The Truth About Rumours
by David Wild
"The truth about Rumours," says Stevie Nicks, "is that Rumours was the truth."
And the truth is that by any possible standard whatsoever, Fleetwood Mac's 1977 album Rumours remains one of the most popular, beloved and acclaimed albums in rock history.
To date, Rumours has sold 45 million copies all around the world - give or take a million. Yet what makes this stunning achievement all the more remarkable and impressive is the fact the album that succeeded on such a grand level is a song cycle that still sounds so vital, so timeless, so honest, and so deeply felt in the here and now. Ultimately, the truths that Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, Christine McVie, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood shared with a listening world on Rumours remains one of popular music's most meaningful and accomplished success stories.
How did something so timelessly great as Rumours happen? In a tense situation where so much could have gone wrong, how did so much go right?
For Lindsey Buckingham, whose sonic genius flowers on Rumours, the enduring Rumours phenomenon was a kind of chain reaction that resulted from the powerful and unlikely combination of individuals who somehow stuck together musically in the right time and the right place.
"You have to start with the fact that obviously having lived through it and having been inside the perfect storm of Rumours, it may be difficult for us to be objective about what made it so big," Lindsey Buckingham says today with a laugh. "But in terms of musical style, you have to look at the range of reference points we all had. [Those points] of reference were not narrow at all. In fact, they were very broad. For Stevie and I, those points of references would go back to '50s rock 'n' roll, and for Mick and John and Christine, it went back to a lot of blues influence. Even if none of this was clearly obvious in the final product of Rumours, it did inform it in terms of the album and gave it certain circumstances that didn't just make it of the time in 1977. Beyond the songs that Christine and Stevie and I wrote that stand the test of time, the album has an organic feel and a real sense of groove that Mick Fleetwood and John McVie brought to the party. There are a lot of big albums from the time that don't have that kind of groove when you listen back. That's all about chemistry, and it's utterly unpredictable because the fact is that on a musical level, we were five people who didn't necessarily belong in a group together. Yet there was a natural synergy that came from our differences. On paper it probably would have looked like it wouldn't or shouldn't work. Yet here was just this spontaneous and natural coming together of these interwoven things that didn't all come from the same place, but that somehow added up to be more than the sum of its parts."
Asked now how she explains the ongoing passion for Rumours, Christine McVie cites the "exciting and extraordinary chemistry between us, especially in light of the fact that we three Brits had met up with Stevie and Lindsey, who are from California, and how our different styles of music seemed to blend effortlessly. Also, there was the intoxicating variety of songwriting styles: two girls, three guys - unusual and unintentionally commercial, yet honest." The dynamic created with the addition of Buckingham and Nicks was a healthy competition for the writers. "Most definitely. From my own point of view I had a lot to prove," says McVie. "I was in awe of Stevie and Lindsey, and felt a great urgency to write some songs that surpassed others I'd written in the past."
The musical chemistry was both complicated and ultimately increased by the context of interpersonal soap opera playing out at the time with Nicks and Buckingham and the McVies both splitting up as couples as the recording process was taking place. So Fleetwood Mac converged at the Record Plant in Sausalito, California, where Ken Caillat and Richard Dashut would engineer and share production credit with the band itself. Nicks and Christine McVie moved into two of Sausalito's waterfront properties, while the men of the band resided separately at the Record Plant's hillside accommodations.
"In the end, what we were going through as people - as two couples who were falling apart - was something that was appealing and interesting to an audience," says Lindsey Buckingham. "I really think there came a time when the sales of Rumours became less about the music and started being more about the phenomenon and the musical soap opera of it all. Something about it really tapped into the voyeur in everyone - including us. And it was voyeuristic in the best way possible - not in a tabloid or exploitative way, but on a more honest and real level. The truth was not being hidden, but was being all put out there to be seen and heard."
"The truth is we never did break the chain back then," Stevie Nicks says. "We kept going back to the studio and trying to make something great together - despite how untogether we might have been outside of the studio. We never even really considered flying off from one another while we were making that music, because we understood fully what we were doing and how important it was. And I think we just psychically knew that record was going to live on forever in history when we were making it. And I think when you know that, in your heart of hearts - and everyone knew it - you really don't let in a lot of stuff that could worm its way into the situation and destroy everyone's good intentions. We just didn't let it happen."
