Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours': A Track-by-Track Guide
Following up an acclaimed self-titled 1975 album, Rumours - released on Feb. 4 - was an immediate hit, topping the Billboard 200, selling more than 10 million copies within just a few months of its release and winning an Album of the Year Grammy. All four of the LP's singles - "Go Your Own Way," "Dreams," "Don't Stop" and "You Make Loving Fun" - reached the Top 10 in the U.S.; "Dreams" made it to No. 1.
But dig deep into the work you'll uncover a dire, mischievous and dramatic album - a musical soap opera featuring songs written in the aftermath of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham's breakup, Christine and John McVie's divorce, Mick Fleetwood's extramarital affairs and widespread drug use. When asked at the time by Rolling Stone what the recording process was like, Christine McVie replied, "Drama. Dra-ma." The band members channeled all that into one of music's greatest triumphs.
Below we outline a track-by-track guide to Fleetwood Mac's Rumours.
1. "Second Hand News"
Not every song written by a scorned lover has to sound so sad. The upbeat opening track makes one thing clear: Lindsey Buckingham is doing just fine in the tall grass with women who aren't Stevie Nicks. The guitarist was reportedly inspired by Bee Gees' "Jive Talkin'," and, when Mick Fleetwood couldn't nail the rhythm, Buckingham played the beat on an office chair to achieve the effect he was looking for. John McVie's original bass part was also scrapped, replaced by a part Buckingham wrote himself. "It took him a while, but eventually, while John was on vacation, he put down his own bass line, one that was very simple, just quarter notes," co-producer Ken Caillat told Music Radar in 2012. “It worked, though. Lindsey had a grand plan in his head, and he got his way. This was the start of him really calling the shots. It became a my-way-or-the-highway thing with him, which he perfected on the Tusk album.”
Nicks had much free time during the recording of Rumours, which she spent alone in an empty studio down the hall built for Sly Stone. The Record Plant room included a sunken pit, Victorian drapes and a black velvet bed upon which Nicks set up shop with a portable electronic piano. “I sat down on the bed with my keyboard in front of me,” Nicks recalled to Blender in 2005. “I found a drum pattern, switched my little cassette player on and wrote ‘Dreams’ in about 10 minutes. Right away I liked the fact that I was doing something with a dance beat because that made it a little unusual for me.” When she brought it to the other band members, they were less than impressed. “It was just three chords and one note in the left hand," Christine McVie said. "I thought, ‘This is really boring,’ but the Lindsey genius came into play and he fashioned three sections out of identical chords, making each section sound completely different. He created the impression that there’s a thread running through the whole thing.”
3. "Never Going Back Again"
An inordinate amount of time was spent on "Never Going Back Again," one of the last songs to be written for the album. Caillat noticed that Buckingham's acoustic guitar strings didn't sound quite as bright after just 20 minutes of playing and suggested a painstaking tactic: Change the strings every 20 minutes. "I’m sure the roadies wanted to kill me. Restringing the guitar three times every hour was a bitch. But Lindsey had lots of parts on the song, and each one sounded magnificent," Caillat said. His innovative idea came crashing down the next day when they realized Buckingham had played everything in the wrong key, forcing them to record all over again- this time without the restringing. (The song was initially titled "Brushes," because the original recording included only one other band member, drummer Fleetwood, who played snare using brushes.)
4. "Don't Stop"
Christine McVie, during her breakup with husband and bassist John, penned "Don't Stop" as a sort of can't-we-all-get-along number, encouraging the band to let go of the past and look to the future. "'Don't Stop' was just a feeling," she said in the 2004 book The Fleetwood Mac Story: Rumours and Lies. "It just seemed to be a pleasant revelation to have that 'yesterday's gone.' It might have, I guess, been directed more toward John, but I'm just definitely not a pessimist." John admitted to Mojo in 2015 that he was unaware the song had anything to specifically do with him. "I never put that together," he said. "I’ve been playing it for years, and it wasn’t until someone told me, 'Chris wrote that about you.' Oh, really?"
5. "Go Your Own Way"
In one of the most knife-twisting lines on the LP, Buckingham took direct aim at Nicks: "Packing up, shacking up's all you want to do." It was a low blow. "He knew it wasn't true," Nicks later told Rolling Stone. "It was just an angry thing that he said. Every time those words would come onstage, I wanted to go over and kill him. He knew it, so he really pushed my buttons through that. It was like, 'I'll make you suffer for leaving me.' And I did." The drums on "Go Your Own Way" were inspired by the staggering beat on the Rolling Stones' "Street Fighting Man." Fleetwood applied his interpretation of a rhythm that astonished drummer Jeff Porcaro, who begged Fleetwood to tell him how he achieved the sound. Fleetwood found he couldn't put it into words. "It was only after we continued to talk that Jeff realized I wasn't kidding around," Fleetwood said in his 2014 biography, Play On. "We eventually had a tremendous laugh about it, and when I later told him that I was dyslexic, it finally made sense.”
