Written initially for what was to be the second Buckingham-Nicks album, “Rhiannon” became a Fleetwood Mac song when the two artists agreed to join that legendary band, creating a lineup that would produce an impressive string of successes — and personal crises — in the ensuing decades. Written by Stevie Nicks on piano in collaboration with Lindsey Buckingham, “Rhiannon” stands a bit apart from standard Fleetwood Mac fare to this day, and feels more like a solo artist’s project.
Part of this may have to do with the drum pattern.
Buckingham envisioned a polyrhythmic drum pattern, but found the song wasn’t playable by Mick Fleetwood, whose style was more suited to straight ahead rock and pop. So, producer Keith Olsen took some recordings of Fleetwood’s attempts, spliced them together on tape, and achieved the drum loop that undergirds the song. It’s a fast song (129 bpm), but feels soft and subdued due to the instrumentation, so the tempo doesn’t hit you over the head. (The song is in the key of A, and drifts among Am, C, and F.)
Rhiannon is the name of a Welsh goddess of fertility and the moon (the name translates to “night queen” or “great queen”). According to myth, she shunned a god and married a mortal man, so the god framed her for the murder of her own son, forcing her to stand at the entrance to a city and tell everyone entering that she killed her child.
Nicks found the name in a book about a woman who believes she is being possessed by the spirit of a woman named Rhiannon. She didn’t learn the story of the Welsh goddess until after she’d written the song.
The song defined Nicks’ on-stage appearance of flowing shawls and black outfits. This gave her a mystical look that caught on with her fans. Nicks often sang the song so passionately that she would injure her voice, causing the band to reschedule dates because of it. You can hear how much she put into her vocals in the live version below.
After this song was released, some parents named their daughters Rhiannon. The most popular year for the name was 1977, when Rhiannon ranked #418 of among girls' names (the singer Rhiannon Giddens was born that year). In 1999, after a Fleetwood Mac reunion, the name ranked #423 among all girls names.