Rumours 40th: An ode to heartbreak from Fleetwood Mac to the world

Warner Bros.

February 4, 2017 marks the 40th anniversary of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. This means it has been 40 years of this landmark album entering people’s lives, narrating their heartbreak, and having a place as the ultimate breakup album. Unlike the other album of 1977, The Eagles’ Hotel California, Rumours has transcended the decade in which it was created. Rather than being known as a hallmark of the 70s, this album has spoken to generation after generation: the timelessness of the lyrics, and the honest humanity seeping through the crevices of every song can speak to anyone, whether it’s 1977 or 2017.

The circumstances surrounding the creation of Rumours are well known by now. It was a potent combination of heartbreak, chaos, and various substances that fueled the creation of these songs. To start: John and Christine McVie were divorcing after 7 years of marriage, Christine was also “shacking up” with the band’s lighting director, Curry Grant. Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham were going through a tumultuous breakup after having been together for 8 years, and Mick Fleetwood was divorcing from his wife, Jenny Boyd (he would later remarry her, then divorce her again less than a year later). Add to this the creative tensions between band members, the long hours of recording, and the aforementioned various substances, and you have the tense climate that surrounded the making of Rumours.

The album begins, ironically, with these lyrics from Buckingham’s “Secondhand News”, “I know there’s nothing to say, someone has taken my place”. Thankfully for us, Fleetwood Mac had a lot to say. “Secondhand News” serves as the sequel to “Monday Morning” from the band’s eponymously titled 1975 album. It also serves as a prelude to Buckingham’s experimental Tusk tracks, him even choosing to use a chair as a percussion instrument during the song. The song, however, is pure pop goodness, a timeless tune that could easily be a hit today.

“Secondhand News” also marks the start of the dueling voices of Nicks and Buckingham. Their harmonies are competitive, their voices each fighting for dominance. This continues in Buckingham’s iconic “Go Your Own Way”, an anthem that goes from being spiteful to pleading in the span of seconds. Going from, “packing up, shacking up’s all you wanna do” to “if I could, baby I’d give you my world” is a lesson in the complexity of heartbreak. Nicks broke up with Buckingham, that much is clear, but rather than just being angry and resentful, he still wants a chance to prove himself to her. It’s complicated and honest, not allowing for one single emotion to take the lead; there’s a reason why when they perform it in concert, the entire arena goes wild. The sentiment will always be relevant as long as people are in relationships.

The other side to “Go Your Own Way” is Nicks’ “Dreams”, which is the antithesis of the former song. The song is an obvious response to “Go Your Own Way”, and the two could not be more different, both lyrically and sonically. Where GYOW is fueled off of raw emotion, with a raucous chorus, “Dreams” is Nicks at her most philosophical and hopeful, while still retaining a bit of possessiveness towards her ex. The rhythm section centers the song, Fleetwood’s drumming staying true to the heartbeat mention in the chorus, anchoring the melody into a slow and steady journey. “Dreams” is 70s pop perfection, and was the only #1 song Fleetwood Mac ever had, as Nicks likes to say during her solo performances.

The vast difference between Nicks and Buckingham on these two tracks are a harbinger of things to come: on the previously mentioned Fleetwood Mac album, they were still being Buckingham Nicks; on Rumours, the musical chemistry is stronger than ever, but the musical sensibilities they shared were beginning to fray at the edges.

Buckingham wasn’t all yearning angst however. “Never Going Back Again” is a seminal acoustic moment for him that allows him to show off his unique finger picking style. He purportedly wrote it about a short fling he had sometime after he and Nicks broke up. An understated sentiment about moving on, the song functions as Buckingham’s optimistic breakthrough. Although, it is interesting to note, that in concerts, the lyric has gone from “been down one time, been down two times”, to him having been down 3 or 4 times. So it is debatable how much he has actually moved on from Nicks.

While the tradeoff between Buckingham Nicks is a crucial part of the album’s success, the songs from Christine McVie are no less dynamic and interesting. “Don’t Stop” is probably the most iconic of her offerings here, especially after Bill Clinton recruited it as his campaign song in 1992. While that is no small feat, the song is more than just an ode to blind optimism; she wrote it for John, to reassure him that everything would be ok. Although it does work as a universal song of hope, the fact that she wrote it as such a personal message makes it that much sweeter.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have Christine’s “You Make Loving Fun”. Written about the band’s lighting director, Curry Grant, Christine’s voice soars on this song. “I never did believe in miracles, but I’ve a feeling it’s time to try”, this song has all the excitement of being in the throes of a new love. Apparently, in order to dispel tensions in the studio, Christine would go around saying the song was about her dog. However, one listen to those lyrics and it is no mystery what she is talking about. The melody of that chorus is infectious and its imagery is being totally head over heels in love.

