The Story Behind The Song: Fleetwood Mac’s bittersweet belter ‘Dreams’
If there has been one bright moment in the dumpster fire of a year that is 2020, it was the video of Doggface208 (real name Nathan Apodaca) singing Fleetwood Mac’s ethereal soft rock masterclass ‘Dreams’ while skateboarding and drinking Ocean Spray cranberry juice. In fact, ever since then, things are starting to look up. So while the video of Apodaca skateboarding — and the subsequent video Mick Fleetwod replied with — was certainly a moment of pure joyful escapism, we think it may have been a lot to do with Stevie Nicks’ classic song.
The song has now become a beacon of laidback self-reflection and letting the little things go, however the track was originally composed during one of the most tumultuous moments of Fleetwood Mac’s and Stevie Nicks’ career. Written for the band’s seminal album Rumours, at the time of recording, the band couldn’t have been further apart in their personal relationships. The two couples of the group, John and Christine McVie as well as Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, were both crumbling before their very eyes while Mick Fleetwood was also going through a divorce himself. Things at Camp Fleetwood were far from good.
This holistic heartbreak coupled with the group’s insatiable appetite for cocaine meant that the recording process would go down as one of the most dysfunctional in rock and roll folklore. It makes the parallel tone of the record feel all the more amazing as the group wrap the dark truth in a warm sonic duvet. Two examples of classic rock sugar-coating a rather bitter pill can be heard in Lindsey Buckingham’s iconic tune ‘Go Your Own Way’, aimed squarely at Nicks and, of course, her barbed reply ‘Dreams’.
The track arrived much like any other Stevie Nicks song, with a bit of time to herself, “One day when I wasn’t required in the main studio,” Nicks told Blender magazine, “I took a Fender Rhodes piano and went into another studio that was said to belong to Sly Stone, of Sly and the Family Stone.
“It was a black-and-red room, with a sunken pit in the middle where there was a piano, and a big black-velvet bed with Victorian drapes. I sat down on the bed with my keyboard in front of me. I found a drum pattern, switched my little cassette player on and wrote ‘Dreams’ in about 10 minutes,” confirmed Nicks, likely breaking the hearts of struggling songwriters everywhere.
“Right away I liked the fact that I was doing something with a dance beat, because that made it a little unusual for me.” It was clear that this song was about Nicks moving on from her troubled relationship with Buckingham. His song, ‘Go Your Own Way’ had provoked a strong reaction from Nicks, who had taken particular offence at the line “packing up, shacking up, it’s all you wanna do,” she later told Q magazine: “It was the fairy and the gnome. I was trying to be all philosophical. And he was just mad.”
Personal relationships aside, the band still needed to deliver a set of songs for the new album and that meant eventually all of the group’s personal moments would be shared at one point or another. “I remember the night I wrote ‘Dreams.’ I walked in and handed a cassette of the song to Lindsey,” recalled Nicks to Daily Mail, clearly preferring to rip the bandaid. “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.”
With Nicks sharing such a personal song, with the line “players only love you when they’re playing,” aimed squarely at Buckingham, there was naturally trepidation from the rest of the band. “They weren’t nuts about it. But I said ‘Please! Please record this song, at least try it’. Because the way I play things sometimes… you really have to listen.” In fact, Christine McVie wouldn’t be convinced at first.
McVie, who was also struggling with inter-band relationship issues, said the song was “just three chords and one note in the left hand” and labelled it “boring.” In a strange course of events, it would actually be the track’s subject who would help Nicks get the song on to the album. It wasn’t until Buckingham “fashioned three sections out of identical chords, making each section sound completely different. He created the impression that there’s a thread running through the whole thing.”
The track has become one of the most well-known of the group’s impressive catalogue. It’s also one of Mick Fleetwood’s favourites. When asked to pick his favourite songs from the band he said: “Dreams is a given. I think it’s the most famous song that Stevie ever wrote. The intro, I think is one of those stupidly simple things that came from the drummer who played with Al Green and The Staple Singers, so it’s from my love of what I call ‘greasy music.’ It has a real feel, and it’s lazy, behind the beat – stupidly simple but well-thought-out.
“The tempo of the song, I’ve been finding out, is something that really appeals to drummers, so I take that as a compliment. It’s something I took from great players who I love so much: Keep it greasy and stay in the slot. Gotta be in the slot!”
‘Dreams’ has now begun to become an anthem for hope. As the tide turns on a terrible year, and world events once again feel close to achieving some kind of parity, the Fleetwood Mac song can arguably be heard as a zeitgeist moment of the year.
Yes, scratch underneath it all, unpick the threads that tie this tapestry together, and things are still looking bleak, still filled with turmoil and potential for apocalyptic worry. But, and it’s a big ‘but’, if you coat the bitter pill of reality, personal or global, in ethereal soft rock sunshine, jump on your skateboard and chug some cranberry juice, with ‘Dreams’ you can escape reality for just a moment or two.