Fleetwood Mac: ‘The Chain’ is a Mishmash of Musical Fragments Written by Various Band Members
Even though Fleetwood Mac started releasing albums in 1968, they didn’t get their first No. 1 album until 1975, with Fleetwood Mac. It was partially due to the fact that they’d recently acquired two great songwriters, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. They released their crowning jewel, two-time Diamond certified album, Rumours, a year later. One of the biggest hits on the record, “The Chain,” turned out to be a musical representation of themselves.
Just as they were a motley crew linked together, the song is made up of many different musical fragments that came together from each of them. No matter what, the members and their music were linked.
Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’ has many different musical fragments
Rolling Stone once called “The Chain” “Frankenstein’s monster.” It’s true because the tune is made up of musical fragments that various band members previously wrote.
“Built from a handful of disparate musical fragments, ‘The Chain’ has the distinction of being the only song credited to all five members of the late Seventies lineup,” Rolling Stone wrote.
The core of the song is Christine McVie’s “Keep Me There” (also known as “Butter Cookie”), “a tense, keyboard-driven track that remained incomplete during the early album sessions in February 1976.”
“We decided it needed a bridge, so we cut a bridge and edited it into the rest of the song,” Buckingham told Rolling Stone in 1977. The band agreed to use “an ominous 10-note bass passage played by John McVie over a slow crescendo of Fleetwood’s drums.”
“We didn’t get a vocal and left it for a long time in a bunch of pieces,” Buckingham continued. “It almost went off the album. Then we listened back and decided we liked the bridge, but didn’t like the rest of the song. So I wrote verses for that bridge, which was originally not in the song and edited those in.”
They called it ‘The Chain’ because ‘it was a bunch of pieces’
After “working backwards from the bridge,” Buckingham used Mick Fleetwood’s kick drum as “a simple metronome to keep time.”
“For embroidery,” Buckingham used a “folky guitar figure” previously used on his and Nicks’ song “Lola (My Love),” which the then-couple recorded for their 1973 pre-Fleetwood Mac album Buckingham Nicks. “The ending was the only thing left from [Christine McVie’s] original track. We ended up calling it ‘The Chain’ because it was a bunch of pieces,” Buckingham continued.
Then came the lyrics, “the final link.” Fleetwood later told Lucky 98 FM radio, “Originally we had no words to it. And it really only became a song when Stevie wrote some. She walked in one day and said, ‘I’ve written some words that might be good for that thing you were doing in the studio the other day.’ So it was put together. Lindsey arranged and made a song out of all the bits and pieces that we were putting down onto tape.”
Nicks said giving her lyrics was a ‘take one for the team’ moment
The way Nicks tells the story, Buckingham asked for the lyrics. She didn’t offer them. In an interview with Variety, she explained she had her own ideas for “The Chain.” She’d previously recorded it as a solo demo at home.
“I was in the car waiting for my assistant to get something a couple of days ago, and a version of ‘The Chain’ came on,” Nicks said. “I’m like, what is this? And it was ‘The Chain’ before Lindsey [Buckingham].”
Nicks said Buckingham had asked her, “‘You know that song that you wrote about ‘If you don’t love me now, you will never love me again‘ — can we have that? Because we have this amazing solo that’s at the end of it, when John McVie comes in… We have that, and it’s amazing, but we don’t really have a song. Would you consider letting us have that song that I know you have, because I’ve known you a long time and I’ve heard it?'”
Nicks said she thought, “Well, okay. I will take one for the team here. And I will give you the song with all the words and the verses and everything, so you can use your solo.”
She recalled “listening to [the demo] and it was just me singing… And I thought, ‘Wow, I had full-on plans for the original ‘Chain’ song before I gave it to Fleetwood Mac.’ I mean, I’m really glad that I gave it to Fleetwood Mac because it turned into one of the best songs. But it was holding its own before they recorded it.”
“The Chain” became one of Fleetwood Mac’s biggest hits. It’s “an apt metaphor for the ties that bind Fleetwood Mac despite decades of interpersonal turmoil.”