Time once more to select an album from the Rolling Stone Top 500. Last time out, we languished at the foot of the 200 club with New York band The Strokes. This month, we are shooting to our highest chart position so far as we join Transatlantic superstars Fleetwood Mac and their stormy 1977 album Rumours.
For those unfamiliar with the amorous tangled web that underpins Fleetwood Mac, allow me to begin with a brief history lesson. In 1975, two years prior to the release of Rumours, the ever-changing line-up of Fleetwood Mac stood as follows – founder members Mick Fleetwood and John McVie (an amalgamation of whose names gave the band their moniker), John's wife Christine McVie and newly-recruited duo Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. Their first record in this guise was the band's second eponymous album (not at all confusing) which would go on to top the US chart and sell over five million copies. The band reached a level of fame to which they were unaccustomed. Unfortunately, this appeared to take its toll during 1976 as the band prepared to record Rumours. John and Christine's marriage came to an end, Stevie and Lindsey's tumultuous relationship was reaching a final reckoning and Mick was going through divorce proceedings of his own with wife Jenny. The resulting album is a unique snapshot of a band in turmoil, pulled apart at the seams yet simultaneously creating music that would last a lifetime.
The album opens with Second Hand News, an upbeat track primarily sung by Buckingham with wisps of Nicks. It takes the form of a rollercoaster break up inner monologue, flitting high and low before culminating in an impassioned self-directed diatribe from Buckingham as he realises that he is no more than today's chip paper in Nicks' eyes. Second track Dreams serves as Nicks' response. With Buckingham's weeping guitar a constant background presence, she analyses their break up and her perception that fame changed the way they were able to be together. It is a deeply personal track packed with poignant imagery, guided along on the warm breeze of Nicks' voice.
Don't Stop is Christine McVie's uplifting tribute to picking yourself up and getting on with things, though it has in more recent years been adopted as Bill Clinton's WWE-style entrance music. The attention then turns back to Nicks and Buckingham with Go Your Own Way, probably the album's best known track – a slow-building song that holds more than a little malice behind its immaculate crescendos as Buckingham refers to Nicks' 'packing up' and 'shacking up'. McVie's fragility is exposed once more in the tender, porcelain shape of Songbird. The Chain, if you can get Formula 1 out of your head whilst listening, is a rare and enduring testament to the togetherness of the group. As the only song on which all five members wrote, it shows the transcendence that the band had over the individual issues that they were experiencing. The album's final word is given to Nicks as she introduces us to the evocative psychedelia of Gold Dust Woman, a veil behind which Nicks is barely concealed as she laments her own self-destructive nature.
I must admit that Rumours is the first album of the Rolling Stone Top 500 that I have reviewed so far that I feel undisputedly deserves its place in the countdown. It's true marvel rests in its conception. The natural instinct for most bands would be to run away from a plague of locusts swarming above their heads. What Fleetwood Mac did on Rumours is welcome them with open arms. Each band member gets their chance to bleed, to cauterise their wounds and bask in the cathartic healing power of song. Nicks, in particular, treats her heartache with a savage grace and maintains a dignity throughout, repeatedly raising herself above Buckingham's oft-childish barbs. The music is just magnificent – artists at the absolute peak of their craft working with an incredible unity despite the tugging threads all around them. Nicks and Buckingham's vocal parry and joust is elegance personified and, whilst it might be easy to overlook the presence of Christine McVie, her downplayed requiems add a layer of depth that proves Fleetwood Mac were far more versatile than most other rock bands of the time.
Against all the odds, Rumours would go on to massively outperform their previous album and, to this day, sits comfortably in the top 10 biggest selling albums of all time. Needless to say, it was a level of success never quite replicated by the band. They would have a further three number one albums in the UK and one in the US but none reproduced the impact of Rumours. Dreams remains the only number one single the band have had in either country. Remarkably, given the turmoil of the time, the band's line up would remain unchanged for another 10 years until Buckingham's eventual departure during which he cited Nicks as his primary reason for leaving. The band would however reunite in 1997 and are still going to this day. It is doubtful though that they will ever record anything that will have the same raw honesty and tangled harmonies of Rumours.
Then again, I might be wrong. I am a Musical Moron, after all...
Lyric Of The Month
“It's only me who wants to wrap around your dreams//And have you any dreams you'd like to sell?”
Mac's magnum opus
Sees them at each other's throats
Nicks comes out on top
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