40 Years of Rumours

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   Forty years ago today, Fleetwood Mac released their eleventh studio album titled Rumours, which went on to reach #1 on charts in eight countries, reach double Diamond status after selling over 22 million records in both the United States and Canada, and be named the best performing album of 1977 by Billboard. Since its release, Rumours has become a staple in the history of rock music. With four singles – all of which charted on the Billboard Hot 100 for multiple weeks – that are commonly known to music fans everywhere, there is no doubt that Rumours made itself a household name. It has also gone on to influence countless bands and artists throughout the past four decades, like The Go-Go’s, Billy Corgan, Courtney Love, Little Big Town, Lady Antebellum, Sheryl Crow, Haim, Afghan Wigs, George Ezra, and many others. Rumours is widely considered to be quite an enigma among music fans across the globe due to the way the album has been so influential and for so long, even though it is notoriously known for being born among pain and discord between those who created it.

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       While Fleetwood Mac is widely regarded as one of the most influential groups of all time, their success didn’t come without complications. Leading up to Rumours, the British rock/pop band faced their fair share of problems – including running through a plethora of different band members. After some controversial circumstances (a member leaving to join a Christian sect and another due to LSD, the fake Fleetwood Mac, etc.) and some relationship hassles, Fleetwood Mac hit its peak with their first album under the Warner label in 1977; Rumours.  

       1976 was the beginning of many open wounds for the band. The bass guitarist, John McVie, and keyboardist, Christine McVie, had filed for divorce, Mick Fleetwood had recently divorced his own wife, and Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks had broken up after their extensive relationship. The drama of each separation was reflected in Rumours and was one of the reasons why the album became such a success. Nicks confirmed in an interview that the copious amounts of drug and alcohol consumption, as well as the numerous issues surrounding all members of the band, put them all “in the worst shape. But it was helping [them] make the best music.” The climax of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours glory also brought more emphasis on the band’s reputation for staying together despite their series of quarrels. “By the time we got to Rumours, the emotional rollercoaster was in full motion… Everybody knew everything about everybody and I was definitely piggy-in-the-middle,” Fleetwood recalled in an interview with Uncut Magazine. On top of being band leader, Fleetwood then had to act as the mediator between the other feuding couples, despite his own relationship troubles. Nicks revealed in an interview with Rolling Stone that even though their “friendship” appears to still exist onstage, the tensions between she and Buckingham have remained since their breakup almost 40 years ago. Though all band members have matured, and time has healed wounds, there is still uneasiness that was first seen by the public in Rumours. Speaking of her breakup from Buckingham in 1977 in a sit-down with Oprah Winfrey, Nicks recalls that the band “never, ever, with anything that happened to [them], ever, let love affairs break Fleetwood Mac up.”

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       Rumours contains eleven tracks. Each song has its own style, from upbeat pop tracks, to folk sounds, and even ballads. Along with the better known tracks, the album contains a surplus of tunes that follow the main theme of the album: heartbreak. The song “Second Hand News,” for example, is about discovering that the love of your life has moved on and found someone else. This song is melancholic, but also has an upbeat backing track that is easy to listen to no matter what you’re doing. “Songbird” is a slow and sweet ballad with a soft piano backing track that makes it sound haunting, bringing the strong emotion of the tune to the forefront.  Another song that follows that formula is “The Chain,” which sounds both upbeat but angry. This track conveys the feelings that come with a broken promise quite effectively.

       One of the reasons Rumours is such a masterpiece is due to the emphasis producers Ken Calliat and Richard Dashut placed on every song being a hit. They wanted to knock every tune out of the park, no matter the cost. There were four singles preluding the full album release – “You Make Loving Fun,” “Dreams,” “Go Your Own Way,” and “Don’t Stop,” the last three becoming some of the band’s most popular tracks.

       “Dreams,” like many other tracks on this album, is a breakup song. Nicks really wasn’t fond of Buckingham at this time, and that’s part of what made this tune such a hit. The song itself is quite simple, as it consists of a dance drum beat, a handful of chords, and a groovy bass line. Despite the simplicity of the tune, “Dreams” became the only chart topping hit single that Fleetwood Mac ever produced. With the success of this single – and the album as a whole – Fleetwood Mac carried on to become a rock/pop powerhouse group in the late 1970’s and 80’s; this is funny, though, considering they were about as close to breaking up as a Kit-Kat bar that’s been lying around the kitchen cupboard for a decade.

       The real beauty of “Dreams” comes from its brilliant lyricism – a trait that became a selling point for many Fleetwood Mac songs in years to come. You take these cute little vocal lines and look at the cold meaning behind them and you just can’t help but laugh! Take this one for example: “In the stillness of remembering what you had and what you lost.” Stevie is basically saying: “Yeah, sure, break up with me, but you’re going to be lonely. Good luck finding another girl like me because you’ve lost that now, pal.”

       “Don’t Stop” was written in 1976 around the time of the McVie’s breakup. Christine wanted the absolute best for John, making the message of the song one of optimism. Whether you consider the chorus, which urges you to keep moving forward, or the upbeat and fun atmosphere of the tune, “Don’t Stop” may be one of the happiest breakup songs of all time and the message of things getting better is a theme that should be communicated in more breakup songs. That is partially why Rumours was so successful; the numerous hits on the album challenge the status quo of depressing breakup songs with their upbeat sound. Beyond the musical sphere, “Don’t Stop” became the campaign theme song for Democratic candidate Bill Clinton in 1992, which is kind of funny considering it started out as a breakup song. Aside from posting the song’s popularity, Clinton’s victory lead to a pseudo reunion between the Rumours lineup as they played at the inaugural gala in 1993.

