“Used to play in a rock ‘n roll band, but they broke up. We were young and we were wild, it ate us up,” lamented Neil Young in the song “Buffalo Springfield Again” from his 2000 album Silver and Gold. “I’d like to see those guys again, and give it a shot. Maybe now we can show the world what we’ve got. But I’d just like to play for the fun we had.” Some 11 years later, Young’s wish may be coming true. On February 10, Rolling Stone carried a headline for which fans had waited years: “Exclusive: Buffalo Springfield Plans to Reunite for Fall Tour.” Encouraged by the success of a one-off reunion at last year’s Bridge School Benefit, it appears likely that Neil Young (who picked up his first Grammy as a musician last night), Stephen Stills and Richie Furay will once again appear as Buffalo Springfield. The group (consisting of that trio, plus Bruce Palmer on bass and Dewey Martin on drums, now both deceased) formed in 1966 and was history before the end of 1968, after only three LPs had been recorded. Yet the band managed to blaze a trail that broadened the sound of rock. And thanks to a “trade” that would have made George Steinbrenner proud, the band served as a launching pad for three superstar careers. Welcome to today’s Back Tracks, spotlighting the incendiary and influential folk-rock of Buffalo Springfield!
Most stories, alas, end with a hearse. But the legend of Buffalo Springfield begins with one. As the story goes, Stills and Furay were caught in Los Angeles traffic (some things never change!) when they noticed the 1953 black Pontiac hearse belonging to Stills’ old friend Neil Young, former member with Bruce Palmer of Motown’s Mynah Byrds. The fact is, Young had been unsuccessfully attempting to find Stills since relocating to California. After an illegal U-turn and much excitement, the seeds of Buffalo Springfield were planted, with Dewey Martin soon joining the newly-united Stills, Young, Furay and Palmer. Whether the traffic sighting is truth or mere apocrypha, Buffalo Springfield was born. The band made its debut at the famed Troubadour on April 11, 1966, and its debut LP arrived that December, a 12-track set produced on Atco by Charles Greene and Brian Stone. Hit the jump for a full exploration of each release in Buffalo Springfield’s small but potent catalogue!
Buffalo Springfield (Atco, 1966 – reissued Atco, 1989 and Atco/Elektra, 1997)
Buffalo Springfield’s self-titled LP debut showed off the incredible versatility of Stills and Young, who split the songwriting chores. (Stills wound up with seven credits, Young with five.) While already a confident songwriter, Young was less assured vocally, and ceded the lead on all but two of his songs to Furay. Two of those Furay-sung compositions are as stunning as anything Young would later write, and while they are pop songs (nothing wrong there!), they are pop songs written by a singular voice. “Flying on the Ground is Wrong” boasts a dynamic, beautiful melody set to cryptically imaginative lyrics, while the impressionistic “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” married a series of queries to a wistful melody (“Who should be sleeping/But is writing this song? Wishin’ and a-hopin’ he weren’t so damned wrong/Who’s sayin’, baby, that don’t mean a thing? ‘Cause nowadays Clancy can’t even sing.”). This song undoubtedly struck a chord in youth experiencing similar feelings of alienation. Young himself seems to be present in the song, a young writer staying up nightly, observing and writing. Of the songs sung by Young, “Burned” is a garage-style rocker while “Out of My Mind” is tense and pensive, with shades of the Southern California of The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds in its guitar work. (Like most of Buffalo Springfield, “Out of My Mind” was recorded at Brian Wilson’s favored Gold Star Studios.)
Stills’ “Go and Say Goodbye” was country-rock worthy of The Byrds, for whom the band would soon be opening, but he proved his mastery of the pure pop song with the invigorating “Sit Down, I Think I Love You.” But the runaway hit of Buffalo Springfield wasn’t even on original pressings of the LP. “For What It’s Worth” was written by Stills in a burst of inspiration after he witnessed the heated confrontations between police and young people upon the closing of Pandora’s Box, a popular West Hollywood nightspot. Today, it’s gained an association with the 1970 Kent state shootings, despite having been composed in 1966, and remains the band’s one radio staple and pop culture touchstone. Its unforgettable refrain of “Stop, children, what’s that sound? Everybody look what’s going down” captured the zeitgeist of the era like few other songs did. When the song was released as a single, Atco quickly realized that it belonged on the LP, and so Buffalo Springfield was repressed, dropping Stills’ “Baby, Don’t Scold Me” in favor of his newest song.
