The ‘Have you heard’ series is a look into significant albums across multiple genres. We will explore what made these albums tick and why they’re worth listening to today.
Fleetwood Mac’s influence on classic rock and pop music in general is far-reaching and continues even today. The reason for this has to do with the popularity of their 11th studio album, Rumours. The record is perhaps best remembered as one of the most dramatic albums of the 1970s. This is not because of the songs on the album in isolation, but because of the highly publicised interpersonal drama each band member was dealing with at the time. Fleetwood Mac didn’t succumb to internal pressure and collapse from all the drama though. They used the very situations that opened them up to wide public scrutiny and unpleasantness as the source material for one of the highest selling and revered albums of all time.
The band’s dynamic going into recording Rumours at the Record Plant studio, California, in 1976 was fundamentally cracked. Members were embroiled in interpersonal drama and relationships were tearing apart at the seams. Christine McVie and John McVie were separated, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham broke up after years of partnership, and Mick Fleetwood’s wife was divorcing him. All of this caused considerable tension within the band that was aiming to follow up a hugely successful album.
At first listen, the album does not convey that this was a record made despite great internal strife. While love and loss are themes dealt with by a number of songs, a veneer of shiny pop music conceals vindictive lyrics, and deep-ingrained resentment. The album opens with “Second Hand News” whose lyrics were kept hidden by Buckingham so as to not aggravate Nicks. The song deals with the guitarist’s many lovers following Nicks. Much like the opener, tracks like “Go Your Own Way” is also Buckingham getting things off his chest in a pointed manner.
The second song on the album, “Dreams”, is a Stevie Nicks-led ballad that aired her views on her relationship with Buckingham. This song, much like with Buckingham on “Second Hand News”, was kept secret from the person whom it was about until the very end. “Dreams” is arguably the band’s most famous song and it has been performed by them for over 40 years. This is perhaps the most ironic thing to come out of the album. Nicks and Buckingham going on to play a song about their failed relationship for over four decades is borderline cruel.
Other songs on the album have similar stories behind them. “You Make Loving Fun” written by Christine McVie was the fourth single off the album and written about an affair with the band’s lighting director.
What is perhaps most interesting to note about the album is that if it was all just vindictive songwriting and attempts at emotionally maiming a former lover, it may not have done as well as it did. The emotional subtext of each song is backed up by solid musical performances, keen attention to detail and how the band sounds, and skillful songwriting. Were it not for each member being able to dress up raw emotion as a musical idea, the album may have been widely trashed.
Rumours has consistently sold in huge numbers since its release. Some estimates put the number at well over 40 million copies sold worldwide. The album is a pioneer in encasing dark themes in palatable, almost-happy music and remains an inspiration for countless albums that have followed suit.