This week, djrobblog posts Volume 3 of its G.O.A.T. album blog series with a 40th-anniversary tribute to one of the rock era’s biggest classics: Rumours by Fleetwood Mac…released February 4, 1977.
Imagine you’re one of the members of Fleetwood Mac. It’s February 1977 and you’re about to release the follow-up to your first No. 1 album – a self-titled sleeper that itself is still charting in a 19-month-long (and counting) marathon run that saw it break a record for the longest climb to the top – over a year from its August 1975 début to when it reached the summit in September 1976.
The follow-up to that album is simply titled Rumours and it’s already been preceded by a very worthy first single, “Go Your Own Way,” which is itself making waves at radio and climbing toward the top ten in Billboard.
You’re really stoked about this next album because you believe you’ve created a pretty special collection of songs – and truth be told, you have. You and your band mates – largely at the hands of the group’s three principal songwriters – have crafted tunes that sound pretty damn good, each with its own unique identity and all of which somehow cohesively go together to form what will ultimately be regarded as one of the greatest albums ever!
Such was the case on February 4, 1977, for Fleetwood Mac and its five members: Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. On that date, they released the landmark album Rumours, which would skyrocket to No. 1 in just six weeks, displacing the Eagles’ Hotel California and, in the process, begin a journey to becoming one of the biggest-selling albums of all time.
In 1977 terms, Rumours‘ six-week ascent to No. 1 was warp speed considering that – at the time – only three albums had ever even debuted at No. 1 (hundreds have since) and most others usually took months to get there. It was especially faster than the 58 weeks its predecessor – the self-titled Fleetwood Mac album – took to reach the top.
Indeed, Fleetwood Mac had won over many fans with that prior album, which was the first to include new members Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. With songs like Christine McVie’s “Over My Head” and “Say You Love Me,” Buckingham’s “Monday Morning,” and Nicks’ classics “Rhiannon” and “Landslide,” dominating rock and pop radio airwaves in 1976, it was easy to see why the prospect of a new Fleetwood Mac album – even while the older one was still receiving saturation airplay – had fans salivating.
Interestingly, the band had already been working on the follow-up to their big breakthrough before Fleetwood Mac hit No. 1 in September 76. In fact, Rumours itself was originally scheduled for a Sept. ’76 release, while the last single from its predecessor – “Say You Love Me” – was still riding high on the pop chart. Production delays – and perhaps a realization that the earlier album wasn’t yet finished with its own run – resulted in the near half-year pushback.
Yet, if high anticipation is what sent Rumours to No. 1 so quickly when it was finally released in early ’77, classic quality is what kept it there – or, at least, kept it coming back. The album moved in and out of No. 1 four times, for a total of 31 weeks – then a record for non-soundtrack albums (broken six years later by a little album called Thriller). Thriller, by the way, remains to this day the only non-soundtrack album to spend more time at No. 1 than Rumours.
Indeed throughout 1977, Rumours got knocked down but kept getting back up – doing battle with fellow No. 1s by ’70s superstars like the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, and Barry Manilow.
Rumours also prevented some big albums by even bigger names from ever reaching the pinnacle, including a Beatles live album and studio releases by Steve Miller Band, Peter Frampton and Rod Stewart. It even kept the Star Wars Soundtrack to a No. 2 peak…and, in case you weren’t around back then, Star Wars was huuuuge in 1977!
And, as if all that wasn’t enough, Rumours was so big that when Billboard published its year-end charts that December, Fleetwood Mac’s classic outranked Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key of Life as 1977’s No. 1 album.
With those credentials, calling Rumours a commercial success would be like calling an elephant fat. Warner Brothers (the band’s label) was fully behind the album and radio enthusiastically jumped on board. Those factors – along with a successful 1977 promotional world tour by the band – setup Rumours so well that it really had no other option but to succeed.
Yet this album also benefited from critical acclaim to go along with its massive sales and chart success. It was universally praised by music critics, with many calling it the best album of 1977 and several pop historians retrospectively declaring it one of the best albums of all time.
What made critics rave over the album so much was quite simply the quality of its tracks. They were the perfect marriage of great songwriting – both lyrically and melodically – and stellar production, courtesy of the band’s association with newly hired engineers Ken Caillat and Richard Dashut. When cranked up loud, the songs jumped right out of the speaker at you, with a crisp stereo sound that was perfect for then-still-growing FM radio and which was a step ahead of many albums of its day.
So pristine was the production on Rumours that its true essence has rarely been captured live – at least not in my opinion. As evidence, listen to live versions of the songs on the deluxe version of the album and compare them to the originals. I also have the perspective of having seen the band live in concert two years ago, so there’s that datapoint – although, admittedly, that was nearly 40 years after Fleetwood Mac recorded the album, with time clearly having taken its expected toll on their now-lower register singing voices.
Still, fans can certainly appreciate the album’s rich studio quality today in that digitally remastered deluxe version, itself owing a debt to the awesomely produced original material with which modern-day engineers had to work.
And speaking of that material, key contributors to the songs’ overall quality were the three principal songwriters – Christine McVie, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham – who were also the group’s singers, with each usually singing lead on his or her own composition (as was the case throughout Fleetwood Mac’s classic period from ’75 – ’88), but all three providing flawless backing harmonies on each other’s songs as well.
