The Cultural Significance of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ 43 Years Later< < Back to
In November of 1976 a bedraggled Fleetwood Mac completed the famously difficult recording of Rumours.
Although the personal lives of the band members were in shambles, devastated by infidelity and drug use, the once underground group was on the precipice of something huge. Rumours would not only be the band’s most commercially successful album – it would go on to be one of the most commercially successful albums in the history of popular music.
Friday, July 30 at 10 p.m. ET, WOUB-TV will broadcast Fleetwood Mac: Rumours, an installment of PBS’ Classic Albums documentary series. The film examines the notoriously arduous Rumours recording sessions, the band’s meteoric rise in the wake of its popularity, and the personal price each of the band members paid as a result.
Within a month after its February 4, 1977 release, Rumours sold a jaw-dropping 10 million copies, catapulting it to the top of the US and UK charts. Culturally, the album’s singles, “Go Your Own Way,” “Dreams,” “Don’t Stop,” and “You Make Loving Fun” became cemented as the soundtrack for a generation of Baby Boomers cautiously stepping into adulthood in the late ‘70s.
While those songs remain almost dangerously infectious to this day – it is inarguable that the sound so many associate with Fleetwood Mac because of their most famous release is many light years away from the sound the group cultivated during their early years.
Ten years prior to Rumours, Fleetwood Mac was formed in London as a part of the thriving British blues revival scene, alongside groups like Cream, Savoy Brown, and The Yardbirds. Early on, Fleetwood Mac developed a largely British cult following with their cerebral, psychedelia-infused interpretation of the blues shaped heavily by founding member and legendary guitarist, Peter Green.
This Fleetwood Mac, often referred to precisely as “Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac” because of Peter Green’s influence, is the band Michael Tedesco, Ohio University IT support specialist and WOUB volunteer DJ, became fleetingly aware of as a preteen in the early ‘70s.
Tedesco said understanding the significance of Fleetwood Mac’s radical about-face from underground radio staple to mainstream, multi-platinum hitmaker involves recognizing the distinct role music (and, especially, underground music) played in the identity formation of many of his generation.
“My dad left when I was four, and my mom had six kids. My mom was always working, so music really became my sort of substitute parents,” said Tedesco. “And I’m not alone in this. I think it was that way for most of the so-called ‘classic rock generation.’ A lot of them are disaffected people, people who weren’t getting along with their families – the products of broken homes and so on. Music became a sort of rallying place for all of these people who were basically misfits.”
For Tedesco, Fleetwood Mac’s music would become one of these intimate places of solace. Be that as it may, in 1970, Tedesco, much like the rest of the U.S., didn’t really know who Fleetwood Mac was.
It wouldn’t be that way for long.
In 1970, just as the song that would expose Tedesco to his first taste of Fleetwood Mac — Santana’s cover of “Black Magic Woman” – began dominating US airwaves, Peter Green left the band. For the next several years, Fleetwood Mac would cycle through a number of guitarists and vocalists. After relocating to Los Angeles in 1974, the band found themselves without either and in desperate need of both.
While scouting new recording spaces for the band later that year, Mick Fleetwood heard “Frozen Love” by Buckingham-Nicks, a L.A. folk rock duo made up of boyfriend Lindsey Buckingham and girlfriend Stevie Nicks. The album featuring the song was the duo’s first and only release, a self-titled album that was a complete commercial failure. Impressed by the guitar playing on the track, Fleetwood contacted Buckingham, hoping he’d finally found the perfect fit for the band’s vacant vocalist and guitarist positions. As it turns out, Buckingham had found much more than that.
Buckingham told Fleetwood that he and Nicks were a “package deal” and that he would not join the band unless she was joining it, too. Fleetwood obliged, unknowingly constructing the musical hybrid of UK blues rock and US West Coast folk rock that would propel the band to extraordinary success.
Fleetwood Mac’s first album featuring the new lineup of Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, John McVie, Christine McVie, and Mick Fleetwood was their second self-titled, often referred to as the band’s “white album.” The record received far more radio play in the US than Fleetwood Mac had ever received before, largely thanks to the Christine McVie penned singles “Over My Head” and “Say You Love Me,” and Knicks’ “Rhiannon.”
Concurrent to the band’s escalated commercial success came escalated in-fighting — the latter ultimately leading to the title Rumours, suggested by John McVie due to the nearly biographical, intimate nature of the album’s tracks. Every song felt like it was addressing the specific relationship problems between members of the group — because it was.
Nicks and Buckingham were in the midst of an on-again, off-again romance punctuated by screaming matches during the album’s recording at The Record Plant in Sausalito, CA; Christine and John McVie were nearing the end of their eight-year marriage, and although their fighting was mostly silent, it was severe; and Fleetwood had just discovered that his wife and the mother of his children was cheating on him with his best friend.
