Classic Albums: Fleetwood Mac - Rumours

Like a phoenix out of the ashes of grief, despair and loss
Classic Albums: Fleetwood Mac - Rumours
Released two years after their eponymous breakthrough record, Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ went on to become not only their most successful album but one of the biggest-selling albums of all time, shifting in excess of forty million copies and earning itself a place in practically every list of greatest albums since. Its astounding enduring appeal means the songs are instantly and universally recognisable, inspiring countless cover versions, continued radio airplay and their use as the soundtrack to - among other things - a presidential campaign, the BBC’s Formula 1 coverage and most recently (and sacrilegiously) a whole episode of Glee. Yet, despite the album’s phenomenal success, it is a miracle it was ever made.

Created in the aftermath of no less than three acrimonious splits, ‘Rumours’ rose like a phoenix out of the grubby ashes of grief, despair and loss which every member was experiencing when they entered their Sausalito studio in 1976. The tempestuous relationship between sultry singer Stevie Nicks and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham had finally reached breaking point; silken-voiced keyboardist Christine McVie had just left her bassist husband John (only to embark on a relationship with the band’s lighting director under his nose); and lofty drummer Mick Fleetwood was on the verge of a divorce. To say the atmosphere was tense wouldn’t begin to cover it. “We spoke to each other in clipped, civil tones, while sitting in small airless studios, listening to each other’s songs about our shattered relationships,” remembers Fleetwood.

The band’s raw emotions were exacerbated by immense pressure to produce a successful follow-up to 1975’s ‘Fleetwood Mac’ - which had spawned their biggest hits to date, ‘Rhiannon’ and ‘Say You Love Me’ - not to mention the trappings of their newfound wealth and fame, namely an insatiable appetite for booze and cocaine along with rapidly-inflating egos and conflicting musical visions. However it is not the secret stories behind the album which have made it the stuff of legend, it is, of course, the music. Because what this rocky alliance of musicians somehow managed to do is transform their inner turmoil into a sublimely uplifting pop record which perfectly embodied the sense of fun, experimentation and return to innocence which was emerging in the charts following the psychedelic rock and war-driven music of the ’60s. The credit for that lies largely at the feet of Buckingham, who took the original blues sound of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, dipped it in a little Beach Boys-esque sunshine and presented it with a lack of pretension which was unmistakably Southern Californian.

What resulted from the maverick guitarist’s tinkering was a near-perfect collection of three-minute pop songs complete with catchy hooks and simple toe-tapping rhythms. The backbone of every one is Buckingham’s trademark guitar sound, which flits from acoustic finger-picking to bold electric experimentation and provides a constant thread, weaving through the ethereal voices on songs like ‘Dreams’ and ‘The Chain’ and directing the melody on anthemic tunes like ‘Go Your Own Way’. Buckingham also beavered away in the studio adding layers of sound which toughened McVie’s romantic lyrics on hopeful tracks like ‘Don’t Stop’ and ‘You Make Loving Fun’ and softened the bitter diatribes of Nicks’ ‘Gold Dust Woman’ and ‘I Don’t Want To Know’ (doubtless aimed at him). The only track left untouched is Christine McVie’s ‘Songbird’ - a solo turn which is one of the most stirring songs on the album.

Sadly it is Christine McVie who was the first to opt out of the band - an absence which is acutely felt not only by Nicks who dedicated a song to her on their 2009 Unleashed tour, but also by the fans who responded with a standing ovation. Nicks’ sultry tones may have inspired a million crushes but it is McVie’s heart-wrenching timbre which has the power to bring a tear to the eye of even the most hardened of rockers.

Words by Carrie Mitchell



Fleetwood Mac - ‘Rumours’

Released: 1977
Producers: Fleetwood Mac/Richard Dashut/Ken Caillat
Musicians:
Lindsey Buckingham - vocals, guitar
Christine McVie - vocals, keyboard
Stevie Nicks - vocals
Mick Fleetwood - drums
John McVie - bass

Tracklist
1. ‘Second Hand News’
2. ‘Dreams’
3. ‘Never Going Back Again’
4. ‘Don’t Stop’
5. ‘Go Your Own Way’
6. ‘Songbird’
7. ‘The Chain’
8. ‘You Make Loving Fun’
9. ‘I Don’t Want to Know’
10. ‘Oh Daddy’
11. ‘Gold Dust Woman’

1977: In The News
Elvis Presley dies of cardiac arrest.
Red Rum wins the Grand National for a record third time.
The Queen celebrates her Silver Jubilee.
Star Wars hits the big screen.

1977: The Albums
The Clash - ‘The Clash’
Iggy Pop - ‘Lust For Life’
Bob Marley & The Wailers - ‘Exodus’
David Bowie - ‘Heroes’

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