As the makers of ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ and ‘24’ have found in recent years, making a case for the benefits of torture can land you squarely in the middle of a shitstorm. If only they’d focused on torturing musicians instead. Greatness can sometimes come from extreme duress, and if that sounds unlikely, take the definitive late-’70s rock document, Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’.
The Mac were never destined to succeed. On the contrary, by 1976, they were an incompetent joke. Members had variously lost their minds to LSD, joined religious cults or, in once case, casually shacked up with their bandmate’s wife during a decade of only mild success. For the five that had survived this revolving door band, ‘Rumours’ was their last chance. There was just one snag – everyone in the band was in gut-wrenching, heartbroken agony. Mostly over each other.
Drummer Mick Fleetwood may have been the one cuckolded by his ex-colleague (guitarist Bob Weston), but frankly, he was the lucky one. Bassist John McVie and singer Christine McVie entered the recording studio in California at the point of divorce – a situation not helped when Christine started dating the band’s lighting director. The McVies handled their enmity in stubborn silence, staunchly avoiding contact or conversation. Well, not total silence. Heartache inspired Christine to write the triumphant ‘Don’t Stop’, unequivocally stating ‘yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone’. As a kicker, she also wrote ‘You Make Loving Fun’ – about her new flame.
While the McVies displayed English reserve, Americans Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks dealt with their relationship’s demise by rowing. Loudly. The shouting at least ceased while they recorded vocals. Yet these words stung even harder, especially on Buckingham’s colossal ‘fuck you’ to Nicks – ‘Go Your Own Way’.
The windowless studio became a madhouse, and time soon vanished (literally, after Fleetwood removed all the clocks). Alcohol and drugs became the norm. Such was the band’s consumption of cocaine that many colourful myths emerged – ranging from a demand that their dealer be credited on the album sleeve to a suggestion that Nicks preferred a sphincter-based administering of the powder.
It took a year of this grim lunacy to record ‘Rumours’. It was undoubtedly worth every second. Volatile emotions, a desire to break the band’s curse and a dedication to music proved that, sometimes, a special kind of magic is born out of adversity – or, as ‘Dreams’ puts it simply, ‘Thunder only happens when its raining’.