The recording of Fleetwood Mac’s eleventh studio album, Rumours, was the stuff usually found only in the movies. During the production process for the album, there were complicated heartbreaks and affairs amongst the five band members. Additionally, an outrageous amount of cocaine and money fueled the band’s creativity, and the music itself is widely considered to be the band’s magnum opus. Rumours, consequently, is an album unlike any other. (The album also beat out Hotel California by the Eagles, Star Wars by John Williams, JT by James Taylor, and Aja by Steely Dan for the Album of the Year Grammy Award in 1977.)
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Clearly, there’s a lot to unpack here. But to make things more digestible, we’re just going to start by taking a look at the album’s first impression: the album cover. Read below for the story behind the famous Rumours album cover by Fleetwood Mac.
Mick Fleetwood and Stevie Nicks
Similar to the band’s self-titled album released just two years before, Rumours features only two members of the band—drummer and de facto leader of the band, Mick Fleetwood, and vocalist Stevie Nicks. Both artists appear to be in stage costume and Nicks is embracing her “Rhiannon” character who is, as Nicks describes, “an old Welsh witch.” Nicks wrote “Rhiannon” after reading the novel Triad by Mary Bartlet Leader, in which a witch named Rhiannon possesses another character. Fleetwood, for his part, is standing rather stoically while holding Nicks’ hand and supporting her leg. It’s as if Fleetwood is attempting to remain untouched by Nicks/Rhiannon’s charms. (Spoiler: That didn’t work for long; Fleetwood and Nicks entered into a chaotic love affair soon after Rumours was released.)
Now to get to the part that everyone wonders about but might be a little too embarrassed to ask. Yes, Fleetwood is sporting two wooden, dangling balls, and no, the crass allusion is not lost on us. However, those balls are actually pieces of “lavatory chains” that Fleetwood ripped from a toilet earlier in his career.
“In truth, I started off as a blues player. The whole ethic of a lot of blues music is slightly suggestive, might I say. And suitably, I walked out on stage with these two lavatory chains with these wooden balls hanging down, and after that, it just stuck,” Fleetwood said. The wooden balls became a perverse good luck token of sorts for Fleetwood, and they became a constant companion to his drum kit in subsequent performances.
And, if you look closely, there is one other ball in the photo. Nicks is holding a crystal ball in her outstretched arm. Perhaps it’s another prop for her witchy Rhiannon, or a reference to the crystal vision in “Dreams,” or more allusive still, perhaps she’s just looking for a way out of the Rumours era.
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Nicks is not holding the crystal ball, Fleetwood is. And he’s not holding her hand, both her hands are behind her.