The 35th anniversary reissue of ‘Rumours’ recently hit the shelves and Fleetwood Mac are back to take it on the road. But before that Eve Barlow paid rock goddess Stevie Nicks a visit in Malibu to recall its making
I DON”T EVER TIRE OF THOSE SONGS. I DON”T GET HOW YOU COULD
A word to the wise. If one day you imagine yourself making one of the greatest albums of all time, ponder ﬁrst how far you’d be willing to go to sacriﬁce mind, body and soul for art. Heartache? OK. Sleepless nights? Sure. Months living in a studio? Saves on rent. And as folklore has it, getting a roadie to blow cocaine up your bum? Er, hang on…
In the legends of rock’n’roll, sacriﬁces are made, reputations ruined (Or forged) and every now and then questions are asked such as: how on earth are the likes of Keith Richards, Ozzy Osbourne or, in this case, Stevie Nicks , still breathing? The making of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours ‘ is a fable of such proportions it continues to fascinate over three and a half decades on. Debates occur which is their greatest record (Tusk’ was so expensive! But ‘Tango In The Night’ is ‘8os heaven! But ‘Rhiannon’ is on ‘Fleetwood Mac!). Hell, arguments continue over which line up was best – Peter Green’s English blues verses the Californian soundtrack of Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham et al. But anyone who disagrees that ‘Rumours’ is not just the Mac record supreme but also one of the greatest albums ever made full stop can be disarmed by the facts.
Try some of these on for size: a) ‘Rumours’ has sold over 40 million copies worldwide, outselling all Fleetwood Mac records and, well, most records in history. 2) ‘Rumours’ has several diamond (miles better than platinum) certiﬁcates and a Grammy. 3) The songs are so famous they’ve generated sales for countless others (Tori Amos, Elton John, Biffy Clyro, Boy George, Lykke Li, Keane, Willie Nelson, John Frusciante, Hole, NOFX, uh, The Corrs), and, in the case of Bill Clinton, votes in the 1992 US election! Also, they generated an entire posthumous career for one woman (Eva Cassidy) who just happened to record a cover of one of those tracks (Songbird’) before she died. What’s more, ‘Rumours’ continues to incinerate the record books. In 2011 it re-entered the US album charts at Number One. That may have had something to do with a certain migraine called Glee covering all its hits. But look at it this way, even the enormous wangdom of all-singing-all-dancing high school berks couldn’t destroy the magic of ‘Rumours’. Nevertheless, sales and popularity alone are no guarantee of quality. It’s the myth, the rumours surrounding ‘Rumours’, that makes it a seminal work for generations to fall in love with over and over. Besides, it’s unlikely to be repeated because it comes with one caveat — don’t try this at home, folks…
The album’s recording began in Sausalito, California in 1976 as the follow-up to ‘Fleetwood Mac’— the band’s ﬁrst LP after the addition of members Stevie Nicks and then boyfriend Lindsey Buckingham. But by ‘Rumours’ Stevie and Lindsey were splitting up. To add to the controversy, singer Christine McVie and bassist John McVie were in mid-divorce. Loath to miss out on the fun, drummer Mick Fleetwood was dumping his adulterous wife too. Rather than spend some time apart, the Mac faced the music. Literally.
The incestuous drama was there on record. As Stevie sang on ‘Dreams’, “You say you want your freedom / Well who am Ito keep you down?“, ex-lover Lindsey replied on ‘Go Your Own Way’, “Packin’ up, shackin’ up’s all you wanna do“. He said what? Even without the notorious rock’n’roll misbehaviour (which we’ll come to later), it’s the whisperings of gossip between each line that keep listeners intrigued. People love chaos. The album, a record about relationships by people in relationships, spans the breath of human emotion. It contains truths that never change. What took place off record, however, was real juice – debauchery so excessive it makes Elvis’ lunch orders so bitesized. Mick Fleetwood once said of the recording process: “It was the craziest period of our lives. We we four or ﬁve weeks without sleep… I’m talking cocaine such quantities that, at one point, I thought I was really going insane.” So insane he ended up sleeping under the soundboard because it was “the only safe place to be”
Whether from narcotics or “marijuana cookies” brought into the studio by Lindsey’s girlfriends, everything slowed down, despite the band working overtime. It’s said that Mick removed all the clocks on display and producers revealed that 10 hours hours could be spent recording one kick drum. The track ‘Gold Dust Woman’ took six months to make. Lindsey spent weeks adding guitar parts, while producer Richard Dashut recalled, “We wore out our original 24-track master. We ﬁgured we had 3,000 hours on it.” So this is why 2013’s 35th Anniversary edition (ironically , a year late, much like the tardiness that enveloped the original ‘Rumours ), complete with studio outtakes and demos lasts ﬁve-and-a-half hours.
