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'Thunder Only Happens When It's Raining:' Fleetwood Mac's 'Dreams,' Lyrics & Meaning

Music | June 18, 2020

Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac performs at The Omni Coliseum in Atlanta Georgia June 1, 1977. (Photo By Rick Diamond/Getty Images)

With its chorus "Thunder only happens when it's raining / Players only love you when they're playing," the #1 single "Dreams" is arguably the standout of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours (1977), one of the best-selling rock albums of all time. Written and sung by Stevie Nicks, "Dreams" is a breakup song, somewhat addressed to her bandmate and lover Lindsey Buckingham; his "Go Your Own Way" from the same album was the other side of the coin. In fact, the making of the album was a famously messy scene, with interpersonal struggles seeming to tear the band apart even as they were recording their masterpiece.

And masterpiece it is -- nearly every tune on Rumours is a classic. Christine McVie's "Don't Stop" and "You Make Loving Fun;" Nicks' "I Don't Want To Know" and "Gold Dust Woman," Buckingham's "Second Hand News" and "Never Going Back Again" are all classic-rock staples. But even within this track listing "Dreams" stands out, and is Fleetwood Mac's all-time best-selling single.

A hall of fame album made from hall of fame level tension. (cnn)

Fleetwood Mac, the sultans of sound, created Rumours while in complete turmoil. The number one hit from that album, “Dreams” exemplified the relationship related drama that engulfed the band during the height of their popularity. Stevie Nicks wrote the song about bandmate and lover Lindsey Buckingham as they all railed cocaine and feuded with each other. To make matters worse, John and Christine McVie’s relationship was also falling apart as well as Mick Fleetwood’s marriage to Jenny Boyd. Despite the complete chaos, “Dreams” gave Fleetwood Mac their only own number one hit in America.

Stevie Nicks Penned 'Dreams' In Sly Stone’s Bed

But actually. (knowyourmeme)

Thanks to their never-ending drama, Fleetwood Mac would often spread out during their recording sessions. “I would take an electric piano with me, and my crocheting and my journals and my books and my art and I would just stay there until they needed me,” remembered Nicks. She would take her golden voice to an empty recording studio, designed for Sly Stone. Apparently, the decor was rather inspiring, “It was a black-and-red room, with a sunken pit in the middle where there was a piano, and a big black-velvet bed with Victorian drapes.”

'Go Your Own Way' and 'Dreams,' Dueling Heartbreak

Fleetwood Mac thrived off of "creative tension."

The red and black velvet fueled the fire for “Dreams.” Nicks remembers creating the classic in mere minutes, “I sat down on the bed with my keyboard in front of me. I found a drum pattern, switched my little cassette player on and wrote ‘Dreams’ in about 10 minutes.” Even though the ballad effectively ended their relationship, Buckingham respected the genius of the song.

“I walked in and handed a cassette of the song to Lindsey. It was a rough take, just me singing solo and playing piano. Even though he was mad with me at the time, Lindsey played it and then looked up at me and smiled. What was going on between us was sad. We were couples who couldn't make it through. But, as musicians, we still respected each other - and we got some brilliant songs out of it."

Buckingham, not wanting to be left out, fired off “Go Your Own Way,” his musical expression of their tumultuous ending. To make matters worse, Nicks ended up sleeping with Fleetwood, which signaled the ending of his marriage. How they ever made music amidst this madness became fertile territory for many documentaries and books. 

Mirror Images Of Madness

That band that does cocaine together... (ultimateclassicrock)

No story tells the tale of “Rumors” better than the band’s serious consideration to thank their coke dealer on the album credits. According to Fleetwood's biography, if he had lined up all the cocaine he’d ever snorted into a single line, it would stretch for seven miles. As he wrote, “The tales of excess are true, but we’d all be dead already if we weren’t made of stronger stuff.” The arduous nature of long hours in a recording studio led to excess. “You felt so bad about what was happening that you did a line to cheer yourself up," said Nicks.

Despite the hurt feelings and mountains of cocaine, the group respected each other and got their masterpiece done. Their ability to fight through the madness was part of what made them so great. Ultimately, gang violence and their dealer's untimely death nixed that idea.  "Unfortunately, he got snuffed – executed! – before the thing came out," wrote Fleetwood in his first memoir.

“Even though ‘Go Your Own Way’ was a little angry, it was also honest,” Nicks wrote in 2013. "So then I wrote ‘Dreams,’ and because I’m the chiffony chick who believes in fairies and angels, and Lindsey is a hardcore guy, it comes out differently. Lindsey is saying go ahead and date other men and go live your crappy life, and [I’m] singing about the rain washing you clean. We were coming at it from opposite angles, but we were really saying the same exact thing.”

'Dreams' lyrics

Yet bygones are bygones. (wikipedia)

Now here you go again

You say you want your freedom

Well, who am I to keep you down

It's only right that you should

Play the way you feel it

But listen carefully

To the sound of your loneliness

Like a heartbeat drives you mad

In the stillness of remembering what you had

And what you lost

And what you had

And what you lost

Thunder only happens when it's rainin'

Players only love you when they're playin'

Say women, they will come and they will go

When the rain washes you clean, you'll know

You'll know

Now here I go again

I see the crystal visions

I keep my visions to myself

It's only me who wants to wrap around your dreams

And have you any dreams you'd like to sell?

Dreams of loneliness

Like a heartbeat drives you mad

In the stillness of remembering what you had

And what you lost

And what you had

Ooh, what you lost

Thunder only happens when it's rainin'

Players only love you when they're playin'

Women, they will come and they will go

When the rain washes you clean, you'll know

Oh, thunder only happens when it's rainin'

Players only love you when they're playin'

Say women, they will come and they will go

When the rain washes you clean, you'll know

You'll know

You will know

Oh, you'll know

Tags: Dreams | Fleetwood Mac | Song Meanings, Lyrics, And Facts | Stevie Nicks

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Kellar Ellsworth

Writer

Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!