WITH Fleetwood Mac and their best-selling album making a comeback, we reveal the truth behind Rumours…
By: Anna Pukas
In February 1976 Fleetwood Mac were at the top of their game. Their 10th album released the previous year had sold four million copies. Now the band – drummer Mick Fleetwood, bassist John McVie, his keyboards player and singer wife Christinalito McVie, guitarist-singer Lindsey Buckingham and singer Stevie Nicks – were gathered at Record Plant, a recording studio in Saus Northern California, to start work on the follow-up.
But for all their success, away from the music their lives were a mess. All five were going through painful break-ups – mostly with each other.
After nearly eight years John and Christine McVie had called time on their marriage and Christine was already involved with the band’s lighting engineer. The Americans Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks who had been together since school were splitting up amid much acrimony. Drummer Mick Fleetwood was newly divorced from model Jenny Boyd (sister of Patti, who was married to George Harrison) and was about to complicate things by embarking on a two-year affair with Stevie Nicks.
Yet out of this chaos, brilliance emerged. Look at any Best Albums of All Time list and Fleetwood Mac’s 11th album Rumours is there. First released in 1977 it reappears in the charts every few years. Bill Clinton chose a Fleetwood Mac hit Don’t Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow) as his campaign signature tune when he ran for president. In 2011 the TV show Glee devoted an episode to songs from Rumours. And this very week Rumours was at number three in the album charts in anticipation of tickets going on sale today for the band’s reunion tour (minus Christine McVie who retired in 1998 and has made it clear she cannot be coaxed out).
But 37 years ago all anyone was concerned with was how they were going to get past the personal messiness in order to make the album. On the one hand Buckingham and Nicks argued constantly while the McVies gave each other the silent treatment.
“John and I just didn’t talk,” recalls Christine McVie, now 69. “My boyfriend at the time was not welcome at the studio for obvious reasons. Stevie and Lindsey didn’t get on well either but they used to fight except when they were writing songs together. But John and I never wrote together. We just did not talk at all. Apart from basic civilities like asking what key is this song in, we spent six months avoiding each other.”
John McVie, now 67, admits he was heartbroken. “You have the pressure of being on the road and living together. You’re seeing everybody at their best and their worst and Christine saw me at my worst one time too many. And bless her heart she said, ‘Enough. I don’t want to be around this person.’ Now we are good friends but at the time it was awful.”
For Mick Fleetwood, who with McVie was an original member of the band founded by guitarist Peter Green and named after his two friends, making Rumours was his escape from the pain of his divorce. “You anaesthetised yourself emotionally. The wound was cauterised but underneath was chaos. Fleetwood Mac became the bandage to keep it all wrapped up.”
Buckingham and Nicks were more mercurial. Ken Caillat, who produced the album and later wrote a book about the experience, recalled how they were able to switch their anger on and off during recording.
“Stevie and Lindsey were sitting on two stools out in the studio, each in front of a microphone, working on background parts, singing, ‘You make lovin’ fun, you make lovin’ fun…’ When I stopped the tape to rewind it Stevie suddenly looked at Lindsey and cried out, ‘**** you, asshole. You can go to hell.’ Lindsey responded with a tirade of his own. ‘When we get back to LA, I’m moving out.’ ‘I don’t want to live with you, either.’ They went back and forth, screaming at each other.”
Caillat continues: “I couldn’t rewind the tape fast enough. When I got to the beginning of the tape, I hit record. Stevie and Lindsey looked at each other. Then they turned toward their microphones and right on cue, in the middle of a fight, nailed their parts. I was flabbergasted.
“There was the constant pain of ‘he cheated on me’ or ‘he’s leaving me’. John McVie would come into the studio and see Christine after she’d left him for someone else. And every time John would see her it would just kill him. He still wanted her but she didn’t want him because of his drinking. There was constant drama.”
To make matters worse recording suites in Record Plant were small and windowless. No one ever knew whether it was night or day, although with drugs on tap no one much cared after a while.
When it came to vices Caillat says the band divided according to nationality. The English members – Mick Fleetwood and John McVie – were boozers while the Californians – Buckingham and Nicks – were pot-smoking hippies. “Then cocaine entered the picture,” says Caillat.The budget was open-ended and the cocaine kept coming.
Chris Stone, co-owner of Record Plant, says: “The band would come in at 7pm, have a big feast, party till one or two in the morning and then when they were so whacked out they couldn’t do anything, they’d start recording.”
The band never socialised outside the studio. But while they were certainly not talking to each other, they were communicating, pouring their feelings out in their song lyrics. John McVie came up with the album’s title because he said they were all telling their stories to each other.
In Dreams, Stevie Nicks muses wistfully on winning her lover back while Go Your Own Way is Lindsey Buckingham’s rebuff to his one-time lover. Christine McVie wrote You Make Lovin’ Fun about her new lover.
How were they able to sing those words with the lovers they had hurt standing beside them? Mick Fleetwood likens the situation to a divorced couple putting on a united front in public for their child’s sake. “You break up but you want to do the right thing, not to hurt the children. The album was our baby. That’s what made an impossible thing possible.”
Not only possible but stupendously successful. Out of pain came much gain.