It was a pretty battered and torn Fleetwood Mac that entered the Record Plant in Sausalito in February 1976. A massive tour on the back of the self titled 1975 album had just been completed and relationships within the band were frought and almost at breaking point. Christine and John McVie had divorced, were only conversing musically and not socially, and Christine was having a relationship with one of the lighting technicians. Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham’s on/off relationship was still causing great disharmony and to put the tin hat on it Mick Fleetwood discovered his wife had been having an affair with his best mate so he was probably not in the best frame of mind either. The album was initially going to be called ‘Yesterdays News’ but John McVie came up with the alternative ‘Rumours’. It’s not hard to guess where he got the idea from. The sessions themselves had more in common with an all night party than recording sessions and the band would regularly assemble in the studio as late as seven o’clock in the evening. Recording rarely started before the early hours though by which time copious amounts of cocaine and alcohol had been consumed. In fact Stevie Nicks remembers recording the vocal to ‘Gold Dust Woman’ at 4 am. This was seventies rock ‘n’ roll “excess at its most excessive” as Record Plant owner Chris Stone put it.
The album starts with ‘Second Hand News’ basically an acoustic strummalong song which ensures a fast uptempo beginning. It is probably one of the least important songs on the album but sets the scene as opener perfectly. Things really take off though with second track ‘Dreams’. Still Stevie Nicks best ever song it isn’t even marred by the slightly nasal delivery of a part of the song which is either down to a cold or more likely excessive use of cocaine. Curiously despite Christine McVie declaring the song ‘boring’ when first hearing it it remains Fleetwood Mac’s only ever #1 single and provided Rumours with its third, and best selling, chart hit. Another Buckingham folky strum ‘Never Going Back Again’ leads into the second heavyweight offering ‘Don’t Stop’. Another of Mac’s most well known songs it is Christine McVie’s highlight for me and is more in keeping with the sound of the album than her other more melancholy slower peices. Lyrically it portrays her feelings over her break up with John. It has long been a radio favourite the world over and even survived being hijacked by Bill Clinton for his election campaigns. It provided Rumours with its second hit single peaking at #3. The first single from the album, ‘Go Your Own Way’, follows and although it has probably become the bands most well known track was actually the least successful as a single reaching only #10. Written by Buckingham about his break up with Nicks it was allegedly inspired by The Rolling Stones ‘Street Fighting Man’. The original vinyl edition ended with another Christine McVie track the mournful piano led ‘Songbird’.
Side two leads off with ‘The Chain’ a song which became synonomous in the UK with Formula 1 motor racing as part of it was used as the theme tune for TV coverage for many years. It has been suggested that ‘The Chain’ is one of the most complicated recordings ever made due to the production techniques which were used. It started life as at least three seperate songs, one of which was ‘Lola (My Love)’and featured on the Buckingham Nicks album recorded before they joined the band. The main riff to the track is actually played on a banjo. The fourth and final single from the album another Christine McVie composition, written about her lighting man, ‘You Make Loving Fun’ is probably the weakest of the four but is still a credible pop tune. ‘I Don’t Want To Know’ is another infectious uptempo stomp from the pen of Stevie Nicks but despite this it is her weakest song on the album. ‘Oh Daddy’ was supposedly written by Christine McVie about Mick Fleetwood and is probably the closest the album has to filler. In truth, side two is a little inferior to side one but with one major exception. The absolute classic closing track ‘Gold Dust Woman’. It is easily the rockiest track on the album and features some great guitar work, a dobro and some typical Nicks lyrics packed full of mystery and mythology as well as the more obvious cocaine references. It remains one of Nicks most important contributions to the legacy of Fleetwood Mac despite never being released as a single.
For many years Rumours was often mentioned as the greatest selling album of all time and is one of the few that manages to cross all generations and genres. I don’t know anyone who has never heard a track off it and I seem to recall that just about everyone I knew at one point owned it in one form or another. Rumours spent the majority of 1977 at the higher end of the album charts across the world. It is interesting to think that in a year when some would have you believe “Punk” had taken over the world, an album which was recorded with all the excess and indulgence the punks hated became the most important release of the year. More importantly the individual members of Fleetwood Mac are still here and making music whereas most of the punks had gone before this album even left the album chart.
In recent years this classic album has been expanded into a two disc set with a complete disc of out takes and demos as well as including ‘Silver Springs’ which was originally the B-side to ‘Go Your Own Way’. The term ‘essential purchase’ has rarely been more apt.