When it comes to the iconic albums of the 1970s, people think of names like Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, Kraftwerk, and more. But in the late 70s, there was one album that was everywhere to the point that it seemed like a greatest hits collection: the legendary Rumours by Fleetwood Mac. With estimated sales of more than 40 million copies, Rumours is on the top 10 all-time best-selling album list … but unlike many other top-selling 70s albums, it is still a great collection of songs. For the 35th anniversary, the band has released a few new versions including remastered main album as well as an Expanded, Deluxe and Super Deluxe edition. I grabbed the standard edition, let’s take a look!
Artist: Fleetwood Mac
After finding commercial success with the self-titled 1975 album (actually their tenth overall and second self-titled release), the new line-up of Fleetwood Mac – with Lindsey Buckingham on guitar and vocals and Stevie Nicks on vocals joining the core of Christine McVie on vocals and keyboards, John McVie on bass, and Mick Fleetwood on drums – entered the studio for a follow-up.
However, the recordings were fraught with interpersonal turmoil that informed the lyrics and music. Christine McVie was having an affair with the band’s lighting director which would lead the McVie’s to divorce during the Rumours sessions. At the same time Fleetwood was getting divorced from his wife, and Buckingham and Nicks ended their long-term relationship … and Fleetwood and Nicks found solace in each other’s arms.
The band immersed themselves in music, drugs, alcohol, and enjoying their new-found wealth and stardom. But they eventually got it together, producing what would be their masterpiece and best-selling record — spawning four top-10 singles, a few more top-40 hits, and the band’s only #1 song with Stevie Nick’s ‘Dreams’. But in the era of ‘album oriented rock’, Rumours held the #1 spot on the U.S. album charts for an amazing 31 weeks.
The first thing that struck me listening to Rumours end to end again after all of these years was the sound quality. ‘Second Hand News’ begins with building guitar, bass and drum groove and before everything hits full volume the vocals begin. The production values are simply stunning – you can easily hear both guitar tracks, the bass and drums are incredibly distinct. Even as keyboard, electric guitar and a lead guitar solo are layered on, you don’t lose the ability to pick out any part of the track. And the harmonies here are impeccable as well, laying the foundation for one of the greatest sonic characteristics of the album.
As an aside, I used this album to show my kids an example of how to use dynamic range properly – unlike most recordings made over the past twenty years, you can easily hear every individual element even when they are stacked twenty layers deep. ‘Dreams’ is a great example of this: you start with bass and drums, but also low register electric piano doubling the bass. Then there is a slide electric guitar added along with more swirling electric piano, and finally Stevie Nicks vocal. At this point things are very sparse, until the lead-in to the chorus, which is marked by a switch-up on the drum pattern, and each phrase adding another layer of Nicks on vocals.
Then the chorus arrives in earnest as Christine McVie’s harmonies arrive in the other channel. Added in the chorus is McVie’s swirling organ, strummed guitar off-center, backing vocals from McVie and Buckingham added to a doubled Nicks and all spread across the stereo field. Yet you never lose the bass track or the individual drum hits or the vibraphone or the multiple guitar layers or anything else. It is a stunning production of an amazing song – what started as a relatively simple Nicks demo was transformed by Buckingham into something that never feels like an AABA chorus-verse song, yet it does follow that structure.
I have remarked that Rumours reminds me of a greatest hits album, and for a simple reason: there is no filler. So many albums of the era were three or four solid songs with the other half pretty much filler, owing to the ‘album a year then tour’ schedule that dominated the era. But on Rumours you start with the fun and bouncy ‘Second Hand News’, then right into ‘Dreams’, and then a bit of a break with the introspective ‘Never Going Back Again’ before snapping right back into gear with ‘Don’t Stop’!
From there we hear Lindsey Buckingham lay his pain bare in the first few lines of ‘Go Your Own Way’, but the song is so infectious and driving that you can’t help bounce along in spite of the sadness of the lyrics. The first side closes out with Christine McVie’s introspective and gorgeous ‘Songbird’.
Wait – did I say that was just the first side?!? Indeed – this album is so packed with great songs that there are four of the best pop songs of the 70s on the first side along. The second side is equally potent, starting with my personal favorite ‘The Chain’, and jumping to McVie’s ode to her infidelity ‘You Make Loving Fun’, and closing out with Nicks’ potent ‘Gold Dust Woman’.
Growing up, my brother was the one with the pop music collection – Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, and so on – so I hadn’t heard this album in full for a very ling time. Since it was impossible to avoid during the late 70s and early 80s, I had never felt the need to collect the album until now. And I am glad I did – listening to streaming versions of the 2004 release of the album compared to this most recent remaster shows the amazing detail that was put into this collection. While it is probably not worth replacing a version you already have, if you have held off grabbing this for whatever reason, this is definitely worth buying.
‘Quick Hit’ Song: “The Chain” – there are a number of great songs on this album, but for me this one captures it all for a single reason: it is the only one credited to the whole group, and contains elements from each. Also, the choice is selfish: while guitarists my age were learning ‘Smoke on the Water’ and ‘Paranoid’, I was learning ‘Thank You (Falletin Me Be Mice Elf Agin)’ and ‘The Chain’. What starts as a full-group harmony over simple guitar and drums, builds into a driving groove with soaring chorus. Midway through the song thing settle down and John Mcvie drops an epic bass line that leads the group quickly into an energetic out-chorus accompanied by the best Buckingham lead solo of the album.
Would I recommend?: Absolutely! This is one of the greatest pop albums of all time, and has only improved with time. Listening to this reminds us of the extent to which popular music has stopped being the life-work of talented individuals and has instead become the mass-produced product of committees. This brings you back to an era where pop and rock and singer and songwriter were all just labels.
Suggested audience: Anyone with an interest in popular or rock music should really have this in their collection. While it is a 70s album, through the greatness of the songs and the excellent production, it has a timeless appeal.
Here is video of Fleetwood Mac performing ‘Dreams’ live in 1977 (excellent VHS conversion):