To further complicate things, the group’s once relatively casual substance use, typically involving alcohol and cannabis, had grown dangerously intense — due in large measure to the addition of cocaine, which would end up being one of the key destructive elements for the band throughout the recording of Rumours.
Meanwhile, Tedesco and his music loving young friends did what underground music nerds have always done best: they heard cool music a long time before everyone else did. Tedesco and his friends beat the mainstream (and Mick Fleetwood) by almost a year in discovering Buckingham-Nicks, hearing the album shortly after its release on DJ Joe Swanson’s afternoon radio show on Allentown’s WSAN 1470 AM.
Tedesco recalled the exciting bewilderment of learning that underground darlings Buckingham-Nicks would be joining the legendary Fleetwood Mac.
“To us, at the time, Fleetwood Mac was this kind of nebulous band, like we knew “Black Magic Woman,” but for the most part we didn’t know anything about them, and the Buckingham Nicks record was just a little isolated gem, to us. So, to us, it was the craziest thing: Buckingham-Nicks has joined Fleetwood Mac? It made my hair stand on end!” he said. “Then the white album came out and it instantly becomes a top 40 radio hit, not just on underground radio, but everywhere.”
The infectious clamor of Fleetwood Mac’s hits after the arrival of Buckingham and Nicks gave rise to a new type of Fleetwood Mac fan, one born decades after the group’s dramatic shift.
Paul Peters, an Ohio University student working on a Ph.D. in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts focusing on film studies, is one such Millennial fan. Although Peters was familiar with Fleetwood Mac the way most of his generation is – by cultural osmosis – it wouldn’t be until he started his Ph.D. and his brother recommended giving Rumours a deep listen that Peters would recognize how much of a Fleetwood Mac fan he already was.
“I remember the first time I listened to Rumours, thinking about how familiar a lot of these songs were to me because I heard the singles on the radio growing up. Specifically “Don’t Stop” and “Dreams,” but then I was also really excited about the songs that I never heard before, which is rare because I get really picky with my albums,” said Peters. “Usually I skip around a lot, but a lot of these songs I hadn’t heard before were so easy to embrace. I was able to feel moved by them.”
For Tedesco, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac was the musical context that made the addition of Buckingham and Nicks so intriguing some 46 years ago. For Peters, who has easy access to the kind of musical library on Spotify that would have been unimaginable 46 years ago, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac was just kind of, well, confusing.
“Just having heard the band’s most popular singles and Rumours and then going into their whole discography was sort of an eye-opening experience. I will admit, I don’t think I was the biggest fan of their sort of blues rock origins, but that’s more of a personal preference. I felt like I couldn’t truly vibe with the band until Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined — the minute that they were added to the group, I was hooked,” he said.
Peters was so hooked on Rumours that his brother gave him a copy for Christmas in 2018.
“And to this day it’s still one of my favorite albums. There are less than a handful of albums that I can listen to in their entirety — however, Rumours is one of those,” said Peters. “I can drop the needle on any one of those tracks and I have no desire to skip any of them.”
Like Peters, Ian Saint of Deep Ellum Radio, an independent radio station based out of the entertainment district of Dallas, TX, first heard Fleetwood Mac on the radio sometime in his childhood. Saint, who grew up in northeast Ohio, would come to truly love the band, (and especially keyboardist and songwriter Christine McVie) after becoming one of the many Millennial transplants living in Deep Ellum.
“I was in Deep Ellum and I was trying to find material to sing — I have a higher pitched voice for a male, so I’m kind of in this awkward terrain where it’s actually easier for me to sing along to someone such as Christine McVie – a female voice, but one that’s huskier,” said Saint. “I think that was ultimately what got me to really dive into their material.”
Thus, Saint became a dedicated fan of Christine McVie – and with songs like “Everywhere,” “Say You Love Me,” “Think About Me,” and “You Make Loving Fun,” (just to name a few) in her catalog, who could blame him?
Being a millennial Fleetwood Mac fan has its challenges, however, and Saint figured he’d never get a chance to see Christine McVie perform with Fleetwood Mac – she had left the group in 1998. However, as luck would have it, in 2014, Fleetwood Mac announced their “On With the Show” reunion tour featuring Christine McVie alongside Stevie Knicks, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, and Lindsey Buckingham. Saint couldn’t miss a chance to see that lineup, so he purchased nosebleed seats for a March 2015 show at the Frank Irwin Center in Austin, TX.
The sold-out performance included most of the songs on Rumours, and Saint noticed the way the music resonated similarly with those around his age in 2015 and those who had been around his age back in 1977, when Rumours was released.
For Saint, this hints at the story of two generations and the many oscillations of the world in between them — as well as the overarching cultural significance of Fleetwood Mac’s biggest album.
