The Heartbreaking Inspiration Behind Fleetwood Mac's “Go Your Own Way”

Break-ups are hard. But imagine breaking up with someone and then being forced to spend every day with them working on music that was written about your break-up! Sounds torturous, right? Well, yes — and this was the exact scenario faced by Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac during the making of “Go Your Own Way” from their classic album Rumours. Unfortunately, mining such painful emotions may have created an unfixable rift between the former lovers.

The meet cute

Nicks and Buckingham met in a California high school in the late ’60s when Buckingham asked her to join his rock band Fritz, which needed a singer. By the time Fritz broke up and the duo decided they would head out to L.A. to seek fame and fortune, they were a couple.

Not only that, but according to Nicks’ biographer Stephen Davis, they were a “sexy, star-bound couple.” Apparently, they had “an aura about them, a radiance.”

Chasing success and joining Fleetwood Mac

The pair first tried to find success as a folksy double act known as Buckingham Nicks, and they even released an album under that name in 1973. It failed to make an impression, though, and the struggling musicians found themselves released by their record label.

By the end of ’74, though, the duo would join established British-American group Fleetwood Mac — and help them reach heights previously unheard of.

A pressure to follow up success

Those heights included “Go Your Own Way,” the creation of which Buckingham broke down during an appearance on the podcast Song Exploder. The first album with Buckingham and Nicks as part of the band — 1975’s self-titled Fleetwood Mac — had been a big success.

The couple knew they had to follow this up with something great, though. So, they wanted to start work as soon as their tour wrapped up.

“Go Your Own Way” was first out of the gate

Buckingham revealed, “We had this idea to take a break from the road, and to rent a house for like a week or so in Florida and start working on some material for the album we know we’re going to have to start in a few months.”

He added, “The very first thing that got presented was ‘Go Your Own Way.’ That was the first song that I wrote for the album that would become Rumours.”

A stream of consciousness

The legendary guitarist revealed, “It was the beginning of my having a dialogue with Stevie, who had been my lover and musical partner pretty much through the time that the first album was made, and we were sort of on-again, off-again, on-again, off-again.”

He continued, “But, by the time we got to Rumours, we had sort of split. And ‘Go Your Own Way’ was written almost as a stream of consciousness.”

Raw expression

Buckingham simply sat down and began noodling with a guitar riff, all while coming up with lyrics on the spot. He explained, “If you start with the first lyric, ‘Loving you isn’t the right thing to do,’ it sounds like you’re beginning a conversation with someone.”

He added, “There was nothing about it that was thought out. It was just the raw expression of the emotion behind the song.”

Using art as therapy

In truth, writing the song was a form of therapy for Buckingham. After all, creatives often turn to their art to sort through the complicated mess of emotions they feel after a break-up.

He admitted, “I sort of was coming to terms with the fact that I may not be over this person and, at the same time, I’m aware that I’ve got to accept what’s happened and move on.”

A band full of doomed romance

Buckingham knew he couldn’t disguise the fact Nicks was the woman he was singing about — it was public knowledge they had just separated, after all! Amusingly, though, they weren’t the only couple in Fleetwood Mac who were writing tunes in the midst of heartache.

The marriage of John and Christine McVie — the band’s bassist and keyboardist/vocalist — totally unravelled by the end of the Rumours tour.

Closure was difficult to come by

Having to spend time with a former lover, all while mining your deepest emotions for material, wasn’t easy for any of the band members. Buckingham said, “I mean, usually if you break up with somebody and you want closure, you know, you’re going to not see them for a long time or maybe ever.”

He added, “You had to kind of compartmentalize everything. Writing the song and singing it required me to do that.”

Recording became a working vacation

When it came time to record the song, Buckingham revealed band leader Mick Fleetwood suggested, “Let’s make it a working vacation or something. So, we went up to Sausalito, there was a Record Plant recording studio up there.”

He added, “We rented a couple of places to live and, you know, again, that was sort of my final nail in the coffin with Stevie because I thought maybe she and I would find a place together and she was not into doing that!”

Inspiration from an unexpected source

In terms of the song’s orchestration, Buckingham was heavily inspired by the work of another iconic rock and roll band — the Rolling Stones! He felt their hit single “Street Fighting Man” had the kind of drum beat that would perfectly suit “Go Your Own Way,” as he saw it forming in his head.

So, he presented the Stones’ tune to his bandmate and drummer Mick. The thing was, though, Mick just couldn’t quite wrap his head around the beat.

Mick plays from the gut

Buckingham revealed, “I said, Mick, I think this pattern going from snare to tom, snare to tom, not in the chorus, but in the verses would be just great. But Mick is someone who... he’s playing strictly from the heart and from the gut.”

He added, “And as such, he just has to do what feels right to him. So, when I showed him the pattern, he couldn’t actually play it!”

Finding a new beat

In the end, Buckingham simply asked, “Is there a way you can paraphrase that to make it your own?” Thankfully, Mick was more than willing to shape the beat to his own style — and an out-and-out classic was born.

Buckingham explained, “He opens up the kick and keeps a four/four going on it, and instead of going from snare to tom, which felt wrong to him, he’s playing the tom across the beat and letting the kick drum be the middle beat.”

Catharsis

When it came time to record the vocals, Buckingham knew he wanted them to have plenty of raw feeling. That’s hardly a surprise, given what the song is actually about.

He revealed, “There’s a lot of oomph behind the lead vocal in ‘Go Your Own Way’ because there was a lot of resolve behind the subject matter… It was a bit cathartic to get that vocal out. It was a way of exorcizing certain hurts.”