"You listen to the album and you have this whole body of work where the songs that are basically dialogues with other members of the band. How often do you have two men and two women, who happen to make two couples, who are in the process of disintegrating while they are making one album? And we had to find a way to make that all work because we had to follow this destiny that seemed to have been placed before us."
With Rumours, Fleetwood Mac followed that destiny and achieved a kind of immortality that, at times, impresses even the band members who shaped that destiny.
"Honestly, I really don't go back and listen to our old records much. But I did listen to this whole Rumours package," Nicks explains. "I went out in my backyard in the magical green pool... and I listened to it all including all the outtakes and everything. What struck me was that this music was so real and so powerful, I remember thinking to myself, 'Wow, I'd join that band in a second. If I heard this record today, and they were looking for a girl singer, I would definitely try out for that band.' That's how Rumours affected me because it is still super special and fresh. Somehow it doesn't sound old. It's kind of creepy almost how it doesn't get old. A lot of classic records we all love, if it comes on the radio, we'll all say, 'Wow, that really dates me,' and the answer is usually, 'Well, yes, it does.' But I don't think there's a date attached to Rumours. At least to my ears, Rumours still sounds like it could have been done in your living room three days ago. And maybe that's why we still love it so much because somehow it still has an air of being almost new."
Rumours arguably represents the most perfect balance Fleetwood Mac achieved on record, showcasing these separate individuals with separate strengths united first and foremost by something larger than themselves - "The Chain" known everywhere as Fleetwood Mac that was both male and female, English and American, unhinged and yet utterly focused.
"Of all the Fleetwood Mac albums, I always had a bit of penchant for Mystery To Me," says Christine McVie. "I loved a lot of Bob Welch's songs and thought we blended well together, but I'm afraid it's a distinct third place to Rumours with the white Fleetwood Mac album sitting at second place, which I also thought was great. I hadn't really listened to Rumours for quite some time until this inspired me to listen again. I feel goose bumps and pride to have been a part of such a great album and a great band."
For Lindsey Buckingham, "Ultimately, Rumours transcended any equation because the music went beyond our differences. It's an album with a very unique backstory that is so many things: it's tragic, it's heroic, it's crazy and inspiring. But who can say what would have happened under any other conditions? And somehow, it worked."
So listen again to Rumours and you will find that, somehow, it's still working.
Rumours: Song by Song
as told to David Wild, October 2012
SECOND HAND NEWS
I love "Second Hand News" because it's that rhythmic up-tempo rock 'n' roll thing that Lindsey does so well - like on "Monday Morning" from Fleetwood Mac. And those are always songs that transfer well to performing onstage - because they have that original rock 'n' roll power.
From Fleetwood Mac to Rumours to Tusk, you could see the arc I was taking was to try and undermine any sort of slickness or refinement in favor of what I have always loved about rock 'n' roll - which was a rawness and more of an animal approach. I can remember I wanted to get an explosive roomy drum sound off the snare - John McVie likes to play lines and walk up and down the neck, and I used to bug the shit out of John trying to make him play simple. Because he's a great bass player, one of the best, and I probably had no business telling him what to do, but there was a reason for certain things. If that song has a power emotively and sonically, it's because it's so simple.
They didn't need me in the studio for a little while, so I took a little Fender Rhodes and was wandering around the Record Plan halls looking for a place to curl up and write and a guy at the studio said, "Let me take you somewhere you might enjoy." It was Sly Stone's studio there - this big, amazing, crazy space we didn't even know existed. There was a big black circle bed with Gothic curtains around it. I hopped up on the bed with my little piano and wrote "Dreams." I recorded it on a little cassette machine and when I was done, I walked across the hall into our studio and said, "I think you're going to want to hear this." They said, "We're busy." I repeated myself and said, "I really think you're going to want to hear this." They listened to "Dreams" and we recorded it the next day.
