When Fleetwood Mac, the first album with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, reached top spot on record sales charts, the group was already recording the sequel. What should have been a party became something else, by this time both couples in the band had split up, and to top it off, Mick Fleetwood’s wife was cheating on him with his best friend. So the drummer had a brief fling with Nicks while they were recording. It was in this strangest of environments that one of the band’s masterpieces took shape. The 3 main composers, Buckingham, Nicks, and Christine McVie decided to unleash their turmoiled relationships into songs. So much so that the sullen John McVie said after listening to the songs they were writing that it seemed like “a collection of rumours”.
It was here where Buckingham perfected the style of the band. Beyond his personal contributions like Go Your Own Way, or the delicate acoustic number Never Going Back Again (two undisguised attacks on Nicks), there is his work giving shape to Nicks’ and McVie’s songs , especially the former. It’s clear he was an expert at getting the best out of Stevie, but his arrangements on songs as great as Dreams, Gold Dust Woman or the discarded Silver Springs are simply unforgettable.
The record opens with the following phrase from Second Hand News, “I know there’s nothing to say, Someone has taken my place”, Buckingham warns Stevie, “One thing I think you should know, I ain’t gonna miss you when you go”, it is the tone set for the whole album. Nicks is less explicit but equally hurtin Dreams, “It’s only right that you should play the way you feel it, but listen carefully to the sound of your loneliness”. Then it’s Christine McVie’s turn to try and give a little perspective by saying to her ex that it’s best to forget the past and look forward, “All I want is to see you smile if it takes just a little while, I know you don’t believe that it’s true I never meant to harm you”. Buckingham rips an excellent solo on his Les Paul Custom in Don’t Stop, in one of the album’s few optimistic moments. Then comes the definitive stab, a song full of resentment and strength, one of the best songs of all times. It starts like this, “Loving you isn’t the right thing to do”, and among other things Buckingham tells Nicks, “Packing up and shacking up’s all you want to do”. And it’s only normal the they join up on the chorus, “You can go your own way”. The solo is interpreted with the same bitterness and resentment as the rest of the song, one of Lindsey’s best moments as a guitarist.
They follow this path until The Chain appears, one of the best songs of their career and one of the few signed by the five band members. This song is a bloodpact between them to stay together despite the collapse of their personal relationships, “And if you don’t love me now, you will never love me again, I can still hear you saying you would never break the chain (Never break the chain). Buckingham is back by giving unity on his dobro (resonator guitar) and his Stratocaster with an Alembic Blaster booster fitted on it. But the chain that joins them doesn’t get in the way of their dirty little secrets coming up on the second part of the album, with Christine McVie talking about her new lovers until the end with Gold Dust Woman, about another main star of the record: cocaine.
Apart from the instability of their relationships (John and Christine McVie didn’t speak to each other, and Lindsey and Stevie only did by screaming at each other), there was also the indecent amount of cocaine and champagne they used during the recording sessions, so much so that Mick Fleetwood wanted to include their dealer in the credits. The record became one of the best selling albums of all time making Fleetwood Mac the most popular band of the day. They made it, but the cost was tremendous. The pact reached on The Chain remained but their personal relationships would never recuperate.
The result was the definitive breakup album. If breaking up with someone is hard, it is even more complicated when you’re in the group with this someone. Rumours is painful and traumatic like a breakup but, at the same time, is cathartic and hopeful like a new beginning. The group put honey on their wounds, with their most perfect melodies and harmonies to date, never did broken hearts sound as good as this.