…you want your freedom, well who am I to keep you down? It’s only right that you should play the way you feel it, but listen carefully to the sound of your loneliness, like a heartbeat, drives you mad, in the stillness of remembering what you had, and what you lost, and what you had, and what you lost…
Fleetwood Mac are on back on the road. So there’s a sudden rash of television specials about the band, a couple of which I’ve seen over the past few days. The lines above are from Dreams, the second track on the first side of Rumours, the album that transformed Fleetwood Mac from a reasonably successful blues/rock outfit into a global phenomenon. The tenth bestselling album of all time, at it’s peak, Rumours was shifting 200,000 units a day. It’s sales top 40 million to date. Stevie Nicks, lead singer, wrote Dreams in a corner of the studio while they were putting the album together. The song is about her disintegrating relationship with fellow band member Lindsey Buckingham. Californian hippy-type college sweethearts, Nicks and Buckingham were recent recruits to the line-up, indeed, it was these two who were responsible for the newly emerging identity of the group as ‘relationship crisis specialists’ (though, in fact, and in the spirit of the times, all the band members were making and breaking up – sometimes with each other, sometimes with each other’s best friend’s wives, and so on – both during the course of the recording of Rumours and for most of the years afterwards). That’s the material, that’s the album. (Picture of my replacement copy below, bought second-hand in Notting Hill; my first girlfriend took my original when we split up.)
Rumours came out in 1977, when I was fifteen. I first became aware of it when I saw a girl carrying the sleeve with its rresting balletic cover along the corridor at school. As she passed by a boy in the group I was with commented that he’d ‘like to fuck that Stevie Nicks.’ The boy was the best fighter in the place, which was saying something; I thought it was especially tough of him to come out as gay while he was about things. It wasn’t until later, when I had bought the album myself, that I learned there was such a thing as a girl called Stevie. Rumours arrived just before punk had really penetrated into the provinces (at the time I mainly listened to Genesis, Yes, Led Zep and, I’m sorry to say, the double album, Kiss Alive! by Kiss). Later that day I asked the girl with the Rumours album what it was like. She couldn’t really define the sound. ‘Groovy,’ was her answer.
‘Groovy?’ I said, ‘What the hell does that mean?’
‘Just Groovy,’ she replied.
When I asked if I could borrow her copy she said, No, because she wouldn’t get it back and that if I wanted to ‘be hip’ I’d have to buy it myself.
And so I did. I must have worn two styluses out on that disc. I listened to Dreams thousands of times over the next few months – it was my favourite track, the one I pulled the arm back to over and over again, for Mick Fleetwood’s extraordinary delicate yet at the same time emphatic backbeat (I wanted to be a drummer), and much more so for Stevie Nicks’ plaintive, damaged vocal. I was a more sensitive soul than the (as it turned out) non-gay tough: though I too wanted to sleep with Nicks, first things first I wanted to ride in on a white horse and rescue her. Rumours is, of course, the classic divorce album. I guess the reason it resonated so powerfully with a fifteen year-old boy was that all around everybody’s parents were splitting up. At ground level, divorce is just a messy, sometimes violent, and always chaotic business. Rumours made disintegrating relationships appear to be inevitable, elemental and poetic activities that were at the same time pregnant with the possibility of renewal and redemption. If we only knew it, the album also stood as an advertisement and prophecy of what our own futures would be like. We didn’t believe that then, of course, as we stood under street lamps necking with our first loves. Then we believed it would always be Songbird, the Christine McVie-penned closer on side one: …the songbirds keep singing like they know the score-or-or, and I love I love I love you like never before. For one part of my final piece of O level art I produced several pencil studies of the photograph of the band from the back cover (below).
Rumours was that rarity, an album without a filler, without a duff track. Post-Rumours the band set about re-writing the rules of rock star excess. Their cocaine (ab)use is well-documented; stemming from that situation there were episodes (as seen in footage on last night’s BBC 2 documentary) I was particularly taken by. At one point it was costing $25,000 a day to keep Fleetwood Mac on the road. This was because they flew everywhere in a private jet and when they landed they stepped into individual limos (to keep the paranoia intact) so that they travelled alone, with nothing to say, separate from colleagues whom by now they couldn’t, like, deal with. Bottled water – Perrier – was just arriving onto the supermarket shelves of the USA; in a cosmic gesture of oneupmanship the band eclipsed the novelty of paying for water – their dressing-room rider included personal oxygen tanks and masks. That’s doing it in style. These lame-ass vegetarian eco-decaff bands you get these days could learn a thing or two from the Mac.