Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 album Rumours has endured as a landmark of the modern music world for good reason.
Rumours has long since transcended its status as the exemplar of the 1970s “California sound.” With global sales north of 40 million, a Grammy for Album of the Year and enduring interest in its songs, Rumours remains vital and alive. It’s far more than a retro curiosity.
By the early ’70s, Fleetwood Mac had already begun straying from its roots as a classic British blues band. The influence of singer/keyboardist Christine McVie and former member Bob Welch had already moved the band closer to the pop/rock mainstream. The addition of American duo Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks remade Fleetwood Mac on its eponymous 1975 album, a big hit and turning point. The iconic rhythm section of drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie grounded the band throughout.
So the follow-up to Fleetwood Mac had a lot riding on it. The circumstances surrounding the creation of Rumours is now almost mythical. The McVies’ marriage and the long-term Buckingham/Nicks romance both were ending. The band was the subject of a lot of talk, some of it valid, some of it pure fantasy. But oddly enough, the tensions produced by those challenging interpersonal dynamics resulted in a brilliant album that many have called rock’s best soap opera.
Even were it known only for its hit singles, Rumours would be an important album. It placed four songs into the American Top 10, including the band’s only #1 hit, “Dreams.” A steady beat, Buckingham’s immortal electric guitar effects and Nicks at her most poetic combined for a mid-tempo gem that became a signature tune for the band. The great “Go Your Own Way” may be one of the most brilliantly passive/aggressive moments in ’70s classic rock. Buckingham’s tortured vocal over his skittering guitar work would have been enough to make the song memorable; forcing Nicks to sing harmonies on a song about how she was breaking his heart was both completely twisted and utterly amazing.
The other two singles from Rumours provided a little more optimism. Christine McVie’s “You Make Loving Fun” distilled the best of the California sound into a rhythmic pop gem that actually whipped up some hope that a romance could work. The McVie/Buckingham collaboration “Don’t Stop” was a nice blast of sunny California rock that unabashedly embraced positivity and hope for the future.
It’s not a shock that these four singles remain in regular rotation at a variety of pop and rock formats. But they hardly tell the whole story of Rumours. Much of the album remains in play, inspiring covers, tributes and new converts.
Rumours contains two of the best songs of the 1970s AOR scene. “The Chain” featured a slithering, almost paranoid, melody that snaked through the verses, featuring elaborate three-part harmony showing off Mac’s trio of singers to maximum effect. When the song explodes at the bridge, it’s an indelible rock moment. Meanwhile, Nicks’s haunting “Gold Dust Woman” channeled her mysticism and drama into a driving rock ballad that inspired generations of musicians to follow. It became a major touchstone for ’90s Alternative artists, immortalized with a cover from no less than Courtney Love.
Christine McVie’s gentle “Songbird” may be the most beautiful song that Fleetwood Mac ever committed to record. With little more than McVie’s piano work and soul-weary vocal, “Songbird” is absolutely transporting. The band used it to close out shows on its massive reunion tour in the late ’90s (captured on live album The Dance).
There isn’t a bad song or wasted moment on Rumours. “Second Hand News” and “I Don’t Want To Know” were great blasts of mid-tempo California rock that continue to pop up on Classic Rock playlists. Buckingham embraced his folk roots on the contemplative “Never Going Back Again.” And Christine McVie even managed to infuse hints of Fleetwood Mac’s blues past into the dark, churning “Oh Daddy.”
This “classic Mac” line-up possessed an odd kind of alchemy. Even when they could barely stand to be in a room together, they still created magic when the performances commenced. The interplay of the three singer/songwriters and the indelible rhythm section created something that continues to beguile listeners almost four decades later.
Rumours is as compelling now as it was then. There’s a good reason it’s never gone away.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on May 6, 2016.