Dysfunctional, drugged-out quintet unleash AOR masterpiece
There are other albums in the band’s catalogue, but this is the one most people probably own. Born out of internal conflict between its members, by 1976 Fleetwood Mac were clearly falling apart, with failing marriages, affairs, and drugs taking their toll on the collective psyche of everyone involved. With John and Christine McVie in the midst of divorce; Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham having also broken up, not to mention Mick Fleetwood’s wife having an extra marital fling with his best friend, it’s extraordinary that the album was made at all.
Of course the story behind rock’s greatest soap opera, as it has come to be known, has been told and retold a thousand times over, so there’s no need for it to be repeated here. Except to say that Rumours was made at a time when Fleetwood Mac were undergoing significant private turmoil, so much so that it nearly drove them apart, that is were it not for the belief and stoicism of Fleetwood himself, who, despite his own worries, worked tirelessly at making sure that this latest incarnation of the group stayed together at least long enough to record one more LP. As Mick reflected: “We were all literally breaking up at the same time, all five of us, and I thought… what are we gonna do to keep this bunch together, including me? And I thought, get them out of LA, so I drove up to Sausalito and found the Record Plant there and thought, this is perfect.”
But despite the emotional mayhem taking place, each of these ten songs has a poignant resonance and stand better together than they do separately. Opening with Buckingham’s “Second Hand News”, we hear the anguished cry of a man who doesn’t understand why the love of his life has left him, and yet, in the next song, his ex-lover replies, with the exquisite “Dreams”, Nick’s very own retort on their relationship, managing to cast a spell over the listener at the same time. However the conversation continues with the acoustic “Never Going Back Again”, a Lindsay composition on which he sings: “Been down one time/Been down two times/I’m never going back again”. Obviously this is someone who’s had his heart put through a blender.
Christine McVie comes up trumps with “Don’t Stop”, a song written about her disintegrating marriage, and one which would also become an unexpected hit on FM radio. Never has dysfunction sounded so good. Buckingham takes a swipe at Nicks on the bitter “Go Your Own Way”, followed by Christine’s plaintive “Songbird”, a piano ballad that is more Sandy Denny than Carole King. The group rally together on the epic “The Chain”, a tune which probably tells the story of the band more than any other, because even though hearts have been broken, the bond between them can never be torn asunder. But days of our lives aside, it’s also a fine listen, where McVie, Buckingham and Fleetwood seem to be flying by the seat of their pants on the instrumental second half.
Now I’m sure that John must have wore a big grin when it came to recording bass on “You Make Loving Fun”, written by Christine in relation to an affair she was having. “I Don’t Want To Know” is another breakup song although one the listener can tap their toe, while Christine McVie pulls of another soulful melancholy tune with “Oh Daddy”, dedicated to Mick Fleetwood (whom to my knowledge she wasn’t having an illicit relationship with).
But it’s Stevie Nicks who has the final say on the entire sordid affair, with the superb and ghostly “Gold Dust Woman”, where she weaves her witchy smoky vocals on top of Buckingham’s haunting guitar, while Fleetwood thumps away in the background. It’s an outstanding song, and one of Stevie’s best, at least from that era. One thing’s for sure, there’s an enormous amount of pain on this record, despite its many pop connotations.
Rumours turned out to be one of the biggest albums of all time, which to this day has sold over forty million copies, making it (so far) the eighth largest selling record to date. No small feat for sure, and one which the band are of course extremely proud of. As Fleetwood attests: “I don’t think we had an inkling of the effect the album would have in terms of sales but I do have memories that we felt we had done something that we felt really great about. I know we were all horribly emotionally dysfunctional and in many ways unhappy, and so all of that came out in the diary that was Rumours.”