Few things remain relevant for 40 years. While plenty of iconic, seminal albums were released in 1977, it’s difficult to directly trace their influence to modern music today. Television’s Marquee Moon is an indie classic but hardly prominent in today’s commercial music, Sex Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks will always be mentioned atop the punk pyramid although punk’s never reclaimed the glory it had in the ‘70s and The Ramones' Rocket To Russia is a record that’s influenced more t-shirts than music today.
1977 was an insane year for music. Bowie gave us “Heroes”, Bee Gees hit perfection with the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, Meat Loaf redefined epic with Bat Out Of Hell and The Clash got raucous on their self-titled debut. And yet, despite all this there’s one record that sits miles ahead of all the aforementioned in terms of both sales and influence - Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours.
On its release, Rumours became the fastest selling album of all time, selling 800,000 copies a week in its prime. It’s now gone on to sell more than 45 million copies worldwide and is one of the best-selling records of all time.
In the ‘70s, pop music was yet to start ripping hearts out. Michael Jackson scored a hit with Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough, Bee Gees were riding high with Stayin Alive and ABBA’s infectious melodies on Dancing Queen ruled the airwaves. Disco was the driving force of pop music and while it wasn’t foreign to heartache, it was aimed at the dance floor. Fleetwood Mac redefined the capabilities of pop music. It was pop dressed as folk, taking elements of Neil Young, Steely Dan and the Eagles and making it accessible to the masses.
Lindsey Buckingham reportedly went into the studio to make “a pop album” and that’s exactly what they came out with but it goes deeper than that. It was beautifully melodic and poised for the radio but also armed with heartbreaking lyrics.
Sure, in many ways Rumours is a product of its times. There’s a hippie spirit to it traced back to the ‘70s and the folk/rock stylings place them in a group of bands that had their heyday in the decade. There’s a timelessness to the lyrics of Rumours though that meant we could still listen to it in 100 years and find things to relate to. This was love and loss in its most simplest form. Songbird’s a quintessential love song, Don’t Stop is an anthem of positivity and Go Your Own Way is a freeing break-up song. The band was getting bigger than ever and yet they were crumbling from the inside as personal relationships dissolved. It’s so vivid and honest that Rumours can tap into the heart of anyone who has one no matter what decade you’re listening to it in.
Most of the popular artists making music today weren’t even born when Rumours was released and yet it doesn’t matter if you’re 25, 45 or 75, everyone has memories attached to the record. Fleetwood Mac were the most successful to ever marry pop melodies and depth and while we may take it for granted in 2017 when Amy Shark is ripping out hearts and tearing up the charts simultaneously with Adore, Rumour’s influence is not one to be underestimated.
In 2017, we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to accessible pop songs that carry a heavy heart. And when we’re talking about some of the most successful of those, it’s difficult to find many that don’t trace back to Rumours in some way. The most interesting thing is few set out to make a record like Fleetwood Mac and yet, there the influence is, sitting in the back of their mind surrounded by childhood memories of discovering music for the first time.
“Every song had a place in my heart, in the fabric of my childhood and my family life,” Lorde wrote after seeing Fleetwood Mac for the first time only years ago. The Kiwi alt-pop singer was born in 1996 and yet her dark-leaning debut Pure Heroine captures elements of Stevie Nicks on Rumours. She treads that same line between heartache and freedom with each song holding an escapist quality. Pure Heroine has that yearning for something more, to break out of her small town in New Zealand, captured beautifully in the poetic Royals. Fleetwood Mac weren’t looking for fame or fortune, they already had it, but songs like Don’t Stop and Dreams suggested there’s an even better fate on the horizon.
Florence + The Machine tells a similar tale of tying Rumours to her youth. “The first time I heard Stevie Nicks, I had just fallen in love with a boy in a band. I was on a family holiday in Italy,” she told Rolling Stone.
“Fleetwood Mac's Rumours was one of the only CDs at the house where we stayed, and I was like, "Oh, OK. What's this?" I listened to the whole thing nonstop. There's something about Stevie that's really pure. When she sings, she sounds angelic but also wild and free, like she's getting completely lost in the song.”
If there’s a Stevie Nicks for this generation, it’s Florence. She’s also wild and free but not oblivious or immune to heartache. While she went grand on her second record Ceremonials she realised the error of her ways and contained it on How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful realising what Rumours taught, that it’s far more powerful to be intimate and honest than anthemic and far-reaching. St. Jude recalls the end of a relationship with the same fragilitiy as Nicks singing, “I know I could have loved you, But you would not let me,” on Rumours offcut Silver Springs. And then, What Kind Of Mind harnesses the same angst as The Chain and Ship To Wreck rattles along with the same freeing energy as Go Your Own Way.
It would be superficial to say that Rumours beefed-up the lyrical content of pop music for good. There’s still plenty of meaningless fodder out there and in many ways that’s just as important for people using music as an escape as a lyrically heavy record. Rumours finished with a song about drug addiction, using the imagery of a dragon to depict the anger Nicks felt that led her to do drugs. That’s not something you’re going to hear on a Britney Spears record but more and more popstars are daring to go there. Lady Gaga’s latest record Joanne which has a lot of the same earthy qualities as Rumours, finishes on a raw cut Angel Down about police brutality while even Rihanna lets her emotions fly on the alcohol-fuelled Higher off her latest drop ANTI. Both those albums are the most exciting of their respective careers proving pop music’s so much more rewarding when it’s coming from an honest, tainted soul.
At the same time if pop music wasn’t fun we may all go insane. Given their personal circumstances at the time, Rumours could’ve been incredibly dark. Without digging into their back stories, a lot of light permeates from the record. Don’t Stop is overwhelmingly positive, Dreams is optimistic and even Go Your Own Way is somewhat euphoric. Californian sisters HAIM may be the closest we have to Fleetwood Mac’s lighter side right now, wrapping up their diary stories in energetic, indie pop songs. On If I Could Change Your Mind, they’re losing a lover yet, they’re dancing through it and on Forever they’re throwing their hands helplessly in the air but to a groovy, guitar-driven beat. That may be one of Rumours’ greatest everlasting gifts, the lesson that heartbreak can be upbeat. Somehow Christine McVie wrote Don’t Stop in the wake of a divorce and yet it’s the most infectiously uplfiting song of their career.
These days, there may as well be a genre called Fleetwood Mac, their influence has spread through so many. Lykke Li’s dark, torchered songs recall Rumours darkest moments, Beach House capture the whimsical but raw nature of the band and even Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker found a way to marry alternative and pop on their latest record Currents in a way Buckingham would be proud of. Grimes’ electronic stylings pull her worlds away from the earthy soundscapes of Rumours and yet her direct, honest lyrics make her an otherworldly Nicks. She even borrowed a line from Landslide on Pin from her latest album Art Angels.
Fleetwood Mac’s influence as a band extends further than Rumours but that’s their masterpiece. They made their best music when they were at their worst and Rumours depicts the point where the band was dismantling and the drugs were free-flowing. Its predecessor Tusk had moments of brilliance but nothing the band did after Rumours hit the same pop sweet spot. They couldn’t, because after that their relationships were too severed.
The heart of Rumours is timeless and universal. The influence of it extends to today because while the world may change the heart stays the same. Rumours is a masterclass in pairing genuine emotion with the pleasure of pop. As musical trends come and go it remains untainted, never aging, and it’s unlikely we’re going to reach a point in our lives where we can’t trace the influence of the record back to a modern artist.
- Words by the interns' Sam Murphy