Every once in awhile I come across a song so wonderfully ingenious and exciting that I go around telling people breathlessly that I can't believe it was written by human beings. I then proceed to listen to it almost continually for days on end, soaking up its every nuance. "Second Hand News," the opening track on Fleetwood Mac's Rumours is just such a song.
I first came to appreciate this classic Lindsey Buckingham composition this year at SXSW. As it happened, I had come to Austin right on the heels of a terrible bout of mononucleosis, for which my doctor had prescribed a course of a powerful anti-inflammatory steroid called prednisone. Unfortunately, while the drug relieved both the terrifying throat swelling and crippling fatigue I had been experiencing, it also had the unfortunate side effect of MAKING IT SO THAT I NEVER SLEPT. Early one morning after staring at the ceiling of my room at the Stephen F. Austin all night, I decided to just throw in the towel and take a sunrise walk from downtown Austin to Barton Springs. What better accompaniment to a morning of drug-addled insomnia, I thought, than a selection from Fleetwood Mac's "California cocaine trilogy." And I was right: its air of weariness and bitter resignation fit the moment perfectly.
As "Second Hand News" became a major part of my personal soundtrack for the next few weeks, I also began to appreciate it as a wonderful example of musical sprezzatura (the Italian word for the art of making the difficult look easy). The chord structure is basically just a simple riff of A, D, and E (I-IV-V)–the sort of simple ditty you'd find in a Mel Bay beginner guitar book. But Buckingham has three tricks up his sleeve that make his arrangement exciting. First, his rhythm guitar feel lends the track an infectious energy; second, his escalating, choir-like outro ("I'm just second hand news, I'm just second hand news") gives the whole affair a euphoric climax; and third, his use of an open D guitar tuning on the second guitar, combined with the simple chord progression, allows him to add harmonic interest through the use of unusual harmonic guitar fills. All of this just goes to show you that compelling rock songs can be built out of the simplest of materials.