Album of the Week, April 20: Rumours by Fleetwood Mac
April 20, 2014 2 Comments
Fleetwood Mac founder and guitarist Peter Green must have been prescient. After leaving John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Green took drummer Mick Fleetwood with him. Hoping to entice bassist John McVie along, he named the new project Fleetwood Mac. McVie hesitated briefly, then dived in. Fittingly, nearly 50 years on, the single constant in this volatile and productive band is its rhythm section, the men who gave it a name.
After a period of British success as a straight-ahead blues band (featuring guitarists Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan in addition to Green), the band lost its founder and began to shift toward a pop-rock sound informed by their blues roots. Pianist and singer Christine Perfect provided some studio support, then married John McVie and joined the band. Fleetwood Mac shed guitarists due to emotional and chemical problems, eventually recruiting California soft rocker Bob Welch to fill the gap. After years of revolving door personnel (no two albums after the second featured the same lineup), label and legal problems, and inconsistent sales, Welch left, forcing Fleetwood and the McVies to take stock. They had moved to California and stumbled across folk-pop duo Buckingham-Nicks. The latter pair joined the band, recording the equally prescient restart named Fleetwood Mac and creating the nexus of a rock superpower.
|Label||Warner Bros.||Release Date||February 4, 1977|
|Producer||Fleetwood Mac with Richard Dashut and Ken Calliat|
|U.S. Chart||1||U.K. Chart||1|
[US Hot 100]
By the time they recorded Rumours, Fleetwood’s marriage was on the skids and both the McVies and Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks had split. The emotional tensions, sudden burst of real stardom, and heavy touring had taken their toll. Fortunately for generations of pop music fans, that dark energy was harnessed into one of the finest — and biggest-selling — albums of all time. With Lindsey Buckingham taking the lead (and some help from talented guests), the band produced the disc themselves, further channeling the internal tensions through their creative lens. Despite having three vocalist / songwriters and an undercurrent of conflict, the band were more cohesive than ever, forming a tight, powerful unit that made the most of their individual contributions to a stunning whole.
Second-Hand News is the perfect welcome. A folky pop tune by Buckingham, its bitter lyrics make it clear where Fleetwood Mac are coming from. At the same time, the very personal words rise work on a stark, universal level. The same is true for Nicks’ Dreams. Surprisingly the band’s only US #1, it blends the raw personal emotion with her naturalist and mystical bent into a dark, emotive storm. On any other album it would be the finest track instead of one among many. Never Going Back Again finds Buckingham taking the wrongs he’s experienced and vowing to grow stronger from it, a nice bit of sequencing that emphasizes Rumours‘ genius.
That determination resonates further in the darkly optimistic Don’t Stop, one of Christine McVie’s best hits for the band. It’s a great celebration of a better day to come, with just enough focus on the darkness that preceded it to fit in perfectly. Buckingham’s masterpiece, Go Your Own Way, comes up next. A powerful acknowledgement that a relationship is done for, the performances are so strong that it resonates as a pop anthem despite its darkness. Buckingham turns in one of his best guitar solos and a remarkable vocal, creating one of the strongest singles of the 70s. Side one of the original vinyl ends with a quiet breath of fresh air, McVie’s contemplative Songbird. It’s a beautiful piano-and-vocal song that remains a standout in her long, impressive career.
Side Two opens with a bang. The Chain is the only song ever credited to the full quintet as writers and is the emotional core of Rumours. Angry, bitter, resigned, and determined, it proclaims all the pain that churned in the band members as they assembled for this album. It also features some of the strongest work of the Fleetwood / McVie rhythm section, an impressive feat that underscores the fact that (for now at least) Fleetwood Mac is a band — far greater than the sum of its individual parts.
You Make Loving Fun is a charming pop love song, almost a throw-away on this album but a great single in any other context. I Don’t Want to Know is a powerful oddity, a Nicks song sung by Buckingham which uses that twist to create some of its great power. Oh Daddy is McVie’s darkest contribution to the album, a quiet bluesy number that shows off her vocal and emotional range impressively. Things wrap up with Nicks’ Gold Dust Woman another hint at her lyrical direction that serves as a perfect closer to Rumours. Brooding and contemplative, it ponders fame and happiness, wishing for a balance that favors the latter. It’s one of her best vocals, further demonstrating how this project brought out the best in all its participants.
Rumours spawned a rare four Top 10 hits and ruled the album charts for most of 1977. With 31 weeks at #1 and eventually over 40 million units sold, it remains one of the most commercially successful albums of all time. Unlike many, it transcends its time and place, creating a wonderful, stirring listening experience that is a fresh and potent now as it was nearly 40 years ago.
FURTHER LISTENING: How do you like your Mac? I’m not a big fan of their blues period, but the work of that incarnation is solid and well-rated by fans of British blues. Of the albums between Peter Green and Buckingham-Nicks, Bare Trees and Heroes Are Hard to Find are the most consistent, showing hints of the pop champions to come. Fleetwood Mac is a stunning album, paling only in comparison to Rumours as the band tries to find the right blend of its members’ individual talents. The latter three albums by the famed quintet all have something to offer: Tusk is eccentric and sprawling with moments of glory; Mirage is a solid pop album that shows the band trying to hold itself together in the wake of solo successes; Tango In the Night is a lumpy pop mess with a handful of glorious songs and some pretty dull filler. After that, the revolving door starts again and only serious fans need worry about most of the output. For casual fans, 1988’s Greatest Hits is a perfect sampler of the most famous incarnation’s hits and the best entry-level anthology available.