For many people, Fleetwood Mac started with 1975’s Fleetwood Mac. And why wouldn’t you think that? It was the album that propelled the band to commercial success with hits such as “Rhiannon” and “Say You Love Me”. They were probably blissfully unaware of the band’s British blues background, and myriad of member changes over the years.
There were albums as well! Tons of them! So many that the 1975 album was their 10th! But this is just a lead-up to album no. 11...
It is arguable that the subject of our article, the 1977 album Rumours was peak-Fleetwood Mac, earning the band their most tremendous commercial success. Behind the album, a plethora of problems within the ranks, from members breaking up, to exercises in excess. It’s probably a miracle the album came out!
That anger and acrimony did turn to gold. Let’s see why...
The years leading up to Rumours were interesting ones. The band was originally formed in 1967 under the leadership of guitarist Peter Green (often called “Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac”). During that first formation, Green was joined by Jeremy Spencer on guitar, as well as the rhythm section of Mick Fleetwood on drums and John McVie on bass (the only two constant members throughout the band’s lifetime). Christine Perfect (later Christine McVie after marrying John McVie in 1968) joined after the first record.
The band scored a number-one hit in England with the instrumental song “Albatross” and had a few other charting singles. It also went through a bunch of member changes, and its sound slowly morphed away from the British blues rock of the late 1960s.
It was when the band brought in the duo of singer Stevie Nicks and singer/guitarist Lindsay Buckingham that their fortunes turned. The duo had released the album Buckingham Nicks in 1973 which didn’t get that much attention. The pair were also a couple at the time though the relationship was on rocky terrain. After hearing a track from the album at the now-famous Sound City studios in Van Nuys, CA, Mick Fleetwood opted to bring the pair on board after the departure of guitarist and singer Bob Welch.
What the pair brought was a larger pop sensibility and songwriting style, which translated to major commercial success. Things were also about to get bigger (though for them, probably not better).
The rumors had to start somewhere
So, what was going on in the band between these two albums? Well, a whole lot of destroyed relationships, that’s what!
Christine and John McVie divorced in 1976 after eight years of marriage. The relationship was falling apart during the touring behind the previous album and the two stopped talking to each other. They did continue a working relationship for the sake of the band.
Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham’s relationship only got worse. The pair were constantly fighting, except when they were writing songs.
Mick Fleetwood didn’t escape any relationship woes either. His wife Jenny Boyd was having an affair with a former band member, ultimately leading to their divorce in 1976.
Add to that the rigors of touring, as well as intrusions by the press and tabloids into their personal lives (an unfortunate byproduct of their new-found success in the wake of the Fleetwood Mac album), and you have quite a bit of baggage to bring into the studio.
The recording itself also had a few woes. There was no shortage of cocaine available to them (a staple in California in those days), as well as an excess partying and feasting in the studio, usually going until 1 or 2 a.m. before the band decided to record any takes. This was also the only time the members saw each other, with no real socializing happening outside of the studio.
All I want is to see you smile
Mick Fleetwood did set the stage for the sessions (along with the help of co-producers and engineers Ken Caillat and Richard Dashut), making the band record in the big room at The Record Plant in Sausalito, CA (though parts of the record were done in other studios), after shooting down the idea that the members record separately. Lindsay Buckingham also took the lead in crafting the songs into great pop numbers, the opposite of Fleetwood and the McVies’ blues background.
The strained relationships made fodder for great songs and lyrics, most of them dealing with the acrimony between members. Buckingham’s songs “Second Hand News” and “Go Your Own Way” dealt directly with his relationship with Nicks, while her song “Dreams” dealt with the same subject matter.
Christine McVie also touched on her relationships in her songs. “Don’t Stop” was written about her split with John McVie, while “You Make Loving Fun” was about an affair she had with the band’s lighting director (though she told John the song was about their dog).
Rumour has it...
Rumours was released in February of 1977 and took over the charts. It became their second number-one record and remained at the top of the charts for 31 weeks. The album’s four singles (“Go Your Own Way”, “Dreams”, “Don’t Stop” and “You Make Loving Fun”) only helped to bolster the album’s popularity. The album also scored the group’s first Grammy nominations, ultimately winning “Album of the Year” in 1978. Many of the songs have also become staples of classic rock radio.
The album also has incredible staying power, often finding itself on several “Best of” and “Most Influential” lists in various trade publications. At the time of writing, the album has sold over 40 million copies, placing it in the list of Top 10 Best Selling Albums of All Time.
They say that tragedy makes great art, though certainly for those living it, it may not seem that way. The band had to go through a lot after Fleetwood Mac to get to Rumours. They also really hit their peak with this album; others would follow but none would reach the same commercial and critical heights. Though, as legacies go, this is certainly one for the books.
By Kevin Daoust - instagram.com/kevindaoust.gtr
Kevin Daoust is a guitarist, guitar educator and writer based in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada. When not tracking guitars for artists around the world, or writing music-related articles around the internet, he can be seen on stage with Accordion-Funk legends Hey, Wow, the acoustic duo Chanté et Kev, as well as a hired gun guitarist around Quebec and Ontario. He holds a Bachelor of Music in Guitar Performance from Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.