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Fleetwood Mac: Many Happy Returns To 'Rumours'

Monday, 06 February 2017 Written by Graeme Marsh

Many albums lay claim to being the best of all time. But ‘Rumours’ has a stronger case than most. Released in 1977, Fleetwood Mac’s 11th studio album was designed not to have an inch of filler and achieved its goal with room to spare. Of its rivals, perhaps only the Beatles’ ‘Revolver’ could muster that defence so convincingly.

Taking a year to record, it’s no secret how much ‘Rumours’ owes to the tangled web of relationships that form its roots. In 1974, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks had joined the band, with the cracks already showing in their romantic partnership. They held it together long enough for Fleetwood Mac’s self-titled LP to make a commercial breakthrough, but the dissolution of their relationship would form the the heart of its follow up, with the pair penning over half of the album.

Life was not any rosier for the band’s other couple, the McVies. They were on their way to a divorce by the time work on ‘Rumours’ began, with bassist John McVie eventually driving his wife, pianist and vocalist Christine, away due to, among other things, his excessive drinking. She would begin seeing the band’s lighting director, Curry Grant. It was complicated.

Drummer Mick Fleetwood struggled to act as the glue that held everything together, all the while living in the shadow of his own personal problems. His wife, Jenny Boyd, had embarked on an affair with his best friend, Fleetwood Mac guitarist Bob Weston, who was subsequently sacked, a few years earlier. “At least I was spared the in-house, up-front situation,” a diplomatic Fleetwood told Uncut in 2013. “I didn’t have to actually work with my ex-spouse.”

With six of the tracks credited to Buckingham or Nicks, largely inspired by their feelings towards one another, plus the co-written epic The Chain, four remain. It’s here that we see Christine McVie’s importance to Fleetwood Mac shine through. Forty years on, her vital work here still isn’t fully comprehended or always appropriately appreciated.

The daughter of a concert violinist and a veteran of the Birmingham blues scene, McVie’s path to Fleetwood Mac began when she entered their orbit as a member of Chicken Shack. Her marriage to McVie, in 1968, was followed by a short-lived retirement from music before she joined Fleetwood Mac full time in 1970.

When the band came together to record ‘Rumours’ at Record Plant Studios in Sausalito, California, Christine was struggling to write anything of note. Speaking to Q Magazine in 1997, she revealed: “I thought I was drying up. I was practically panicking because every time I sat down at a piano, nothing came out. Then, one day in Sausalito, I just sat down and wrote in the studio, and the four and a half songs of mine on the album are a result of that.” The half in question is the chorus to The Chain.

The pianist’s most celebrated moment on ‘Rumours’ is undoubtedly Don’t Stop – a thinly veiled message to her ex-husband John to move on. Released as the second single, after Go Your Own Way, Buckingham’s vitriolic shot across Nicks’ bow, Don’t Stop hit number three in the US Billboard chart, second only to the chart performance of Nicks’ Dreams, which hit the number one spot. Christine also contributed  You Make Loving Fun, written for Curry Grant, Oh Daddy, which might or might not have been written for Fleetwood, and Songbird.

Discussing Songbird with the Guardian last year, Christine elaborated on how it came about. “I woke up in the middle of the night and the song just came into my head,” she said. “I got out of bed, played it on the little piano I have in my room and sang it with no tape recorder. I sang it from beginning to end: everything. I can’t tell you quite how I felt; it was as if I’d been visited – it was a very spiritual thing. I was frightened to play it again in case I’d forgotten it. I called a producer first thing the next day and said ‘I’ve got to put this song down right now’. I played it nervously, but I remembered it.”

The song would become the most beautiful moment on ‘Rumours’ and also form the b-side to Dreams, although it’s hard not to retrospectively view the 7” release as a double a-side. Its presence no doubt helped the single to the top of the US chart and its unique atmospherics were intentional, with the song recorded away from the studio in the Zellerbach Auditorium of the University of California.

The numbers attached to ‘Rumours’ are quite astounding. Although its singles charted modestly in the UK, the LP has (at the time of writing) spent 665 weeks on the album chart. Across the pond it spent 31 weeks at number one, second only to Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. Total worldwide sales now stand in excess of 40 million copies. It is, without doubt, one of the most important releases of all time, both artistically and commercially.

Now back in the band after a long break, we’ll leave it to McVie to sum up the album she so heavily influenced. “It was a real pleasure to listen to it again,” she told Mojo a few years back. “I’ve had it lying around but not listened to it for years. It’s like if you live next door to Buckingham Palace, you don’t go and look at it every day.” Many happy returns to ‘Rumours’.





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