The ultimate breakup album? Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours at 40

Fleetwood Mac are described by many as the epitome of a ’70s band, famous as much for their messy intra-band relationships and personal lives as for their music. But the band’s haunting lyrics and energetic rhythms have cemented them as a foundation of old-school rock ‘n’ roll.

They were cool(ish), they were troubled, and they produced music that seemed to go straight to the soul. The outfit developed very different musical leanings over time as their band changed its line-up multiple times. The way members would leave and return is certainly intriguing, but seems to work for them, and I’m sure the fact that they’ve sold in excess of 100 million records worldwide sweetened the comings and goings. This is the story of Rumours.

In some cases such as The Police or Tears For Fears or even One Direction, inter-band politics can sometimes take over the music. The members then find it hard to get back to writing good stuff together, since all the rest of the world wants to see is public displays of love/anger. ‘The Mac’ fought off this temptation to just provide the public with scandal, and channeled all their energy into music. What emerged was Rumours, the second long-player from the act’s classic transatlantic line-up, which was released on a crisp winters’ day on 4 February 1977.

In my opinion it is the very best of Fleetwood Mac, drawing on the tortured relationship between recently-joined lead singer Stevie Nicks and her former beau guitarist Lindsey Buckingham, and the heartbreaking divorce between two pillars of the band – John and Christine McVie. In that respect it’s been described as the ultimate breakup album, which is a fair analysis. Oh, and there were drugs. Lots and lots of drugs.

Rumours takes you on a journey through the peaks and troughs of deteriorating relationships. The outpouring of emotion from the three main songwriters (plus, of course, the loveable English eccentric, founding member and all-round tall fella Mick Fleetwood, Samantha Fox’s favourite co-presenter) were absolute masters of turning personal tragedy into timeless perennial hits. is the soundtrack to their respective breakups.

As a relationship breaks down, there are moments where you feel angry, but positive. Buckingham’s Go Your Own Way captures the essence of wanting this person to get the hell away from you, but also having the lingering feeling of wanting them to be happy. There are moments of denial – trying to pretend that you both want the same things and that everything is ok. However, Nicks’s I Don’t Want To Know tells us that pretending is useless – it is a façade.

Then finally there are moments of nothingness. Songbird, Christine McVie’s piercing ballad, is in my opinion one of the most beautiful songs ever written. The rising and falling piano melody accompanies McVie’s quiet and simple lyrics to serve as a lamenting ode to her crumbling band. I have listened to the song a ridiculous number of times, and yet it is still quite inexplicable to me how such simple repetition in the ending phrase, “And I love you, I love you, I love you, like never before” manages to create quite the depth of emotion it does. It is hard not to feel a slight sense of voyeurism when listening to Rumours, with the songwriters’ honesty providing a scarily clear view into their innermost thoughts.

Another draw of Rumours is the sound of it. By 1977, Fleetwood Mac were known for their unconventional recording methods and their almost obsessive desire for the ‘perfect’ sound. It is for this reason that Buckingham’s guitar was restrung every 20 minutes when recording Never Going Back Again, since one of the sound engineers noticed that they lost the brightness of their tone after that long.

Other odd sounds include the use of a chair as a percussion instrument in Second Hand News, the song that is Buckingham’s harshest criticism of Nicks’s reaction to their break up. Whilst some may argue this perfectionism was unnecessary, it is undeniable that Fleetwood Mac had a guitar twang and off-beat rhythm that fitted their songs perfectly. For them, the album and the music had to be perfect – because everything else was falling apart. They wanted to create the best album they could, almost to prove to themselves that they were still functioning people.

Following its release Rumours became one of the fastest-selling albums of all time. Unfortunately the greatness gets a little lost in familiarity as many of the songs have been radio staples for over 40 years. Songs such as Dreams, Don’t Stop, You Make Loving Fun, and the Top Gear theme The Chain are still widely played on rock, country, and indie pop radio stations across the globe. But imagine listening to this album for the first time again, if you can.

Thanks to that controversial resurgence of vinyl record sales, the LP’s huge influence on later artists, and its clear position as a classic piece of art, Rumours is still one of the top 10 records sold today.

Their personal lives may have been an absolute mess, but if they had their music, they had something. Fleetwood Mac understood that they needed to be at their lowest points personally to make their best music. It’s indisputably one of the best examples of how pain and struggle can be twisted into a beautiful, relatable, and powerful set of emotions through songwriting.

The lyrics are in turn vicious, desperate, melancholic, cynical, powerful and hopeful. It’s got heartbreak, pain and angst all through the album. All to some bloody brilliant melodies and magical upbeat tempos. As Edina Monsoon would say, just put the needle on the record… preferably on a swarm and sunny summer day and let this iconic shapeshifting group take you on a bit of a journey.

And remember, as Nicks drawls in Dreams, thunder only happens when it’s raining.

Steve Pafford

Liked it? Take a second to support Steve Pafford on Patreon!
Author avatar
Steve Pafford
We use cookies to give you the best experience.