“Rhiannon rings like a bell in the night and wouldn’t you love to love her…”
In Welsh mythology, Rhiannon is the name of a queen, a daughter of Hefeydd. She figures in the first and third Branches of the Mabinogion.
Whatever. To most of the world, Rhiannon is simply THE quintessential Stevie Nicks song; so ethereal, so unique, so perfectly crafted and excecuted, that it became her signature and the musical creation that best represented her philosophy, spirit and style. Written in 1975 for the eponymous Fleetwood Mac album, it peaked at #11 in June of 1976 and remains to this day the embodiment of the essence of Stevie Nicks’ persona.
Nicks grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, with attentive, nurturing parents who always surrounded her with literature, art and music. She met musician Lindsey Buckingham when she was in high school and they moved to Los Angeles together to pursue careers in music. They released the critically admired but commercially unsuccessful Buckingham/Nicks album in 1973.
“Who will be her lover…”
In 1974, Buckingham and Nicks joined Fleetwood Mac. Their addition to a seminal blues-oriented band changed the whole direction of their sound, propelling it toward a more west coast pop vibe that would crest with the monolithic Rumours, which ultimately sold over 40 million albums worldwide and remains one of the biggest selling records in history. Stevie wrote Rhiannon (and Landslide) when she and Lindsey, on the cusp of their big break, spent time experimenting musically in Aspen, Colorado.
As a kid, I remember hearing Fleetwood Mac and Rumors and specifically gravitating toward Stevie’s songs. I wasn’t aware of the social structure of the band, or who was fucking who, but I definitely remember being aware of who wrote what songs. To me, Stevie’s melodies were as evocative as Beethoven’s, and her poignant, honest lyrics – often written in a few inspired minutes -heightened the music’s haunting effect.
“Would you stay if she promised you heaven? Will you ever win…”
Rhiannon is so uncommon. I can’t say I’ve ever heard another song that sounds even remotely like it. Although it’s sung in the third person, Stevie sings it as if she is Rhiannon, channeling the Welsh queen in her performance and lyrical interpretation but most influentially, in the way she dressed: flowing chiffon, fringed shawls, hankie-hems and anything that looked good while twirling on stage. There was no 1970s singer/songwriter more romantic or feminine during a time when “unisex” was THE hot trend.
“Dreams unwind, love’s a state of mind…”
As the 1980s moved along, Stevie seemed to lose her way creatively. Her style, once so organic, became exaggerated and bereft of its original innocence. Instead of finding her clothing at garage sales and thrift shops, she hired stylist Margi Kent, who created elaborate stage outfits for her. No longer a natural extension of herself, these latter creations seemed like obvious costumes.
But who doesn’t love young Stevie? I picture her as a young woman in Los Angeles discovering herself — her style, musical voice, and persona. During those years, she experimented with vintage 1930s clothing, Ossie Clark prints, Renaissance-inspired silhouettes and long, bias-cut gowns as she created the “Stevie look”.
Her dark but spirited personality and iconic style continues to be a huge influence on women singer/songwriters today and in the timeless recording of Rhiannon, I can still feel and admire the true spirit of Stevie Nicks.
“Rhiannon’ you cry, but she’s gone, and your life knows no answer…”
This spring and summer, Chelsea Girl is featuring a collection of 1970s dresses that we lovingly call “Rhiannons” because they convey the ethos of the Stevie “thing:” angel sleeves, hankie hems, diaphanous floral fabrics, ruffles…great for twirling! – ELISA