The Legends: Fleetwood Mac

The Legends: Fleetwood Mac

Forty years later, just about everyone still loves Rumours.

Forty years later, just about everyone still loves Rumours.

Text: NELL BERAM

This article originally appeared in V109, on newsstands August 31. Pre-order your copy here

My husband and I had been married for a while before we felt ready to unite our vinyl record collections. We are each a little snooty about what we consider our respective superior tastes, which tend toward old-school indie rock and punk: the Clash, the Buzzcocks, and X for me, and the Pixies, Fugazi, and Devo for him. Who would have thought that one of the very few duplicate albums in our merged collection would be Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 supernova, Rumours?

What is it about that album? That it’s a beautifully crafted California-baked rock record doesn’t explain a fan base that extends far beyond those who favor the arena-rock musical idiom. Over the decades since Rumours’s release, among those who have lined up to cover its songs are Hole (“Gold Dust Woman”), Tonic (“Second Hand News”), and Letters to Cleo (“Dreams”). Could it be that there’s something a little bit punk rock about Rumours and the band that made it?

Fleetwood Mac didn’t start out that way. It was an English blues outfit that formed in the late ‘60s and was enjoying some success when its guitarist quit in ‘74. The stranded members—keyboardist Christine McVie; her bass player husband, John McVie; and drummer Mick Fleetwood—recruited a Californian, Lindsey Buckingham, to fill the guitarist slot. Buckingham accepted the job on the condition that the band also accommodate his singer-songwriter girlfriend, Stevie Nicks, with whom he had released an album whose sales weren’t boosted by even the comely pair’s naked cover shot. This new configuration of Fleetwood Mac put out a self-titled record with its share of jewels—especially Nicks’s “Landslide,” later covered with worshipful fidelity by the Smashing Pumpkins—but it was Rumours that won the Grammy for Album of the Year, in ‘78.

That the engine driving Rumours was Fleetwood Mac’s interpersonal turmoil has been exhaustively reported, but here it is again: During the year that the band worked on the album, Mick Fleetwood and his wife were splitting up, Nicks and Buckingham’s relationship imploded, and Christine and John McVie’s marriage cratered. Everyone in the band was apoplectic about something, and brought this to the recording studio along with their rolling papers and Heinekens. Buckingham wrote the seething “Go Your Own Way” about Nicks, which made her mad. Christine McVie did not write the exultant “You Make Loving Fun” about John McVie, which made him mad. The result of all this embattlement is one of the best selling albums of all time.

While there’s nothing punk about Rumours’s sound (you’ll have to go to Tusk, its somewhat notorious follow-up, for that), the record has fine moments of experimentation, like the broken glass and caterwauling that flesh out “Gold Dust Woman,” Nicks’s spooky-celestial soundscape. Another distinguishing feature: When Fleetwood Mac made Rumours, two of its five members and two of its three lead singer–songwriters were female. As music journalist Caroline Coon has pointed out, punk was the first cultural movement in which women could participate equally with men. In Rumours’s day, a chick singer in a mainstream rock band was a curiosity. Two chick singers who wrote songs, one of whom played an instrument? Yikes.

Of course, the punkest thing about Fleetwood Mac has always been Nicks, and as Rumours climbed the charts, more and more young women tried out her witchy-waif persona, feather earrings flying with every imitative Stevie twirl. Nicks’s crocheted drapery and hippie fringe conspired with her black platform boots and surface gloom to wink at anyone with a healthy skepticism of “normal.”

I suspect that Fleetwood Mac speaks to the secret punk in every hippie and the closet hippie in every punk. Fleetwood Mac even speaks to my 16-year-old daughter. My husband surprised her with tickets to see the band in concert a couple of years ago, and since it was her birthday, he bought her a tour shirt. When I was my daughter’s age, I wouldn’t have advertised that I liked Fleetwood Mac: What would the Clash, the Buzzcocks, and X have thought of me? Only now do I understand that they probably loved Fleetwood Mac, too.

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