It was a gift to me to help frame Stevie's songs because what she did was really wonderful. We could turn her amazing poems into these epic sonic movies. Stevie would have her epics typed out and so that was her center - the poetry of it all. By the same token, my words often came last, though I like to think I've gotten better. We were opposites who had attracted, and we brought out great things in one another.
NEVER GOING BACK AGAIN
The thing that works about "Never Going Back Again" for me, besides the sentiment of it, is that it was sort of the first of the guitar and voice songs - with just a single guitar, voice and minimal other touches to make it sound slightly more record-like. That approach has become increasingly important for me.
That's a song about the fact that we're broken up, and we're done forever, at that point he's glad. But at the end of the song, Lindsey comes around a little, and he's looking through the eyes of someone who's thinking that maybe somewhere down the line we'll be together again. He was being hopeful and not slamming doors in that song. Looking back in retrospect, that's nice. He always plays it live and I'm glad he does. To me, "Never Going Back Again" is Lindsey's "Landslide."
I love Christine's "Don't Stop" and I love it even more because it became Bill Clinton's theme song. Recently, I was talking with Bill and Sarah McLachlan at her charity event, and Bill Clinton told us the story about how he ended up using "Don't Stop." He was in a cab once and "Don't Stop" came on and the cab driver said, "If you ever run for President, this should be your theme song." Bill said from that second, he knew he was going to run for President, and "Don't Stop" would be his theme. The song became his musical platform.
Christine wrote "Don't Stop" for John, and it's a wonderful sentiment about a couple that spent a lot of good years together. People felt that warmth and affection of a song that was a loving gesture. In the context of all of the songs of Rumours, "Don't Stop" had an important place - offering some love amid all the tension. A wonderful composition. And when Bill Clinton latched onto that in 1992, somehow it became an anthem for many other things. It's a testament to the song that it could be transposed to mean something so much broader. So I was smiling when it became his walk for the recent Democratic convention because it still sounds great being pumped through an arena.
GO YOUR OWN WAY
There were a lot of things in the process of making "Go Your Own Way" that came with a great deal of toil and a lot of happy accidents. I originally wanted Mick to play something like the drum pattern for "Street Fighting Man," but Mick didn't feel it that way. He turned the feel of the snare and the tom tom around. And the part I think is the glue of that song - the acoustic strumming - wasn't even part of that song until the end. We almost had that song mixed before that was added on. It was an intuition that the song needed something more, and it happened at the 11th hour and everyone immediately said, "Wow, where's that part been?" But it's also one of the reasons B. Mitchel Reed - a big DJ in LA at the time - didn't think "Go Your Own Way" was going to be a hit. The single was out while we were mastering the album, and I was driving to Capitol studios, and B. Mitchel put on "Go Your Own Way," and I heard him say, "That's the new Fleetwood Mac single." Then he took a beat and said, "I don't know about that one." So me being the ballsy person I was - and maybe still am - I got to Capitol, and I called B. Mitchel up and I asked him why he didn't like it. He said, "Well, I can't find the beat." And he was right in a way, because you can get thrown off between Mick's drumming and the guitar. But that disorientation was part of us finding our own beat.
Even though "Go Your Own Way" was a little angry, it was also honest. So then I wrote "Dreams," and because I'm the chiffony chick who believes in fairies and angels, and Lindsey is a hardcore guy, it comes out differently. Lindsey is saying go ahead and date other men and go live your crappy life, and Stevie is singing about the rain washing you clean. We were coming at it from opposite angles, but we were really saying the exact same thing.
From 1977 to 1998 when Christine left, we ended every single Fleetwood Mac show with "Songbird." Talk about being sewn into the fabric of the band. It was the perfect message with which to leave the audience. If I could think of a way to talk Christine McVie back into Fleetwood Mac, I would be over there tomorrow. There is nothing any of us could say to convince her and that's sad, especially for me because it isn't easy to do this without her. But she has moved on. She wanted to go back to England, and live with her gardens and her dogs and not fly anymore. But I am so thankful for every second I had being in a band with her. When she left, it did become the boys club, and when she was there, she and I were a force to be reckoned with.