"Songbird" came to Christine McVie spontaneously. She wrote the song in about a half-hour. "I’ve never been able to figure out how I did that," she told People in 2017. "I woke up in the middle of the night, and the song was there in my brain - chords, lyrics, melody, everything. I played it in my bedroom and didn’t have anything to tape it on. So I had to stay awake all night so I wouldn’t forget it, and I came in the next morning to the studio and had Ken Callait put it on a two-track." The song was then recorded concert-style at the Zellerbach Auditorium on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, with 15 microphones placed around the hall and Buckingham strumming an acoustic guitar offstage to keep time.
7. "The Chain"
More than any other song on Rumours, "The Chain" came about in a piecemeal manner. Using a chord progression from an earlier Christine McVie song titled "Keep Me There," Buckingham recycled an intro part he and Nicks had used on their 1973 song "Lola (My Love)." Fleetwood and John McVie worked out the song's ending segment, while Nicks wrote new verses. The track was then literally spliced together using razor blades to cut the tapes. It's fitting then that "The Chain," a song about allegedly unbreakable ties, is the only song on Rumours to include writing credits for all five band members.
8. "You Make Loving Fun"
Sly Stone's studio down the hall came in handy again when Caillat suggested a clavinet - which Stone conveniently had - for "You Make Loving Fun," which Christine McVie had written about her new beau, the band's lighting director. "To accentuate the ‘clav-iness,’ we put it through a wah-wah pedal," Caillat remembered. "Christine couldn’t play her keyboard part and work the wah at the same time, so Mick got down on his hands and knees and worked the pedal while Christine played. Being a drummer, he knew just what kind of rhythm it needed." Meanwhile, Nicks and Buckingham reportedly argued throughout their backing-vocal recording session, ceasing their name-calling when the tape rolled and then picking up where they left off when the mics were cold.
9. "I Don't Want to Know"
"I Don't Want to Know" was cut quickly. Originally written by Nicks before she joined Fleetwood Mac, the song landed on Rumours as a replacement for her "Silver Springs," which was considered too long. Nicks wasn't pleased. "I started to scream bloody murder and probably said every horribly mean thing that you could possibly say to another human being," she said in a BBC radio interview in 1991. "I said, 'Well, I'm not gonna sing 'I Don't Want to Know.' I am one-fifth of this band.' And they said. 'Well, if you don't like it, you can either (a) take a hike or (b) you better go out there and sing 'I Don't Want to Know' or you're only gonna have two songs on the record.' And so, basically, with a gun to my head, I went out and sang 'I Don't Want to Know.' And they put 'Silver Springs' on the back of [the] 'Go Your Own Way' [single]."
10. "Oh Daddy"
There are a few different interpretations of "Oh Daddy." Buckingham's ex-girlfriend Carol Ann Harris and Nicks biographer Zoe Howe have said the song was about Christine McVie's relationship with the band's lighting designer. But McVie later stated that it was really about Fleetwood, the only member of the band with children at that point and who had become the most parental-like figure in the group. "Defenses were wearing thin, and they were quick to open up their feelings," co-producer Richard Dashut told writer Dave DiMartino. "Instead of going to friends to talk it out, their feelings were vented through their music. It created a certain sensitivity. Our personal lives were in shambles, and the album was about the only thing we had left."
11. "Gold Dust Woman"
"Gold Dust Woman" was the perfect dramatic ending to the 44-minute roller-coaster ride that's Rumours. As Caillat noted, the song built in more intensity and "evil" the longer the band worked on it. To emphasize Nicks' wailing, witchy vocals, Fleetwood broke sheets of glass. "He was wearing goggles and coveralls – it was pretty funny," Caillat recalled. "He just went mad, bashing glass with this big hammer. He tried to do it on cue, but it was difficult. Eventually, we said, ‘Just break the glass,’ and we fit it all in.” Nicks has never been completely clear on the meaning of the song but credited the tension of the recording sessions with producing some of the group's best work. "All of those problems, and all of those drugs, and all of the fun, and all of the craziness all made for writing all those songs," she told DiMartino. "If we'd been a big healthy great group of guys and gals, none of those great songs would've been written, you know?"