Off the Record Celebrates the 40th Anniversary of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours
“It’ll be, better than before.”
Today marks the 40th anniversary of a monumental moment which began arguably one of the most important years in music history. On February 4th, 1977, Fleetwood Mac released their eleventh studio album, the critically and commercially acclaimed Rumours. While the British-American band was already well established before, it was Rumours that cemented them as one of the greats. The album brought the world classics like “Go Your Own Way” and the more upbeat “Don’t Stop”, which anyone can identify without even being familiar with Rumours. From “Dreams” to “You Make Loving Fun” to the collaborated “Chains”, this album is about relationships and moving on through life, universal themes everyone and anyone can connect to. Whether it’s the iconic vocals, the ranging instrumentals, or the messages found in the lyrics, there is something about this album that has made it a success, one that people can’t stop listening to.
“Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone.”
The 1970s were a pivotal period in music of every genre. Rock — in all its forms — took a huge leap in the 70s with notable names like Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, The Ramones, and so much more. The key to the period was the blending of genres. The end of the sixties saw violence and progress, assassinations and peaceful protests. After the innocence of the sixties was shattered, music could no longer fit into the standard cookie-cutter categories. Rock was now hard rock, country rock, punk rock. Every sub genre had its own set of sub-sub genres. This blurring of genre lines could explain the monumental success of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. Fleetwood Mac excelled at pushing the boundaries of genre, becoming the very definition of 70s music. From folk to pop to soft rock, the group was not afraid of experimenting with the popular sounds of the period in order to create something completely new that would influence the future of music for years to come. The band began as a blues-rock band, featuring a much different sound than we experience on Rumours. The band gained and lost many members throughout its history, each bringing a different influence that shaped the overall sound we hear on the ‘77 album.
It is perhaps the band’s history that explains its genre-defying success. The early years of the band were spent in the UK where it underwent a transition that saw Mick Fleetwood and John McVie brought together to form Fleetwood Mac. However, the band was not destined to stay in the UK. They moved to the US and settled in California. This is where Christine McVie (then married to John McVie), Lindsey Buckingham, and Stevie Nicks joined the group. Buckingham was heavily inspired by the Beach Boys, even naming the group’s “God Only Knows” as a “perfect” pop song. It took the blending of this new California-inspired sound, with the blues influence of the original Fleetwood Mac men to drive the band into the popular consciousness. Rumours took its place among the genres that it drew from, but also carved out its own spot in music history.
“Rock On, Gold Dust Woman”
In an industry so heavily dominated by male heroes of rock, Stevie Nicks worked to change the perception of how women were characterized. In a 2013 interview with Rolling Stone, she notes: “…we can never be treated like second-class citizens,” she explained. “When we walk into a room we have to float in like goddesses, because that’s how we wanted to be treated. We demanded that from the beginning.” She ensured from the very start that her and Christine would never be held to a standard below that of their male band-mates.
Nicks also serves as a strong advocate for the support of other female performers. During an interview with Mojo Magazine in 2015, Nicks said “I think every band should have a girl in it, because it’s going to make for cooler stuff than if it’s a bunch of guys.” Her hope for more female representation stems from her younger self, as told in a 1982 interview with Creem Magazine where Nicks states “there’s nothing I’d rather see than a great woman singer come along.”
Stevie Nicks is the type of performer who never lets you down. Every time she belts out a note or steps on a stage, you can expect nothing short of amazing. Her presence is powerful, thus making her an inspirational and important figure for women in the late 60s and for decades to come. She used songs like “Landslide” and “Dreams” to help women mend their broken hearts. In 2012 The Huffington Post described Nicks and her feminism best, noting that “her life is marked by great love…profound successes, painful lessons, struggles, and a will to define her own existence” and these all come through with her music. Despite a turbulent history of addiction and heartbreak, Nicks – now age 68 – works to convey a positive image of herself, serving as a role model to a sea of powerful women. She has always been a commanding presence, both onstage and in studio, and will be for many years to come. With her vivacious voice and colourful personality, Stevie Nicks unquestionably carved a path for herself as the Queen of rock and roll.
“Loving you isn’t the right thing to do.”
