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.
Coming, again, as a voice of reason and resilience, Christine McVie’s testament of true, unconditional love provides a calming closure to Rumours’ first side. Understanding how special the song was when he heard McVie playing it at Sound City, Caillat booked Zellerbach auditorium at the University of California and set the stage with a grand piano, champagne and roses for an all-night session.
“It seemed like a little anthem more than anything else,” McVie, who’d started the song at her rented condominium, noted in Classic Albums. “It was for everybody. It was like a little prayer, almost.” “Songbird” closed many a concert for Fleetwood Mac over the years, and John McVie recalled that it left the other band members in tears when his ex-wife performed it.
“Songbird” wound up being the calm before the storm when listeners flipped Rumours over to discover this dynamic, group-written reckoning. The song’s second half, starting with John McVie’s bass solo, actually came first, pulled from a jazzy Christine McVie song called “Butter Cookie (Keep Me There)” that wasn’t quite working out.
Nicks contributed the opening portion, revising a song she had written for Buckingham Nicks. As Fleetwood told radio station Lucky 98 FM, Buckingham “made a song out of all the bits and pieces that were around.” It provides a bit of an answer for anyone wondering how Fleetwood Mac was staying together amidst the interpersonal turmoil, declaring that despite the rancor, they would “never break the chain” with each other.
“You Make Loving Fun”
McVie is once again light-hearted and, if not in love, certainly having fun with her current boyfriend. As straightforward a pop song as you’ll find on Rumours, it reached No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was the album’s fourth and final single.
“I Don’t Want to Know”
Nicks had initially targeted another song, “Silver Springs,” to be her third for Rumours, but when that proved to be impossible due to its length, it was replaced with this track, which she had written for a second Buckingham Nicks album back in 1974. Nicks initially balked at the switch but was told that she could either sing it, let somebody else sing it, leave the band or be satisfied with just two songs on the album.
Over the years, she’s warmed to the track, which is similarly hopeful and more upbeat than “Dreams.” “I happen to really like that song,” she said in Classic Albums, “and I love singing that song with Lindsey. That was one of our Everly Brothers singing things that was really close and tight and fun to sing. So if ‘Silver Springs’ was going to be replaced with anything, ‘I Don’t Want to Know’ was a good replacement.”
“Silver Springs,” meanwhile, surfaced ironically as the b-side to “Go Your Own Way” and appeared on the 1992 Fleetwood Mac box set 25 Years — The Chain, after Fleetwood denied permission to include it on Nicks’ own 1991 compilation Timespace. A live version of “Silver Springs” from The Dance was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1998.
Christine McVie penned Rumours‘ penultimate track about Fleetwood, celebrating him as the “gel” that held Fleetwood Mac together through both good times and bad. Fleetwood was, at the time, the only actual father in the band, with two daughters. A great deal of work was done on its spare and spacious arrangement, picking up the tempo and adding details such as castanets and some random keyboard touches McVie played at the end of one take. The song was for a time known as “‘Addy” after the “D” was accidentally snapped off during a tape mishap.
“Gold Dust Woman”
Nicks closed Rumours with a song that was reflective of the entire circumstances surrounding the album. “‘Gold Dust Woman’ was my symbolic look at somebody going through a bad relationship and doing a lot of drugs and trying to make it, trying to live trying to just get through to the next thing,” she said in Classic Albums.
That weariness can be heard, to good effect, on the track, which according to Fleetwood took eight late-night vocal takes armed with lozenges, tissues, mineral water and a Vicks inhaler. The take on the album was recorded around 4:00 a.m., and the track was fortified with Buckingham’s dobro and electric harpsichord played by Fleetwood — who also broke sheets of glass for additional sonic effects.
Nicks would later tell Courtney Love, in a 1997 interview for Spin, that “gold dust” was her term for cocaine. “Everybody was doing a little bit… it was just around — and I think I had a real serious flash of what this stuff could be, or what it could do to you… and I really imagined that it could overtake everything, never thinking in a million years that it would overtake me.”
Nicks — who took the song’s title from Gold Dust Lane in Wickenburg, Arizona — quit cocaine in 1986 after going through rehab at the Betty Ford Center. She’d go through another rehab, in 1993, to overcome an addiction to prescription drugs.