Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
Artist: FLEETWOOD MAC
[Welcome to Forty Year Friday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1977]
Ever heard of this one? Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last four decades, chances are you either own it, know most of its songs or claim to hate it because it’s “so overplayed.” Rumours, the second album by the Fleetwood Mac lineup of guitarist/singer Lindsey Buckingham, singer Stevie Nicks, keyboardist/singer Christine McVie, bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood was not only their second consecutive chart-topper but also became one of the biggest-selling albums of all time. Its track listing of 11 songs (12 on the expanded version) features 4 hit singles and at least that many album tracks that have become radio staples & concert favorites. Created in the midst of personal turmoil, including the dissolution of the McVie marriage and Buckingham-Nicks relationship as well as Fleetwood’s marital problems, there’s a lot of bitterness & vitriol to be found in the lyrics, many of which are hidden behind a veil of catchy, upbeat pop/rock music. Co-producers Ken Caillat & Richard Dashut crafted a sonically gorgeous album which perfectly blends acoustic & electric instruments and lush harmonies, and showcases their inventive & incredibly tight rhythm section (Mick Fleetwood & John McVie don’t often get the recognition they deserve for their contributions behind the three vocalists). Songwriting is split about equally between Christine McVie, Buckingham & Nicks, with Buckingham often pitching in to embellish the others’ songs.
The first side of the original LP is dominated by Buckingham. He wrote three of the six songs and his influence (and voice) is all over two others. The chugging “Second Hand News” opens the album with a sparse, bouncy rhythm track, tight harmonies from Nicks, a biting guitar solo, memorable scat singing before the chorus and some great melodic hooks (i.e. “Won’t you lay me down in the tall grass & let me do my stuff”). The sweet & peppy “Never Going Back Again,” with its refrain of “Been down one time, been down two times,” is a Buckingham solo acoustic number. His “Go Your Own Way” was the first single released from the album toward the end of 1976, reaching the Top 10. It’s highlighted by a staggered rhythm during the verses, strong 3-part harmonies and some melodic guitar soloing. McVie’s two contributions to Side 1 couldn’t be more different: “Don’t Stop” is their ubiquitous Top 5 hit with a midtempo shuffle groove and McVie & Buckingham trading off vocals at “don’t stop” and “thinkin’ about tomorrow.” Unless you listen carefully it’s hard to tell that it’s not the same voice. McVie’s “Songbird” is essentially a solo piano song with Buckingham adding a very subtle guitar part. This gorgeous ballad was recorded on a Steinway grand piano in an auditorium, which gives the track its unique ambience. Nicks may only have one track on that side of the album but it’s a huge one: the stunningly produced “Dreams,” which became their first (and I believe only) #1 hit in the U.S. Anyone who dismisses this era of Fleetwood Mac as “soft rock” is probably pointing at this song, but the lush recording hides some biting lyrics (aimed directly at Buckingham). This might have been the first Fleetwood Mac song I ever heard and it still sends shivers down my spine whenever I play it.
Side 2 begins with “The Chain,” the only song credited to all five band members. It’s more of a collection of shorter pieces than a true collaboration, taking us through several distinct sections: the foot-stomping back-porch intro with Buckingham plucking the dobro & sharing close harmonies with Nicks; the vocal-drenched chorus (“I can still hear you sayin’ you would never break the chain”); McVie’s memorable bassline leading into the final uptempo vocal-and-guitar-solo section. Nicks’ “I Don’t Want To Know” is a melodic pop nugget that always sounded to me like it was written at a different time than the rest of the songs on Rumours. Apparently that was the case as it dates back to their pre-Fleetwood Mac days as Buckingham Nicks. Her “Gold Dust Woman” is a moody, haunting way to close out the album, with strong-yet-subtle accompaniment from the rest of the band. McVie’s joyous “You Make Loving Fun,” the album’s fourth Top 10 hit, is also one of its most upbeat tracks, although Mr. McVie couldn’t have been pleased about this paean to his estranged wife’s new lover. Her final contribution, the lush ballad “Oh Daddy,” is probably the most overlooked song here, with a mysterious quality similar to “Gold Dust Woman” but warmer & more inviting. On any other record it would have been a standout track, but here it unfortunately gets lost in the shuffle. Nicks’ pretty ballad “Silver Springs” is the odd-man-out; a nearly 5-minute song that was cut from the track listing due to time restrictions (much to her annoyance), but has since been included on several reissues, either in the middle of the album or tacked on at the end. It’s another winner that could have easily been a hit. There aren’t many albums as jam-packed with classics as this one. As I stated above, some people might complain that most of the songs have been overexposed, but remember how it sounded the first time you heard it and think about how many listeners have been inspired by it over the last 40 years.