Me and Christine McVie:
Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours
and its role in my rock n roll downfall.
When I was a kid, I used to ride my bike and listen to my Walkman all around the small town from whence I spawned. I never had much music to choose from back then, apart from a couple of my favourite aunt’s obscure rock vinyls, most of which I had yet learnt to understand and appreciate – besides, it was a little difficult to ride around on your bike holding a record player.
The only cassette I had, inexplicably, was Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album. I had no idea whose it was, how I stumbled upon it, but I was sure I didn’t buy it for myself, so it seemed as though it had been delivered by the generous, but enigmatic gods of adult-orientated West Coast pop/rock.
(Thank them for not giving me The Eagles.) Somehow The Mac and I collided between a Walkman and a bike ride.
One of the highlights of this innocent time with Rumours was the song You Make Loving Fun, one of Christine McVie’s contributions to the album. Sometimes, back then, when the double A batteries would begin to run low, the song would end up sounding a little like this:
As I’ve said before in these pages, I’ve always been more of a Christine McVie than a Stevie Nicks kind of guy. McVie, much like Stockard Channing’s Rizzo to Olivia Newton-John’s Sandy in Grease, (another significant pop culture episode from around the same time of my childhood) went a long way to determining my tastes in feminine charms. Okay, so maybe Nicks was too witchy to take home to mother, but McVie, by comparison, seemed even darker, more mysterious, an indefinite entity.
See her version, with early 60s English blues group Chicken Shack (under her maiden name Christine Perfect), of the Etta James’ I’d Rather Go Blind – probably one of the finest, and saddest, love songs ever recorded:
You Make Loving Fun, on the other hand, is one of those great uplifting love ditties, with a majestic and soaring chorus. Quite naturally a perfect road trip song, be it by bike or car. Despite being in the midst of a painful breakup with John McVie during the making of Rumours, Christine still managed to form one of music’s most touching, candid and optimistic narratives.
There’s a recent piece in Mojo magazine, which goes into great detail, dissecting the making of the Rumours album and justifying Fleetwood Mac’s importance as a vital piece in the jigsaw of modern music history, so I won’t go into great detail here, as the article is an enlightening read into the band’s origins.
The album was released into 1977’s unpredictable shitstorm of punk, disco and other new philosophies of art and music, a time when genres like the distinctive overly produced West Coast post-hippie pop/rock that Fleetwood Mac was part of, while still proving commercially popular, but critically, were regarded as uninspired and unoriginal.
The Rumours album has been long been derided as one of those horribly ostentatious self-indulgent middle-of-the-road examples of what was wrong with music at the time. An opinion no doubt helped by the album’s most horribly ostentatious self-indulgent middle-of-the-road pop song – Don’t Stop, the album’s lowest point.
In the context of the whole album, the song works well enough, but while the song made millionaires out of the five Macs – drummer Mick Fleetwood, bassist John McVie, Christine McVie, Stevie Nicks and guitarist Lindsay Buckingham – Don’t Stop, the album’s most successful single, is truly a horrible song, the kind they put on those obligatory Best Of The Seventies compilations, the kind they use in a million television commercials for insurance companies (“don’t stop thinking about tomorrow” : its built-in tagline) and the kind of song they use as an anthem for political campaigns – which is exactly what Bill Clinton did in the nineties, so much so that the song and band enjoyed an unexpected resurgence during Clinton’s time in the White House, culminating in the group not only playing both his victory rally and inauguration, but almost every other notable presidential occasion during his 8 years as POTUS.
Bill, or someone in his camp, really, really liked Don’t Stop.
That said, the rest of the album, thankfully, has managed to survive stronger than that one populist element. Today, it is recognised as a landmark pop/rock album, with fans as diverse as Billy Corgan, RHCP’s John Frusciante, Diana Krall and many of rock and folk’s new generation, judging by the impressive cast Mojo magazine has managed to assemble to record tributes for the issue’s cover disc: notable stand outs include a lushly textured rendition of Go Your Own Way by sophisto-pop group Dutch Uncles, a rootsy Oh Daddy by Mary Epworth and the aforementioned Besnard Lakes druggy read of You Make Loving Fun.
Behind, and in spite of, all the drugs – as legend had it, a communal bag of cocaine on the mixing console was par for the course during recording – as well as the histrionic soap opera of breakups, divorce and infidelity between members that went into the making the album, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours has, rightfully, gone on to become the 14th biggest album of all-time, and its legacy justifiably reconsidered by the strength of its songs.
From Stevie Nicks’ Gold Dust Woman, the ultimate small-town girl in the big city anthem, to the otherworldly Dreams, even with the world’s worst rhyming couplet: “…thunder only happens when it’s raining/Players only love you when they’re playing…”, from Go Your Own Way’s deceptively complex structure (hear Mick Fleetwood’s drumming and Lindsay Buckingham’s guitar solo as examples of why both are music’s most underrated players), to the desert blues stomper The Chain, the album’s most collaborative and accomplished masterpiece; each element of Rumours is a work of great pop art.