It was 40 years ago today (Feb. 4) that Fleetwood Mac would release Rumours, one of the most successful albums of the rock era, and a rare mega-blockbuster whose thrills are as intricate and subtle as they are broad-stroked and head-smacking.
As much as the record lives on for the lore of the drugs and tangled-web heartbreak that fueled its writing and recording sessions, it’s the unnervingly raw emotion and performance — and the peerlessly immaculate composition and production — that the album’s soap-opera surroundings inspired that makes it still worth writing about in 2017.
Generations later, the songs on Rumours remain nearly as omnipresent on radio and in popular culture as they were in the Carter era, but the set remains exhilarating and inscrutable, because so few songs of love, faith and addiction have ever been this bloody or brilliant.
Here are the album’s 11 tracks, ranked from worst to best. (And include an asterisk around No. 4 or 5 for classic B-side “Silver Springs,” whose exclusion from the album is basically all you need to know about what a self-destructive hot streak Fleetwood Mac were on at the time.)
11. “Don’t Stop”
The only one of the album’s original megahits — peaking at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in September 1977 — that time and overplay have been somewhat unforgiving towards, its shimmering stomp feeling more pushy than empowering in its forward-march insistence. Bill Clinton didn’t help, of course, but the fact that the song was co-optable for sloganeering purposes in the first place simply means that it was a cut more basic than the rest of Rumours to begin with.
10. “Oh Daddy”
If there’s one song you forget about trying to count off the 11 tracks on Rumours, it’s probably Christine McVie’s penultimate creeper “Oh Daddy,” a Neil Young-paced heartache testimony with perilously low self-esteem (“Why are you right when I’m so wrong/ I’m so weak but you’re so strong?”) It’s not the most striking lyric or melody, but the song’s gorgeously windswept production makes for some chilling moments, and also allows for a brilliant lead-in to the album’s significantly more memorable closer.
Apologies to Christine McVie, who ends up with the three lowest-ranked songs on the album — she makes up for it with her fourth song on the set, which we’ll get to much higher up — and no hate meant for “Songbird,” an entirely lovely piano-and-guitar ballad that makes an exquisite end to the album’s A-side. But Fleetwood Mac only have one truly timeless, unforgettable acoustic anthem, and this isn’t it.
8. “Second Hand News”
For one of classic rock’s definitive albums, it remains a little jarring what a red-herring the set opens with: Lindsey Bukcingham’s rollicking “Second Hand News,” a sort of “Monday Morning” redux that points towards little of the intrigue and brutality of the rest of the album. Still, the folk jam sneaks in some bitterness among the knee-slapping — “I know there’s nothing to say/ Someone has taken my place” are the set’s telling opening lines — and “Won’t you lay me down in tall grass and let me do my stuff” is pantheon-worthy euphemising.
7. “I Don’t Want to Know”
Another of the set’s folkier numbers, propelled ever forward by some antsy handclaps and a tempo that feels set about 10 bpm faster than it should, creating a nervous energy that would set the tone for much of the album’s controversial follow-up, 1979’s Tusk. Buckingham and co-lead Stevie Nicks sound almost breathless just trying to keep up, but still manage to bring the necessary anxiousness to point-of-no-return lyrics like “Finally baby/ The truth has been told/ Now you tell me that I’m crazy/ It’s nothing that I didn’t know.”
6. “The Chain”
Not Rumours‘ best song but arguably its most definitive, and certainly the greatest team effort — it’s the album’s only track in which all five members receive writing credits, and also the only one in which McVie, Buckingham and Nicks all contribute to the lead vocal. And with all the gorgeously frayed vocals of betrayal and broken promise, “The Chain” might still be most memorable for Mick Fleetwood’s heartbeat-like bass drum, and the slithering John McVie low-end that introduces the song’s inspired, not-getting-away-that-easy coda.
5. “Never Going Back Again”
The shortest song on Rumours but also one of the most complete, a masterfully finger-picked Buckingham solo piece that only features the rest of the band in ghostly backing vocals. “Been down one time/ Been down two times/ Never going back again” is a rare statement of resolve on an album full of emotional incapacitation, and as much of an affirmation as it makes from Lindsey’s delivered perspective, it’s just as devastating when considered from Stevie’s received viewpoint.
4. “Gold Dust Woman”
Nicks has openly admitted that she has no idea what Rumours‘ mystical closing track is even about, which is probably one of the reasons it’s played such a large part in building the frontwoman’s own gypsy-woman mythology. With its desert-like production, guitar riffs spilling from everywhere like sand through the song’s fingers, and Stevie’s uniquely possessed vocals, “Gold Dust Woman” is as alluring and enigmatic as its singer — a note of anti-closure for the LP to end on, the mysteries of love and life forever unknowable.
3. “Go Your Own Way”
A masterpiece of illogical layering and universal songwriting, Buckingham designed the verses of “Go Your Own Way” to sound like the world around him as he cried, “If I could, baby, I’d give you my world/ How can I when you won’t take it from me?” before the sing-along chorus applied necessary order to the situation. But Buckingham’s critical flaw in this brilliant stop-start rocker was in making going your own way sound less like a dismissal than a granting of release — compared to spending further time in Lindsey’s world of control, another lonely day seems pretty free and easy.
2. “You Make Loving Fun”
The secret weapon of Rumours, shimmying its way out from the thick of the album’s B-side, just when you thought it was finally starting to run out of hits. The song’s swagger is all hips, like writer McVie trying on a dazzling sequin dress for the first time, while the pre-chorus — setting up a refrain that doesn’t actually show up until the song’s very end — is the album’s greatest revelation; Christine offering an ode of hymnal rapture to the man who got her believing in miracles, while the rest of the band plays her sighing gospel choir in the back.
Fleetwood Mac’s all-time greatest song (and only Hot 100 No. 1 hit) was a demonstration of the entire band’s strengths, from Fleetwood’s instantly recognizable opening drum fill to McVie’s somehow singular two-note bass pattern to Christine’s sweetly bubbling keys giving the groove its plush texture. But it was also the song that proved the band was never more themselves than when Stevie was on the mic, bringing both the thunder and the rain, her unguarded, open-veined rasp painting every one of her crystal visions in such rich, vibrant color that they actually sound like they’re causing Buckingham’s guitars to openly weep.