As most music historians know, the songs themselves were inspired by the dysfunctional relationships involving all the bands’ members. The two McVies were once married and had only recently divorced during the making of Rumours. Buckingham and Nicks themselves had been in an on-and-off-again relationship during the album’s production – a situation which undoubtedly fueled the first two singles “Go Your Own Way” and “Dreams,” penned by Buckingham and Nicks, respectively.
Even drummer and group leader Mick Fleetwood – by definition the odd man out – had marital problems outside the band, as he had reportedly discovered his wife to be having an affair with his best friend.
However, none of their personal melodramas adversely affected the band’s ability to be prolific in the studio. To the contrary, it seemed to have the opposite effect, with each member bringing his or her relationship’s perspective to the mix – in song form – and the group providing a synergy that perhaps would not have existed had there been perfect harmony in their lives away from the studio.
Because of all the drama, whether consciously done or not, the band’s faltering relationships permeated the songs. The aforementioned “Go Your Own Way” and “Dreams,” along with “Gold Dust Woman,” “Second Hand News,” “Never Going Back Again” and “You Make Loving Fun” spoke of break-ups and new affairs, while other songs offered explanations of past mistakes mixed with just a glimmer of hope (e.g., “Don’t Stop”). Even Christine McVie reportedly penned “Oh Daddy” with Mick Fleetwood’s relationship in mind.
In summary – regarding their lyrics at least – the songs contained just the right amount of edginess, grit, vulnerability and pain befitting an album of its circumstances.
Yet even the sad themes that permeated the songs on Rumours were disguised in what ultimately were perfect pop tunes. Many of the melodies were upbeat (except Nicks’ contributions like “Dreams” and “Gold Dust Woman” or McVie’s “Oh Daddy”). And most were seemingly crafted straight out of a pop songwriting guide, with catchy hooks and sing-along choruses to boot. How many of us don’t know the refrains “thunder only happens when it’s raining” or “don’t stop thinking about tomorrow”?
That Rumours was so accessible to pop radio and music fans in general was no accident, as Fleetwood Mac reportedly went out of its way to build on their 1976 commercial momentum and further distance themselves from the folksy blues-rock material they were not-so-famous for pre-Buckingham/Nicks.
To wit, Rumours’ producers – and the band itself – were said to have wanted no “filler” cuts on the album; they wanted all the songs to be potential singles.
And most of them could have been.
In fact, four – “Go Your Own Way,” “Dreams,” “Don’t Stop” and “You Make Loving Fun” – were released as 45s and all four reached the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100 – a chart first. Those four singles enjoyed a combined year-long chart run that ran uninterrupted from January 8, 1977 through January 14, 1978 – coincidentally the last week Rumours ranked at #1 on the album chart.
A fifth single – perhaps “The Chain” or “Second Hand News” – could surely have been released to some chart success – maybe even a fifth top-ten. The album was still at No. 1 as the fourth single was completing its run – a sign that fans were clearly not ready for Rumours’ mill to stop churning out hits.
But it had already been a minor miracle for Warner Bros. – or any label back then for that matter – to pull off four big hits from one album, and 1977 had just given way to a new year – and soon a new era (the one involving disco on steroids).
So like all good things, Rumours‘ reign finally did come to an end.
The album that proved to Fleetwood Mac’s undoing? It was the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever, which knocked Rumours from the No. 1 spot for good on the January 21, 1978, chart. That Bee Gees-led disco classic would match and surpass Rumours‘ output of hit singles only a few months later (all four of SNF’s original releases reached #1 on the Hot 100 list and two more reached the top 40).
Of course, everyone knows the juggernaut that Saturday Night Fever became in 1978 and what it did for disco, and it speaks volumes that it took an album of that stature to end Fleetwood Mac’s number-one stranglehold on the charts once and for all.
However, 1977 clearly belonged to Fleetwood Mac and Rumours. The 31 weeks it spent at No. 1 (and the full year it spent in the top 10) was an exercise in chart dominance never before seen by a pop/rock album and enjoyed only by a handful since.
Its four record-setting top-ten singles ushered in an era of hits-packed albums where it was no longer enough to just go two singles and out. Albums like SNF and Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall soon followed with four top-tens each before the floodgates opened in the 1980s and ’90s with MANY albums being marketed with four or more such hits.
In that regard, Rumours was truly groundbreaking as it changed the way popular albums would be marketed forever. But Rumours also had the goods to deliver, thanks to very skillful songwriting, perfect production and a collaborative effort by five band mates who proved that the whole was indeed greater than the sum of its parts – an assessment that could be equally applied to the band members as well as the songs on their landmark album.
And it is all of that which helped make Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours one of the greatest albums of all time!
In this 40th-anniversary tribute to this G.O.A.T. album, djrobblog has come up with a special ranking of all eleven Rumours songs – from least (there truly are no really bad songs on the album) to best – based mostly on opinion, but influenced by other factors, including initial chart success, critical recognition and endurance.
Not everyone will agree with the rankings, so I encourage readers to vote the songs up or down or to comment in the space provided below (or on the blog’s Facebook page or Twitter).
As always, thanks for all the love and support of djrobblog!
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Christine McVie reportedly was inspired to write this song by bandmember Mick Fleetwood and his on-off-on-again relationship with his wife, whom he had discovered was cheating on him. The term "Daddy" in this case was not meant to suggest that McVie herself had some kind of incestuous fetish for the band's leader; indeed Mick Fleetwood was affectionately known as "The Big Daddy" to all the band's members.
PS: click here to read my review of Stevie Nicks’ recent concert stop in Chicago (with Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders).