Behind the Song: Fleetwood Mac, “Rhiannon”


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Written by Stevie Nicks

Halloween begs for the mystical.  It requires a connection, to forces beyond the customary costume parties and cauldron punch bowls.  No one knows that better than Fleetwood Mac’s own witchy woman, Stevie Nicks.  Born Stephanie Lynn Nicks in Phoenix, Arizona during 1948, Nicks grew up influenced by her mother, father, and grandfather. Her grandfather, A.J. Nicks, was heavily involved in country music, introducing its sound to Stevie at an early age. On the other hand, her mother, remained protective of Stevie for the duration of her childhood, keeping her at home and fostering Stevie’s love of fairy tales and the mystical. 

One of Nicks’ most mystical songs, “Rhiannon,” came to her right around the Halloween of 1974.  About two months prior to joining Fleetwood Mac, Nicks stumbled across the enchanting name of her title character while reading Triad: A Novel of the Supernatural by Mary Leader.  The novel itself, being about a woman with divided personalities, presented Rhiannon as the darker, hidden version of the main character.  Enchanted by the beauty of the name, Stevie Nicks began to write.  Ten minutes later, Rhiannon had come to life.  In a 1979 interview with Rolling Stone Nicks described just how real Rhiannon had become, “She is some sort of reality.  If I didn’t know she was a mythical character, I would think she lived down the street.”  

The song itself has two different tones divided between the verses and the chorus.  Each verse directly refers to Rhiannon herself and presents a sultry and mysterious timbre.  As soon as the chorus begins though, both the tone and the lyrics turn to the listener of the song, declaring: “All your life you’ve never seen a woman taken by the wind/ Would you stay if she promised to you heaven?/ Will you ever win?”  By  focusing on the listener, Nicks weaves the unyielding effect that Rhiannon has on those around her, making her character even more haunting.

After writing the lyrics and basic melody to the song, Nicks handed the accompaniment over to the rest of the band in hopes that they could provide the appropriate mood for her mysterious character.  When asked about the vibe that Rhiannon inspires Nicks said, “[…] when you feel like you see a seagull and she’s, she’s like lifting up.  Well that’s, that’s Rhiannon” (Jim Ladd, “Innerview,” 1976). 

Shortly after writing her hit mystical song, Nicks discovered the Welsh mythology behind Rhiannon, further allowing her to connect on a spiritual level the magical character.  In the myth, Queen Rhiannon rejects a god in favor of a mortal man.  The god seeks revenge by framing Rhiannon for the murder of her child, then forcing her to stand outside of the city gates to confess her crimes to all who pass.  Nicks later told Mojo magazine that she didn’t know the mythological story when writing the lyrics insisting, “But my story was definitely written about a celestial being, I didn’t know who Rhiannon was, exactly, but I knew she was not of this world” (2013). 

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