The Enduring Magic of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’
By Lyric Wawiri-Smith
Released in 1977, Fleetwood Mac’s eleventh studio album Rumours is a musical odyssey of drugs, sex, cheating, loving and scandal. The album maps the breakups between four of the five band members - Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, and Christine McVie and John McVie, then Nicks’ subsequent affair with Mick Fleetwood, then Christine McVie’s relationship with the band’s lighting director, and so on and so forth. You can feel the tension in every note Nicks sings, on the strings of Buckingham’s guitar, in McVie’s penmanship, in the sneering duets and eye-batting love songs. Despite the mess in the band’s relationships, the music they made on Rumours remains stylishly smooth, timeless, and engaging.
Opening with Buckingham’s sneering on ‘Second Hand News’ with “I know there’s nothing to say/Someone has taken my place,” Rumours jump straight into Fleetwood Mac’s fiery drama. Across 11 tracks spanning nearly 40 minutes, the band lays out all the good, bad and ugly in varying levels of honesty, often so petty you can’t look away. On the show stopping Stevie Nick’s solo ‘Dreams,’ she lays bare the turbulence in her relationship with Buckingham in her classic witchy-Stevie way of seeing “crystal visions” and letting the rain wash you clean. ‘The Chain’ is an epic mosaic of lyrics and soundscapes focusing on the grittier sides of heartbreak, and is the only track on the album where every member had a hand in writing the song. ‘Don’t Stop’ and ‘Go Your Own Way’ are fun and poppy radio friendly hits that still feel in place with the other songs on Rumours, providing moments of mindless joy and defiant release. Less aggressive tracks such as ‘Never Going Back Again’ and ‘You Make Loving Fun’ centre around moving on after love is lost. ‘Gold Dust Woman’ provides an insight into another layer of heartbreak, explained by Stevie Nicks as symbolising the drug-use that occurred after the breakdown of the members' relationships.
In the case of Rumours, “nomen est omen” - the name is the meaning! The band was caught up in a whirlwind of drama, and instead of letting their hurt divide them, they created a beautiful piece of music that is still celebrated to this day. Thwarting the rumours following them, they chose to regain agency over their lives by putting their most vulnerable moments on display, in their own terms. Rumours shows the power of being able to identify the embarrassing or hurtful stories following you as your own, and setting the record straight on the truth, however ugly it is.
Lately, Rumours has enjoyed a cultural resurgence. ‘Dreams’ re-entered the Billboard charts in 2018 after a meme using the song spread online, Harry Styles covered the classic ‘The Chain’ on his first solo tour, Lorde proclaimed Rumours as being a “perfect record”, and Glee had a whole episode dedicated to covering the album. Of the new generation of Rumours fans, many are young women finding solace in the album’s themes of hurt and betrayal and empowerment. The ladies of Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie, emerge on Rumours as two unapologetic powerhouses refusing to take any shit from their scorned lovers. The power alone in Christine penning and singing a song about her affair with the band’s lighting director on ‘You Make Loving Fun’ while her soon-to-be-ex-husband plays along is truly unmatched! The way Nicks faces off with Buckingham on ‘I Don’t Wanna Know’, matching his scorn with her own heartache and passive aggression is a musical lesson in standing your ground. ‘Dreams’ in particular has become a battle-cry for heartbroken young women - “players only love you when they’re playing” may have been written in the 1970s, but it remains crazily relevant to this day in meaning and in slang.
These women are heroines to a new generation of young girls who have access to more music and information than ever before.
Stevie Nicks is often at the centre of the spotlight in conversations about Fleetwood Mac, to no fault of her own. She has an unapologetic and empowering nature, yet she’s wrapped in mysticism and feminine divinity. While her female contemporaries were often leaning into masculine tropes and attitudes to keep up as women in a male dominated world, Nicks found an ability to harness her femininity as a source of power. However, in all the adoration for Stevie, Christine often gets shifted to the sidelines, although her musical abilities are nothing to be overlooked. She wrote four of the songs on Rumours, and enjoys some of the album’s most tender moments. ‘Oh Daddy’ and ‘Songbird’ are two beautiful tracks led by Christine which provide moments of pause and clarity in a tracklist muddled with high tempers and scandals. Christine and Stevie give their male counterparts a run for their money, throwing punches and revelling in their emotional powers. These women are heroines to a new generation of young girls who have access to more music and information than ever before, and although Rumours is a stunning collaboration between all members of Fleetwood Mac, its feminine influence provides a distinct and unique point of view.
Rumours has endured throughout the decades by comforting generations of those heartbroken (an emotion that itself is as timeless as the Earth) in a way that feels so whimsical and yet so personal. In getting lost in all the tales of heartbreak let loose across the record, it’s easy for listeners to latch and project our hurt onto a certain line or moment to help ourselves feel at ease with the pain we experience in our real world. Rumours simultaneously feels like a giant hug and a scream of resistance, a fight to tell your truth and the ability to walk away only looking forward. In all its magic, this record persists as one of the best ever, in its time, in our time, and for time to come.