'Rumours' Turns 40: The Monumental Impact of the Album and of Stevie Nicks

 

With the final weeks of summer upon us and autumn solstice on the wind, we should not let the 40th anniversary of the release of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours pass without acknowledgment of the monumental impact of the record, and that distant season of the white witch, Stevie Nicks, whose otherworldly talent found its time and place in the pop music cosmos of 1977.

It is unnecessary at this late date to speak of the commercial success of the album. Nor is there anything nuanced to say about the emotional relationships so famously interwoven with the band’s history. Suffice it to say that if you were a young Californian of either sex in the mid-seventies, chances are good that you were to one degree or another in love with Nicks. Our passion didn’t mean exclusivity; the whole world was learning to love her.

Onstage, Nicks embodied the feminine archetype dreamt of in half-sleep and vanished in the awakened state of knowing the goddess was reachable only in dreams. “Reigning Queen of Rock” was the title Rolling Stone writers bestowed in the wake of Rumours, but that title fell far short, didn’t began to encompass the realms that Nicks was queen of. All she signified about a countercultural era that was ending.

Confronted with the mystical gifts of an artist like Nicks, cerebral appreciation is lost in empathy emanating from the listener’s own dragged-around heart. As open and vulnerable as the wisps of the veils around her shoulders, Nicks yet had the strength to bear and celebrate everything that superstardom meant for a songstress and lyricist wholly surrendering to what lay deep in her heart, and her own heartbreak.

Fleetwood Mac was renown in its sixties British blues rock incarnation for almost a decade before the classic seventies lineup premiered. Songs like the proto-heavy “Oh Well” enjoyed heavy FM rotation in 1969, and troubled guitarist Peter Green’s last hit with the band, “The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown),” brought down houses in 1970.

In the Golden State, British rock buffs that had flocked to Winterland for drummer Mick Fleetwood’s seminal quintet weren’t quite sure what to think when the relatively obscure duo of Nicks and her muse and lover Lindsey Buckingham joined Fleetwood Mac on New Year’s Eve in 1974. The new lineup’s first album, Fleetwood Mac, featuring hits like “Landslide” and “Rhiannon,” reached No. 1 and sold five million copies.

But it was Rumours, which won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 1977 and became one of the best-selling albums of all time (40 million to date), that certified the British/American ensemble’s musical legacy.

Stevie Nicks would remain in Fleetwood Mac, but went her own way with Belladonna in 1981, followed by 1982’s The Wild Heart, launching a solo career distinguished by songs and moods as bewitching as anything she’d done with the band. Her return to Fleetwood Mac and 1982’s magical “Gypsy” returned the old religion of her beauty and unparalleled performance art to the group that made her a superstar.

Social scientists and survivors have offered theories about when the sixties actually ended. Some cite the inundation of the Haight/Ashbury District by countercultural riffraff as the end point. Many more have christened the star-crossed Altamont Concert in 1969 as the beginning of the end.

I was hanging on Haight when cannabis and wine skeins turned to meth, downers, and bad trips. When peace and love became commercialized, and the hippies began their exodus into the redwood vales of Northern California. I was in attendance when The Rolling Stones took the stage at Altamont Speedway, and Meredith Hunter pulled a gun, and the Hell’s Angels took him out.

I can tell you firsthand that it was possible to immerse oneself in the sixties rock and roll ethos, the “rebellious” lifestyle, and at the same time hold a secret crucifix up against the toxic progressive politics gaining a foothold in the larger American society. I was there with the long hair, the fringe jacket, and was decidedly no angel, but was able to ignore and dismiss the Marxist anti-capitalist underbelly that even then seemed so wrong.

Fleetwood Mac would endure, but the sixties finally ended for me with the release of Rumours.  

Two new and disparate musical evolutions were waiting in the wings to crash the party in 1977, with two new icons to usher them in: a high-stepping John Travolta making moves to Bee Gees disco in Staying Alive, and a sneering Johnny Rotten, whose Danse Macabre as the seventies clock ran out gave voice to the generation following mine: these kids were anything but all right.

The sixties ended for me with“Gold Dust Woman,” and the apparitional Stevie Nicks singing in her flower-child rasp about a woman digging her grave with a silver spoon, and repeating “Go home” three times, twice as the end of a question, and finally as a stark admonition.

It was time to go home.