Sex and Drugs and Lighting Guys: The Fleetwood Mac Story
The 4th of February marked the fortieth anniversary of something great. This month in 1977, the album Rumours was released by Fleetwood Mac. Filled with memorable tracks, acerbic jabs and drug-fueled romantic angst, there is plenty for listeners of all ages and backgrounds to sink their auditory teeth into.
The Album’s Background
Rumours was designed first and foremost as an album that would contain no “filler” tracks; every track must be up to the standard of a single. Indeed, while this factor raised the bar and probably put an already high-pressure situation in a quality-analysis vice, it is undoubtedly instrumental to the album’s success. Every track is at a standard that it could be released and stand on its own two feet independently. Beyond this, the band retains its signature sound throughout, yet the trio of singers give each song a distinct and unique twist, preventing the album from stagnating or losing any magic upon repeated plays. However, beyond the acoustics and the standard of the tracks themselves is the story of the band’s turmoil, imprinted on the lyrics. The band consisted of five members, the on-again-off-again American couple Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham, who were finally heading towards calling it off for good; and the Brits, the divorcing John and Christine McVie, and lastly Mick Fleetwood, who had just discovered his wife had been having an affair with his best friend.
The Creation Process
The emotional confusion and acrimony is incredibly prevalent in the lyrics of the album. ‘You Make Loving Fun’ is a feel-good song about finding the joy of being in a relationship with someone new, penned by Christine about the group’s lighting guy and with a bass line played by her ex-lover. She also claims her song ‘Oh Daddy’ is dedicated to drummer, Mick Fleetwood, but some members of the band believe this is actually a love song dedicated to someone else. Buckingham and Nicks, in turn, use the album as a cathartic method of digesting their own views on the breakdown of their relationship. ‘Go Your Own Way’, written by Buckingham, claims “shacking up’s all you want to do”, much to Nick’s chagrin, whilst her song ‘Dreams’ analyses the ephemeral nature of love through a series of metaphors, and a quiet awareness of the relationship’s end. The McVies didn’t talk between takes, and conversely recordings were the only time Nicks and Buckingham stopped screaming at each other. In addition, friction between the Brits and Americans in the group distanced all the members further. The recording sessions are a rumour-mill in and of themselves, with it being alleged the group didn’t see daylight for days; that John McVie was descending into serious alcoholism; Nicks tried to take cocaine anally and wrapped her head in a black scarf to record ‘Gold Dust Woman’, as well as the alleged affair between Fleetwood and Nicks.
The Album Title
The group has retrospectively confirmed, as well as all the Rumours surrounding the recording, that the album was named Rumours because the tracks were the only way the band knew what was happening with the other members. This disjointed and, at times, abusive exchange of monologues was the only stream of communication between the members at such a dysfunctional time.
Where You May Have Heard The Tracks
The gravitas of these tracks is evident as they permeate day-to-day popular culture. Bill Clinton used ‘Don’t Stop’s distinctive hook “don’t stop thinking about tomorrow”, as his campaign song in his successful 1993 run for office, with the band even re-uniting to play it live. Though this perhaps overlooks the message of the song that heartbreak is eventually a memory. ‘The Chain’ and its distinctive bassline riff, the sole song that all five members have writing credits for, can be heard on the BBC’s coverage of Formula One. Several songs have been covered by the likes of Eva Cassidy (‘Songbird’) and The Corrs (‘Dreams’), and have featured in soundtracks of high profile media such as The Simpsons, Forrest Gump, Skins, Cuckoo and Guitar Hero World Tour. The album was also voted 25th out of the 500 greatest albums of all time by Rolling Stone magazine.
The Hidden Gem
Even if you are familiar with the album, you may not know of the unreleased track that Mick Fleetwood and Stevie Nicks had a copyright tug of war over, ‘Silver Spring’. Replaced on the album by the marginally peppier ‘I Don’t Want To Know’, Nicks’ lyrical and musical genius is sorely overlooked. The song was recently added to the line-up in album re-releases and focuses on the breakdown of her relationship with Buckingham, with the eponymous ‘Silver Spring’ being an idealised and romantic sense of perfection. It was named after the band drove through Colorado and Nicks commented to Fleetwood that it seemed like a perfect place. For those who appreciate discovering new tracks, iTunes has many demos you probably haven’t heard before from the super-deluxe version of the album. ‘Planets of the Universe’ is particularly haunting, with poignant piano and vocals and a very raw, stripped back power behind it.
Rumours still hits a raw nerve with a lot of people; beyond the catchy tunes, familiar riffs and powerful vocals, the group is exploring the very real pain of being unable to hold a relationship together in a time of emotional turmoil. The album receives a lot of praise, and is almost seen as pejoratively mainstream since it has sold so many copies. So, is it overhyped? To quote Murray from Flight of the Conchords; “Rumours? No, it’s all true.”
Sophie Pawson / Inquire Live / Feb 12, 2017