The Bloody Classics - Fleetwood Mac
Fleetwood Mac Rumours, 1977, Warner Bros.
Second Hand News
Never Going Back Again
Go Your Own Way
You Make Loving Fun
I Don’t Want to Know
Gold Dust Woman
Released in the same month as Damned Damned Damned, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors, the eighth highest selling album in the history of music, could not be more different. It may seem a strange record for me to pick for this column since it is such a successful mainstream classic. This album was nothing like anything else that came out in what we have already established was a stellar year for music though, so it has to be worth a look. Also, this was Fleetwood Mac’s 11th album and to make something so unusual having been around for so long seems pretty special.
Formed with their original line up in London in 1967, Fleetwood Mac are one of the most successful bands in music. Their first two albums were strictly blues with the third being a move towards rock. By the time they came to create their 11th (and most commercially successful) studio album in a soft rock vein, the line up was: Christine (vocals and keyboards) and John (bass) Mcvie who had just divorced each other, vocalist Stevie Nicks and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham (a couple who had just split up) and drummer Mick Fleetwood who was in the midst of his own marital crisis. The emotional rollercoaster that the band went through to record this album has been well documented elsewhere, so I won’t go into detail on it. It took them so long to record this album that they cancelled an entire sold out North American tour to get it finished. They also took so much cocaine during the recording sessions that they considered thanking their dealer on the album sleeve notes Suffice to say that the recording of this album in a small California studio must have been challenging for all of them.
All the songs on the album are about relationships and I think you all already know how I feel about a traditional love song, so, with a bit of trepidation, let’s jump in:
"Second Hand News" is a fun toe-tapping ode to rebound relationships, it’s a great opener. Classic single "Dreams", which incredibly Stevie Nicks wrote in only a matter of minutes, is beautifully ethereal. While it’s not strictly my cup of tea, I can appreciate how brilliantly crafted it is, also it’s a perfect counterpoint to its sister song, the Buckingham-penned "Go Your Own Way" - both were written about Nicks and Bukingham’s break up from the writer’s perspective. "Never Going Back Again" is folky and sparse in comparison to the rest of the album. Don’t Stop is a change of pace, clearly designed as an anthemic rocker in the glam rock vein and of course you’ll know it a bit too well thanks to a certain former POTUS. Go Your Own Way is beautifully crafted, but lyrically it’s just as angry as a punk song, there’s nice use of maracas too! This is just a great song with wonderful harmonised vocals. I’ve read that Mick Fleetwood was trying to make his drumming sound like Charlie Watts on The Rolling Stones’ "Street Fighting Man" here, it’s a laudable aim, but what he achieves is something quite different. I know I am supposed to appreciate "Songbird" as a beautiful love song, but typically for me I’m just not a big fan, so I think it’s the weakest track. "The Chain" is much more interesting, with its country vibe. The drums run like it’s heartbeat. This is a properly brilliant song that uses the skills of all the band members to the full. Also, the instrumental three minutes in is everything. "I Don’t Want to Know" takes on the country vibe again, but is upbeat enough to keep you moving. Closing track "Gold Dust Woman" is another gorgeous ethereal piece from Stevie Nicks with a great vocal and twanging guitar. Ending on an anti-love song where the protagonist is cocaine? Right up my street.
It’s noticeable how different all the songs are, having been written by all different band members although the obvious dialogue between the band members’ relationships gives the songs a cohesion, also "The Chain", the only track written by all of them together is the absolute stand out. The harmonies between the vocalists are what make this album great. Mick Fleetwood’s drumming is economical, I like my drums louder, but he is still technically very strong and along with John McVie he keeps a tight understated rhythm section which gives everyone else room to shine. I said I was a bit nervous when I started listening since punk is the music I love most from this era but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Rumours. It’s just so genuinely well made that you can’t fail to move to the songs. I am impressed that something so good can come from so much conflict and I imagine it’s helped plenty of Fleetwood Mac fans get through their own personal disasters, so it remains relevant 40 years after its release.
This album’s legacy has been truly far-reaching, for one thing its success help keep the band together a bit longer despite their fractured relationships. It is diamond and platinum certified in multiple countries. It was the band’s first UK number one album eventually going 13x platinum in the UK and 20x platinum in the US. To date it has sold more than 40 million copies across the world. The album tracks have been much covered by artists as diverse as The Corrs, Goo Goo Dolls, The Cranberries, Elton John, Lorde, Death Cab for Cutie, Billy Corgan and Courtney Love and of course Florence Welch owes more than a little something to Stevie Nicks. Oh and how could I forget? The Chain is integral to British popular culture having been the theme tune to the BBC’s formula one coverage since 1978 (Yep, that’s where you’ve heard it).
This is only the second album I have covered in this series to be included in the US National Recording Registry and it deserves its place. Made in a musical era full of the angry and dispossessed, Fleetwood Mac’s masterpiece may shout a bit less, but there’s still more than enough angst to make it stand out even among its revolutionary contemporaries.