“Excess at its most excessive”: Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, 40 Years On

This weekend (the 4th February, to be exact) marks the 40th anniversary of the release of Fleetwood Mac’s bestselling album, Rumours. The Grammy Award-winning album was released in 1977, and marked a turning point in Fleetwood Mac’s musical career. Fuelled by immense hedonism and heavy drug-use, Rumours is an album about relationships, and trying to move on after their failure. Now the ninth best-selling album of all time, Rumours has, in the words of AllMusic editor Stephen Erlewine, “transcended its era to be one of the greatest, most compelling pop albums of all time.”

“Fleetwood himself has noted the “tremendous emotional sacrifices” made by the band simply to attend the studio to record”

The production of Rumours came after a tumultuous period in the band’s history. Following the success of Fleetwood Mac’s eponymous tenth album, released in 1975, and six month of non-stop touring, Christine and John McVie (keyboard/vocals and bass guitar respectively) divorced. Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks had been in an on-off relationship during the tour as well, but their relationship began to suffer, and they fought often.

Mick Fleetwood was also struggling with family matters, after discovering that his wife had been having an affair with his best friend. Despite these problems, the band line-up remained the same for the recording of Rumours, though Fleetwood himself has noted the “tremendous emotional sacrifices” made by the band simply to attend the studio to record.

Rumours was recorded at the Record Plant in Sausalito, California, with the band living in (separate) accommodation nearby, and originally went by the working title of Yesterday’s Gone. Though the band worked well together during the recording of the album, they did little together outside the studio, and often indulged in the prevalent San Francisco drug culture.

Chris Stone, one of the owners of Record Plant, reminisced in 1997 that the band “would come in at 7 at night, have a big feast, party till 1 or 2 in the morning, and then when they were so whacked-out they couldn’t do anything, they’d start recording.” Despite their heavy drug use and intense emotional conflicts, Nicks has suggested that Fleetwood Mac produced their best music when they were in the worst shape.

“The impact and legacy of Rumours shows no signs of stopping…”

The songs on the album are not without their significance. ‘The Chain’ (the only song written by the whole band in collaboration) and ‘Oh, Daddy’ (written by the McVies about Fleetwood and his wife, who had reconciled their differences and got back together) are about reluctance to leave a lover, even after they have treated you wrong.

‘Dreams’, ‘Second Hand News’ and ‘Go Your Own Way’ are clearly about break-ups and an attempt to move on, while songs like ‘Songbird’ (the only song on the album not recorded at Record Plant) and ‘Don’t Stop’ are a little more optimistic; they seem hopeful of a better future that will come as a result of the breakup that has just occurred. ‘Gold Dust Woman’ is a testament to Los Angeles and the hard life that such a metropolis provided; Nicks herself became addicted to cocaine after her time there, and the song references this several times.

Rumours has continued to be a classic in and of itself since its release 40 years ago. Production fraught with emotional tension and difficulty is replicated in the music itself, which is full of “raw, immediate emotional power” (Stephen Erelwine).

Now having reached 2x Diamond certification in the US and 11x Platinum in the UK, the impact and legacy of Rumours shows no signs of stopping, and will be remembered as Fleetwood Mac’s greatest contribution to music.

Ellen Smithies

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