The romantic discord that plagued the band during the creation of Rumours may have taken a toll on the member’s’ well-being and personal relationships, but proved fruitful as it gave the world one of the best selling and most loved albums of all time. When Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined the British three-piece consisting of Mick Fleetwood, Christine McVie, and John McVie during their search for new members in 1975, they had no idea of the emotional turbulence ahead. During the recording of Rumours, Christine began to date the band’s lighting director after her marriage to John disintegrated, inspiring the hit songs “Songbird,” and “You Make Lovin’ Fun” (once their relationship was found out, however, he was promptly fired). Nicks and Buckingham’s relationship began to unravel as well, and Fleetwood’s own marriage dissolved after discovering his wife had cheated on him with his best friend. This tension, as well as the heavy drug scene in Sausalito, CA where the band recorded the album, all contributed to what we know now to be one of the best rock albums to come out of the 70s. Tracks like “Go Your Own Way,” and “Dreams” written by Buckingham and Nicks respectively, really display the amount of sheer emotion that went into writing these songs. Unlike some modern music where the lyrics are ghostwritten for the most popular singer that week, lines like “If I could, baby I’d give you my world / how can I, when you won’t take it from me,” and “Now here you go again, / you say you want your freedom / well who am I to keep you down,” paired with the common knowledge of the state of the band’s relationships, gives the listener an emotional experience that is really unique to Rumours. While Fleetwood Mac wasn’t the only 1970s band that had some relationship problems (e.g. ABBA), their apparently seamless transition from being furious at each other to having some of the best chemistry seen in an album is what really pulls Rumours towards the front of the pack in a decade filled with influential music.
“And the songbirds are singing, like they know the score.”
The opening track “Second Hand News” starts off feeling slightly country, but once you get about a minute into the song you’re taken completely over by the rock feel when Lindsey Buckingham reaches his guitar solo. However songs like “Dreams” definitely give you more of a pop country sound instead of rock. The mellow yet upbeat drums and over emphasized bass provide that dark and heavy feel that sets a mysterious atmosphere in “Dreams”. The song “The Chain” has a bluesy country vibe to it and the minor chords in the song push it towards a more ghostly and haunting experience. “Oh Daddy” is staggering, border-lining mellow rock and modern blues. John McVie’s bass in “Oh Daddy” helps set the mood towards a blues atmosphere, repeating the same low range riff. Also in “Oh Daddy” Stevie Nicks uses a singing technique called “half air” where she sings with half volume and half air. This specific technique provides a melancholic feeling to the voice and is also very commonly used in slow jazz/blues songs. Overall, whether you enjoy country, pop, rock, or even olden blues to modern day blues Rumours has a variety of different styles on this album. Each song has it’s own atmosphere and personal meaning to it that may reach out to you. The collaboration of genres melds Rumours together, so odds are if one particular song does not suit you, keep listening — because there is definitely something for everyone.
The album aggregates a wide selection of genres and styles that culminate in a variety of tones and ultimately leave you with a sense of hopefulness. Listening through the album, you might find cheerful swinging grooves with a classic rock emphasis, folky guitar tones with bluesy rhythms, or groovy, foot-tapping and spacious beats with a funky reminiscence. Overall, the album maintains an energetic bounce, up and down, riddled with twinkly nuances and catchy hooks – vivacious backdrops that often hug velvety vocals. The percussion is frequently steady and pushing, punching the song forward in a linear fashion. When there isn’t percussion, the tone shifts between a heavier, hopeful melancholy, and then a light authenticity that evokes old country America. The instrumentation is often supportive – each musical component communally lifting the other to manipulate a desired mood. The instrumentation creates a linear wideness, driven forward by popping bass, providing room for airy, multi-syllabic vocal runs that fit nicely within and around each bar. The album contains a variety of contrasting grooves with differing paces, eliciting shifting tonal responses that force the listener into the nostalgic realms of childhood, romance, wistful tensity, and listing passivity.
‘All I want is to see you smile, If it takes just a little while.’
The songs on Rumours have proven to be widely influential, impacting listeners even decades later. With just a quick search on the internet you can find hundreds of covers of songs from the album, both by famous artists such as Mumford & Sons and Haim, and by their legion of fans. The songs’ universal messages have spoken to listeners for generations, influencing artists from Tori Amos to Lorde, who called it ‘a perfect record’.
As music has the tendency to do, Rumours played a hand in helping shape and motivate social and political movements. In 1993, Bill Clinton persuaded Fleetwood Mac to perform at his inauguration, and the song ‘Don’t Stop’ became a hit again. The song’s message of never giving up and having a hopeful mindset inspired Clinton’s supporters, and it continued to be played at his speeches and events.
In its second season, hit musical-comedy show Glee did an entire episode as a tribute to the album, in which cast members performed seven of the eleven songs. The episode’s story-line reflected themes on the album, as the characters experienced struggles in their friendships and romantic relationships. The characters learned to overcome their problems through expressing themselves through singing Rumours’ songs, showing music has the power to heal wounds and bring people together.
‘Rock on, ancient queen, follow those who pale in your shadow.’
From redefining genres to empowering women to embracing emotional trauma and being easy on the ears, there is no denying the impact Rumours had and continues to have. While Fleetwood Mac may have been falling apart, it was this album–this album poured to the brim with an inexplicable amount of sheer optimism and hope–that held them together. Rumours’ universal themes allow it to fall outside the constraints of time as an album that forever changed the music scene. Holding its rightful place as one of the top 10 best-selling albums in Amercia, the legacy that Rumours’ leaves behind will hold a place in the heads and hearts of people around the world for another forty years to come.
Fleetwood Mac Live – photo by Bill Hansen