I've got to get this out of my system.


To the blog! Let's write this out.

This song makes me want to hit a punching bag. So much so that I've looked online for how much it costs to install a heavy punching bag. I sit in my car with the song up loud and have to clap my hands at stop lights (it might also be that my hands are cold...). It makes me want to punch something! It's driving me crazy and soon I'll look back on this post and feel disconnected because it's just a song and I'll have moved on. But for this moment it's under my skin and I've got to write about it.  If you're not a Fleetwood Mac fan, this might not be for you.  God knows this will probably make you less interested in them!

"The Chain" is the only song with writing credited to all five members of the Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac (Mick Fleetwood, Lindsey Buckinham, Christine McVie, John McVie and Stevie Nicks). It's a splicing of different musical components, almost all written independently of each other. The bass line (above) was composed by John McVie who had originally intended it for another song. But he recorded it for one of Christine McVie's songs which they were working on in the studio, entitled "Butter Cookie (Keep Me There)" (nmm, butter cookies). Along with it was Mick's percussion, most significantly the thumping bass drum. But the beginning of the song wasn't coming together well, so they took the fantastic ending and counted backwards with the beat.

Stevie came in the next day with lyrics which were about--you guessed it!--her and Lindsey breaking up. But it took on a larger context for the whole band. John and Christine were also  breaking up, Mick was breaking up with his non-band member wife, and the whole group felt extreme tension as they worked on Rumours. And as we can see in "The Chain" and elsewhere, they laid it all down on the tracks, letting us see their personal pain through their art. The song represents the best of the band's work together, and it's meaning is shown all over their history of adding and losing members to solo projects and wounded feelings, only to reunite in the late nineties and renew their vow to "never break the chain."

The song itself has an angry, bitter taste to it. It starts out with a moment of breathy pause which I like to think exemplifies the heaviness that must have filled the room with each take.  It truly begins with the plucking of Lindsey's tinny acoustic guitar matched by an electric (which is the chosen instrument when the song is done live), teasing lightly around the immediately incessant pounding of Mick's foot on the pedal. It's like you can't see what's coming, but you know it's going to get rough from here on out. 

To prove your instincts true, the music stops abruptly. A beat later it begins again and then comes the harmony of Christine, Stevie, and Lindsey: "Listen to the wind blow, watch the sun rise/Run in the shadows, damn your love, damn your lies."For five more beats the pattern continues, but then it stops again with the wave of a tambourine and BAM: Lindsey addresses the beat head on like an elephant in the room--it's no longer an ominous presence in the background of a ghostly chorus, now it's the song itself as John's bass comes in to replace the acoustic:"And if you don't love me now, you will never love me again." (I freaking love Lindsey's singing in this song.)

Stevie and Christine join the second half of the verse: "I can still hear you saying you will never break the chain" (which I think is interesting.  By having just Lindsey start he gets the angsty spotlight, but the girls won't let him think he's the only one feeling it as they get to jump right in with him) and then echo it.  By this part Mick has layered on cymbals and snare.  The chorus is repeated, only this time with Christine eerily crying "Still hear you saying..." beyond Stevie and Lindsey.  The music dies down again to the guitar and some keyboards--even the drum beat is gone.  It returns as we ease back down to the second verse: "Listen to the wind blow, down comes the night/Run in the shadows, damn your love, damn your lies/Break the silence, damn the dark, damn the light."  The chorus is repeated as before with same intensity.  But by the second go around when the music begins to die down again as before, something's different. 

As the last notes on the guitar are played the drum beat changes to a light but quick beat on the snare and nothing else.  It builds and as it does we hear that divine bass line--a solo all it's own.  John plays it twice and the third time we hear the crescendo of Lindsey's ringing guitar building in tempo with the snare until it breaks out with the full percussion, keyboards, tambourine and it's own rip-roaring noise.  The song has almost completely changed in tone--going from a sour mood only hinted at to full-blown fury.  At this point Lindsey is going crazy and the band keeps up with him.  And the climax with the final lyric is perfect: a frenzied resolution, an unbridled bind.  The image that blazes before me at this point in the song is a storm--and all the members of the band are in the thick of it, holding onto each other's hands in a circle.  They scream at the top of their lungs, "Chain keep us together, chain keep us together, chain keep us together."  

It's only right that this is the band's torch song to each other: 'even though being the people we are, this group shouldn't work, and more often than not it doesn't.  But when together, our band is greater than the sum of its parts.  And no matter what crap we throw at each other or the world throws at us, never break the chain.'

Whew!  Now that I've gone way over the top on this, here are some versions of the song for you to listen to if you are even at all remotely interested anymore.

First, the studio take from Rumours that I just wrote about:

Next up is the 1977 version (the year the album was released) in Japan. Half the fun in watching the live versions is 
Mick Fleetwood's drumming. I'm pretty sure it's a mix of substance abuse and his own genius. Lindsey looks good 
in his afro and an unbuttoned shirt but it's the way he plays that makes you swoon and say 'you cocky sonofabitch, 
you are HOT.' No wonder Stevie had a hard time walking away from him (herself looking like a bohemian nun in 
stripper shoes at this performance).

But this last one is probably my favorite version, from the Tusk tour (an album that's to become beloved to me).  It's only 3 years later, but boy can you tell.  They were all probably pretty coked up here, but they're in top form.  Lindsey's got short hair, a clean face and a suit on, but instead of looking better than he did in '77, he looks worse.  He's pale with dark circles around his eyes and an edgy, angry manner.  Stevie looks passive aggressively pissed--wanting to act beyond it all but clearly steaming.  I love her "Oh-oh"'s at the end of the"never break the chain"'s (I try to do it myself when listening to the studio version and it's sounds nothing like her, obviously). Again, watch Lindsey and Mick's faces during the guitar solo.  Priceless.

No comments: