'Rumours' – pop-rock perfection
REVOLVER: BRIAN BOYDon music
If you’re looking for full-on drink and drugs debauchery, celebrity psychosis, überdysfunctional inter-band relationships, lashings of money and ego, and extremities of fear and loathing, you have to look past the usual suspects (Zeppelin, Mötley Crüe et al) and steady your gaze on Fleetwood Mac. Going into the recording of Rumours – still one of the bestselling albums of all time – things weren’t pretty. Bass player John McVie and keyboardist Christine McVie had just divorced and weren’t on speaking terms. Singer Stevie Nicks and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham were in the middle of breaking up but still on speaking terms – if shouting at each other in ferocious rage counts as speaking terms. Drummer Mick Fleetwood had just got divorced, the group had just sacked their manager and their producer, and they were doing enough cocaine “to turn horses into unicorns” as the saying went. For good measure, Nicks and Mick embarked on a shortlived and very drunken affair.
These five people – all of whom had been romantically/sexually engaged with another band member at some time – had to sit in a room together and come up with 11 songs for a record companyimposed deadline. The only other time this kind of situation had occurred with a major band was with Abba – and they used the adverse circumstances to record some of their biggest hits. As did the Mac. But just to give some idea of the level of tension, suspicion, hatred, insecurity and paranoia that prevailed at the songwriting sessions, Christine McVie brought a new song to the table called You Make Loving Fun.
It was written about her new postdivorce boyfriend (who was also the band’s lighting director) and was seen as a personal attack on her erstwhile ex-husband. At around the same time, Mick Fleetwood started going out with Stevie Nicks’s best friend. The blizzard of cocaine was such that the band, seriously, wanted to give their dealer a credit on the album. The label demurred and a stand-off was only averted when said dealer was shot dead, allegedly by an organised crime gang.
Given all that went on, Rumours should have been a mess. The songs were recorded in a small, wooden, windowless studio with the band arriving at 7pm each night, getting off their collective heads until the early hours and only putting down music and vocals when they were too whacked out to keep on partying. Yet it’s as close to a near perfect pop-rock artefact as you could ever hope to hear, and its appeal lies in the fact that we are listening in to love breaking down. How did the band manage to stay together to finish the album?
Stevie Nicks now recalls it was a case of “I’m not the problem, I’m not quitting. You’re the problem, you should quit.” With no one prepared to give in, they effectively stayed together out of spite. Rumours is 35 years old now and there’s a special commemorative, expanded edition of the album just released. Pure music reality TV.