One of the triumphs of popular music both artistically and commercially, Rumours was a huge success in the late ’70s, and is one of just ten albums in history estimated to have sold more than forty million copies worldwide. Fleetwood Mac released a self-titled reboot album in 1975 that was the first to feature their third and most popular lineup, as Brits Mick Fleetwood and husband-and-wife duo John McVie and Christine McVie brought Californian couple Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks into the fold. Fleetwood Mac was cut together at Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California, a San Fernando Valley suburb of Los Angeles that’s about ten minutes down the road from where I sit right now. Some really famous albums have been recorded there, including two from my list, Nirvana’s Nevermind in 1991 and Rage Against the Machine’s Rage Against the Machine in 1992.
Fleetwood Mac started as a blues band that grew out of Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood, and John McVie’s experience playing in John Mayall’s Blues Breakers. Mayall is best known for the album he made with Eric Clapton in 1966 called Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton, and incidentally, Green was the guitarist who replaced Clapton in his band. Green’s guitar prowess is supposed to be pretty legendary, but unfortunately, he left Fleetwood Mac in 1970 due to decreasing mental stability, and later in the decade he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Green was replaced by Los Angeles native Bob Welch, who led the band for a few years in a more rock and pop direction. (It should also be noted that John McVie’s wife Christine had joined by this point, as well.) I actually haven’t heard much of anything from either the Green or Welch eras except for the Welch song “Hypnotized” from 1973’s Mystery to Me, which is fantastic.
1975’s Fleetwood Mac turned out to be a bright, sunny reinvention, bolstered by the happiness of the group’s two couples basking in the glow of Los Angeles. It features some of the group’s most definitive tracks, including “Rhiannon,” “Over My Head,” “Say You Love Me” and “Landslide.” Stevie Nicks became the biggest star in the band, but it was really Lindsey Buckingham that brought the most to the table, if you ask me. Maybe I’m just biased towards great guitarists. (Check out the harmonics sprinkled throughout “Over My Head,” incidentally.) At any rate, Fleetwood Mac is great guitar pop, and it brought them considerably more success than either of their previous lineups, reaching number one on the Billboard Albums Chart here in America. But what happened after that is what makes Rumours so compelling: the McVies divorced and Buckingham and Nicks decided to part ways romantically — and yet none of them left the band.
In fact, their breakups have become theater to those of us who have listened to Rumours, as the group’s three songwriters, Nicks, Buckingham, and Christine McVie infused every song they wrote with a venom that’s impossible not to find interesting, since the intended target not only is in the immediate vicinity, but is actually participating in the mudslinging. (For instance, Buckingham tells Nicks that “Packing up, shacking up’s all you want to do” on “Go Your Own Way.”) The music here, of course, is nothing short of glorious. My favorite is Nicks’ “Dreams,” with its hypnotically simple bass line and instantly memorable chorus of “Thunder only happens when it’s raining.” But all of the songs are great, from the trite “Don’t Stop” — not the song’s fault it’s been overused — to the songs on the more haunting back half. “The Chain” has always been a favorite of mine, as has “Gold Dust Woman,” which may be my favorite album closer ever. But the springy “I Don’t Want to Know” and the hushed “Oh Daddy” steal the show for me, two non-singles that have never really gotten the attention they deserve. (Buckingham’s guitar work on “Oh Daddy” is some of my favorite from his tenure in Fleetwood Mac. Stunning use of harmonics.)