Friday, February 24, 2012

Tackling The Greats: Fleetwood Mac, Rumours

The story of the making of Rumours is well-known.

It's a band of mixed British and American members, and that might not seem like it matters but oh, it MATTERS. Everybody loves everybody else and also hates them. (Seems to be pretty common where matters of the production of great pop music are concerned.) They're all going through breakups and on drugs and at the beach. (Which probably is the best place to be if you must be going through a breakup whilst on drugs.) Stevie Nicks is there, which implies a certain surreality in every case.

AND the only member of the band who was not sleeping with someone else in the band, Mick Fleetwood, was unceremoniously left by his wife.

Sorry, Mick Fleetwood.

And then Fleetwood Mac literally--literally--lock themselves in a windowless room to make Rumours.


"Best Pop Album Ever Made" is not a designation I think could ever possibly exist in the universe in which I--and hopefully also some other people, a universe to oneself sounds pretty lonely-- exist.

Even with an album as cohesive as Rumours, I can't consider songs as anything other than songs. It's (part of) why I could never write one of those 33 1/3 books where people contemplatively navel-gaze about an album as a whole.

(There is one possible exception and it is Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark, but I don't know when I will be brave enough to take that one on.)

So I hereby propose the following awards and honors for Rumours:

The song: Fleetwood Mac, "Go Your Own Way"; 1977
The moment: 0:31

  • Best Album To Listen To At That Stage Of A Breakup Where You Have 95% Convinced Yourself That You Believe In Statements like "You can go your own way" and "I don't want to know the reasons why love keeps right on walking on down the line"
  • Best Breakup Vocals to Lindsey Buckingham for the line "If I could, baby, I'd give you my world/But how can I, when you won't TAKE it from me?"

The song: "I Don't Want To Know"
The moment: 1:57
  • Best Repetitive Driving Guitar Line Underscoring Essentially Passive Aggressive Nature Of Song
  • The Anti-Sonny And Cher Award for Best Combative Non-Harmonies
  • Best Cuttingly Ironic Hand-Claps for Those Hand-Claps Falling Immediately After The Line "You tell me that I'm crazy/It's nothing that I didn't know"

The song: "Dreams"
The moment: 0:30
  • Best Lyrical Portrayal Of An Obsessive's Reaction To Loss for the following line:
Listen carefully to the sound of your loneliness
Like a heartbeat, breaks you down
In the stillness of remembering what you had
And what you lost
And what you had
And what you lost

Best Use Of Tambourine, Dramatic.


And lastly, "The Chain".

The song: "The Chain"
The moment: 3:45

I have no award for this song. I once spent an hours-long plane trip listening to "The Chain" very loudly on repeat (I had headphones on; I'm not a monster) and convincing myself it was perfect.

I still believe it.

For instance, as evinced by the Anti-Sonny And Cher Award above this is characteristic of many of their songs, but I love how Buckingham and Nicks are pretty much just each attacking their vocal lines without trying to blend or harmonize.

This is a case in which it's impossible to tell how the backstory of the album has affected the perception of the album. Do I think Nicks and Buckingham are giving their competitive, cutting all to every line of this song because of their vocal performance or because I know and love the romantic story of two brilliant musicians who collaborate brilliantly and love each other brilliantly and also despise each other brilliantly?

I think it's intrinsic to the song, but you may disagree*. This is the only song on Rumours on which all members of Fleetwood Mac put down their hookahs, left their beach houses, and went into that windowless room to collaborate.

"The Chain"'s seemingly simple lyrics lead down a rabbit hole of interpretation. (On the other hand, one could argue that any song one listens to on a five-hour plane trip on repeat will lead down a rabbit hole of something, most likely actual madness.)

What is "the chain"? I started out--we're talking listens 1-20--pretty sure it represented a marriage vow, or bonds of commitment more generally. But then I convinced myself on listen 21 or so that "the chain" was the cycle of dysfunctional relationships that many people find themselves trapped in, and that "I can still hear you saying we would never break the chain" is a reference to some pessimistic prediction about the FLEETING NATURE OF LOVE that ultimately, and bittersweetly of course, came true.

Obviously I am in love with my own interpretation of that lyric, but this song can do that to you.

And then there's the fact that the relatively restrained vocal line leads to the musical break starting at minute 3. It starts with a simple and foreboding bass line (evidence of the band's bluesy past) and then explodes into Lindsay Buckingham's unrestrained, untrained guitar which you think will not get any more passionate and intense and then it KEEPS GETTING MORE PASSIONATE AND INTENSE. (The moment chosen above is the one during which I personally feel the guitar line hits its passionate and intense climax but I think that's individual.)

Over the course of many listens I have convinced myself that this minute-long musical interlude represents a pure musical expression of the frustration and pain endemic to HUMAN EXISTENCE.

But you can convince yourself of a lot of things on a plane.


*Disagreement on this point and others (including on this post's omission of "Second Hand News") can be directed to