If you hear ‘Rumours’ now and play out the luscious melodies of ‘Gold Dust Woman’ or the funky rhythms of ‘You Make Loving Fun’, think of the world of devastated that lies behind those original 39 minutes. These are tracks so heavenly you’ll want to roll around in a bed of patchouli oil in naked ecstasy (even though you’re driving down the M1 in your Corsa in the pissing rain). Yet they tell the story of the most cocaine-fuelled album ever. An album that did so much damage to Stevie’s nasal cavity she once told an interviewer, “Let’s put a belt through my nose, because that’s how big the hole is.” Given the size of the royalty cheques from ‘Rumours’ you’d expect Stevie’s Malibu crashpad to be a beachside castle shrouded in veils of lace. Maybe she keeps hordes of cats. Or dragons? Wrong, wrong and wrong again. Positioned in a private road is a decadent mansion with monumental gates. But Stevie doesn’t live there. She’s vacationing next door, in a semi-detached house. “Hang on a minute, I can’t ﬁnd my glasses,” she calls I enter her living room, nothing but the sound of wave and new-age jazz on the stereo. Straight blonde hair climbs up the staircase accompanied by a black ensemble, red talons and aviator shades. Stevie would be tiny if it weren’t for her leopard-print wedges — a smattering of rock star glitz. She’s 64 now. Her skin is smoother than a baby’s. Alongside the Fleetwood Mac gig, she’s toiled at a solo career. Never married, she’s here alone. Except for a miniature terrier. “Her name’s Bella,” she says.
When speaking about recording ‘Rumours’, Stevie makes it sound as wholesome as The Waltons. “By the time we did ‘Rumours’ Lindsey and I were like married people having a lot of fun writing songs and recording. It was great. Not just because Lindsey and I were going together, but just the whole feeling of everything.” She refuses to delve into why the album took so long other than to refer to the group’s, ahem, “self-indulgence”. “We could have done it in less time,” she admits, “we didn’t need to have a year of overdubs, half of which we didn’t use.” But what about all the rumours, Stevie? “We never let anything get in the way in the studio and were extremely focused. We lived in a circle of drama. Nobody wants to hear people who are just happy” No. They want to hear whacked-out gonzos melting into the ﬂoor. Stevie claims the success of ‘Rumours’ has much to do with the track order, which she takes credit for, arguing that, despite the digital age, people still listen to it in one sitting. Her ﬁxation with it never ceased. “I hear those songs on the radio and I turn them up,” she says. “I walk down the street and hear something. Like an old Indian woman I look around snifﬁng the air and ask, ‘What is that?’ Everyone says, ‘Nothing’. I’ll insist, ‘No it is something.’ In three or four steps we’ll realise it’s ‘Dreams’ or ‘Go Your Own Way’.” Lindsey, however, reportedly never listens to it despite its nascence during what Stevie describes as “a very romantic time” for them both, then 29 and 28. She talks about her relationship with Lindsey as though it happened yesterday. “With ‘Rumours’ you go towards the light,” she explains. “I don’t ever tire of those songs. ‘I don’t understand how anybody could.”
BEYONCE CALLED ME. I OWN 50 PER CENT OF BOOTYLICIOUS
Nobody can. Well, besides Lindsey. The album’s had enormous inﬂuence. Florence + The Machine have covered ‘The Chain’ live and Haim’s schooling in ‘Rumours’ pop-rock is undeniable. Beyond ‘Rumours’, Stevie’s most famous solo single ‘Edge Of Seventeen’ was borrowed for Destiny’s Child’s smash ‘Bootylicious’. What did she make of that? “Oh, Beyonce called me to ask if they could use it,” she says, blasé. “So I own 5o per cent of ‘Bootylicious’
In other words, Stevie Nicks doesn’t take no shit. Not now and certainly not back in the misogynistic heyday of the ’70s. With fellow Fleetwood frontwoman Christine she maintained an equal footing under the spotlight. Stevie: “Christine and I made a pact that, as women, we’d never be treated as second-class citizens. We’d stand in a room with Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Pete Townshend… and we wouldn’t be treated like we weren’t as good as they were. Because we are.”
