This is the 57th post in a weekly series. Read about it here and see the list of previous songs here. A new post about a different song is posted each Monday. You can listen to the songs in a Spotify playlist.
By the time Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham appeared on Fleetwood Mac’s eponymous album in 1975, the band had already released nine previous albums, including the band’s eponymous first album in 1968. But the addition of Nicks and Buckingham – as well as the 1974 departure of Bob Welch – had changed the dynamics of the band. The previously blues-driven band had a more poppy sound, and on the strength of singles like “Rhiannon” and “Say You Love Me,” the album spent more than a year on the Billboard 200. It peaked at Number 1.
In 1976, the band – comprising Nicks, Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, and Christine McVie – began working on new tracks for a follow-up album. It wasn’t a smooth process, in large part because everyone was breaking up: Mick Fleetwood was getting divorced, John and Christine McVie were in the middle of separating, and Nicks and Buckingham were ending their longtime relationship. As Buckingham told Blender magazine, “We had to go through this elaborate exercise of denial, keeping our personal feelings in one corner of the room while trying to be professional in the other.”
As such, the songs on the album that would eventually become “Rumours” — which turns 40 later this week — were especially introspective. One of the biggest hits on the album was a song Nicks wrote in early 1976 at the Record Plant studio in Sausalito, California. She said:
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. Right away I liked the fact that I was doing something with a dance beat, because that made it a little unusual for me.
When she shared it with the rest of the band members, they were underwhelmed. Christine McVie thought it was “boring” 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.”
Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” was released at the beginning of February in 1977, and that summer “Dreams” reached Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Likewise, it reached Number 1 in Canada. In the UK, “Dreams” peaked at Number 24.
Lyrically, the song reflected the emotions one might expect any (or all) of the members of Fleetwood Mac to have felt during a period of multiple breakups:
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 the way 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, and what you had, and what you lost
Thunder only happens when it’s raining
Players only love you when they’re playing
Say women they will come and they will go
When the rain washes you clean, you’ll know, you’ll know
The band members’ breakups – particularly Nicks’ and Buckingham’s – gives the song a certain context. It’s easy to see how it could apply to any of the couples in the band, but the lyrics were broad enough that depending on the vocalist and the arrangement, the song could take on many different tones.
Folk/soul singer Richie Havens recorded a cover of “Dreams” for his 1980 album, “Connections.” Among the many changes from the original – the backup singers, the slightly different arrangement, Havens’ vocal style – the difference that stood out the most was the drumbeat. Mick Fleetwood’s flourishes, however subtle, were key to the original from the opening notes. The drums in Havens’ version seemed quiet in comparison.
Soul singer Melba Moore covered “Dreams” for her 1985 album, “Read My Lips.” It kept much of the same arrangement as the Fleetwood Mac original, though it was updated to have a smooth, “easy listening” sound. The result was cheesy, airy synths, with equally cheesy saxophone parts.
Letters To Cleo’s cover of “Dreams” first appeared on the 1995 compilation, “Spirit of ’73: Rock for Choice,” which also included a version of “Cherry Bomb” by L7 and Joan Jett. There’s nothing earth-shattering about Letters To Cleo’s version, which sounded as one would expect it to: Kay Hanley sounded like Kay Hanley, singing over distorted guitars. Which was fine for this particular longtime Letters To Cleo fan, who has loved the band (and Hanley) for more than two decades. Letters To Cleo’s “Dreams” later appeared on the band’s 1998 compilation, “Sister.”
Also in 1995, record producer and DJ Paul Oakenfold covered “Dreams” under the alias Wild Colour. This dance version — decidedly house, ’90s, and European — took Nicks’ melancholy lyrics and made them sound not just joyous, but celebratory. Even the line “players only love you when they’re playing” managed to sound upbeat and positive.
British girl group Eternal included a cover of “Dreams” on its single for “Angel of Mine.” Featuring Grand Puba and Sadat X and laid over a completely different background track, the version by Eternal recast “Dreams” as an infectious R&B jam with a rap interlude delivered as a response to the lyrics of the original.
Irish sibling band The Corrs covered “Dreams” for “Legacy: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours,” a compilation of covers marking the album’s 20th anniversary. A remix of the song by DJ Todd Terry was released as a single, peaking at Number 6 in both Ireland and the UK. It was slightly dance-y, with enough flourishes to ground it in the band’s Irish aesthetic.
