The Fleetwood Mac album or Rumours

What a tough choice. Like picking your favorite child.  Fleetwood Mac and Rumors were two of the top selling albums of the 1970s. Which one would you pick if you could only have one?  You can’t have them both, I already checked.  You have to choose.

The Fleetwood Mac album was released in 1975.  It is well-known how Buckingham and Nicks came into the band after guitarist and chief songwriter Bob Welch left.  Unknown at the time, this duo brought good songs, musicianship and a fresh swagger to the band.  The Fleetwood Mac has sold more than seven million copies and hit number one on the charts.  It sold enough albums six months after release to rank behind Frampton Comes Alive in album sales the following year.  They hit the road and played the crap out of the album, before returning to the studio to record their next album.  Four singles were released from the album.

The Bob Welch version of Fleetwood Mac was already becoming a pop band.  Christine McVie was improving as a songwriter, and that would be apparent on Fleetwood Mac. One of the fundamental strengths of the band was the Mick Fleetwood and John McVie rhythm section.  The power pop songs brought to these sessions were perfect for the their groove.  Fleetwood Mac started as an English blues band.  Over they years, the blues focus disappeared, replaced by more of the 70s rock sound.  Bob Welch was American and he brought a more contemporary riff sound.  By the time Nicks/Buckingham arrived in late 1974, the band was more a SoCal entity, recording in Los Angeles.  Fleetwood/McVie gave the new songs by Christine McVie, Nicks and Buckingham a solid pop/rock foundation to let the melodies and vocal harmonies shine. The arrangements were tight, the songs were unpretentious and the singing sounded fresh and engaging.  This album, had it been recorded at a different time with arrangements other than these, might have gone unnoticed or had been out of sync with radio.  Timing is important and the laid-back, easy going pop sound was perfect for the summer of 1975, and the album kept going into 1976.  The album was produced by the band and veteran rock producer Keith Olsen.

The album was not an immediate hit.  It had been released in England to modest reception.  The band knew they would have to tour in order to get the songs heard.

“There were no limousines and Christine slept on top of the amps in the back of the truck,” Nicks recalls. “We just played everywhere and we sold that record. We kicked that album in the ass.”

It would take 15 months, but the album would reach the top of the charts, with the help of several singles.

Let’s look at it.

Side one

No.      Title            Writer(s)         Lead vocals

“Monday Morning” Lindsey Buckingham     Buckingham  A galloping beat introduces the new Fleetwood Mac.  The distinctive beat/groove of the rhythm section and the harmony vocals, accentuated by tasteful electric guitar.  Short and sweet.

“Warm Ways” Christine McVie     C. McVie  This is a throwback to the Welch days, a soft, breezy song with slide guitar, with McVie’s gentle vocals.  This established the Mac’s ability to have soft songs that were sweet, but not saccharine.

“Blue Letter”    Michael Curtis/ Richard Curtis    Buckingham  An uptempo song, an Eagles -type song with harmony vocals.  One of the few covers the Mac did, this is very much in the style of Buckingham’s writing.

“Rhiannon” Stevie Nicks   Nicks  The other huge single from this album, as mysterious and fanciful as the writer/vocalist.  The opening chords announce something different and interesting.  A perfect example of the kind of songs Nicks would write for the next several decades, a story song about a mystical person.  Superb arrangement, Buckingham’s guitar is subdued and the strength is the rhythm and the vocal harmonies that create this unearthly magical sensation.  A number 11 chart single.

“Over My Head” C. McVie  C. McVie  A light, breezy groove.  It feels slight, but it’s not, it grows on you.  Very interesting lyrics about trying to figure out a complex relationship. The first single to be released in American a top 20 hit.

You can take me to paradise
And then again you can be as cold ice
I’m over my head
Oh but it sure feels nice
You can take me anytime you like
I’ll be around if you think you might love me baby
And hold me tight
Your mood is like a circus wheel
You’re changing all the time
Sometimes I can’t help but feel
That I’m wasting all of my time

“Crystal”   Nicks   Buckingham  Another haunting song, but one that Nicks gave to Buckingham to sing lead on, with Nicks on harmony.  No doubt a song about their complicated relationship.  A nice organ solo by McVie.

