Feb 4th 1977 was the day that saw, amongst a BUNCH of other stuff I’m SURE, the release of Fleetwood Mac‘s 11th studio album Rumours. Little did anyone know that it was going to go on to be ABSOLUTELY MASSIVE! Few albums have become as monolithic as this one— Dark Side Of The Moon would be one that immediately jumps to mind.
The story of the record is as rich and absurd as the record itself. When you see the track listing it is almost a Greatest Hits of songs that weren’t hits yet. The singles alone were “Go Your Own Way”, “Dreams”, “Don’t Stop Believing”, & “You Make Loving Fun.” But you can’t ignore the “Album Tracks” that also got on-the-air “The Chain”, “Second Hand News”, & “Gold Dust Woman.” Seven of the eleven tracks saw high radio play and drove the album to total worldwide sales of 40 MILLION RECORDS!
In Feb of 1976 The Mac were coming in off of the huge radio hit “Rhiannon” which had allowed them the freedom to really think about what exactly they were looking to accomplish on the next record. It was considered a smart move to look at honing a much more “Pop” sound to continue the trajectory that “Rhiannon” had started. With that in mind, the band decamped to The Record Plant in Sausalito, CA. The original title for the pending record was Yesterday’s Gone. Indeed it was, their lives would never be the same after it’s release.
Ken Caillat—yes, Colbie’s dad— was drafted to engineer the record and everyone relocated to Nor Cal for what ended-up being a full year of writing and recording. The ladies lived in two condos down by the water and the lads stayed at the lodge adjacent to the studio. By all accounts the partying was at Olympic level! With the actual recording not starting until late into the evening and extending throughout the night the band barely spent any time together outside of the studio hours, but those went on forever. Ken C. wrote a brilliant book called Making Rumours that gives you every detail you would like to know about the making of the entire record. Here I’m going to focus on the hit single “Go Your Own Way.”
The track starts with Lindsey Buckingham’s instantly recognizable guitar riff, followed by his vocal, and then, on the weirdest count imaginable, THE DRUMS! As soon as it went to radio the DJ’s all complained about the strange timing of the intro and demanded from the label some sort of edit that would make more sense. Clearer heads prevailed and no such travesty was permitted. Mick Fleetwood has stated that the drum part was something he struggled to accomplish and that it “capitalized on his ineptness.” The late, great, Jeff Porcaro of Toto claimed that he could never make sense of the bloody thing and MF puts the weirdness of it down to his dyslexia. Whatever the reasoning the drums are a perfect counterpoint to the rhythm of Lindsey’s acoustic strumming. You can’t imagine any OTHER drum part being played.
What is there to say about John McVie’s bass playing on this song? And EVERY Fleetwood Mac song? He’s one of the most under-rated bassists in music history. It is easy in The Mac to be over-shadowed by just about everyone, but, luckily, McVie is a bloke who lets the instrument do the talking for him. The bass part on this one is absolutely magical. Counter-melody, counter-point, slippery, groovy, granite-slab rock…it’s everything he does brilliantly in one part. If you need FURTHER evidence of his genius all one has to do is drop the needle on The Chain, naturally. THAT thing is a thing of beauty.
His, soon-to-be, at the time, ex wife Christine provides an organ track that, if you read my Bob Seger blog in the last issue, you’d know, brings us into the same realm as Payne’s does on “Hollywood Nights.” We’re off to church! And it is flawless. Christine also sings the beautiful track “Songbird” on this album and should never be over-looked when it comes to FM’s success. You’d be hard pressed to find a band today that has as many epic musicians as Fleetwood Mac has had in its ranks. These 5 are all fantastic at their assigned tasks and her keys playing and singing is an arrow in Fleetwood Mac’s quiver. There’s no dead weight in this band.
Lindsey Buckingham is also criminally under-appreciated as both a rhythm and lead guitar player. On this song he dispatches all of the guitar tracks with his usual panache and precision. His acoustic track provides the groove that Mick builds on, his electric playing brings us the moments of drama as the song moves from verse to chorus, and his lead is a thing of beauty! From single notes sustained for days, riffs, licks, and as many different tones as one can cram into a radio hit, it’s as if Buckingham has something to prove to the lover that has jilted him who, let’s not forget, is standing to his left on-stage just about every night! There’s vitriol in the thing. The last 1:30 of the song is pretty much resting on him WAILING in the background, shouting above the din of the command for her to leave him. Unbelievable art.
Buckingham/Nicks have always, as that is how they started, been capable of perfect lyric, melody, and performance. This song is one of my favs of theirs. The harmonies are quintessential Fleetwood Mac. With Buckingham’s pained main vocal front-and-center there is a softer, more innocent ache in the vocal than he allowed in his lead playing. Stevie and he were in the middle of breaking-up, as were the McVie’s. Mick’s wife had run off with his best mate and he and Nicks were “rumoured” to be sleeping together during the making of the record. All of this emotional turmoil went into making the album and you can HEAR the angst and anger in the main vocals on this one. One of the greatest “Kiss Off” songs in music. Stevie fought Buckingham on the inclusion of the lyric “Packing-up/ Shacking-up’s all you wanna do” considering it specious and in concert footage of the day it isn’t a shock to see her shooting daggers with her eyes at him as he sings it. Imagine making a record in that environment! And then it being Rumours! They don’t make ’em like THIS anymore.
The tracking and mixing of the album took a full year. As Chris Stone, one of the owners of The Record Plant put it, Fleetwood Mac was “excess at its most excessive”. From the all-night recording sessions to the boat-loads of cocaine consumed during its making, from the emotional turmoil to the technical wizardry it took to make it, Rumours is a record that comes along once in a lifetime. Or possibly EVER. I, for one, can’t believe that it hasn’t been made into a Broadway Musical yet. If you decide to write it, I get half for having the idea! Deal?
If you haven’t listened to it in a while, do yourself a favor and do it now. Rumours really is a perfect album. And “Go Your Own Way” is a perfect Pop Song. Written to accomplish a goal that not even its authors thought would go as stratospheric as it did. Give it a spin. And pick up Ken’s book. It’s a great summer read.
Until next time,
PS: Take a look at my project, The Session.