As it turns 45, the drug-fuelled breakup classic is outselling almost everyone on vinyl thanks to its frank songwriting, enduring virality and the patronage of Harry Styles
Forty-five years ago this month, Fleetwood Mac released Rumours, an album that combined gauzy soft pop, manicured folk and stormy rock with a soap-operatic level of intra-band strife. It won album of the year at the Grammys, went 20 times platinum in the US alone, and sits alongside Kind of Blue and The Rite of Spring in the Library of Congress’s registry of historically significant recordings.
“What’s truly remarkable, though, is how it continues to sell new physical copies, despite being available to stream and in secondhand form in every high-street charity shop. According to the UK’s Official Charts Company, Rumours sold 34,593 vinyl copies in 2021, third only to new albums by Adele and Abba, and besting new records by Ed Sheeran and Lana Del Rey. It sold 32,508 copies the previous year. It is currently at No 29 in its 926th week on the UK album chart – up five places from the week before – while in the US, Rumours sold 6,000 vinyl copies in the last week of January, reaching No 1 on the vinyl albums chart. It sold 169,000 vinyl copies in the US in 2021 (according to MRC Data).
For Brittany Spanos, a senior writer at Rolling Stone, its ongoing popularity has a simple explanation. “It’s a fantastic pop album with classically written pop songs: that never goes out of style.”
Those songs emerged from long, meticulous studio sessions punctuated by romantic tension and heavy drug use. Keyboardist-singer Christine McVie was dating Fleetwood Mac’s lighting director in the wake of her marriage to bassist John McVie, while singers Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham were ending their long-term relationship: the LP feels like every stage of a relationship breakup all at once. “The distinct personalities of the songwriters come through really raw; they’re communicating with each other in heartbreaking, angry ways,” says Zoë Howe, author of the book Stevie Nicks: Visions, Dreams and Rumours. Adds Spanos: “You’re getting the great theatre of heartbreak from multiple sides.”
Phil Barton, owner of Sister Ray Records in Soho, London, says Rumours is a “must-stock item – we sell hundreds of copies every year. It never seems to tail off”. He also credits the wider vinyl boom – sales have increased every year for 14 years in the UK – as part of Rumours’ endurance: “People seeking out classics will inevitably include Rumours as part of their collection.”
This rings true to Rupert Morrison, owner of Drift, a record shop in Totnes, Devon: “If you had any anxiety of getting back into vinyl, or you wanted to have that implied credibility, it’s a safe bet,” he says. “It’s this implied [idea]: ‘It’s a classic.’”
Rumours’ songs have also become modern standards: Florence + the Machine and country supergroup the Highwomen have tackled The Chain, while Kacey Musgraves covered Dreams on her 2022 US tour. The Los Angeles duo Fleetmac Wood create more elaborate interpretations via inventive remixes. “The original production of Dreams, with the hypnotic looped drums, is essentially a prototype modern dance record,” says co-founder Lisa Jelliffe (AKA Roxanne Roll). Fleetmac Wood’s dance-friendly sets cover all Mac eras, although Jelliffe sees why Rumours continues to fascinate. “A lot of modern pop releases feel like marketing compared to the authenticity of Rumours,” she says. “[The band] knew what they created together was bigger than the personal turmoil. This album is incredibly meaningful for people, and it’s healing to take that to the dancefloor.”
Nicks’s pop cultural resilience is another explanation. In 2020, the Nicks-penned Dreams returned to the charts after a man named Nathan Apodaca posted a TikTok video of himself vibing to the song while skateboarding and drinking cranberry juice. (The clip spawned countless homages, including one from Mick Fleetwood himself.) Nicks has also acted in American Horror Story, launched a well-received solo tour, and earned a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction as a solo artist; younger artists such as Miley Cyrus are influenced by her to the point of explicit homage, and she has a high-profile friendship with Harry Styles.
“People appreciate Stevie Nicks as an inspirational wise elder of rock’n’roll, but also acknowledge her songwriting more than ever,” Howe says, “rather than just seeing her superficially as this charismatic, stylish singer that everyone had a crush on.”
One Rumours fan, 15-year-old Jane Wagle, had her interest in the band piqued by the Dreams TikTok but was inspired to explore Nicks’s work further thanks to Styles’s endorsement. “I know that Harry likes Fleetwood Mac, and I trust him because he likes David Bowie,” she says. “I’m definitely a punk person, a rock person. I wouldn’t expect myself to be that into Fleetwood Mac. But it’s kind of its own thing. It’s really beautiful, and it has its own personality; all the songs are different, but cohesive.”
Wagle’s assessment shows there is no simple demographic of who is buying Rumours. Sister Ray’s Barton notes purchasers tend to be female and are “increasingly younger”, but at Chicago’s Reckless Records, where Rumours has been a top seller for the last decade, head buyer Matt Jencik says there’s no typical customer profile. And although Drift’s Morrison says he sees older music fans re-buying Rumours, it’s also difficult for him to pigeonhole buyers. He cites a 24-year-old shop employee: “A lover of extreme music, he still had to admit he had a soft spot for Rumours.”
I give Ken Caillat, who co-produced Rumours, the last word on the LP’s staying power. “I think the combination of the young band members – and that half of them were British and half of them were California hippies – and that the lyrics were fuelled by each of the couples breaking up simultaneously, made the songs relatable to people of all ages,” he says. “The band members were only in their 20s, so I suppose their youth and optimism shines through to this day.”
Fleetmac Wood play at Troxy, London, on 18 February.