How Fleetwood Mac Makes A Song: A Video Essay Exploring the “Sonic Paintings” on the Classic Album, Rumours

Pret­ty much every­one with a pass­ing famil­iar­i­ty with Fleet­wood Mac knows at least a lit­tle some­thing about the per­son­al tumult behind their land­mark 1977 album Rumours: it’s one of rock’s most famous soap operas,” writes Jor­dan Run­tagh at Rolling Stone. Chris­tine McVie put it even more suc­cinct­ly— “Dra­ma. Dra-ma.”

But isn’t this how great songs get writ­ten, as we find out when we read the auto­bi­ogra­phies and inter­views of great song­writ­ers, who sub­li­mate their per­son­al ups and downs in lyrics that touch the emo­tion­al lives of mil­lions? The saga of Fleet­wood Mac just hap­pens to be a par­tic­u­lar­ly juicy exam­ple, giv­en that the band mem­bers’ roman­tic anguish most­ly came from failed rela­tion­ships with each oth­er.

The tale will for­ev­er be a cau­tion­ary one for musi­cians, though it’s hard­ly much of a deter­rent. Just lis­ten to those songs! But as Evan Puschak—otherwise known as video essay­ist the Nerdwriter—shows above, it takes a lot more than a bad breakup with the gui­tar play­er to make time­less pop art. Rumours “feels alive, months and years and decades after its cre­ation.” It’s so much more than the sum of its parts, even if those parts are rare and indis­pens­able: the con­sid­er­able musi­cian­ship on dis­play, the song­writ­ing expe­ri­ence, and espe­cial­ly the “vir­tu­al­ly unlim­it­ed bud­get and time” Warn­er Broth­ers allot­ted the band.

Such extrav­a­gance is vir­tu­al­ly impos­si­ble for any­one else to come by. Still, noodling indef­i­nite­ly with fan­cy instru­ments and equip­ment does not a great album make. Puschak takes Ste­vie Nicks’ “Dreams” as an exam­ple of how the band excelled in the stu­dio. Writ­ten “in about 10 min­utes,” as Nicks tells it, while she sat in a “big black-vel­vet bed with Vic­to­ri­an drapes” in a stu­dio belong­ing to Sly Stone, the song’s stu­dio ver­sion shows off the lush, lay­ered pro­duc­tion the band spent the bet­ter part of a year bring­ing to her two-chord demo.

“Dreams”—one of the most mes­mer­iz­ing songs in the band’s canon—acquired its hyp­not­ic qual­i­ties through the use of a looped drum pat­tern, puls­ing, repet­i­tive bassline, and the sub­tle col­oration of gui­tar tex­tures that give the decep­tive­ly sim­ple song its ebb and flow.

The sto­ry of Rumours is as much about fan­tas­tic songcraft, musi­cian­ship, arrang­ing, and pro­duc­tion as it is about tri­umph over the human resources night­mare behind the scenes. The per­son­al inspi­ra­tion for these songs makes for good gos­sip, but these are not life events any­one needs to emu­late to make art. Fleet­wood Mac’s col­lec­tive inven­tive­ness, emo­tion­al hon­esty, and skill are what ulti­mate­ly make them such an inspi­ra­tion to musi­cians, and cre­ative types in gen­er­al. For anoth­er exam­ple of how they built the archi­tec­tur­al mar­vels on Rumours, see the short take above from Poly­phon­ic about the album’s mood­i­est song, “The Chain.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ste­vie Nicks “Shows Us How to Kick Ass in High-Heeled Boots” in a 1983 Women’s Self Defense Man­u­al

Watch Doc­u­men­taries on the Mak­ing of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here

Inside the Mak­ing of The Bea­t­les’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lone­ly Heart’s Club Band, Rock’s Great Con­cept Album

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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