“The Chain” — Fleetwood Mac

Motor racing’s Formula 1 season kicks off next weekend. And Formula 1 means only one tune to Brits — Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”.

That’s because “The Chain” was used by the BBC for many years as the theme tune for its Formula 1 coverage. And even though the BBC lost the broadcast rights to Sky TV some years ago, just about every Brit associates the deep bass notes from John McVie with a programme about motor racing.

Sky use an entirely different theme tune for their Formula 1 coverage, but I don’t think many people could tell you what it was. There’s nothing wrong with the song itself (written by Alistair Griffin — here if you’d like a listen… https://youtu.be/iw-hqrZLG84 ) but it just doesn’t create the instant association with motor racing in most Brit’s minds that “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac does.

It’s hard to think of an activity which has been so closely identified with one song in quite the way that “The Chain” and Formula 1 have been paired in the average Brit’s mind over the years. A mental connection that’s even outlived the use of the tune as the theme for a TV programme about motor racing.

Even on a non-BBC radio station the other day, I heard the DJ use “The Chain” as the bed for a conversation about motor racing. Yep, there’s nothing that instantly signals “motor racing” to the average Brit like hearing John McVie play those iconic bass notes from “The Chain”…

In case you’re wondering, the BBC’s motor racing coverage used the segment often described as the guitar solo from “The Chain”. It’s probably more accurate to describe it as the outro…if it was a piece of classical music, you might even describe that section as the Final Movement, because it’s quite a departure from the vocals which have gone before.

John McVie’s bass line marks the end of the tortured lyrics about personal relationships imploding and launches us into a free-spirited musical exploration of what it might feel like to experience complete relief after someone’s stopped pushing your heart through a shredder.

It’s ironic, and tragic, that Fleetwood Mac’s finest, and most commercially successful, creative work came at the time when the band, collectively and individually, were in melt-down.

“The Chain” opened the second side of Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” album. That 1977 album remains one of the best-selling albums in music history, with in excess of 40 million copies sold since its release. And it’s an odd song in many ways.

Unusually, for a Fleetwood Mac song, the songwriting is credited to the entire band. Most Fleetwood Mac songs you can hum along with were written by just one or two band members.

That seems only fair, mind you, as “The Chain” was essentially spliced together in the studio from a number of bits and pieces each of the band members had written separately. John McVie had written an interesting bass part, Mick Fleetwood had put some drums to it and the rest of the band chipped in with contributions of their own to create the finished tune. At the last minute, Stevie Nicks turned up with some lyrics and…hey presto!…one of Fleetwood Mac’s most enduring and popular songs was created.

But this was done largely as a succession of mini-solo projects because by this time the individual band members could hardly stand to be in the same room as one another for any length of time. Some clever work in the studio made it seem otherwise…an impression that’s perhaps been amplified by the popularity of “The Chain” as one of the key features of Fleetwood Mac’s live shows.

And rightly so. It’s a great song which takes you on a journey from deep despair to the guitar equivalent of some free-spirited, cathartic, primal scream therapy.

We’re in no doubt where Stevie Nicks is starting from…

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

Like the lyrics of many of Fleetwood Mac’s most popular songs, “The Chain” was written by one of the band members very pointedly directed their scathing lyrics at the real, or imagined, failings of another band member…generally the one they were sleeping with at the time, or had recently been sleeping with, or wanted to be sleeping with.

I don’t know how things went on between them, but that relationship must have been hard work all round.

Seems like a somewhat mutually-destructive codependent relationship, if you ask me, even if it did produce some of the most enduring and commercial successful songs in pop music history.

But it’s worth bearing the success of “Rumours” in mind next time someone tells you to look for the silver lining in every cloud that comes your way…while I’m nor arguing in favour of stoking up desperately intense relationship strife as an aid to creativity, it did produce one of the best-selling albums of all time for Fleetwood Mac.

This being a Stevie Nicks lyric about how badly she feels let down by Lindsey Buckingham, she’s not finished taking him down yet…

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

As Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham sing the lyrics back and forth to one another, you feel you’re witnessing a couple work out a lot of pent-up feelings between them.

Which is why the outro (or guitar solo or Final Movement, according to your preference…) represents such an explosive release from the lyrics about betrayal and disappointment. Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham have said their piece to one another and John McVie’s bass line signals it’s time to move on to a different phase of the relationship.

Lindsey Buckingham guides us through this section, taking his frustrations out on his guitar as he beings “The Chain” to a close.

And as one of those rare rock guitarists who doesn’t use a plectrum, you know the ends of Lindsey Buckingham’s fingers must have hurt like crazy as he shredded them on the steel strings of his guitar, working out his frustrations at a relationship which was imploding. (Take a close look at those fingers in Fleetwood Mac’s live video below…)

The “Rumours” album might have been Fleetwood Mac’s creative high-water mark, but I still wonder if, notwithstanding the album’s worldwide commercial success, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham might have felt better about themselves if they’d just done ordinary jobs and lived together quietly in the suburbs.

They obviously had strong feelings for one another, but did their journey to worldwide fame destroy what they had? Or was it always going to be one of those tempestuous relationships where crockery is regularly thrown round the kitchen of a suburban home somewhere while the neighbours pretend not to notice that the people living at Number 14 are at it again?

Would Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham’s relationship have been as mutually self-destructive had they not been in one of the biggest bands in the world together, or would it have imploded spectacularly regardless?

We’ll never know…

But what I do know is that “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac has one of the finest instrumental sections of any popular song of the last 40 years or so. And I also know that, in the minds of Brits, at least, “The Chain” will always mean “Formula 1 motor racing”.

As legacies go, I can think of plenty worse outcomes than that.

Here’s Fleetwood Mac with one of the most popular songs from their album “Rumours”, itself one of the best-selling albums of all time. It’s “The Chain”…

(For body language students, it’s well worth studying Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham in this live video…it was recorded years after “Rumours” was released, but there still seems to be some unresolved issues…)

The video is below, but if you prefer you can listen to the track on Spotify herehttps://open.spotify.com/track/7Dm3dV3WPNdTgxoNY7YFnc

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Without words, it’s just a nice tune. Add words — now you’ve got a song. And songs can change your world. I write about some that changed mine.

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