Interpreting Nicks’ psychology

Fascinatingly, Buckingham then explained how the lyrics were inspired by his knowledge of Nicks’ upbringing. He played the armchair psychologist a little, exploring his perception of how Nicks’ early days affected her behavior as an adult.

He theorized, “As a kid, Stevie was uprooted repeatedly from her environment because her dad changed jobs and changed cities, probably six or seven times, while she was growing up. But it also set, kind of, a life rhythm for her. I think she was uncomfortable having things go on too long.”

You can call it another lonely day

“There is a little bit of that observation in the chorus,” continued Buckingham. In essence, “You can go your own way” represents Nicks always wanting to do her own thing, but he argued it ultimately left her alone — hence the line, “You can call it another lonely day.”

He believed this impulse she had would always cut short relationships, rather than let them move to the next level of intimacy.

A band more than the sum of its parts

All in all, Buckingham was incredibly proud of how the song turned out. He marveled at how Fleetwood Mac managed to create such lasting work, especially as their makeup was so unusual.

He mused, “Our sensibilities were so disparate. It was just a very unlikely group of people to end up in the same band, and yet it was those differences that added up to something greater than the sum of the parts.”

Conflict brewed over the lyrics

Buckingham concluded, “‘Go Your Own Way’ really was the first song that kind of expressed acceptance of the fact that there was a bigger picture beyond my own needs.” This isn’t to say every element of the song was warmly received by its subject, though!

Mick once told Q magazine, “There was some conflict about the ‘crackin’ up, shackin’ up’ line, which Stevie felt was unfair, but Lindsey felt strongly about.”

Resentment grows

Indeed, this controversial lyric would plague Nicks for years. She knew exactly what Buckingham was implying with, “Tell me why / Everything turned around / Packing up / Shacking up is all you want to do,” and she hated it.

In 1997 she told Rolling Stone, “I very, very much resented him telling the world that ‘packing up, shacking up’ with different men was all I wanted to do.”

Making an ex suffer

“He knew it wasn’t true,” continued an irritated Nicks. “It was just an angry thing that he said. Every time those words would come out onstage, I wanted to go over and kill him.”

She added, “He knew it, so he really pushed my buttons through that. It was like, ‘I’ll make you suffer for leaving me.’ And I did. For years.”

Getting her own back

Luckily, Nicks knew exactly how to get her own back — she wrote her own timeless classic tune about the very same break-up! “Dreams,” which appeared alongside “Go Your Own Way” on the Rumours album, was Nicks’ wistful, melancholy interpretation of the breakdown of the relationship.

In 2022 she told The New Yorker, “I can just go right back to what pushed me toward writing those words.”

Counter songs

“I always laugh because Lindsey’s ‘Go Your Own Way’ and my ‘Dreams’ are like, counter songs to each other,” revealed Nicks. “I’m like, ‘When the rain washes you clean, you’ll know,’ and he’s like, ‘Packing up, shacking up’s all you want to do.’”

She explained, “Both songs kind of mean the same thing — it’s really about our breakup.” To her, the key difference in the songs has always been the perspective.

Getting through this

Nicks explained, “He’s looking at it from a very unpleasant, angry way, and I’m saying, in my more airy-fairy way, we’re gonna be all right. We’ll get through this.”

Indeed, “getting through this” was what Nicks and Buckingham had been doing right from the minute they joined Fleetwood Mac. After all, they were already teetering on the brink of ending things at that time!

Trying to avoid blowing the whole deal

Nicks revealed, “I mean, I broke up with Lindsey in 1976. We’d only been in Fleetwood Mac for a year and a half, and we were breaking up when we joined Fleetwood Mac!” Their professional ambition, it seems, kept things going.

She revealed, “We just put our relationship kind of back together because I was smart enough to know that, if we had broken up the second month of being in Fleetwood Mac, it would have blown the whole thing.”

Playing their part until it was time

How exactly did Nicks and Buckingham manage to co-exist when their relationship was in such dire straits, though? She admitted, “I just bided my time, and tried to make everything as easy as possible, tried to be as sweet and nice to Lindsey as I could be.”

She clarified, “He wasn’t happy, either. Then something happened that was, you know, ‘We’re done.’ And he knew it. It was time.”

Knowing the band was safe

By this point, though, Nicks knew that her plan had worked — the band was in a much more stable place after the 18 months of she and Buckingham going through the motions. Time, as the cliché says, is a healer.

She explained, “The band was solid, by that time, so I could walk away knowing that he was safe. And that the band was safe. And that we could work it out.”

It’s either him or me

Over the years, both Nicks and Buckingham would enjoy periods away from Fleetwood Mac to work on solo material — but they always wound up back at the mothership. Their relationship continued to be contentious, though, and in 2018 things finally came to a head.

So much so, that Buckingham alleged Nicks gave the band an ultimatum — either he goes, or she goes. In the end, it was Buckingham who left — or was fired.

Accepting his place in the band

Buckingham admitted to The Los Angeles Times that he was sad no one in the band backed him, but he also understood why. He knew, as well as anyone else, that — to most people — Stevie Nicks is Fleetwood Mac.

He mused, “It would be like a scenario where Mick Jagger says, ‘Either Keith [Richards] goes or I go.’ No, neither one of you can go. But I guess the singer has to stay. The figurehead has to stay.”

Nicks fights back

As with anything involving Nicks and Buckingham, though, there are two sides to the story. Nicks told the Times, “His version of events is factually inaccurate… To be exceedingly clear, I did not have him fired, I did not ask for him to be fired, I did not demand he be fired.”

Instead, she claimed, “Frankly, I fired myself. I proactively removed myself from the band and a situation I considered to be toxic to my wellbeing. I was done.”