What else could possibly be said about one of the highest-selling albums of all time? What could be added to one of rock music’s juiciest bit of backstage gossip? Is it worth talking anymore about the album that turned a folksy California rock band into one of the biggest bands on the planet?
There is relevance to today’s 40th anniversary of Rumours. 1977 was a torn and frayed year for rock and roll as it seemed to be at an awkward crossroads. Punk was starting to kick in with the likes of Television and The Ramones making headway, David Bowie was getting experimental with Brian Eno in Berlin, Queen released the stadium anthem to end all stadium anthems, and Pink Floyd used a floating inflatable pig to mock current politics. It seemed like the easily-digestible, radio-friendly, AOR rock was the least interesting thing about music at the time. So how does an album like Rumours become an international hit and turn Fleetwood Mac into legends? Relationship drama.
Before Taylor Swift was even a gleam in her dad’s eye thinking of the first song she’d write about boys, Fleetwood Mac’s band status was like an episode of Jerry Springer (or for this era, let’s say Phil Donahue). It was a case of good news/bad news for Fleetwood Mac leading up to Rumours: the good news was that the band finally broke into the mainstream with their self-titled 1975 album and hits like “Landslide” and “Rhiannon.” The bad news was that the band was on the verge of breaking up thanks to marital bliss and rockstar life not blending together. Bassist John McVie and keyboardist Christine McVie ended six years of marriage together after nonstop touring took its toll on their relationship, while guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and singer Stevie Nicks were in an off-and-on relationship because the rockstar lifestyle doesn’t encourage monogamy. While Mick Fleetwood thought he’d be exempt from relationship drama being the fifth wheel and all, but it turns out the mother of his two children was having an affair with his best friend.
Despite everyone being on the verge of an emotional meltdown (or possibly already having one) the Mac stepped into the studio and laid their soles out bare. As mentioned when we talked about their 1975 album, Rumours took the blueprint the band laid out on Fleetwood Mac and beefed up the production. Fleetwood’s drums on “Go Your Own Way,” You Make Loving Fun,” and “The Chain” pack a bigger punch, while Buckingham’s finger-picked guitar on the likes of “Second Hand News,” “Dreams” and “Never Going Back Again” feel much more like the lead instrument of the band. The McVie crew also sound crisper, providing a more prominent rhythm backing. The songs continue the combination of the band’s blues origins with the folksy style of Nicks and Buckingham. Whereas on Fleetwood Mac the styles were either separate or early fusions, Rumours had more complete combinations of styles as if the band knew where to place themselves.
Right from the get-go on “Second Hand News,” Rumours makes itself clear that it’s a breakup album (“I know there’s nothing to say/Someone has taken my place”). And Stevie Nicks responds in kind on the very next track, “Dreams” (“It’s only right that you should play the way you feel it/But listen carefully to the sound of your loneliness/Like a heartbeat drives you mad/In the stillness of remembering of what you had”). It’s so fascinating to listen to the back and forth between Nicks and Buckingham throughout the album, picking apart each other and kicking each other to the curb. From the emphatic throwing-up of the hands of “Go Your Own Way,” the folky-stomp of “The Chain,” or the heartbreaking realization of “Oh Daddy” (“Everything you do is just alright/And I can’t walk away from you baby, if I tried”). It closes with “Gold Dust Woman,” a slow-burn ballad with Nicks describing the pursuit of love as an “ancient queen” that no one can ever truly tame. Nicks’ vocals, covered in sexual mystique, are used expertly to question what’s the next move after a broken heart (“And now tell me, is it over now?/Do you know how to pick up the pieces/And go home? Go home, go home”). There are brief bright spots on the record, like the schmaltzy, vanilla “Don’t Stop” that might as well fit in a promo for Ronald Reagan’s presidency. But there’s also “You Make Loving Fun” a funky jam that features Christine McVie singing about moving on to new love (“I never did believe in miracles/But I’ve a feeling it’s time to try/I never did believe in the ways of magic/But I’m beginning to wonder why”).
There’s no mystery as to why Rumours sold like hot cakes. Fleetwood’s songs were crisp yet free-flowing, and featured some of the sharpest writing of 70s rock. In a time when rock was being pulled in multiple directions, Fleetwood Mac were straight to the point and honest with their audience, as well as themselves. Today, drama and torn romance is commonplace what with social media practically a factor to music nowadays. But Rumours had a magic to it, an open forum where a band laid out their hurt bare.