Saturday, February 04, 2012

Top 50 Albums, #35 - "Rumours"

I swear that I didn't plan it this way, but today is the 35th anniversary of this album's release.

The story of "Rumours" actually begins a few years earlier, with the release of "Fleetwood Mac" in 1975. The band had already been around for a long time, in various incarnations. Members had come and gone, and in the process the band had developed an entirely different sound and approach to music. The constant throughout it all was the rhythm section, drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie.

In 1974, after the departure of guitarist Bob Welch, two unknowns joined the lineup, which included Christine McVie on keyboards in addition to the rhythm masters. Let's let Robert Christgau tell the story:

Why is this Fleetwood Mac album different from all other Fleetwood Mac albums? The answer is supergroup fragmentation in reverse: the addition of two singer-songwriters who as Buckingham Nicks were good enough--or so somebody thought--to do their own LP for Polydor a while back. And so, after five years of struggling for a consistency that became their hobgoblin, they make it sound easy. In fact, they come up with this year's easy listening classic.

Those addition of those two, guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and vocalist (and muse) Stevie Nicks, resulted in a mix whose power went far beyond the sum of the band's parts. "Fleetwood Mac" was (and remains) a great album, and I was sorely tempted to include it on this list.

"Fleetwood Mac" stayed high on the charts throughout all of 1976, pushing the release of the "new album" back to early 1977. The first hint of the new album's greatness came in December '76, with the release of the first single, "Go Your Own Way." Although it didn't become the smash single that subsequent releases would be, it was apparent from first listen that it was a monster song, one that would endure through the ages. On the song, Mick Fleetwood's drums sound like a man caught in a house on fire, desperately trying to get out. And Buckingham's guitars sound like they might have set the fire.

What would also become apparent by the time the album was released was that all of the male/female relationships with the band had dissolved, to the point where (so I read somewhere) the band was barely talking to each other while on the road that summer. All you have to do is look at some of the song titles to know that something was amiss:

Second Hand News
Never Going Back Again
Go Your Own Way
I Don't Want to Know

Even one of the album's biggest hit singles, appropriated by the Clinton/Gore campaign 15 years later, hinted to a grim story:

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 any harm to you

And that's within what is probably the album's most upbeat song!

And then there was this, from the #1 smash "Dreams":

Now here you go again You say you want your freedom Well who am I to keep you down It's only right that you should Play the way you feel it But listen carefully to the sound Of your loneliness Like a heartbeat...drives you mad In the stillness of remembering what you had And what you lost... And what you had... And what you lost

Ouch. On that one, Stevie Nicks isn't even trying to be subtle.

Throughout, the band achieves a consistency that it had never reached before, and would never reach again (in fact, the follow album, "Tusk," would deliberately make a mockery of that consistency, in much the same way that the White Album had done for the Beatles a decade earlier).

The best evidence that the album was destined for greatness is probably "The Chain." I mean, this song is really nothing more than an extended jam. But once it begins, I defy you to stop listening - it's really that good. And when your fragments are better than the most fully realized songs on other LPs, you know you're on to something good.

"Rumours" - a glorious pop beacon for its times, even in the midst of punk.

Rumours (1977) Produced by Fleetwood Mac with Richard Dashut and Ken Caillat

Second Hand News/Dreams/Never Going Back Again/Don't Stop/Go Your Own Way/Songbird/The Chain/You Make Loving Fun/I Don't Want to Know/Oh Daddy/Gold Dust Woman

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