Many of the songs on Buffalo Springfield received cover versions, some quite unusual. “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” was recorded in a lush, harmony-laden version by The Carpenters on 1969’s Offering, with the lead sung by Richard. The Mojo Men reinvented “Sit Down, I Think I Love You” with more than a little help from Van Dyke Parks, whose complex arrangement remains one of the era’s best, on the LP Sit Down…It’s the Mojo Men. The pre-fame Guess Who took on “Flying on the Ground” on the band’s 1968 eponymous LP, but a favorite version is by Summer Snow with the Peppermint Trolley Company, excavated by Now Sounds on last year’s Book a Trip compilation. Perhaps the strangest yet most touching Buffalo Springfield cover belongs to the Muppets, where “For What It’s Worth” was used in a chilling anti-hunting sequence on The Muppet Show.
Buffalo Springfield first appeared on CD in a straight reissue in 1989. It was again reissued in 1997 in a 24-track deluxe edition containing both the mono and stereo LP mixes, with “Baby Don’t Scold Me” from the mono version replaced with “For What It’s Worth” on the stereo version. Unfortunately, the mono/stereo release has long been deleted, and only the 12-track stereo version (with “For What It’s Worth” but missing “Baby Don’t Scold Me”) is available. This is particularly disappointing because the band wasn’t happy with the producers’ stereo mix, preferring the original mono version, which would later be made available on Box Set.
Buffalo Springfield Again (Atco, 1967 – reissued Atco, 1990)
The band’s sophomore effort found its membership already fracturing, the pop leanings disappearing, and Richie Furay coming into his own as a songwriter, penning three tracks to Young’s three and Stills’ four. A variety of producers (even Atlantic label head Ahmet Ertegun got into the act!) participated, leading to an album that sounds less organic than its predecessor, but equally exciting. It opens with Young’s tough “Mr. Soul,” dedicated on the sleeve notes to “the ladies of The Whisky A Go Go and the women of Hollywood.” While the subject of “Mr. Soul” is still shrouded in mystery, it’s clear that the song is a scathing rumination by Young on fame and the price thereof, perhaps directed at or inspired by a female groupie. Young revisited “Mr. Soul” many times in his later career, with renditions on such albums as Trans, Unplugged, Year of the Horse and Sugar Mountain – Live at Canterbury House 1968. A unique mono mix of the Springfield track exists but has never been officially released on CD.
This album featured contributions by many other stellar musicians. James Burton contributed a winning dobro part on Furay’s country-flecked standout “A Child’s Claim to Fame” while the American Soul Train horns played on “Good Time Boy,” written by Furay but sung by drummer Dewey Martin. Jack Nitzsche, soon to become a key Young collaborator, co-produced and played keyboards on perhaps the album’s standout track, Young’s “Expecting to Fly.” For all intents and purposes a Young solo recording, this track finds Nitzsche’s grandiose arrangement (strings, keyboards, the piano of Wrecking Crew member Don Randi, plus Young’s guitar) offering breathtaking support to the nakedly emotional tale of a relationship’s dissolution. The tempo was picked up with Stills’ rocking “Bluebird,” which showcased the guitar interplay of Stills, Young and Furay in a mini-suite incorporating folk-rock, psychedelia and even bluegrass. Stills cited David Crosby in the credits as “inspiration” for his “Rock & Roll Woman,” and the future CSNY sound is rooted in this track for which Crosby provided a bit of uncredited vocal support. With Stills and Crosby looking north from Los Angeles to San Francisco, Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick is said to be the woman of the title! The sense of competition must have led Stills and Young to the great number of breakthroughs they accomplished on Buffalo Springfield Again; Young’s “Broken Arrow” is a surreal sonic experiment that may be the most ambitious song Young had yet tackled, melding a sound collage with offbeat effects and song interpolations (“Take Me Out to the Ballgame”) to the rocker.
The seeds had been sown for the members to explore other avenues by this point; bassist Bruce Palmer only appeared on a handful of tracks, and the other members were recording many of their tracks individually, and overdubbing later. Buffalo Springfield Again has never received the deluxe reissue treatment.