Despite the fact that Mick and John are not songwriters, both of them have songs to and about them on this album, courtesy of Christine McVie. John has the aforementioned “Don’t Stop” and the timeless “Songbird”. The latter of which is so contemplative and evocative of tranquility and peace of mind, that you can’t help but picture yourself walking through a park on a sunny spring day, while this plays in the background. It is a moving and bittersweet tribute to John as she offers him well wishes as he begins a life apart from her.

What song did she write for Mick, you ask? That would be the penultimate song on Rumours, “Oh Daddy”. Although the use of the word daddy might make some cringe, Christine meant it literally. Mick Fleetwood was, is, and always will be the paternal figure in Fleetwood Mac. It’s hard to believe, but Rumours is the band’s 11th studio album. It had gone through lineup changes, musical changes, a fake band being sent on tour, and still Fleetwood presided over the band like a benevolent king, always making sure they kept going, no matter the circumstances. It’s very fitting, then, on what was to be Fleetwood Mac’s most successful album that there was to be a tribute to him. The song itself is Christine at her moody blues best; a slow moving torch song that conveys its sentiment really well. The rhythm section is in top form, as always, on this song. The guitar and harmonies being so down in the mix that it allows the song to be almost a trio between the three Brits. The only critique about this song is that on one of the many reissues of Rumours, there is an outtake of “Oh Daddy” that turns the song into a duet between Stevie and Christine. The harmonies are gorgeous, and they should have used that one on the record.

It would be remiss not to mention the one song that should have been on Rumours, “Silver Springs”. As legend has it, “Silver Springs” was originally supposed to go on the record. However, clocking in at almost seven minutes, it was too long. Even after shortened down to just less than five minutes, the song was still too long. The band opted to go with “I Don’t Want to Know” instead. They opted to take Nicks out to the parking lot and deliver the news. Understandably, she didn’t take it well, especially since she had dedicated the royalties from the song to her mother.

Nicks herself has admitted that this incident tainted her feelings about “I Don’t Want to Know”, a Buckingham Nicks era rockabilly number that is a showcase for their harmonies. It’s a shame, because although it exists amongst an album of such heavyweights, you’d think it would be easy to completely dismiss the song. However, with lyrics like, “the truth has come down now, take a listen to your spirit, it’s crying out loud”, and a catchy melody, the song is a nice break before the final two songs on the album. However, “Silver Springs” should have been on the album. It is a fascinating look into the mind of Nicks during her breakup with Buckingham.

The song was chosen to be the B-Side of “Go Your Own Way”, and it faded into obscurity, becoming a hidden treasure that fans would discover through the years. It is a study in emotional conviction. Nicks takes the wise sage role in “Dreams”, but she allows her feelings to be completely exposed here. You believe her when she sings to Buckingham, “I’ll follow you down ‘til the sound of my voice will haunt you”, a prediction that has ultimately proven true. Her voice starts out as soft, almost defenseless, before building to a fierce crescendo that is reminiscent of Janis Joplin. She sounds wistful, vindictive, vulnerable, and possessive all at once (although possessiveness does tend to be a running theme on her songs about Buckingham, then and now).

Thankfully, the song was not meant to stay hidden forever. When Fleetwood Mac reunited in 1997 for The Dance, it was brought out. This time, it was allowed to make its fully deserved impact, and it did, for Nicks and Buckingham themselves, in a tour de force performance that is one of the bands’ best, and for the audience. The song being a secret for so many years has only added to its legacy, and it is a staple at all Mac concerts to this day.

All of the aforementioned songs, barring “Don’t Stop”, which was a Buckingham/McVie co-write, are each from the unique perspective of that songwriter. Fleetwood Mac is unique in that they only have one song that was collectively written by all the members of the band. It is on this album, and it manages to convey all the themes of Rumours in 4 minutes and 31 seconds.