To me, "Songbird" is the other side of "Go Your Own Way." To segue out of something like "Go Your Own Way," and Mick's amazing animal drums, into something like "Songbird" is very powerful. We recorded the piano onstage at the Berkeley Community College. Back in those days when albums had two sides, that was the perfect end to side one. That song just showed the range of what we had to offer as a group with three very different writers coming from different points of view.
Everyone in the band threw something into "The Chain." It was a great mishmash and that seemed appropriate to the theme. The chorus is a little despairing, but that seems like a passing mood because the primary emotion of the song is resolve - that we are not going to let ANYTHING get in the way of seeing our mission through. At the end of the day, that same resolve was what won out and became the dominant subtext of the whole album.
This song started with a song called "Keep Me There" - then became something much bigger. "The Chain" is a powerful song. They all are on Rumours. That's why we can still perform them - we can still sink into them and all their sonic drama. I love to start a show with "The Chain." It's the perfect warm up.
YOU MAKE LOVING FUN
Christine made Fleetwood Mac fun. She had a very positive effect on Lindsey and me. She gave him a lot of joy too because she was so funny, so smart and so incredibly musical like he is. She could keep up with him and he really respected her. She would say, "Lindsey, I don't think that's right musically," and he wouldn't get mad, but listen because he had such respect for her musicality." The four real musicians in the band - forget me, because I don't really play - admired Christine so much. She had her finger on the pulse. And she was joyous and happy, and that was great because the rest of us tended to be a little dark. We are still a big and great band, but it's not quite the same without her. She was very full of light, and she made Fleetwood Mac more loving and fun.
Christine does sweet well. "You Make Loving Fun" doesn't necessarily follow a standard verse-chorus approach. It's very textural and Christine put in these wonderful keyboard parts on that. It's also one of my favorite Mick and John songs as a rhythm section because they're doing what they want and doing it so well. It feels fun - which is fitting.
I DON'T WANT TO KNOW
They decided they were going to take "Silver Springs" off the album because it was too long. They recorded "I Don't Want To Know" - a guitar song that I wrote before Lindsey and I joined the band - when I was not there. Then they took me out to the parking lot and said, "We're taking 'Silver Springs' off the record because it's too long." Needless to say, I didn't react well to that. Eventually, I said, "What song are you going to put on the album instead?" They said, "We recorded 'I Don't Want To Know'" and I think Lindsey thought it would be okay with me because I wrote it. But I wasn't okay with it. That always put a shadow over "I Don't Want To Know" unfortunately - even though I love it it and it came out great. We had so many great songs at the time. It [Silver Springs] took some decades to come out - like "Planets Of The Universe."
"I Don't Want To Know" was a demo Stevie and I had before we joined the band. The tone of the song is quite upbeat, but the words are not, and that dichotomy seems to capture emotionally what was going on within the band, even though it was the closest thing to a Buckingham Nicks track on the album.
That's probably my favorite Christine song of all time, and it's probably one of the only dark songs that she wrote. I loved performing it onstage and singing harmonies with her on it. It's dark and eerie and that's not usually Christine's M.O.
"Oh Daddy" shows another side of Christine. It sounds so lonely and I never thought about Christine as that kind of person, but I think there's probably a good dose of that in her. Christine always knew she could walk away from the insanity of the business and band, and indeed she did. I think Christine had a healthy indifference to life in the music world that kept her from ever needing all that much validation.
GOLD DUST WOMAN
"Gold Dust Woman" is the perfect way to follow "Oh Daddy" - it almost picks up the thought and makes it more exotic and psychedelic. It's always been a fun one to do live because of the way it unwinds so powerfully. And it's just an excellent piece of writing from Stevie. It's one of my favorites she's ever written.
"Gold Dust Woman" never goes out of the set - along with "Landslide", "Rhiannon" and "Dreams." Each one of those songs has many different levels, so each time we do them, they are different. Everyone thinks it was about drugs, but it really wasn't. It was written before the drugs. And there really is a street in Phoenix called Gold Dust Avenue, and I think that's where I got the idea. I feel lucky I can create characters in my songs who I can revisit each time. I could never tire of revisiting "Gold Dust Woman."