Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” is one of the most celebrated songs in the band’s entire catalogue, and a staple of their famous 1977 album Rumours. Penned and sung by Stevie Nicks, “Dreams” was the only number one single for Fleetwood Mac in the United States, and it remains almost universally cherished to this day.
The meaning of “Dreams” is central to the overarching theme surrounding Rumours as an album: relationship problems like infidelity, dishonesty, and of course, a looming breakup.
All five members of Fleetwood Mac went through a breakup during the process of creating Rumours, with John and Christine McVie splitting, Mick Fleetwood divorcing his wife, and the power couple of Buckingham and Nicks all ending things at the time.
Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham were lovers when they joined Fleetwood Mac in 1975, though things were already on the fritz for them, as Nicks explained in a 2005 interview with Blender. They joined the band to replace songwriter and lead guitarist Peter Green, bringing new life to a dying band, but also bringing with them their own personal problems.
While it is said that Buckingham and Nicks mostly kept things professional while with the band, the tensions that were forming in their relationship showed themselves in the songs that the pair were writing at the time.
“Dreams” is a prime example of that, and as the hit single, it helped propel Rumours to its spot as the number one album in the United States for 31 consecutive weeks, making it one of the best-selling albums of all-time.
Stevie Nicks wrote these pointed lyrics in 10 minutes, while hanging out at Sly Stone’s studio on a day where she wasn’t needed with Fleetwood Mac during the Rumours sessions. They were written for Lindsey Buckingham, and he had to grin and bear it while coming up with the musical arrangement for a song that the band at first deemed too boring to include on the album.
Buckingham apparently wrote “Go Your Own Way” for Stevie, and “Dreams” was her response to that, as she explained to Blender:
“I told him that, in my heart, ‘Dreams’ was open and hopeful, but in ‘Go Your Own Way,’ his heart was closed. That’s how I felt. That line, ‘When the rain washes you clean,’ to me that was like being able to start again, and that’s what I wanted for Lindsey. I wanted him to be happy.”Stevie Nicks on the meaning of “Dreams”, 2005.
The lyrics to “Dreams” recount the failing of a relationship — the relationship of Buckingham and Nicks — and how a man can be driven to the brink of insanity in the midst of the unraveling of love. She sings it in such an alluring way, that when you’re listening casually you may not even notice that this song is cold.
Taking a look at the first verse, we can see that Nicks has had enough:
Now here you go again, you say you want your freedomFirst verse to “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac.
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
Here, Nicks is suggesting that Buckingham has dug his own grave by continuously insisting that he wants his freedom. She is essentially telling him that if he wants to be free so bad, then sure, she will leave and he can be as free as he wants.
She continues by singing that it’s only right that Buckingham gets to do things based on the way he feels, suggesting that her leaving him was his own choice. However, there is a warning embedded in the final lyric here — as she tells him to listen to the sound of his loneliness, hinting that it might be trying to tell him something.
In the buildup to the chorus, Stevie lays it out plain and simple for him:
Like a heartbeat drives you madPre-chorus to “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac.
In the stillness of remembering what you had
And what you lost
And what you had
And what you lost
She sings that his loneliness is beating inside of him like a heartbeat, driving him mad. He is lonely, and it’s quiet, and his mind can’t help but wander to the things that he had, that he has now lost. Nicks is again implying that Buckingham did this to himself, and perhaps could have done better to keep her around.
Then, we have the beloved chorus:
Oh, thunder only happens when it’s rainingChorus to “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac.
Players only love you when they’re playing
Say, women, they will come and they will go
When the rain washes you clean, you’ll know
The opening line to the chorus is incredibly famous: “Thunder only happens when it’s raining”. While this is not scientifically accurate, as it is possible to have thunder without rain, the lyric itself is very special and has been interpreted in a number of different ways.
Some say that the rain in this metaphor is representative of the success that Buckingham and Nicks were having with Fleetwood Mac, raining down on them. In that case, the thunder would represent the booming of turmoil within their relationship, fueled by the burdens of success.
While this is a reasonable explanation, I’m personally of the belief that the thunder in “Dreams” does indeed represent moments of passion and turmoil, but the rain is not representative of success, it’s representative of the raining of tension and negativity surrounding them.
Stevie then sings two lines that are fairly straightforward, before bringing the lyric back to the image of rain. This time, the rain washes him clean, meaning that he will be clean of the relationship, as he is unable to handle the moments of thunder and rain.
Stevie Nicks is quite the heartbreaker, it seems. In the second verse, she admits her part in all this, though still doesn’t take the blame off Buckingham:
Now here I go again, I see the crystal visionsSecond verse to “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac.
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
The crystal visions she sings about are her own forward-looking reflections on her life, imagining things both with and without him, as well as the loneliness that he will feel without her. She decides to keep these things to herself, effectively shutting down communication and thwarting all chances of reconciliation for the pair.
When Nicks insists that she wants to wrap around his dreams, she is essentially admitting her love for him, and her support of all that he aims to do. However, she feels that Buckingham is too busy selling dreams, or lying, to fix the core issue between them, so she chooses to leave, and these dreams become “dreams of loneliness“.
After that second verse, the band repeats the pre-chorus once again, then drops into two more hits of that sweet, sweet chorus, and “Dreams” comes to a close.
Watch the video for “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac below.