“One of the big singles from Rumours is “Don’t Stop,” which is a Christine McVie composition. And that was the anthem for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign, where he pulled off an upset, both in the democratic primary and the general election. He was the first Baby Boomer president in history — he was over 20 years younger than George H.W. Bush. So that was a real breakthrough, I think, for that generation,” said Saint. “The Rumours album was such a hallmark of Baby Boomer’s late young adult stage — and here a member of their generation pulled off this big upset and unseated someone from the Greatest Generation, as they were referred to.”
The optimistic aggression of “Don’t Stop” would come to aesthetically embody this generational geopolitical changing of the guard and the neoliberalism that would accompany it.
“This was such a seminal moment – the breakthrough of a generation at a time when there was renewed optimism about the direction of the world. And when you look at the governments that collapsed around then — they were communist governments. I think this led to a faith in capitalism and the benevolence of the marketplace and privatization being the path forward — Clinton had campaigned on the ‘Third Way,” said Saint.
This unchecked optimism had serious consequences, because – whether we like it or not, “yesterday may be gone,” (as the song goes) – but as it turns out, “thinking about what you’ve done” is probably what we should have been doing all along.
“I think there was this optimism about the world being on a permanent path forward and global commerce being this wonderful thing. I think right now we’re taking big steps back from that and reassessing those things that had seemed like such a great idea at the time. Because they had a lot of drawbacks, whether it’s trade deals that were passed at the time, like NAFTA, which certainly had a big impact in Ohio, or permanent normal trade relations with China. Both of those trade pieces were passed during the Clinton administration in the ‘90s,” said Saint. “We also had the privatization of public institutions, which we have come to find has not worked out well. So it’s even more interesting to think about “Don’t Stop” being the anthem for this renewed optimism, the consequences of which we’re kind of reckoning with now.”
Saint said the ethos of “Don’t Stop,” and maybe of Rumours as a whole, epitomizes the “have your cake and eat it, too” attitude often associated with neoliberalism. Rumours proved, in theory, that a band could party (and party hard) and still achieve enormous artistic, cultural, and commercial success – but this attitude came at a cost, for Fleetwood Mac and for the world at large.
“I think a lot of reconciling is occurring right now with the pandemic and all the inequalities associated with it,” said Saint. “And even if we decide that the neoliberal attitude that one could say is expressed in “Don’t Stop” was a bad turn in our history, there’s still appeal in looking back at a time when the paradigm was different and fantasizing about returning to that era – I kind of think that’s what millennials are doing.”
Just as the embrace of neoliberalism could be understood as a mixed blessing for humanity (to simplify things greatly), Tedesco said Rumours itself was a mixed blessing for the complicated band that recorded it, as well as all the other complicated bands that have come after them.
“I don’t think there’s a person alive who listens to music that hasn’t heard Fleetwood Mac,” said Tedesco. “They’re like The Beatles that way. Also like The Beatles, by the time we heard them, Fleetwood Mac was already really polished and good at what they did, there’s not a lot of people you can say that about. And they just blossomed from there. They just got better and better, which was both a blessing and a curse because every band I come across now – that’s what they’re up against.”
Listen to WOUB Culture’s Fleetwood Mac playlist, which includes track selections from Michael Tedesco, Paul Peters, and Ian Saint, below:
From Ian Saint
* “Over My Head” — Fleetwood Mac’s first American hit, written by Christine McVie.
* “Rhiannon” — Fleetwood Mac’s second American hit, written by Stevie Nicks.
* “Don’t Stop” — We talked about this one at length, Clinton’s anthem two decades later.
* “Go Your Own Way” — Lindsey’s biggest song from the Rumours album, interesting to hear it in light of Stevie pushing for his ouster in 2018.
* “Everywhere” — a testament to how Christine McVie’s songs buoyed them in the MTV era, as they were in (or near) their 40s by that time and MTV exacerbated ageism
From Paul Peters
My big 5 Fleetwood Mac Songs:
1. “Go Your Own Way”
4. “Second Hand News”
5. “The Chain”
From Michael Tedesco
Oh, this is a dangerous question for me. Do you have another 1.5 hours? LOL.
If selecting from the band’s entire career:
1) “The Green Manalishi” (with the Two-Pronged Crown) (Peter Green) – Greatest Hits
2) “Hypnotized” (Bob Welch) – Mystery to Me
3) “Why” (Christine McVie) – Mystery to Me
4) “Sisters of the Moon” (Stevie Nicks) – Tusk
5) “I’m So Afraid” (Lindsey Buckingham) – the “White” album
6) “Sands of Time” (Kirwan) – Future Games
If you want to focus on just the Buckingham/Nicks era, I would pick these 5:
1) “Crystal” (Nicks) – the “White” album
2) “World Turning” – (Buckingham, Christine McVie) – the “White” album
3) “The Chain” (Buckingham, Fleetwood, Christine McVie, John McVie, Nicks) – Rumours
4) “Angel” (Nicks) – Tusk
5) “Songbird” – (Christine McVie) – Rumours