       Released as a single in 1976, “Go Your Own Way” was the first debut for Rumours, which Buckingham wrote as his relationship with Nicks unraveled. Although his lyrics are simple, the song’s testimony hits home for millions of listeners, making it the only Fleetwood Mac number to have made the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s list of “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.”  The two-part harmony by Nicks and Buckingham in the chorus echoes the singers’ relationship and split. As Buckingham claims his love for Nicks in the song, stating that he would have given her his “world,” he also expresses his distress, claiming, “shacking up is all [Nicks] want[ed to] do.”

       “Every time those words would come onstage, I wanted to go over and kill him,” Nicks recalled later to Rolling Stone. “Go Your Own Way” displays the true tension of Fleetwood Mac throughout their fame from Rumours.

       The album was meticulously mastered and remastered over many months by Calliat and Dashut in order to give that pop danceability to the drum tracks and the clean three-way harmony Rumours has.  While the above singles dominated the charts, the album as a whole also contained the same level of expertise in production and captivating melodic arrangements through Nicks’ classical background. This combination of elements is what gave Rumours its signature sound and made it as influential as it is today.

       Aside from the musical proficiency of the album, the press contributed to the many rumours and untruths within the band member’s relationships and lives in 1976/77 – funny, isn’t it, rumours sprouting from Rumours? Under the scrutiny of the public eye, Fleetwood Mac was pushed into the limelight upon the record’s release, and met with much praise.

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       Rumours tackles themes of heartbreak, love, identity, salvation, and independence. These were obviously some of the emotions Fleetwood Mac explored during the recording of the album, which provided the album’s additional authenticity through the tone and lyrics. There is a diversity of arrangements and a variance of sound among the tracks as well. Through this, Fleetwood Mac provides a journey within each of Rumours songs, making them seem like more than just your typical “chorus, verse, bridge” format.

       Many concepts surrounding the late 1960’s and early 1970’s folk scene had weathered away by 1977. The idea of a new America shaped by the likes of Dylan, Woody Gutherie, Simon and Garfunkel, who all opposed the views of their parents’ generation, had aged, and now the artists themselves were shifting from their own political views. Disco was rising; black musicians in clubs and discotheques were creating their own communities. Saturday Night Fever was released, and the Bee Gees and ABBA were huge. By all accounts, disco was the future, or so it seemed at the time. Punk, however, soon came bursting onto the scene, surprising everyone.

       Punk was a direct response to disco and soon became the new folk, replacing the void that folk had left behind. It was a raw state of adrenaline the world had never seen before. Fashion and community were very important to the movement too: Vivian Westwood’s store in West London was the birth of Punk fashion in a mainstream sense. Pop charts weren’t as influential as they were in the 60’s, either, as teens weren’t restricted to limited radio stations. Recording technologies, like synths, lush strings, and 16+ track recording machines, were becoming the new norm.

       Thus, in the context of music in 1977, Rumours comes off as a bit of traditionalist. Rooted in acoustic folk and harmonized soft rock, it’s an album that wasn’t looking to the future in a year full of influentially new sounds. It was in all of Europe where most of the this kind of experimentation was taking place: Eno and Bowie were laying the groundwork for pop to come, techno-pioneers Kraftwerk were bringing synths to the forefront, and Costello was making his power pop debut. Fleetwood Mac, on the other hand, were content to craft melodic, simple pop. For the American-British band, this proved to be a great tactic, since they brought back the sounds of the 60’s with a folk/pop style. Looking back to 1977, the folk/pop style seemed outdated, but Fleetwood Mac stuck with it, allowing Rumours to become one of the best-selling albums of all time.

       Now-a-days, Fleetwood Mac’s sound is generally described as having a rock/pop feel mixed in with a few elements of country music. Back in those days, there was still “folk” music, but not the same sort of pop/folk/singer-songwriter sound that there is today. That particular kind of folk we’re used to is something Fleetwood Mac largely pioneered, and Rumours in particular played a crucial part in the genre’s development. Rumours had brought the addition of Buckingham and – more importantly – Nicks to the group. The addition of the duo brought the acoustic sound that Fleetwood Mac had been missing. Focusing more on Nicks, you can draw many parallels from her voice to the kind of guitar-playing, Country Girl, female singers we’ve got today.  

       Nicks brought in that story-telling element mixed with a certain timbre and tone quality that made her perfect for singing country-esque ballads.  Her voice inspired many girls for generations to come – like old school Taylor Swift, or The Dixie Chicks. The emergence of Stevie Nicks brought about this kind of influence on popular female singers today, and all we can say is that if you’re a fan of anything folk/country/singer-songwriter now, you owe Stevie Nicks and Rumours a big thank you.

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       By now, you can tell that Rumours was one of the most influential albums of all time. It overcame many of Fleetwood Mac’s hardships in the end, now telling a story of love, identity, and independence. This acoustic folk and harmonized soft rock album made a major impact on the musical world, providing influence to many popular artists. Without Rumors, we would not have the same music we enjoy listening to today.

       From all of us here at Record Breaker: Thank you, Fleetwood Mac, for Rumours. 

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