Rumours at 45

Forty-five years ago today, Fleetwood Mac released their magnum opus, Rumours. Forty minutes of pop-rock perfection, Rumours yielded four top-ten hits and won the Grammy for Album of the Year. Rumours has sold more than forty million copies worldwide, putting it in the all-time top ten alongside albums like Thriller, Saturday Night Fever, Bat Out of Hell, Back in Black and The Dark Side of the Moon. It is, quite simply, one of the greatest – and most iconic – albums ever made.

Rumours was actually Fleetwood Mac’s eleventh studio album, but only the second with the line-up of Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. Fleetwood Mac, recorded in 1975 just after Buckingham and Nicks joined the group, was successful both critically and commercially; it went to #1 on the Billboard 200 and yielded three top-twenty singles (“Over My Head”, “Rhiannon” and “Say You Love Me”). In 1976, as the band was preparing to record Rumours (fun fact: the working title of the album was Yesterday’s Gone), the band’s two couples (the McVies and Buckingham/Nicks) were uncoupling. Mick Fleetwood had relationship troubles of his own; his wife Jenny reportedly had an affair with Fleetwood’s best friend (the two divorced, reconciled, remarried and divorced again over the next two years).

The press, of course, had a field day with the band’s relationship woes. They speculated that Fleetwood Mac would be going through a line-up change as a result of the breakups. They reported that Christine McVie was seriously ill in the hospital. When Buckingham and Nicks were photographed with Fleetwood’s daughter Lucy, the press declared that she was their secret love child. As the (ahem) rumors swirled, the members of Fleetwood Mac convened at the Record Plant studio in Sausalito, California in February of 1976 to begin recording.

The band chose not to work with Fleetwood Mac producer Keith Olsen again. Instead, they hired Ken Caillat and Richard Dashut, with whom they would work on subsequent albums Tusk and Mirage. Buckingham, Nicks and Christine McVie took primary songwriting duties, moving the band further away from its blues-rock roots and squarely into pop territory. Although most of the songs on the album are credited to a sole writer, they often collaborated; Buckingham and Christine McVie found that their songwriting sensibilities meshed well, and they helped polish each other’s songs.

Many of Rumours‘ individual songs are built around the romantic turmoil that imbued the proceedings. “Dreams”, written and sung by Nicks, offers up an optimistic yet melancholy view of the end of a relationship: “Now here you go again/You say you want your freedom/Well, who am I to keep you down?” Buckingham’s “Second Hand News”, on the other hand, takes a more direct approach: “One thing I think you should know/I ain’t gonna miss you when you go”. And in “Go Your Own Way”, Buckingham is even blunter: “Tell me why everything turned around/Packing up, shacking up’s all you want to do”. Ouch. Apparently, Nicks lobbied for Buckingham to remove that last line, but he refused. Meanwhile, “The Chain”, the only song on the album credited to all five band members (and my personal favorite Rumours track), seems like the perfect amalgamation of everyone’s anguish: “Run in the shadows/Damn your love, damn your lies/Break the silence/Damn the dark, damn the light”. Even a lovely, lighthearted song like Christine McVie’s “You Make Loving Fun” belies the darker story behind it (McVie wrote the song about Curry Grant, the band’s lighting director with whom she’d had an affair).

An open-ended budget from the record company and a never-ending supply of cocaine conspired to put recording behind schedule (it didn’t help that some of the band members weren’t on speaking terms with each other). All-night jam sessions would yield nothing usable. After two months in Sausalito, the band members were given ten days off to decompress before reconvening in Los Angeles. A sell-out tour scheduled for the fall was postponed; the album’s original release date of September came and went. Finally, the album now known as Rumours was complete, and a new release date of February 4 was set.

Fleetwood Mac released “Go Your Own Way” in December of 1976. The single reached #10 on the Billboard Hot 100, and its success helped build demand for the album. Three subsequent singles – “Dreams”, “Don’t Stop” and “You Make Loving Fun” – all landed in the top ten as well (“Dreams” is the band’s only US number one). On April 2, Rumours peaked at #1 on the Billboard 200 (and in six other countries, including the UK, Australia and Canada) and stayed there for thirty-one non-consecutive weeks. It was the best-selling album of 1977. It was the third-best-selling album of 1978 (behind the soundtracks for Saturday Night Fever and Grease). It was the FIFTY-THIRD best-selling album of 2020.

[An important aside: of the ten all-time best-selling albums, four of them – five if you count The Eagles’ Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975) – were released between December 1976 and November 1977. An incredible coincidence? Perhaps, or maybe it’s because popular music fucking ruled in 1977. Remember this fun fact, because I’m going to come back to it another time.]

When Grammy time rolled around, Rumours was nominated for Album of the Year alongside Aja by Steely Dan, Hotel California by the Eagles, JT by James Taylor, and the Star Wars soundtrack with John Williams conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. Apparently, no black or brown people released albums in 1977. Anyway, Rumours won (and Williams made do with the Oscar).

I still listen to Rumours on a regular basis. It is that rare perfect album, the one with zero fat or fillers, where every song could be a single. The album that captures the zeitgeist, a commercial and critical smash, a timeless classic. With more than forty million sold, chances are good you’ve had a copy in your household at some point in your life. In 2020, Rolling Stone listed Rumours as the seventh-greatest album ever in an updated edition of its “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. AllMusic editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine, in a retrospective review, called Rumours an “unparalleled blockbuster”. I couldn’t have said it better.

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