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Date: 11/09/13

Fleetwood Mac - "The Chain" (1976)

It's one of the great clichés of The Arts™ that great work can come out of personal suffering.

I remember that - at the time that it came out - I didn't really have much time for Fleetwood Mac's Rumours LP. It was, for my tastes at the time, too conventional, too West Coast, too...American (although three-fifths of the band were English).

I also disliked it for its ubiquity on just about every music radio programme I listened to - something which was hardly the fault of the record or its creators. But it was probably that 'heavy rotation' which meant that some of the songs earwormed their way into my memory, where they have remained to today.

Time enables a more kindly assessment, and it has to be said that Rumours has earned its 'classic' status; one all the more remarkable bearing in mind the conflicts and upheaval which were in the background - or, more frequently foreground - of its making.

For in 1976, Fleetwood Mac were on the verge of a big breakthrough which would justify the decision of John and Christine McVie and Mick Fleetwood to relocate to the US a few years before. However, in terms of the private lives of the trio and recent American additions Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, the band was in disarray: drink and drugs were involved, as was de rigeur for a band based in California at that time; but the McVies were in the process of divorcing one another, and Buckingham and Nicks' on/off relationship was set firmly to 'off', with Nicks finding solace in Fleetwood's bed. In short: that anything worthwhile came out of the period could be counted as something of a miracle; but it did. It most emphatically did.

Just to concentrate on the track in hand for now: The Chain originated with a John McVie/Fleetwood jam featuring a distinctive progression on fretless bass. Nicks had - independently - written some lyrics which she thought would match, and she and Christine McVie reworked them to create the first section of the song, with Buckingham adding elements of a song he and Nicks had recorded on their joint LP of three years before. The bass progression formed the introduction of the final section, speeding up the piece into the fully-fledged rock out - with Buckingham's emphatic guitar lines - which closes out the track.

This curious synthesis of parts and styles worked quite remarkably well, and was one of the standout tracks on Rumours (it opened Side Two). And of course it gained enormous traction from the extended coda (based on the original McVie/Fleetwood jam) being used week after week as the theme to BBC Television's coverage of Formula 1 motor racing.

It still sounds good and strong nearly forty years (sheesh!) on. So enjoy:

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(For my Yale classmate Dave Tierney, wherever he may be)