Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
Released February 4th, 1977 on Warner Bros. Records
Rumours is the sound of a band turning internecine warfare into pure pop gold. It’s also the culmination of one of the more interesting careers in rock ‘n’ roll history.
Way back in the mid-1960s, Eric Clapton left John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, and he was replaced by Peter Green, who was one hell of a blues guitarist. After some lineup shuffles, the Bluesbreakers would be John Mayall, Peter Green, bassist John McVie, and drummer Mick Fleetwood. After Green left the band in mid-1967, he and Fleetwood formed a band with slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer and named it after an instrumental the Bluesbreakers had recorded, “Fleetwood Mac”. Once John McVie joined they recorded an album, Fleetwood Mac, and it achieved quite a bit of success in their native Britain. By 1969, however, Green was developing symptoms of schizophrenia and he would end up leaving the group; in 1971 Spencer would disappear on tour and turn up living with the infamous California cult Children Of God. John McVie’s wife Christine joined the band as keyboardist and vocalist, and a number of other musicians were tried out in the early 1970s. Around 1974-75 the group of Fleetwood and the McVies merged with a group calling themselves Buckingham Nicks, consisting of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. This iteration of Fleetwood Mac was not a blues group; 1975’s Fleetwood Mac was very much a pop record, a complete 180 from 1968’s Fleetwood Mac.
By 1977, though, the group was tearing itself apart. The McVies broke up, and remained only on speaking terms while in the studio discussing music. Buckingham and Nicks were in a convulsive on-again-off-again relationship that only ever seemed to mend itself when they were writing songs together. Mick Fleetwood found out that his wife and his best friend were having an affair behind his back. To deal with all of this heartache and bitterness and recrimination, the band did an astounding amount of drugs, even by the standards of the late Seventies. Studio sessions would begin around 7 in the evening and around 2 AM, when the band was finally so coked-out that they could only pick up instruments and play, they would begin to actually record. Albums recorded in this fashion tend to be somewhat hit and miss. Station To Station and Hotel California were both recorded in the midst of blizzards, so to speak, but then again so were Vol. 4 and Be Here Now. Rumours falls squarely in the first category and in a very real sense defines it. There is no reason that an album recorded through a lens of residual anger and strong stimulants should sound so goddamn breezy, but here we are. It is the purest expression of Seventies AM pop ever committed to tape, and as such it is little wonder that virtually every single track on the album has ended up enshrined forever on the radio to a greater or lesser degree.
Like Michael Jackson’s Thriller, when the entire album is scratched into your soul how do you pick out any particular tracks as being superior to the others? Which is the best? Is it the finger-popping Cali-country melody of “Second Hand News”? Is it the moody Nicks compositions, “Dreams”, “I Don’t Want To Know”, or the harrowing “Gold Dust Woman”? Is it the hopeful freedom of Christine McVie’s “Don’t Stop” or “You Make Loving Fun”, or perhaps the sorrowful state of her relationship with her ex-husband, encapsulated on “Oh, Daddy”? Is it the come-together moment of the entire group on “The Chain”, a song that seems to air all of their grievances at once in a moment of partial exorcism? Picking is impossible, and the 39 minute runtime seems all too short to have appreciated the entirety; whenever I listen to Rumours, I find myself needing to listen to it twice just to appreciate all the subtleties the group worked into the songs. Chuck Klosterman might not think there’s any approach to greatness in these songs, but I don’t think that Klosterman has ever listened to them on a fragrant summer night when the wind is in your hair and the girl beside you is holding your hand in just the right fashion.