Big (Fleetwood) Mac: The 1978 Cover Story

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None of this adequately explains the difference between selling 8 million records and, say, 3 million. But nearly everyone I spoke to at Warner Bros. denied anything special had been done to sell Rumours. Mostly, everyone agreed with Derek Taylor's summation: "Stay in stock, stay on top of ads, spend the TV money at the right time, keep the singles coming." Sales and promotion chief Ed Rosenblatt added that part of the reason for the big LP boom was an increase in retail outlets: there are simply more places that sell records than three or four years ago, when the economy was lagging.

But that's too coldblooded – if more stores are the answer, why not platinum Ry Cooder? As Rosenblatt put it, "It's crazy, it's nuts."

Except maybe it isn't. Derek Taylor has been making up theories about pop music since a new Liverpool group called the Beatles was playing English movie theaters and he has a few about Fleetwood Mac. (Taylor went on to become publicist for the Byrds and, later, press director for the Beatles' Apple Corps.) One is that it is greatly to the group's advantage that it has three singer/songwriters; changing lead vocalists helps keep the public from getting oversaturated. This is still a bit too hard-nosed for my taste, but it's getting there.

Taylor's major theory seems almost too pat: "You know, there's no relationship between two nations quite like that between Britain and America," Taylor says in his customarily sedate but slightly crazed fashion. "Look at it: Churchill's parents, Alistair Cooke – pure British-American, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy. . . ."

"Jimi Hendrix," I suggest.

"Crosby, Stills and Nash," Taylor counters. And he goes on to explain the individual members of the group as national archetypes. What he calls "the incredible British intelligence of Mick Fleetwood – he was educated at the Rudolf Steiner School, you know. And McVie is the perfect foil – he's greatly amused by Hitler, that sort of black humor. Christine is just the essence of a certain type of North to Midlands British. And then we have the flower children [Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham] – very practical, but also aware that they're sex symbols. It's the best of both countries, really."

This is as thoroughly unsatisfying as all the other theories, and Taylor and I eventually conclude that Rumours is simply a "very, very good two-sided pop record." But clearly, Rumours and this latest incarnation of Fleetwood Mac have some meaning beyond sheer tonnage, and longevity. Even Stevie Nicks' attempt to define it is barely sufficient: "I think it has more to it than just a rock & roll band," she says. "For example, everybody's real interested in the fact that when we walk onstage, Christine is dressed in her trip, and John is wearing cutoffs and a penguin T-shirt with knickers and vest, looking like Ichabod Crane, and Lindsey's in a suit, and I'm dripping in chiffon. It's weird. All these people look like they're going to a different place.

"There's no continuity in the five people whatsoever, except the spirit."

That's a fine and glamorous answer to what all those Rumours signify. But it is finally as inadequate as saying that Fleetwood Mac succeeded simply by continuing to make records for more than a decade. And anyway, there is continuity here, if not within the band, then outside it. Connections with rock & roll history abound, most notably and disconcertingly, parallels with the Beatles.

Like the Beatles, Fleetwood Mac assembles its songs piecemeal – a hot guitar here, harmonies there – and builds them on a firm and powerful blues-based rhythm section. But the excellence of musicianship isn't all there is to it; too many others have that. Fleetwood Mac also writes songs and lyrics that are squarely within the Beatles' romantic tradition – "You Make Loving Fun" is not so far from the best Beatles ballads.

For this time and place, it is equally important that Fleetwood Mac is the first successful white group since the Mamas and Papas to fully integrate women into its creative framework. It has not been an untroubled process; that's what the rumors were about, in a way. But because Fleetwood Mac made the attempt, its album may speak more clearly than anything else to an audience that's been through similar problems. And that is what finally brought Rumours home in such a massive way. Its songs were made by people not unlike the best parts of you and me: relatively affluent, reasonably honest young adults (or postadolescents, depending). And God knows, there are plenty more than 8 million of those in America. For me, that's admirable enough. Which brings us to the final question, which concerns not what has happened, but what will. All the odds said that Fleetwood Mac should have gone the way of all good British blues bands: broken up after its third album, or struggled on, repeating "Albatross" in gin joints around the world.

Because he is the most objective of the group, it remained for John Mc Vie to sum up the down side of the future. "You always hope it will last indefinitely," he told Record World. "But right at the back of your mind you know that somewhere along the line someone's gonna go, 'Listen, I've got to do something different.' But you always try not to think about that.

"The band would still go on, until it comes to the point where Mick or myself just don't want to do it--which unfortunately will happen sometime in the far distant future."

Mick Fleetwood seems determined to delay that inevitable moment for as long as possible. He is a businessman by avocation; between management and music, there is no choice. "I'm a musician," he insists.

But ask him what's next for Fleetwood Mac, and he lays out a program. Some people at Warner's suggested that the next project might be a live album – the group has never done one – but Fleetwood has a bigger scheme in mind.

"We'll start recording when we finish this tour," he told me, "probably about March. Everybody's already got quite a lot of material loosely together. Stevie's always got tons and tons of stuff – she writes songs all the time. So basically, we're gonna get down and do some very extensive rehearsals before we go into the studio this time and pick material that we feel is strong. You can never tell – sometimes things that you think are gonna turn out great in the studio, don't.

"And on a very loose level, we're thinking about doing a double studio LP. We feel that we've got enough material. If there's any filler, then we wouldn't dream of doing it. But that's an exciting thing to at least attempt. It stimulates everyone and it's a challenge. You don't just knock out another album. It's like a real commitment."

Oh, I know, it sounds like a pipe dream. But I also know what Mick Fleetwood predicted for Rumours last summer, when the album had sold only 4 million: "I remember while playing the rough cassette mixes in Sausalito, I said it's going to be much bigger than the last one. I thought it would do like 8 or 9 million." What's weirdest is that it may have been a conservative guess – which is a nice job of work for people not that much different than us.

This story is from the January 12th, 1978 issue of Rolling Stone.

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