Rating:Prior to the release of Rumours in 1977, Fleetwood Mac was actually something of a second-tier act with a tortured history of endlessly shifting personnel and a series of hit-or-miss albums. Originally born out of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie split off to form their own band in 1967 with guitarists Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer. While their purist blues-rock sound found a receptive audience in their native Britain, they failed to make much of dent in the U.S. market until their 1969 album Then Play On, which showed a decisive move towards psychedelic pop. Although Green’s “Man of the World” and “Oh Well” cracked the Top 10, he soon suffered a mental breakdown and abruptly left the band in 1970. He was replaced with Christine Perfect (soon to be Mrs. McVie), whom had made a name for herself with the Spencer Davis Group, singing and playing keyboards. But stability continued to elude Fleetwood Mac. Jeremy Spencer would also succumb to mental illness, disappearing during the band’s 1971 tour of America. A series of faceless guitarists came and went over the next few years including Danny Kirwan, Bob Weston, Dave Walker and Bob Welch, who helped move Fleetwood Mac’s sound further in the mainstream pop direction, but with little chart success. In 1974, the band relocated to Southern California, hoping to reinvigorate their flagging career.
There they met Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, who joined the band after Welch’s departure. Already well regarded for their 1973 soft-rock duet album, Buckingham and Nicks brought with them sophisticated songcraft and modern production techniques and became the band’s most charismatic front persons since the departure of Green. Sales were slow at first, but their eponymous 1975 album eventually became their first big hit, reaching the number one spot in 1976 and yielding three smash singles: “Over My Head,” “Rhiannon,” and “Say You Love Me.” Pleased with this success, Warner Brothers gave the band carte blanche to make their follow-up. Unfortunately, internal tensions were threatening to tear the band apart: the McVies were divorcing, Buckingham and Nicks had just split up and drinking and drug use threatened to derail the sessions altogether. Still they soldiered on; writing and recording a powerful set of songs imbued with the sadness and bitter recrimination of failed relationships. Meticulously produced by Buckingham and Keith Olsen, Rumours would go on to become one of the biggest selling albums of all time, having sold over 45 million copies worldwide since its release on February 4, 1977. These songs are ubiquitous on the radio, even today.
What could possibly explain the almost universal appeal of Rumours? Besides the fact that the songs are great, it’s the sunny SoCal production combined with the dark lyrical interior that makes this album so broadly popular. You can listen to the uptempo rockers like “Go Your Own Way” and “Don’t Stop” or sing along with Stevie Nicks on the languid “Dreams” and never stop to consider the pain buried within the songs, carried along with the sound and groove, seduced by the glossy vocal harmonies. But beneath its surface perfection, Rumours paints a picture of heartbreak and disappointment that is all too human. On songs like “Second Hand News,” “Never Going Back Again” and “Go Your Own Way,” Buckingham is literally telling Nicks to get lost while she sings airy harmonies around him. Christine McVie takes a more somber approach on “Songbird” or seethes with quiet desperation on “Oh Daddy.” Meanwhile, “You Make Loving Fun” and “I Don’t Want To Know” flaunt the deceitful pleasures of finding new lovers. “The Chain” wrestles with the high cost of staying together while the album closer, “Gold Dust Woman,” surveys the wreckage wrought by a hedonistic lifestyle. This is adult stuff wrapped up as a pop music confection. I have heard these songs a thousand times and I still unashamedly love this album—and I am obviously not the only one.
In honor of the album’s 35th Anniversary, Warner Bros. has released a “Deluxe Edition” of Rumours, tempting fans to buy the album one more time. The three-CD set contains the original album (with the addition of “Silver Springs,” the B-side to the “Go Your Own Way” single) plus a live disc recorded on the 1977 Rumours tour and a disc of session outtakes and demos. (For the well-heeled obsessive, a “super-deluxe” edition also includes the album on vinyl as well as an additional disc of outtakes and a DVD containing the 30-minute promotional documentary The Rosebud Film.) The question with these sorts of mega-reissues is whether the extras make it worth the additional expense. In this case, the answer is: maybe.
The live disc is nicely recorded with just enough ambience and crowd noise to give it a “you are there” feel while preserving the instrumental and vocal balance. And while it amply demonstrates that this version of Fleetwood Mac was fully capable of pulling these songs off live on stage, the tempos are often rushed and the singers sometimes have a hard time staying on pitch, symptoms of the booze and cocaine consumption that fueled this marathon world tour. Similarly, the studio outtakes are only somewhat revealing, including unfinished songs like Stevie Nicks’s “Planets of the Universe” and a brief acoustic duet with Buckingham on “Doesn’t Anything Last.” Aside from the demos and early takes, with their subtle differences in lyrics and approach, the most interesting tracks show how “The Chain” evolved from two different songs: originally an acoustic, folk-rock tune from Nicks, everything but the chorus was eventually thrown out when they combined it with McVie’s “Keep Me There” during a studio jam (three different versions are included here). Altogether, it shows how these songs didn’t just appear out of nowhere; the band worked hard to make this album, despite—or perhaps because of—the personal tensions in the studio.
Ultimately, all these extras are a distraction from the fact that Rumours stands on its own as an all-time classic. It captured the zeitgeist of the late-‘70s like no other album before or since—and yet these songs refuse to sound dated, instead remaining perennially timeless. Pop music comes and goes but Rumours is, apparently, forever. While the addition of live tracks and studio outtakes help to humanize the band, the latter vividly revealing the struggles that went into creating this piece of pop perfection, I doubt I’ll ever listen to any of it ever again. Personally, I’ll play the original vinyl when I want to hear this album—but if you somehow managed to go through life without Rumours in your collection, this expanded edition is the way to go.