Were you inﬂuenced by them?
“I took my humbleness from Jimi Hendrix. I opened for him in 1969. I took my big-ass attitude from Janis Joplin. I learned my craft watching the most famous of the famous. Nobody ever packaged me.”
What do you make of the pressure on female artists?
“If anybody ever told me what to wear… (she smiles, then winds up her middle ﬁnger). All they’d see was me spinning on my platform boot — I’d be out the door.”
How do you view pop stars like Lady Gaga and Rihanna?
“Gaga is very smart. She went after it the same way Madonna did: I’m gonna rule the world. Period. But she was touched by gold.
Rihanna? She got her foot through the door before the music business crumbled.
Stevie has an opinion on everything and it’s hard to get a word in edgeways. One minute she’s talking about her mother’s passing, the next about her “favourite songstress, Vanessa Carlton”, then something about being able to see Santa Monica pier from space (“I’m not kidding”), then a to-minute lecture on how “the internet’s killing rock ‘n’ roll”, followed swiftly by Kelly Clarkson (“God bless her, she’s a rocker”) and ﬁnally “I love that song ‘Maybe Baby’, no ‘Baby Maybe’, no… ‘CALL ME MAYBE’. She’s also all PANIC STATIONS about the music industry dying. It keeps her working overtime. “I’m the booking agent, the stylist, the person who talks to the magazines, the person who talks to the DJ’s._ and the singer.” It’s somewhat challenging leaving her house because she has so many ﬁlm projects to show off On a Saturday night. “Oh I never stop,” she says. “I’m just a super-excited songwriter who can’t wait to lock herself in a room with a piano.” And then we get onto Twilight.
Stevie: “I saw Breaking Dawn 2 for the second time last night. I’ve written half a song.”
But Twilight’s ﬁnished. The soundtracks are already done…
“Yeah, but I’m doing a song.”
I see you have the Game Of Thrones books. Will you write about those?
“Already have. I don’t care if they don’t want it. I can write about anything I want.”
How much have you written?
“As I was with Twilight’s Bella and Edward, I’m enthralled. I’ve already written a thing about Jon Snow and a thing about Arya and a thing about Khaleesi and a thing about Catelyn and a thing about Brienne…”
Neither Stevie, nor Bella (the dog, remember, not Kristen Stewart), are fond of goodbyes. With the anniversary release of ‘Rumours’, a 2013 global tour with Fleetwood Mac and appearing as a guest with Dave Grohl’s Sound City Players, it’s just as well.
REAL RUMOUR OR FAKE RUMOUR
‘Rumours is steeped in legend – but which of these are actual rumours about the album, and which have we made up? The answers are below:
- The band used so much cocaine during the recording they felt it only right to give their dealer a credit on the album.
- Mick Fleetwood was so paranoid he swore he could hear the demon Beelzebud one night in the recording booth and called a Catholic priest into the studio to exercise it.
- The band were so out of their mins they filled up a salt seller in the studio with narcotics so they could add some extra zing to the pizzas they had delivered whilst recording.
- It took the band six days, nine separate pianos and three professional tuners to get Christine McVie’s keyboard sounding “just right”.
- Because Mick had removed all the clocks from the studio, Lindsey wound up skipping mea,s for three days.
- It took eight months for Stevie to get a satisfactory vocal on ‘Dreams’. One night she found the perfect acoustics whilst singing on the floor of the studio kitchen.
- To make it even more awkward between bassist John McVie and Christine, she started dating the band’s lighting director during recording.
- One night Mick and Lindsey were so high and broken-hearted that they confided in each other and were found the next morning naked and spooning.
RUMOURS ANSWERS: 1. Real 2. Fake 3. Fake 4. Real 5. Fake 6. Fake (but something similar did happen to Lindsey during the recording of the next album) 7 Real 8. Fake