The Number Ones

June 18, 1977

The Number Ones: Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”

Stayed at #1:

1 Week

In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.


In June of 1975, Jaws came out and changed the way that movies worked. Before Jaws, even the biggest Hollywood movies would start out with hyped-up big-city premieres and slowly spread to the rest of the country. But Jaws opened nationwide on more than 400 screens at once after Universal spent hundreds of thousands on national TV ads. This strategy, pioneered by the independently made indie film The Trial Of Billy Jack, succeeded wildly. Jaws made more money than anyone thought possible. After just a few months, it had surpassed The Godfather as the highest-grossing film in history.

Jaws captured the collective imagination on a scale that no other film had ever managed. It revealed the inefficiencies of how the studios had been distributing their movies. It showed that it was possible to get a whole country excited about a movie at the same time. It proved just how lucrative a brilliantly executed spectacle could be. After Jaws, multinational corporations figured out how much money there was to be made in movies. And pretty soon, all the studios were trying to make hits on the level of Jaws. They still are.

Something like this happened in music, too; it just took a little longer. Up until the late ’70s, artists were expected to crank out new music as quickly as possible. Bands would release two or three albums in a single year. And even with the biggest of those albums — something like Goodbye Yellow Brick Road or Songs In The Key Of Life or Hotel California — the labels would only release two or three songs as singles.

That changed with the release of Rumours, the album that Fleetwood Mac released in February of 1977. Rumours wasn’t just a blockbuster. It totally dominated everything else that happened commercially in 1977, and it changed the pop-music calculus. For an uninterrupted 31-week run, Rumours was the #1 album in the United States. In its first week, Rumours shipped a mind-boggling 800,000 copies. Warner Bros. released four singles from Rumours, and all of them made it into the top 10, something that had never happened before. The label could’ve released more, too. It’s wild to think that “The Chain” and “Gold Dust Woman” and “Second Hand News” and “Songbird” were deep cuts.

Rumours was something new: a studio album that played like a readymade greatest-hits album. Over the next few years, more albums like that would follow: the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, Thriller, Born In The USA. Rumours proved that something like that was even possible. And yet only one of the singles from Rumours made it to #1. In fact, only one song in the entire decades-long history of Fleetwood Mac and of the various solo projects that the band spawned made it to #1. That song is “Dreams.”

Infamously, Rumours is an album borne from chaos. Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, the two Americans who’d joined Fleetwood Mac in 1974 and who’d been together for years before that, had just broken up, and they were constantly fighting bitterly. John and Christine McVie, the married couple who’d been in Fleetwood Mac, had just divorced, and they were refusing to speak to each other about anything other than music. Mick Fleetwood was going through a traumatic divorce of his own. Everyone was writing slick, bitter songs about everyone else. Everyone was also ingesting vast quantities of cocaine and alcohol. It was bedlam.

But bedlam had always been the natural resting state for Fleetwood Mac. They’d started as a UK blues-rock band in 1967, coming into being when all three non-John Mayall members of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers — Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, and Peter Green — quit his band and launched one of their own. Early on, Green was the band’s frontman, and they made fried, fuzzy psychedelic blues. They were huge in the UK, scoring a string of big late-’60s hits. But as much as they adored American blues, they simply weren’t doing any business in the US. For years, Fleetwood Mac’s biggest American hit wasn’t even their own. It was Santana’s rippling 1970 cover of “Black Magic Woman,” a Fleetwood Mac song that Peter Green had written a couple of years earlier. (Santana’s “Black Magic Woman” peaked at #4. It’s a 9.)

After their initial UK run, Fleetwood Mac exploded again and again. Peter Green got himself badly fried on acid, left the band, and spent much of the ’70s getting shock treatment in psychiatric hospitals. Jeremy Spencer, the other original guitarist, disappeared mid-tour; his bandmates learned that he’d run off to join the Children Of God cult. (Girls frontman Christopher Owens, who grew up in the cult, got his first guitar from Spencer.) Fleetwood Mac’s lineup kept shifting for years. For a while, the band’s manager, insisting that he owned the rights to the Fleetwood Mac name (even though the band was named after Mick Fleetwood and John McVie), put together a fake version of Fleetwood Mac and sent it out on the road.

In 1974, figuring that they were being ignored by their record label, Fleetwood Mac moved to Los Angeles. While checking out LA’s Sound City studios, the band heard a tape from Lindsey Buckingham, who had put out an album with Stevie Nicks a year earlier. Soon enough, Fleetwood Mac invited Buckingham to join, and he brought Nicks along. In 1975, the new Fleetwood Mac lineup released a self-titled album that reflected the influence of Buckingham and Nicks, swapping out that old serrated blues rock for a lush, crystalline California-pop sound. The LP was huge, topping the American album chart and coming in at #2 (behind Frampton Comes Alive) on Billboard‘s year-end chart. Two different singles, “Rhiannon” and “Say You Love Me,” peaked at #11. Fleetwood Mac weren’t really any less turbulent, but at least they’d found a lineup and a sound that worked for them.

