Annie Leibovitz, the iconic portrait photographer known for her engaging and intimate shoots, unknowingly sowed the seeds of the brief affair between Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood. For a cover shoot for Rolling Stone, Fleetwood Mac were invited to an apartment and into a bed together. Unwilling to lie next to Lindsey Buckingham after their painful breakup, Nicks insisted they stay apart. The very recent divorce of Christine and John McVie meant those could not be next to each other either, so John took the solitary stance of reading Playboy alone.
Fleetwood Mac entered the recording studio together at a time when they couldn't even look each other in the eye. The album was doomed from the start, but not only did they all put aside their personal turmoil, they channeled that pain and anguish and crafted one of the most successful albums of all time, selling over 45 million copies. “The musical soap opera brought out the voyeur in everyone,” Buckingham says. “And their protective instinct.” Instead of burying the issues or using the recording process as a distraction, every single member of the band used the platform as a way to clear the air and to vent their collective frustrations.
Following mounting pressure from the record label for a follow-up to their second eponymous album in 1975, the band entered The Record Plant in Sausalito, California in February 1976, under somewhat strained circumstances. Bassist John McVie, one of the original founding members, and vocalist/keyboardist Christine McVie ended their eight year marriage and subsequently couldn't even talk to each other. Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham called it quits on an ongoing relationship and just to make sure everyone was in the same heartbreak hotel, Mick Fleetwood had just found out his wife Jenny had been having an affair with one of his close friends and subsequently divorced. Entering the studio was a perfect storm of heartbreak and betrayal, the common recipe for disaster.
The Californian studio sessions lasted almost ten months, and with nowhere to go and no choice but to face each other and the repercussions of failed relationships, the band leaned on their musical talents, and cocaine, to alleviate the pain and vent. The guys lived by the studio and the girls rented apartments near the city's harbour. Personal lives laid bare and painfully intertwined with the music, pure artistic expression formed from the chaos of failed love. To add fuel to the fire, Christine ignited a relationship with the band's lighting director, Curry Grant, and Stevie and Mick picked up from what was started on the bed at the Rolling Stone shoot.
Emotions were running high, band members unable to speak to each other and unwilling to cooperate, it was down to Mick's unwavering determination to keep the band together. Demanding maturity, he insisted the band pull together and finished the album, turning in 11 tracks, with one of Nicks' most personal and future hit; Silver Springs painfully left on the cutting room floor. Aimed squarely at Lindsey, the disparaging ballad told of her anguish over the fallout after spotting a freeway sign when the pair were driving through Maryland; "Silver Springs sounded like a pretty fabulous place to me. ‘You could be my Silver Springs…’ That’s just a whole symbolic thing of what you could have been to me.”
Christine wrote the upbeat You Make Loving Fun about her new life after John and specifically, the newly developed relationship with Grant, much to John's dismay. After the breakdown between Stevie and Lindsey, the pair dealt with their separation their own way. Go Your Own Way was Buckingham's pessimistic take on the breakup, no hiding behind subtlety. "If I could, maybe I'd give you my world, how can I when you won't take it from me?" Feelings laid out bare, Stevie reveals it's the toughest song to perform live but only perseveres as it's a fan favourite.
In her own retort, Nicks penned a more hopeful take on the breakup, tinged with a sad optimism, in the form of the biggest single of the album; Dreams. As a way to deal with the escalating tensions between the band and the arduous recording schedule, Nicks would steal away from the band with her electric piano, journal, books and art to seek refuge in an unused studio down the hall. Once belonging to funk legend Sly Stone, Nicks set her self up on the bed with her piano and cassette player and wrote Dreams in 10 minutes. Upon returning to the studio she handed the tape to Lindsey who after listening just looked up at her and smiled. "What was going on between us was sad – we were couples who couldn’t make it through. But, as musicians, we still respected each other.”
The Chain, the centrepiece to Rumours and subsequent live sets, was the only track credited to every single member, the creation coming from the biggest collaboration on the record. Originally starting off as an unreleased Christine McVie track, it slowly evolved and piece by piece came together through the input of everyone individually and collectively. The perfect metaphor for the album itself, The Chain being the coming together of all the pieces.
Rumours resulted in a laid-bare confessional, for all to see the inner struggles of the band and not only were they able to construct a masterpiece of an album, but served to act as a healing bridge for the band, who still carried on together. If it wasn't for Mick holding everyone together, there was no chance the album would even come close to finishing. Cocaine was the helping hand in keeping the volatile mood to a manageable level. Having played such a vital role in the recording process, the band wanted to thank their dealer in the album credits. But unfortunately died before the album was even released.
The album went on to become a huge success, many citing it as the band's best work, with mixed reactions from Fleetwood Mac themselves. For many, the album represents a dark time in the band's history, and the subsequent success a bittersweet feeling; “When Rumours went crazy, I just couldn’t bring myself to feel strongly about the album,” Buckingham said to Rolling Stone in 1984. “At some point, all the stuff surrounding it started to become the main focus. There was a gap between what I felt was important internally – what I had accomplished musically – and the popular acclaim.”
Christine sees the way they all handled the recording process as pure, without ever smoothing over the crisis, and in turn created a powerful record. Mick and Stevie's relationship was short-lived but Mick doesn't regret anything; “We just love each other in the true sense of the word, which transcends passion. I will take my love for her as a person to my grave, because Stevie Nicks is the kind of woman who inspires that devotion."