The Meaning of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”

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    The Meaning of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”
    Published: December 19, 2022

    Fleetwood Mac in 1977.

    “The Chain” is one of the most iconic Fleetwood Mac songs, and one that is central to their 1977 masterpiece album Rumours.

    Many know the story of Rumours, and how the relationship of Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, the marriage of John and Christine McVie, and Mick Fleetwood’s marriage to Jenny Boyd all broke down as the album was being created.

    This tinted the songwriting on the whole album and made for a very special, emotional autobiography that captures the tensions of infidelity, divorce, and heartbreak like lightning in a bottle.

    As the one song on Rumours to give songwriting credits to all five band members, “The Chain” contains bits and pieces of material that the members had composed throughout the process.

    While this may seem like an unlikely method for producing a hit, the collective talents of Fleetwood Mac and the fact that they were all living in a similar headspace at the time made it possible for this song to exist.

    Fleetwood Mac – “The Chain” (1977)

    Origins of “The Chain”

    Creating “The Chain” involved fitting together the contributions of each member in a way that resulted in a coherent song, which was no easy task.

    This was done at at the Record Plant in Sausalito, California, with help from engineers Ken Caillat and Richard Dashut, who did so by manually splicing bits of tape together with a razor blade.

    Despite being the first song they started working on for Rumours, it was near the end of the nine month recording sessions when they were finally able to tie it together, thanks to the famous bass line that McVie came up with on the spot (which appears around the three minute mark in the song).

    Caillat spoke on this with Music Radar in 2012:

    The very first song we worked on. It began as one of Christine’s things, something called ‘Keep Me There.’ I remember Richard and I almost got fired while trying to record it because we spent five days on drum sounds – the band thought we were clueless.

    They ran through it one day and John McVie did that incredible bass line – just like that it just came to him. What a part! Next, the band began playing the tag at the end, that big rocking section. Amazing. Then, out of nowhere, Lindsey played a screaming guitar solo. Really exciting stuff.

    Over the next nine months, we’d revisit the song. There was great playing on tape, but it still wasn’t right. Finally, three weeks before we wrapped the album, Lindsey figured out how to connect everything. He took the verses apart, played a Dobro and asked Mick to play a straight quarter-note beat on the kick. Next, Lindsey rewrote the chorus and put a whole new rhythm to it. Everything clicked.

    Engineer Ken Caillat on the making of “The Chain”.

    While each member may have contributed their own part to the song’s arrangement, the lyrics were purely a Stevie Nicks creation.

    Mick Fleetwood said this about the song in an interview with Lucky 98 FM:

    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.

    Mick Fleetwood on the origins of “The Chain”.

    Thus, “The Chain” was born, and along with hits like “Dreams” and “Never Going Back Again”, cemented the legacy of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours for generations to come.

    “The Chain” Lyrics Meaning

    Lyrically, “The Chain” centers itself around the invisible chain that holds two people, or a group of people together. The looming reality is that the relationship has run its course, and it’s time to sever that bond, but memories and emotions hold it together.

    The song opens with an eerie intro that creeps up into the first verse, sung by Buckingham and Nicks:

    Listen to the wind blow
    Watch the sun rise
    Run in the shadows
    Damn your love, damn your lies

    First verse to “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac.

    Opening with an image of the howling wind and rising sun, we hear harmonies that set the ominous tone that will ride with us for the rest of the song.

    When we” run in the shadows” we live a dishonest life, choosing to hide our true intentions and actions from those around us.

    The verse ends with a vengeful retort of a lover and their lies, suggesting that they were the ones who ran in the shadows.

    This leads us into the chorus, as the band kicks things up a notch:

    And if you don’t love me now
    You will never love me again
    I can still hear you saying
    You would never break the chain (Never break the chain)
    And if you don’t love me now (You don’t love me now)
    You will never love me again
    I can still hear you saying (Still hear you saying)
    You would never break the chain (Never break the chain)

    Chorus to “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac.

    Buckingham and Nicks sing that if the love isn’t present in this moment, it will never be coming back.

    This represents their relationship falling apart, as the memories echo of how they said they “would never break the chain.” The lyrics suggest that at one point, the lovers claimed that they would be together forever.

    As we can tell, this has turned out to be untrue.

    Next up is the second verse, which is much the same as the first:

    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

    Second verse to “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac.

    The wind blows again, but this time instead of a sunrise, we see a sunset. We run in the shadows once again, except now the silence is broken, and we have made clear our intentions to “break the chain.”

    Damning both the dark and the light means that both sides of the coin suck. It sucked to brood with it in silence, and it’s certainly not good now that everything has been brought out into the open.

    Next up we have another chorus, followed by epic bass and guitar groove that was set in motion by John McVie. This leads us into the outro, in the most high-energy lyrical delivery in the song:

    (Chain, keep us together) Run in the shadow
    (Chain, keep us together) Runnin’ in the shadow
    (Chain, keep us together) Runnin’ in the shadow
    (Chain, keep us together) Run in the shadow
    (Chain, keep us together) Run in the shadow

    Outro to “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac.

    It’s a battle between the chain that holds them together and the tendency of one or both lovers towards dishonesty, or “running in the shadow”.

    The winner is clear as the song fades to silence, and we know that the chain has been broken once and for all.

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