And then Rumours. It’s truly a remarkable album, petty and spiteful but also gorgeous and hooky and magnificently recorded. The ongoing soap opera of the band was clearly part of the appeal. These songs, written by different members of the band, dug deep into the different ways you might feel while caught in the midst of a particularly shitty breakup. Buckingham wrote lead single “Go Your Own Way” as a passive-aggressive message to Nicks: “Loving you isn’t the right thing to do/ How can I ever change things that I feel?” The song became Fleetwood Mac’s first top-10 American hit, peaking at #10. (It’s a 9.) Nicks hated it.

Nicks wrote “Dreams,” the second single, and it’s basically her shot back at Buckingham. When the rest of the band was getting deep into the technical-setup stuff at the Sound City studios, Nicks would get bored and go off on her own. She’d hang out in Sly Stone’s old studio, part of the compound. It had a huge bed and velvet drapes, and she’d bring her Fender Rhodes. She says she wrote “Dreams” in 10 minutes.

“Dreams” is a song with a fairly simple message, and that message goes something like this: You’re leaving? Fine. Leave. Fuck you. Stevie Nicks being Stevie Nicks, it comes out differently. Nicks sings of crystal visions, cleansing rains, telltale heartbeats. Still, it’s pretty direct, as Stevie Nicks songs go. Her opening lines are unmistakably bitter: “Now here you go again, you say you want your freedom/ Well, who am I to keep you down?” And she comforts herself by imagining his future regret: “The stillness of remembering what you had and what you lost and what you had and what you lost.”

Musically, “Dreams” is magical-space pop music. Nicks’ voice is a luxuriant gothic rasp, and she twists and twirls through the track in ways that feel both mysterious and flirty. Behind her, harmonies well up like ghosts rising from a swamp. (It’s crazy to think that Lindsey Buckingham had to sing harmonies on lyrics about what an asshole he was, but then, he made Stevie Nicks do the same thing.) The textures are rich and cinematic, and the instruments intertwine quietly. Guitars and keyboards murmur softly to each other, but because they’re recorded so cleanly and precisely, they still sound huge. It’s easy enough to hear why Fleetwood Mac’s albums sold better than their singles. This music doesn’t always jump out on the radio, but when it hits you right, you want to collapse into it.

Nicks wrote “Dreams” to a drum-machine preset, and she’s called it “something with a dance beat.” That’s a hidden strength of “Dreams” and of a lot of Rumours. It’s not a disco record in any way, and yet there’s still a strong, focused, vaguely mechanistic pulse underneath everything. Fleetwood Mac’s namesakes and only remaining original members were the guys in the rhythm section, and they made sure to keep the drums and the bass up front in the mix. John McVie’s bassline is subtle, but it’s crucial to keeping a song like this anchored. Mick Fleetwood’s cymbal crashes just shiver. A 2018 Twitter meme proved conclusively that you could, if you wanted, dance really hard to “Dreams”:

So “Dreams” is a lot of things. It’s a heady swirl. It’s a sweeping, theatrical production. It’s an episode of a soap opera. It’s at least a tiny bit of a dance song. And it’s a warm, welcoming blockbuster. Fleetwood Mac aired out their very serious intra-band personal problems, and they invited the world to join them by translating those problems into compulsively listenable pop music. That’s a hell of a trick.

Stevie Nicks would remain one of the great pop-music explorers of the sublime. She might be an even bigger star outside Fleetwood Mac than she is in it. Nicks launched her solo career four years after Rumours. Her highest-charting non-Mac single, the 1981 Tom Petty duet “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” peaked at #3. It’s a 9. (I don’t know how “Edge Of Seventeen” only made it to #11, but it’ll eventually appear in this column in sampled form.)

Nicks isn’t the only Fleetwood Mac member with a successful solo run. In 1981, Lindsey Buckingham peaked at #9 with his own solo single “Trouble.” (It’s a 7.) Christie McVie got to #10 with the 1984 solo single “Got A Hold On Me.” (It’s another 7.)

As for Fleetwood Mac, they’ve remained an ongoing concern for decades, and they kept charting long after “Dreams.” They’ve never gotten another #1 single, but they were a pop-chart presence for the next decade. (1987’s “Little Lies,” their most recent top-10 single, peaked at #4. It’s an 8.) And they remained gloriously messy, with members leaving the band, coming back, and then leaving again. Just last year, they fired Lindsey Buckingham. Fired him! Lindsey Buckingham! In 2018! Amazing.

GRADE: 10/10

BONUS BEATS: “Dreams” has had a long dance-music shelf life. In 1998, for instance, the Corrs, the vaguely folkish Irish pop group, had a #6 UK hit when the New York house producer Todd Terry remixed their cover of “Dreams.” Here’s that version:

(The Corrs never had a top-10 hit in the US. But Todd Terry’s remix of Everything But The Girl’s “Missing” peaked at #2 in 1994. It’s a 9.)

BONUS BONUS BEATS: The DC house duo Deep Dish covered “Dreams” in 2005 and brought in Stevie Nicks to sing on it. Here’s their version:

BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s Post Malone’s 2016 mixtape track “Hollywood Dreams Come Down,” which is built on a “Dreams” sample and which finds Posty sing-rapping about bumping Fleetwood:

(Post Malone will appear in this column more than once. This is also probably a pretty good place to note that the best Fleetwood Mac rap reference was when Lil Flip said he was in a Fleetwood ‘Lac bumping Fleetwood Mac.)

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