Sunday, August 28, 2011

Masterpieces of Pop: "Dreams"

In 1977, you couldn’t get away from Fleetwood Mac’s spectacular album “Rumors.” One heard it everywhere, it seemed that nearly every song from the album became a single (not true, but it felt that way), and everyone owned a copy of this insanely popular record. But the most popular and best selling song—not only from “Rumors” but from Fleetwood Mac’s entire career—was the languid, smooth “Dreams.”


Written by band member Stevie Nicks in a ten minute impromptu solo song-writing session, the original demo was simple, and even “boring” as described by fellow band mate Christine McVie. Nicks gave the song to the band’s guitarist and in-progress-ex-boyfriend Lindsay Buckingham who turned it into something very special. Buckingham had and continues to have an uncanny knack for arranging and creating songs with unique landscapes. And the sound of “Rumors” and in particular, “Dreams” really tapped into something in the popular culture of that moment. I can’t exaggerate how omnipresent and important this song and album were at the time.

Lyrically, “Dreams” is a metaphor-laden, fantastical exploration of interpersonal feelings. The tone of this highly poetic narrative seems idyllic but also full of resignation and a world-weary melancholy. This is even more apparent when one understands what was happening within the band. During the period of recording “Rumors,” every relationship was dissolving. Keyboardist Christine McVie and bass player John McVie were divorcing after nine years of marriage. Drummer Mick Fleetwood was ending his marriage to his wife who was not a member of the band. And Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were ending their eight year relationship. The emotional turmoil that was roiling around the band was palpable as couples would no longer speak to one another except to work on songs. Naturally, this kind of break-up sorrow and anger made its way directly into the lyrical content of “Rumors.” After Nicks wrote “Dreams,” Buckingham responded with a musical message of his own: “Go Your Own Way.” But despite the fact that these five musicians were working out their relationship troubles, they set personal feelings aside when it came to the music and rallied around the songs, and “Rumors” ended up being a remarkably cohesive and powerful artistic statement.


This is largely due to Buckingham’s arranging powers. He directed and steered the course of the production of “Rumors” (as he did with their amazing follow-up double album “Tusk,” which was an artistic triumph but a commercial failure). The sound of the whole album, as well as “Dreams,” is akin to the California soft-rock genre of the time. But Buckingham managed somehow to truly capture it, creating one of those musical works that define an era. His guitar work on “Dreams” is nothing short of stunning (unlike most guitarists, Buckingham does not use a pick but his fingernails and fingers instead). It is restrained and haunting, producing a texture that can only be described as perfect for the song. Fleetwood’s drumming gives the song a swinging, laid-back and slightly jazzy feel. John McVie’s bass shows similar restraint, pacing the song with an effortless feel. And Christine McVie’s keyboards and lovely gauzy vocals add the perfect touch. Backing vocal duties were shared by Buckingham, McVie and Nicks, and the harmonic blend is mellifluous and so satisfying. But of course Nicks is the star of the song, with her sweet, plaintive voice (this was before she ruined it on the Tusk Tour and with years of drug use).

Listen to how the gentle, philosophical lyrics support and blend with the easy sound of the song.

"Now here you go again
You say you want your freedom
Well who am I to keep you down
It's only right that you should play it the way that you feel it
But listen carefully to the sound of your loneliness
Like a heartbeat, drives you mad
In the stillness of remembering
What you had, and what you lost
what you had, and what you lost

Thunder only happens when it's raining
Players only love you when they're playing
They say, women, they will come and they will go
When the rain washes you clean you'll know
You'll know

Now here I go again, I see the crystal vision
I keep my visions to myself
It's only me who wants to wrap around your dreams and
Have you any dreams you'd like to sell,
Dreams of loneliness, like a heartbeat drives you mad
In the stillness of remembering
What you had, And what you lost
What you had, oh what you lost

Thunder only happens when it's raining
Players only love you when they're playing
They say, women, they will come and they will go
When the rain washes you clean you'll know

Oh thunder only happens when it's raining
Players only love you when they're playing
They say, women, they will come and they will go
When the rain washes you clean you'll know
You'll know
You will know
Ooh ooh ooh, you'll know"


video

http://www.fleetwoodmac.com/


This is the seventh installment of my original, ongoing "Masterpieces of Pop" series. You can read the other essays here:

Masterpieces of Pop: "Ode To Billie Joe"
Masterpieces of Pop: "Rikki Don't Lose That Number"
Masterpieces of Pop: "I Only Have Eyes For You"
Masterpieces of Pop: "I'm Not In Love"
Masterpieces of Pop: "Warm Leatherette" and "Cars"
Masterpieces of Pop: “Family Affair”

No comments: