Fleetwood Mac are ubiquitous. Even if you think you haven’t heard them, you have. They’re the Marks & Spencer food porn ads, they’re the Formula One theme music. They’re Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign, a regrettable Corrs cover, the prized CD in your dad’s record collection (unless you’re my dad, in which case it was actually the Corrs). They’re FM radio drive time classics, an entire episode of Glee, your go-to karaoke anthem on a drunken night out. Since 1967, Fleetwood Mac have suffused popular culture with their slinky blues, epic guitar rock and poignant pop.
Stevie Nicks claimed that being in Fleetwood Mac was akin to being in a soap opera; at their peak, the band exemplified the mad theatrics of rock and roll living. Staple rider requests included Dom Perignon and white pianos in every hotel room. On-stage antics involved squirting milk-filled condoms at the audience. Tumultuous personal storylines ranged from losing band members to the Children of God cult, to romances with Beach Boys (Dennis Wilson had a heart-shaped garden installed in Chris McVie’s home as a surprise), but both drama and music hit a crescendo with the release of Rumours in 1977.
The band’s personal disorder provided the context. Its eponymous drummer Mick Fleetwood had found out his wife was having an affair with his best friend, while not one, but two couples within the band were disintegrating (bassist John and keyboardist Chris McVie, and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and vocalist Stevie Nicks). An initial six week recording session stretched to six months as the band consumed and were consumed by so much cocaine that they ended up acknowledging their dealer in the liner notes and Mick played a chair. Yet in spite of, or more likely because of this onslaught of chaos, together they managed to produce a universally adored album.
Rumours is a thread of anthems charged with electric feeling, bereft of duds or filler. The lively pop of Chris McVie (‘You Make Loving Fun’, ‘Don’t Stop’) is complemented by Nicks’ throaty, folky stylings on the powerfully bitter ‘Gold Dust Woman’ and gauzy ‘Dreams’, which is in turn juxtaposed with Buckingham’s full-blooded, riff-driven rejoinder ‘Go Your Own Way’. These individual, equally epic outings coalesce and culminate in ‘The Chain’, the album’s only full collaborative effort, which marries accessible arrangements and propelling guitar lines with the deceptively tortured lyrics that render Rumours such a touching achievement.
It’s easy to attach yourself to the cynical notion of a label rehashing old material with scant extras to make a quick buck. This 35th anniversary edition of Rumours is available in several permutations; a three-disc edition with B-sides, unreleased live recordings and album outtakes, as well as a deluxe version that’s comprised of an extra disc of outtakes, a DVD of documentary The Rosebud Film and the original album on LP. The options are expensive (the deluxe edition will set you back $99) and arguably unnecessary; particularly considering how many times the album has already been re-mastered and released. Yet although only intensely committed Mac fans will find the benefit in having three separate versions of ‘Songbird’ on disc, the merit of the original material triumphs. Whether you make the purchase is your own prerogative, but what made Rumours so popular and important in the first place won’t be overlooked.