"Rhiannon" was voted #488 in The 500 Greatest Hits of All Time by Rolling Stone magazine. Its US chart peak was in June 1976, when it hit #11. It reached #46 in the UK singles chart after re-release in February 1978.
The song is always referred to as simply "Rhiannon" on Fleetwood Mac albums. The suffixed title "Rhiannon (Will You Ever Win)" was only used on singles in certain territories.
Live performances of the song were sometimes prefaced with Nicks saying, "This is a song about an old Welsh witch. During 1975–1980, Fleetwood Mac's live performances of "Rhiannon" took on a theatrical intensity not present on the FM-radio single. The song built to a climax in which Nicks' vocals were so impassioned that, as drummer and band co-founder Mick Fleetwood said, "her Rhiannon in those days was like an exorcism."
Nicks discovered Rhiannon through a novel called Triad, by Mary Leader. The novel is about a woman named Branwen, who is possessed by another woman named Rhiannon. There is mention of the Welsh legend of Rhiannon in the novel, but the characters in the novel bear little resemblance to their original Welsh namesakes (both Rhiannon and Branwen are major female characters in the medieval Welsh prose tales of the Mabinogion).
Nicks bought the novel in an airport just before a long flight and thought the name was so pretty that she wanted to write something about a girl named Rhiannon. She wrote "Rhiannon" in 1974, three months before joining Fleetwood Mac, and has claimed that it took 10 minutes to write.
After writing the song, Nicks learned that Rhiannon originated from a Welsh goddess, and was amazed that the haunting song lyrics applied to the Welsh Rhiannon as well. Nicks researched the Mabinogion story and began work on a Rhiannon project, unsure of whether it would become a movie, a musical, a cartoon, or a ballet. There are several "Rhiannon Songs" from this unfinished project including "Stay Away" and "Maker of Birds." Nicks wrote the Fleetwood Mac song "Angel" based on the Rhiannon story.
Nicks avoided wearing black clothing for "about two years" in an effort to distance herself from the witchcraft and dark arts associations surrounding her as a result of the lyrics to "Rhiannon" giving fans the wrong impression.
In the remastered version other verses are included like "dreams unwind, love's a state of mind." In Fleetwood Mac's live shows, Nicks says "once in a million years a lady like her rises. Well Rhiannon you cry, but she's gone, and your life knows no answer."
- Stevie Nicks - lead vocals
- Lindsey Buckingham - lead guitar, backing vocals
- Christine McVie - keyboards
- John McVie - bass
- Mick Fleetwood - drums, percussion
- Redd Kross recorded a lo-fi version of "Rhiannon" in 1988, which was released as a 7" 45-rpm single bundled with the magazine "Away From The Pulsebeat".
- Waylon Jennings covered the song in his 1985 album, Turn the Page.
- Hardcore Punk band Zeke also covered the song in their 2000 Dirty Sanchez album.
- Hole also sampled "Rhiannon (Will You Ever Win)" on the song "Starbelly" from their album Pretty on the Inside from 1991.
- Japanese artist Superfly covered the song as a B-side of the single "Ai o Komete Hanataba o", released on February 28, 2008.
- American Idol finalist Brook White covered the song on her 2009 iTunes Live Sessions album.
- Taylor Swift performed with Stevie Nicks at the 2010 Grammy Awards.
- Buckethead usually plays the opening riff between a song.
- American Idol Season 9 finalist Didi Benami *performed a cover of the song on the Top 8 female performances on Tuesday, March 9, 2010.
- American Idol Season 10 finalist Haley Reinhart performed a cover of "Rhiannon" during the Top 3 finalist performances on May 19, 2011.
- Best Caust covered the song in a live session for Sirius XMU in May 2012.
- Vaughan Penn and the Boomers cover this song during their club days in the 1980s
Appearance in other media
- The song appeared in 2011 as a downloadable track for the music video game Rock Band 3.
- Author Glen Cook stated in an interview that the title for his novel She Is the Darkness was taken from the lyrics of "Rhiannon".
- This song made an appearance in the second episode of the third season of American Horror Story: Coven.