Let's Revisit Fleetwood Mac's Rumours
On April 2, 1977, Fleetwood Mac's Rumours began a long run at the top of the Billboard 200 chart, where it would stay for a (nonconsecutive) 31 weeks. The only brief interruptions in the number one spot were from The Eagles Hotel California and a live Barry Manilow album. No thanks. Since its release, Rumours has sold over 40 million copies worldwide—behind Michael Jackson's Thriller (makes sense), and, for some reason, Meat Loaf's Bat Out Of Hell.
Anyway, Rumours is flawless— don't listen to this guy. And not only is it flawless in and of itself (Robert Christgau wrote that it "it jumps right out of the speakers at you") but the tales of its recording are notoriously batshit crazy, too.
So join me in this brief history of The Mac's masterpiece born of heartbreak, genius, and cocaine. Lots of cocaine.
In February 1976, the gang headed up to the Record Plant in Sausalito, right after singer/ keyboardist Christine McVie and bassist John McVie had just split up after 8 years of marriage and were barely speaking to each other. Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, who had been together for six years, were about to call it quits too. In his 1977 piece for Rolling Stone, cub reporter Cameron Crowe characterized the situation in Sausalito as "an emotional holocaust."
Here are some choice nuggets:
"Trauma," Christine groans. "Trau-ma. The sessions were like a cocktail party every night - people everywhere. We ended up staying in these weird hospital rooms...and of course John and me were not exactly the best of friends. Stevie...was going through a bit of a hard time too because she was the one that axed it. Lindsey was pretty down about it for a while, then he just woke up one morning and said, 'Fuck this, I don't want to be unhappy,' and started getting some girlfriends together. Then Stevie couldn't handle it..."
Lindsey Buckingham sets down the guitar. "Tonight I just want to go get drunk," he announces. "I know the exact place too. They let me throw the food..."
"It was clumsy sometimes," said John McVie. "I'm sitting there in the studio and I get a little lump in my throat - especially when you turn around and the writer's sitting right there."
This was apparent, especially in "Go Your Own Way": Nicks did not appreciate Buckingham's pointed lyrics, "packing up, shacking up is all you wanna do," telling Rolling Stone:
I very much resented him telling the world that "packing up, shacking up" with different men was all I wanted to do...He knew it wasn't true. It was just an angry thing that he said. Every time those words would come onstage, I wanted to go over and kill him. He knew it, so he really pushed my buttons through that. It was like, "I'll make you suffer for leaving me." And I did.
There's another Buckingham v. Nicks story to the recording of "You Make Lovin' Fun" from producer Ken Caillat's book Making Rumours:
We played around with some ideas, and, eventually, Stevie and Lindsey were sitting on two high stools out in the studio, each of them in front of a microphone, working on background parts, singing, “You make lovin’ fun, you make lovin’ fun . . .” When I stopped the tape to rewind it, Stevie suddenly looked at Lindsey and cried out, “Fuck you, asshole! You can go to hell!”
Lindsey responded with a tirade of his own. “When we get back to L.A., I’m moving out.”
“I don’t want to live with you, either!” They went back and forth, screaming and yelling at each other.
I couldn’t rewind the tape fast enough. When I got to the beginning of the tape, I hit RECORD. Stevie and Lindsey looked at each other. Then they turned toward their microphones and, right on cue, right in the middle of a fight, they nailed their parts! What just happened? I was flabbergasted.
Here's more from a 2013 interview with The Guardian:
"We were cool onstage," Nicks says. "But offstage everybody was pretty angry. Most nights Chris and I would just go for dinner on our own, downstairs in the hotel, with security at the door."
As McVie explains: "John and I used to be civil - 'What key is this in? What do you want me to do on this song?' - but Stevie and Lindsey were fighting all the time. Very volatile. Their relationship still is an ongoing battle."
The band had various ways of dealing with the tensions, one of which was through the nostrils. "It wasn't like we woke up one day and everybody had bowls of coke on the tables," Nicks says. "It was a gradual thing."
It was also a glamour thing. In Sausalito, California, where the two women were based during the recording of Rumours, McVie recalls the paraphernalia on offer fondly: "You could go to these shops and buy these little beautiful coke bottles that you wore around your neck - gold, turquoise, all sorts of colours with diamonds and a little spoon. So Stevie and I wore those - it was very aesthetic."
We'd be remiss not to include the backstory for "Dreams," the only Mac song to reach #1 (and a song all-too-often prone to obnoxious covers). Caillat told Sound on Sound:
Stevie used to get bored, sitting around while all the technical stuff was going on, so she asked if there was a room with a piano to noodle around on. Well, the Record Plant told her she could use Sly Stone's studio — a little sunken room that they'd built for him to work in — and one day while we were working on some track, she came in and said, 'I've just written the most amazing song.' 'Really? Let's hear it.'
And I've just got to include "The Chain"—my personal go-to karaoke pick—and soundtrack to one of my fondest Philadelphia memories (and, the only song on Rumours credited to all five members of the Mac).
Fleetwood Mac will never escape the legends and legacy of Rumoursbecause it's so much more than just a slice of the '70s. Buckingham revisited the making of album in a 2013 Rolling Stone interview:
That really was a lot of the appeal of Rumours. The music was wonderful, but the music was also authentic because it was two couples breaking up and writing dialogue to each other. It was also appealing because we were rising to the occasion to follow our destiny. So you had to live in denial, you had to learn to compartmentalize your emotions and do what needs to be done. It brought out the voyeur a little bit in everybody.
I know this is an impossible request, but what is your favorite track from Rumours? Tell us in the comments.