As Fleetwood Mac prepared to make its 11th album — and second with its latest lineup — in 1976, it was on top of a world that was falling apart.
The group’s self-titled 1975 release, its first with new American members Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, had revived the veteran British band’s flagging fortunes. It was certified seven times platinum and gave Fleetwood Mac its first No. 1 album in the U.S., spawning three Top 20 hits. The group was top of the pops, quite literally.
But the quintet wasn’t quite able to bask in its success.
All hell broke loose, also quite literally, between albums. Buckingham and Nicks, a couple when they joined Fleetwood Mac, broke up. Singer-keyboardist Christine McVie and bassist John McVie ended their eight-year marriage. Drummer Mick Fleetwood and his wife Jenny were splitting as well after she began an affair with his best friend. “It was… relentless,” Fleetwood remembered a few years later. “Pain, anger, heartache, it was everywhere, every time you turned around. It was like, ‘When will this end?!'”
But with the pressure on to follow up Fleetwood Mac’s great success, the band chose not to stop. “The bottom line is this is what we do. We make music, and accept this as an unfortunate situation,” Fleetwood said in a 1997 Classic Albums documentary about Rumours. Buckingham added, “There was never any consideration of, ‘Do we want to stay together? or ‘Do we want to approach this in a different way?’ We had to play it out. The only way to do that was to take all the feelings… and sort of cram them into one corner of the room and get on with [the album].”
So Fleetwood Mac, along with co-producers Ken Caillat and Richard Dashut, locked itself into the Record Plant in Sausalito, a windowless environment that became something of a pressure cooker. The sessions were fueled by cocaine, both in and outside of the studio, and hairpin-triggered emotions.
Buckingham called the making of Rumours “one of the most intense years I’ve ever spent, working,” and Christine McVie recalled having to keep her then-boyfriend Curry Grant, the band’s lighting tech, largely away from the studio so not to upset her ex-husband — who would occasionally show up, shouting, at the condominium complex where she and Nick were staying.
The result, however, turned out to be nothing sort of genius. Rumours is the sound of five people walking a tightrope with and among each other, baring their souls, their hurt and their animosities. “What would come out on tape was emotion… very raw,” Dashut remembered. Fleetwood Mac was not the first rock band to turn personal pain into creative gain, but the multiple voices made for a particularly unique kind of musical soap opera.
“We were all writing songs about each other, basically, although we were all unaware of it at the time,” Christine McVie said. Buckingham, meanwhile, suggested that “that was the great appeal of the album. If you look at the success that Rumours enjoyed, I think it goes a little bit beyond the music itself. I think a resonance kicks in that has to do with the iteration of the people, the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. You had these dialogues shooting back and forth between members of the band about things that were happening to all of us while we were recording all these songs.”
Success, of course, is an understatement when it comes to Rumours. As successful as Fleetwood Mac was, its follow-up left it in its dust, selling more than 10 million copies during its first month out in early 1977 and eventually more than 40 million worldwide. It launched four Top 10 singles (including “Dreams” at No. 1) and won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. Rumours was subsequently inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry.
“It was one of those lightning in a bottle moments,” Buckingham said years later. “People around us were like, ‘Can you do that again?’ Well… no. Rumours was the result of circumstances, a lot of them unpleasant, that just happened. They weren’t planned, but they were responsible for what the album turned out to be. And as great as that album is, I don’t know that any of us would want to live through all that again.”
To commemorate Rumours’ 45th anniversary, we’re taking a trip through each of the landmark album’s 11 still-resonant tracks. Give it a spin as you read, and enjoy.
“Second Hand News”
Rumours’ opening track began as a Celtic-flavored acoustic piece called “Strummer” and was subsequently rearranged after Buckingham heard the Bee Gees’ “Jive Talkin'” and incorporated elements of its danceable beat into the song rather than the marching time of the demo. “We were also very interested in keeping the pop elements since it was going to be the first song, and it was a pop album,” Buckingham noted in Classic Albums.
The song serves as an overture to Rumours’ emotional discourse, combining anger, resignation and resolve into a statement of purpose — “When times go bad, when times go rough/ Won’t you lay me down in the tall grass and let me do my stuff?”
Sly Stone played an unlikely role in the creation of Fleetwood Mac’s first No. 1. With the band working on another track one afternoon, Nicks repaired to one of Sound City’s other studios, where Stone was working on material. She sat one the large bed with black curtains, amidst red velvet-lined walls, and composed the airy “Dreams,” which she considered “hopeful. It saw the breakup coming, but it was hopeful… that it would be OK.”
Despite their enmity, Nicks turned the song over to Buckingham, who crafted an arrangement that put some meat on its delicate bones. Even Christine McVie, who found the song “really boring” at first, told Blender that “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.”
“Dreams” made its way back onto the charts during 2020, when Nathan Apodaca in Idaho posted a TikTok video of himself riding to work on a skateboard after his truck broke down, drinking Ocean Spray cran-raspberry juice and lip-syncing “Dreams.” The video went viral, with more than 50 million views, and Fleetwood, Nicks and Buckingham all filmed response clips — Nicks’ on a pair of roller skates.
“Never Going Back Again”
This Buckingham solo acoustic track came late in the Rumours process, showcasing his guitar skills as well as his vocals. It was inspired by a brief fling with a woman he’d met while touring — a relationship that didn’t get serious but did rejuvenate his spirits and allow him to move forward after his breakup with Nicks.
Christine McVie gave Rumours a shot of optimism with this anthemic track, a Top 5 hit, built from a shuffle, that focused on moving on and not looking back. The band even considered titling the album Yesterday’s Gone after the closing line of the chorus. Bill Clinton famously adopted “Don’t Stop” as the theme song for his 1992 presidential campaign, and then-splintered Fleetwood Mac reciprocated by reuniting to play it on the evening before his inauguration during January of 1993.
“Go Your Own Way”
Buckingham vented his feelings about Nicks and their break-up into Rumours’ hardest-rocking track and first single, which hit No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. She took particular umbrage at the line “packing up, shaking up is all you want to do” and often compared it to the more “hopeful” tone of her “Dreams.” “It was certainly a message within that song,” she told Q magazine, “and not a very nice one at that.” Musically, Buckingham very deliberately withheld a key rhythm guitar part until the second half of the first verse in an effort to “disorient” the listener at first, before establishing the song’s groove.