Do you always trust your first initial feeling
Special knowledge holds truth bears believing
I turned around
And the water was closing all around
Like a glove
Like the love that had finally, finally found me
Then I knew
In the crystalline knowledge of you
Drove me through the mountains
Through the crystal-like clear water fountain
Drove me like a magnet
To the sea

 

Side two

No.      Title            Writer(s)         Lead vocals

“Say You Love Me” C. McVie  C. McVie  Christine McVie’s development as a writer is pretty extraordinary.  I imagine this was a nice bright, fairly straight-forward song when she played it during the sessions and it evolved into the classic once the band figured out the right gear.  It’s a classic all the way.  Maybe the best radio song on this album, it peaked at number 11 on the charts.

“Landslide” Nicks     Nicks  It is hard to think of this album with “Landslide” with it’s quiet but grand imagery.  The gentle arrangement lets Nicks’ voice, in all of its sultry fashion, shining with emotion.  Could be the best song on the album, maybe the best song of this Fleetwood Mac era.  Nice finger-picking guitar.

I took my love, I took it down
Climbed a mountain and I turned around
And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills
‘Til the landslide brought me down
Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changin’ ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?

“World Turning” C. McVie/Buckingham   C. McVie/Buckingham  On occasion, McVie and Buckingham wrote together, and would many years later, make an album together.  This is a finely crafted song musically, nice guitar work. The rhythm section takes over the last part of the song in grand fashion.  This is more like the band in earlier days, not the pop style on the rest of the album.  Intricate and interesting.

“Sugar Daddy” C. McVie C. McVie  A mid-tempo groove, it reminds me of the Welch days.  Not a bad song, but not great either.  On a Mac album, this is filler.

“I’m So Afraid”   Buckingham     Buckingham  If you thought the Mac was only a pop band, without rock credentials, you’d be wrong.  Buckingham was the rocker and a fine guitar player, and he shows it here.  This is as close to the old Fleetwood Mac blues band as it gets.  Buckingham’s not a blues guitarist but he’s incendiary on this song.

 

Somehow, the group got back in the studio and recorded a follow-up, releases two years later. Rumours was known as the break-up album, because many of the songs contained the bad vibe of relationships ending.  Christine McVie was divorcing John McVie, Mick Fleetwood was divorcing wife Jenny Boyd, and Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham ended their partnership.  This album took a bit longer to record, in part because of the relationship issues and also trying to top their previous effort.  This time, the album was produced by the band along with Ken Caillat and Richard Dashut.  The recording took place in Los Angeles, but also Miami and San Francisco.

The pain and heartache on this album is undeniable, but the edges are rounded in a way where their experiences are felt universally as a part of our experiences.  I read on Allmusic.com’s review of the album how Buckingham toughened McVie and softened Nicks’ songs, but not losing any of the uniquenesses.

“You can look at Rumours and say, ‘Well, the album is bright and it’s clean and it’s sunny,’” Buckingham says. “But everything underneath is so dark and murky.

There is a lot of folk influence still in the group, but it is tempered by the SoCal musical groove, which makes sure it is radio friendly.  These are finely crafted songs, the many hours of studio time and grams of cocaine were used to construct a masterpiece.  The songs still breathe, something the Eagles’ The Long Run album did not have. The drive for perfection is inherently imperfect.

It topped the chart, won the Grammy Award for Best Album of the Year, and has sold more than 40 million copies. Kind of a big deal, I guess.

No.      Title            Writer(s)         Lead vocals

“Second Hand News” Lindsey Buckingham     Buckingham  A bright, punchy song with a strong groove.  Buckingham is all over the vocals, with help from Nicks.  A song that might have sounded slight without the horsepower of this group behind it.  There’s little doubt that the Mac was back with this lead-off song.

“Dreams” Stevie Nicks   Nicks  Nowhere is the rhythm section more evident here, almost a tribal beat for Nicks to provide her smooth, haunting vocals.  The songs kicks it up a notch for Buckingham’s guitar fills, very tastefully done.  Nicks sings pictures that float over the listener in a dream-like fashion.  The only number one single from the album.

