‘Dreams’ is one of Fleetwood Mac’s biggest and most loved songs. Its inter-generational appeal has recently been affirmed in the viral TikTok involving skateboarder Nathan Apodaca, Ocean Spray cranberry juice, and Mick Fleetwood’s video response. The musicianship and the meaning of the song has touched fans worldwide since its release in March 1977.
Consequently, it is a mainstay of their live act, and a major talking point of their extensive back catalogue. The album from which it comes, Rumours, is their best-selling and is regarded by many as their masterpiece, a record that is etched into the annals of rock and roll history.
In 1975, Fleetwood Mac released their eponymous tenth album, to enormous commercial and critical success, reaching number one in America in 1976. Simultaneous to the huge success though, the band were enduring inner turmoil and heartbreak, themes that would dominate the soon to be even more iconic follow-up. Rumours then became one of rock’s most infamous soap-operas.
After being together just shy of a decade, frontwoman Stevie Nicks and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham’s relationship had burned out. Furthermore, the McVie’s had started divorce proceedings, Christine, the vocalist and pianist, and John the bassist. Mick Fleetwood couldn’t escape the heartache either, as his marriage to Jenny Boyd fell apart, all whilst gregariously acting as love counsellor to both couples.
In the landmark 1977 Rolling Stone cover story, Christine McVie told the legendary Cameron Crowe: “Somehow Mick was there, the figurehead – ‘We must carry on, let’s be mature about this, sort it out.’”
Later, in 2003, Fleetwood weighed in, telling Uncut: “By the time we got to Rumours, the emotional roller coaster was in full motion and we were all in a ditch. Everybody knew everything about everybody and I was definitely piggy-in-the-middle. My best friend was also having an affair with my wife and it was all weird and twisted. It was a total mess and that’s how we made the album.”
This momentous juncture in the band’s history, with pain consuming their personal lives, clearly had a great artistic effect on the band. Nicks penned ‘Dreams’ in response to the breakdown of her relationship. She remained as philosophical as possible about the break-up, attempting to present a slither of hope in the lyrics. In contrast, Buckingham’s response to the situation was to write the classic ‘Go Your Own Way‘.
Understandably, this provoked a response from Nicks. She told Q the line: “Packing up, shacking up, it’s all you wanna do” really caused offence, as did Buckingham’s general attitude to the situation “It was the fairy and the gnome. I was trying to be all philosophical. And he was just mad,” she said. Speaking to Blender about the writing process of ‘Dreams’, Nicks recounts: “One day when I wasn’t required in the main studio. 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.”
Nicks returned to the band’s studio, the Record Plant, in Sausalito, California. “I walked in and handed a cassette of the song to Lindsey,” she told the Mail. “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.”
Adding: “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.”
‘Dreams’ is such a personal song, and the lines: “Players only love you when they’re playing” and “you say you want your freedom, well, who am I to keep you down,” clearly had one intended destination, naturally making the rest of the band uncomfortable. “They weren’t nuts about it. But I said ‘Please! Please record this song, at least try it’.” In fact, at first, Christine McVie wouldn’t be convinced, criticising the musical composition, denouncing it as “boring”. Regardless, the band pushed on with the recording, culminating in the classic we know and love today.
Nicks describes the writing process as fairly straightforward, but given the interpersonal state of the band, the lyrical themes are unsurprisingly more complex. The iconic frontwoman uses highly emotive language, drenched in pathos. Discussing love, loss, and by stereotyping thunder and rain, she paints a grey image of her personal, and band’s collective mental state. Ordinarily, in conjunction with the slow, moody slide guitar, and the solemn groove of the classic McVie bass line, the meaning of the lyrics are taken at face value.
However, the isolated vocals only convey Nicks’ sadness and confusion further, allowing the listener to forensically understand the emotional turmoil that engulfed the band at the time. The harmonised isolated vocals are hauntingly beautiful and have an ethereal, almost gothic quality, not far away from Cocteau Twins’ Liz Fraser.
On the other hand, the isolated vocals succeed in presenting that slither of hope that Nicks hoped to convey. The juxtaposition of emotions within her voice is made clear, and behind the immediate sadness, in the almost biblical imagery invoked by “when the rain washes you clean, you’ll know”, the hope for the future is laid out.
It is there to be heard loud and clear, accepting the perpetually revolving doors of love and life, making ‘Dreams’ an ode to life’s cyclical nature, noting that light does follow dark. If we cast our minds back, this is exemplified in the happiness of Apodaca skateboarding to the song, and the love that video received.
Listen to Nicks’ isolated vocals for ‘Dreams’ below.