Some songs can take years to perfect, whereas others flow out in a stream of consciousness not dissimilar to creative vomit. Famous examples of the latter include R.E.M. penning ‘Losing My Religion’ in a matter of minutes, The White Stripes creating ‘Seven Nation Army’ during soundcheck, and, likewise, Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks only needed ten minutes to write ‘Dreams’.
The Rumours track was written during a time when Fleetwood Mac couldn’t be further apart in their personal lives. Nicks’ relationship with Lindsay Buckingham was falling apart before her very eyes. Meanwhile, John and Christine McVie were also on the rocks. To complete the chain of heartbreak, Mick Fleetwood was also going through divorce procedures during this juncture.
This period was a devastating time for everybody in the band which was worsened by their penchant for cocaine, but it gave the world a seminal album. Nicks and Buckingham took turns to address the break-up from their perspective, with her writing the spite-filled ‘Dreams’ while he took aim on ‘Go Your Own Way’.
The group had a day off from the studio when Nicks wrote the song, and it likely helped her creative process that she wasn’t in the company of Buckingham. In the comfort of her bed, surrounded by nobody, Nicks wrote a classic, and it only took her ten minutes to do so.
“I sat down on the bed with my keyboard in front of me, found a drum pattern, switched my little cassette player on, and wrote ‘Dreams’ in about ten minutes,” Nicks once told Rolling Stone. “Right away I liked the fact that I was doing something with a dance beat, because that made it a little unusual for me.”
Delving into more detail about the day she wrote the song, Nicks talked to the Daily Mail about the nerve-wracking moment she first brought ‘Dreams’ to Lindsay Buckingham. She recalled: “I remember the night I wrote ‘Dreams.’ I walked in and handed a cassette of the song to Lindsey. It was a rough take, just me singing solo and playing piano.
“Even though he was mad with me at the time, Lindsey played it and then looked up at me and smiled. What was going on between us was sad. We were couples who couldn’t make it through. But, as musicians, we still respected each other – and we got some brilliant songs out of it.”
Buckingham later discussed that same moment, and although the song was about him, he needed to put his professional head on to improve ‘Dreams’. In a conversation with Nile Rodgers, he said: “It comes at a price sometimes, you know? It comes at the price of having your defences come up, and sometimes over a period of time, it’s hard to get those down.”
Although the song was born out of Nicks’ heartbreak, something good did come out of the instance, and ‘Dreams’ remains Fleetwood Mac’s only number one single in the United States.