“Never Going Back Again” Buckingham       Buckingham  Lindsey Buckingham brought an acoustic guitar flair that the group did not have.  His finger-picking style was in evidence here in this bright, folk-type song.  He also possessed a voice with a strength and range that allowed him to fill the spectrum.

“Don’t Stop” Christine McVie       Buckingham with C. McVie  A bit Mac hit, this song has that insatiable beat that drives this classic.  Buckingham takes lead vocal and delivers one of his best solos.  One of Christine McVie’s best songs, obviously one about moving on from a relationship in an upbeat manner.  It peaked at number three on the charts.

“Go Your Own Way” Buckingham       Buckingham  One of the Buckingham’s most commercial, upbeat Mac songs.  Another song about taking a different path after a break up.  It would be hard for Buckingham to top himself.  Fleetwood’s drumming is perfect for this song. Buckingham’s guitar solo is great, it was edited together from pieces of various takes.  The first single from the album, a number 10 hit.

“Songbird” C. McVie  C. McVie  A very reflective, solo effort.  It’s gentleness and beauty, a counterpoint from the Mac formula, resonated perfectly with Mac fans.

For you, there’ll be no more crying.
For you, the sun will be shining.
And I feel that when I’m with you,
It’s alright, I know it’s right.
To you, I’ll give the world.
To you, I’ll never be cold.
‘Cause I feel that when I’m with you,
It’s alright, I know it’s right.
And the songbirds are singing, like they know the score.
And I love you, I love you, I love you, like never before.

 

Side two

No.      Title            Writer(s)         Lead vocals

“The Chain” Buckingham/Mick Fleetwood/C. McVie/John McVie/Nicks   Buckingham with C. McVie and Nicks  One of the few group efforts.  A counterpoint between Buckingham’s acoustic and electric guitars.  Another thinly veiled song about breaking up.  The song builds from a a rhythmic folk song to a power rocker.

“You Make Loving Fun” C. McVie  C. McVie  Back to the Mac hit formula with this driving love song. John McVie’s bass is the star of this song.  The arrangement is quite nice, it is a song that rocks but doesn’t lose it’s AM pop appeal.  Christine McVie has a smooth, soulful voice that fits these uptempo songs as well as her gentle ballads.  Her songs on this ”break-up” album were more positive than her colleagues. A number nine chart hit.

“I Don’t Want to Know” Nicks  Nicks with Buckingham  An upbeat but soulful song with a strong beat and blended vocals.  Nicks and Buckingham had perfected the duet, even though the subject matter of their songs couldn’t have pleased the other.

“Oh Daddy” C. McVie C. McVie  A downbeat ballad, effectively sung by McVie.  Nice haunting arrangement, especially the guitar work.  With all the other upbeat, bouncy songs, this one gets lost.

Oh Daddy
You know you make me cry
How can you love me
I don’t understand why
Oh Daddy
If I can make you see
If there’s been a fool around
It’s got to be me
Yes, it’s got to be me
Oh Daddy
You soothe me with your smile
You’re letting me know
You’re the best thing in my life

 

“Gold Dust Woman”    Nicks    Nicks  One of Nicks’ signature songs, another with lyrics about a mysterious woman.  A slower arrangement, similar to “The Chain” with a mix of acoustic and electric instruments, and layered vocals.

Did she make you cry
Make you break down
Shatter your illusions of love
And is it over now do you know how
Pick up the pieces and go home.
Rock on ancient queen
Follow those who pale
In your shadow

 

Rumours was the high point for the Mac, but what a plateau it was.  It is an amazing album from beginning to end, no argument.  Simply amazing.  It’s hard to deny the charm and singalong nature of nearly every song.

Fleetwood Mac was a breathe of fresh air, although it was hard for America to catch on at first.  The band in 1975 was old news, having gone through one more lineup change.  Buckingham and Nicks were unknown, so their addition to the band was no big deal.  In 1975, rock was pretty wide-open, there were so many variations and radio wasn’t yet locked into insufferable formats.  Quality-wise, Fleetwood Mac is a notch below Rumours, but it’s freshness and strength of format, shifted music in a new direction.  So, my favorite?  Fleetwood Mac by a notch.

 

 


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