In 2005, Nicks recorded new vocals for a remake by electronic duo Deep Dish. This dance version of “Dreams” added drum machines and airy synths while retaining the melancholy sound of the original. It peaked at Number 26 on the Hot Dance Club Play chart in the US, and also charted in Finland, the UK, the Netherlands, Ireland, Australia, Italy, and Belgium. The track appeared on Deep Dish’s album “George Is On” and on Nicks’ 2007 compilation, “Crystal Visions… The Very Best of Stevie Nicks.”
In past posts, I’ve questioned whether remakes that feature people who participated in the original recording should be considered covers. This Deep Dish version raises that same question, and I’m inclined to say that because it features Nicks in the same role she had in the original version, this cannot be considered a cover. Even though this song was billed as Deep Dish and Nicks was simply “featured,” Nicks was the centerpiece. But if she had simply sung backup — as Terry Hall did on Nouvelle Vague’s “Our Lips Are Sealed” or as Kirsty MacColl did on Tracey Ullman’s “They Don’t Know” — then this Deep Dish version could be a cover. As it is, though, I’ll call it an alternate version or a remake.
Jamaican reggae act Black Shakespeare recorded a down-tempo version of “Dreams” for the 2006 compilation, “Rewind! 5.” As for as reggae covers go, this was rather subtle and muted, as it felt bare and stripped down, driven mostly be light percussion.
“Dreams” was remade as a dance song performed in the style of chanting monks for Gregorian’s 2007 album, “Masters of Chant Chapter VI.” It was as if a handful of trends from the mid-’90s were mixed together on one track.
Indie band The Morning Benders recorded a stripped down acoustic version of “Dreams” for “The Bedroom Covers” in 2008. The bare instrumentation on this track allowed the vocals to be the centerpiece. The way it was recorded, the singer sounded like he was across the room, and making him sound even more relatable.
The 2012 compilation “Just Tell Me That You Want Me: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac” featured covers from several artists, including Marianne Faithfull, MGMT, Best Coast, Washed Out, Lykke Li, Tame Impala, and The New Pornographers. The Kills turned “Dreams” into a foggy, visceral experience, marked by erratic drums and guitars that seemed to come in and out throughout the track.
Later that year, another compilation was released: “Rumours Revisited: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac’s Classic 1977 Album.” Pure Bathing Culture contributed a version of “Dreams” that slowed down the tempo and replaced much of the instrumentation with airy, ethereal keyboards.
Singer Gabrielle Aplin teamed up with Bastille for a version of “Dreams” that appeared both on Bastille’s 2012 album “Other People’s Heartache, Pt. II” and Aplin’s 2013 EP, “Panic Cord.” The slowed down version included harmonies and everyone got a turn to sing, but Aplin was the standout here with her impressive vocal range.
Psychedelic soul band The Electric Peanut Butter Company covered “Dreams” for its 2013 album, “Trans-Atlantic Psych Classics Vol. 2.” The group successfully made the song sound as it would have had it been recorded in the late ’60s or early ’70s, all while keeping the same vibe of the original by Fleetwood Mac.
That same year, soul singer Res released “Refried Mac,” an EP of four Fleetwood Mac covers and a cover of Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen.” Res’ version of “Dreams” was so bare in parts that it felt like it could be a cappella. It was a soft and tender interpretation, though it was maybe the least dynamic track on the EP. Which is not to say it was bad; the covers on “Refried Mac” were just that good.
Actress Leighton Meester, best known as Blair Waldorf from the TV show “Gossip Girl,” is also a musician, having recorded a version of “Bette Davis Eyes” I reviewed last year. She and musician Dana Williams recorded a video themselves playing an intimate, acoustic version. It was faithful to the original, but it was a beautiful moment to watch these two women sing this song. These were not just talented musicians, but fangirls playing a song they both clearly loved.
As I noted at the beginning of this post, “Rumours” turns 40 later this week. As we reflect on its legacy, it’s hard not to single out “Dreams” as one of the most important songs on the album, if not the most important. According to SecondHandSongs, “Dreams” is not Fleetwood Mac’s most covered song; that’s an honor that goes to “Landslide,” from the aforementioned eponymous album from 1975. But “Dreams” seems to have more covers than any other track from “Rumours.”
The instability within the band at that time might have been the impetus for “Dreams,” but the song’s power has lasted long past that animosity and sadness. And that’s because Nicks, though she might have been drawing on her own experiences, was able to tap into a universal feeling that permeates all relationships as they fall apart. Her lyrics — and the chords Buckingham arranged to serve them — still work years later, whether performed as an acoustic track, a dance track, or even a Gregorian chant, weirdly enough.