“The Chain” organically came together from individually written tracks by each of the members: Stevie wrote the lyrics to the chorus, Christine contributed pieces of her song “Keep Me There”, which includes the famous bass line by John McVie and the guitar solo by Buckingham. “The Chain” arrives in the middle of the album, and would come to serve as the ultimate metaphor for the band itself.

The song is an epic, starting out slow and brooding, Nicks and Buckingham’s vicious harmonies make their appearance, her voice echoing his, taunting him in refrain; their voices circling around each other menacingly. Although the song starts out quiet, the tone is nasty and foreboding, but they are still holding back. They are telling each other, “damn your love, damn your lies”, as if it is both a battle cry and a warning. As they get to the chorus, “and if you don’t love me now, you will never love me again”, it is not a statement, but a threat. Enter the famous bass line, provoking a mood of quiet anxiety; before Buckingham joins in on a bombastic guitar solo, causing all hell to break lose.

When the vocals come back, all previous restraint is gone. Instead being replaced by a pleading angst, the feeling of being bound to something by force, but not willing to let go either. In a 1980 Rolling Stone feature on the band, they were in tour rehearsals and there was some tension that day. Mick started playing “The Chain”, the rest of the band joined in, and suddenly they were a whole unit again. It served as their rallying cry then, and even now, watching them perform it onstage all these years later: Buckingham and Nicks are still sparring off on the chorus, Christine is serving as a musical anchor, John is playing his iconic bass line, and Mick is leading them to battle; this dysfunctional group of people being brought together yet again.

The album’s closer, “Gold Dust Woman”, is a unique choice. Some bands’ might have gone for a more optimistic outlook to close this album; thankfully they decided to do the very opposite. Unbelievably, this is one of only two songs where Nicks has a lead vocal, but it leaves an impact. Nicks says that this song is about a multitude of things, including: fame, drugs, and her relationship with Lindsey.

The beginning of the song is hazy, almost as if someone is waking up the morning, or, rather, afternoon, after an eventful night. The song has elements of self-destruction, helplessness, and defeat, “wake up in the morning, see your sunrise loves to go down. Lousy lovers, pick their prey but they never cry out loud.” She sounds fatigued, disillusioned, and weary. Fleetwood’s percussion always staying a beat behind Nicks, and Buckingham’s guitar adds an ominous tone, giving a signal of things to come.

As the song builds to the climax, the instrumental grows into a disorienting frenzy; Fleetwood’s drumming is louder and steady now, as if the chaos is closing in on you. Nicks’ vocals grow louder and more urgent, as she fights to keep up with Buckingham’s guitar, which has slid into a distorted fever pitch. The imagery this song induces is that of someone walking through a world that is on fire, whether that is real or just metaphorical is up to the listener. By the end of the song, Nick’s vocals are almost inhuman as she is consumed by the chaos around her. The volume fades, the album ends.

The journey of Rumours, from “Secondhand News” to “Gold Dust Woman” is one exploring every avenue of romantic relationships. There are songs about love lost, love found, being scorned, and moving on. These songs are all told from the individual perspectives of the three songwriters, yet it feels cohesive, like these vastly different narratives were supposed to be entwined for life.

Today, Rumours is the ninth best selling album of all time, selling 40 million copies to date. In 1978, it won the Grammy for album of the year, and several other music awards. Almost every song on the album is well known and loved by many, and the members of Fleetwood Mac continue to perform them live: both as a band and in their solo careers.

Yet, despite all the hype, the comparisons to a “musical soap opera” and the popularity, this album is remarkably fresh and human. Listening to these songs in 2017: the lyrics are relatable, the production is immaculate, and the message still feels relevant. Rumours is as timeless today as it was when released on February 4, 1977. Happy 40th.

 

 

 

Song Lyric of the Day*: “Have you been screening your smokes? And whispers in an all night bar. Better off as the fool than the owner of that broken heart” – “Nobody Girl”, Ryan Adams

* My music library contains 11, 278 songs. I realize to some that may seem excessive. To me, it is not enough, because there is so much more to learn. After every blog post, I am going to put said music library on shuffle and the first song that comes up, I will post a lyric that sticks out to me at the moment, and maybe introduce someone to a new song, which would be awesome.

Comments

  1. They are telling each other, “damn your love, damn your lives”, as if it is both a battle cry and a warning.

    Immaculate analysis of the album, and a delightful read. I want to pull out my vinyl copy of Rumours immediately!

Leave a Comment