After the upsetting news of the passing of Christine McVie last Wednesday – a member of the British-American rock band Fleetwood Mac – I ended up listening to one of their most popular albums again: Rumours. And it truly is a masterpiece.
I’m definitely not the first to say this, but this album is timeless. Not just because of the superb music (which happened to sell over 10 million copies worldwide within the first month!), but also because it tells such an interesting story: one of love, betrayal, drugs, and a group undeniably at the heart of rock’n’roll. Everyone knows this album, for sure. But does everyone know the story behind the making of it?
Let’s start with how the band first came to be. Fleetwood Mac was born in 1967 in the UK, starting first as a blues band, with guitarist Peter Green, drummer Mick Fleetwood, bassist John McVie, and slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer. Throughout the years the band would see new members come and go, with McVie and Fleetwood being the only members of the group to appear on every release. Vocalist and keyboardist Christine Perfect married John McVie and joined the band in 1970; followed by vocalist Stevie Nicks and lead guitarist Lindsey Buckingham joining in 1974; marking the perfect line-up for Rumours in 1977. A new blend of folk, rock, and pop.
But while musically the band were great, personally, things weren’t as harmonious. The making of Rumours saw multiple romantic affairs between the band members; drug and booze addictions; and general emotional turmoil. Here’s a rundown of the affairs which defined the making of the record.
John and Christine McVie first started experiencing marital troubles during the 70s, with McVie having her first affair with the band’s sound engineer Martin Birch. When Christine and John entered the studio for the making of Rumours, they were on the brink of a divorce; only interacting with each other if it was to do with the music. Tension only grew when Christine started openly dating the group’s lightening director, Curry Grant. It’s rumoured that You Make Loving Fun – written by Christine – was about Grant.
Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham first got together in high school, before eventually forming their own duo. Trouble was already surfacing before they joined Fleetwood Mac; but they stayed together for the sake of the music, wanting to put out the best record possible. But things soon became more complicated when drummer Fleetwood confessed his love for Nicks, and the two started their own love affair. Later they would both admit that this relationship was fuelled by the reliance on cocaine and alcohol. Fleetwood’s wife also had an affair with the band’s guitarist Bob Weston. Chaotic is an understatement.
But this chaos only drove the band further into creativity. They took their private turmoil and turned it into a public story of betrayal between lovers and friends.
Arguably one of the most well-known tracks is Dreams. With its soft persisting bass and Nicks’ hazy vocals, the track is incredibly alluring. Lyrics such as ‘’thunder only happens when it’s raining’’ hints that life isn’t always full of heartbreak, whilst ‘’players only love you when they’re playing’’ is a warning to Lindsey to be careful of women who loved him just for his rock-star status. Another classic, The Chain, was the only song which credited all five members in the writing process, quite fitting as the song is about unbreakable ties. But it’s also quite ironic, considering the numerous ties they did break during the making of the record. There’s also something quite sombre and dark about this track, almost as if they’re forcing themselves to believe the lyrics they are singing.
Perhaps one of the underappreciated tracks, Songbird – a captivating piano ballad written and performed by Christine McVie – is my favourite track. Not only because of the warm and comforting vocals, but also because the lyrics are so poignant. It seems to be a testament to the real love that Christine felt during her life, with lyrics such as ‘’I wish you all the love in the world, but most of all, I wish it from myself’’. Are these lyrics to John McVie, a final farewell?
Lindsey Buckingham’s upbeat opening track of Second Hand News perhaps shows another coping mechanism for the band’s dramas. Practically composed by Buckingham himself, with rhythmically complex bass lines and guitar riffs, he seems to be singing to Nicks that he’s doing just fine in the tall grass with new women. Go Your Own Way similarly reveals Buckingham’s anger towards Nicks – he sings lyrics ‘’packing up, shacking up’s all you want to do’’. Nicks later told Rolling Stone: ‘’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’’ ’’.
Track ten, Oh Daddy, has a few different interpretations. Some think it’s about Christine McVie’s relationship with the band’s lighting director, but McVie later said that it was actually about Fleetwood, the only one in the band with children at that point, and who was also the most parental figure in the group. This song is quite vulnerable with its lyrics, with co-producer of the record Richard Dashut saying that the band really vented their feelings through their music. The dramas during the making of the record ‘’created a certain sensitivity’’, Dashut says, ‘’defences were wearing thin’’. All they had left was this album.
The final track, Gold Dust Woman, is really quite dramatic. Nicks’ hauntingly beautiful vocals dominate the track, and the song grows in intensity as it progresses.
The whirlwind that was Fleetwood Mac during the 70s made a one-of-a-kind album, which continues to dominate the music scene. A question seems to come to mind: would the band have produced this good a record, had they been a normal-functioning group? Nicks seems to disagree, and so do I. She says ‘’all of those problems, and all of those drugs, and all of the fun, and all of the craziness made for writing all those songs’’. ‘’If we’d been a big healthy great group of guys and gals, none of those great songs would’ve been written, you know?’’
Behind great music lies a great story. This is certainly the case with Rumours.
Featured image by alan petralba