every track on the album was written in the studio, with band members coming and going at all hours. While McVie and Nicks stayed in two condos in town by the harbour, John McVie, Buckingham and Fleetwood were at the studio apartments, so one of them was always present during recording. Christine McVie recalls how “The sessions were like a cocktail party every night — people everywhere.” But the band members did not socialize outside of the studio together, so the drinks and drugs were the tonic to help them function around each other when they were writing songs.
Even though it took a year to create, there was never any pressure from Fleetwood Mac’s Label, Warner Bros. The label gave the band free reign and as much time as they wanted to get it done because the previous album Fleetwood Mac reached №1 in August of 1976 (it was released in 1975), as Mac was working on Rumours. So there was no “hurry up and get it done. This is costing us a fortune” or “We need a hit single. Now.” from the record company.
Rumours is the epitome rock and roll in the 1970s: from three-part harmonies to the excessive, hedonistic lifestyle, with cocaine being the go-to drug. Co-producer Ken Caillat, who worked on the album with members of Fleetwood Mac and Richard Dashut, recalls there being a “group bag” of cocaine on the studio mixing console, but adds things weren’t as out of control as they would become when the band recorded Tusk, the follow up to Rumours, a couple of years later.
Originally published at www.rocknrollinsight.com on March 1, 2019.