Last Time Around (Atco, 1968 – reissued Atco, 1992)
Last Time Around was indeed, just that for Buffalo Springfield, but really a start for Young, Stills and Furay as superstars. Bruce Palmer was out of the picture and Dewey Martin hadn’t blossomed into a songwriter. Produced by Jim Messina, the first track signaled the continued experimentation in direction. “On the Way Home” was a lush and bittersweet Young-written song mainly sung by Furay with memorable brass punctuation and a potent string arrangement. It was also one of only two songs written solely by the now-disillusioned Young. The other was “I Am a Child,” and it’s surprising that Young didn’t save this country-rock gem for his solo debut which appeared mere months after Last Time Around. Of Furay’s songwriting contributions, “Kind Woman” pointed in the direction of his future work with Poco, a gorgeous ballad that was his finest song yet. Stills seemed less inspired than on the past two albums, though his “Pretty Girl Why” found him playing with slinky Latin sounds as did the more raucous rock of “Uno Mundo.” Producer Jim Messina wrote and sang “Carefree Country Day,” further evidence of the band’s imminent breakup.
With interpersonal tensions high, the band’s split was inevitable. Within months, Young released his Reprise debut, simply titled Neil Young. Stills soon appeared with Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield on Super Session for Columbia. Richie Furay was ready to form Poco with Jim Messina, while Stills had discovered a potent vocal blend when he joined with friend David Crosby and recent British expatriate Graham Nash, formerly of The Hollies. The new team of Crosby, Stills and Nash hoped to sign with Atlantic, Atco’s parent label, but Nash was under contract in America to Columbia’s Epic arm as a member of The Hollies. Manager David Geffen saved the day, engineering a trade that saw Furay released from his Atlantic contract; Poco was then born at Columbia, while Nash moved over to Atlantic. Poco went on to great success building on the country-rock sound of Buffalo Springfield and paving the way for Eagles, while Crosby, Stills and Nash became rock’s first supergroup, exploiting their inimitable harmony sound. Young would frequently reunite with his friend and rival Stills, turning CSN into CSNY at various times over the years. The Atco HDCD reissue of Last Time Around was no-frills, containing only the original 12-track album.
Retrospective: The Best of Buffalo Springfield (Atco, 1969 – reissued Atco, 1989)
This 1969 “greatest hits” set couldn’t be billed as such, as only “For What It’s Worth” had made substantial commercial impact. But over its twelve tracks, Retrospective is “all-killer, no-filler,” and a fine sampler of all three LPs. Four songs were from Buffalo Springfield, five from its eclectic follow-up and three from the group’s final album together. For a single-disc introduction to Buffalo Springfield, Retrospective can’t be topped, even today. (And its songwriter tally? Six tracks by Young were selected, five by Stills and one by Furay.) A 1970 compilation, Expecting to Fly, was released in the U.K. by Atlantic and covered similar ground, with sleeve notes provided by legendary DJ John Peel.
Buffalo Springfield: Collection (Atco, 1973)
Bearing the same eponymous title as the band’s debut LP, the 2-LP Buffalo Springfield was released in 1973 compiling 23 of the band’s songs. The only rarity present was a nine-minute version of Stills’ “Bluebird.” In 2007, this Buffalo Springfield was scheduled to be reissued as a limited-edition Japanese paper sleeve replica CD under the title Buffalo Springfield: Collection, but it appears that this release never materialized.
Box Set (Atco/Elektra/Rhino, 2001)
The title may be uninspired – Box Set, indeed – but the contents of Buffalo Springfield’s first-ever boxed collection are anything but. For Box Set contained a staggering 36 previously unreleased tracks, beginning with Disc One, Track One, a song called “There Goes My Babe” submitted in demo form by Neil Young for Sonny and Cher! In fact, the first 11 tracks on Disc One are all unreleased demos, including a song co-written by Stephen Stills and Van Dyke Parks (“Hello, I’ve Returned”), some Stills/Furay collaborations on early Stills songs, and Furay’s own demos. All of these songs would lead to the Buffalo Springfield “sound.” The set continues exploring a number of album outtakes and alternates; many of those outtakes are every bit as good as the songs that made the albums (and Box Set goes a long way in defeating the need for the Springfield bootlegs that had proliferated over the years). The tracks are sequenced chronologically, so it’s possible to immerse yourself in the music and follow the band’s maturity and progression.
Where Box Set falters is on its fourth disc. Disc Three concludes with a Stills demo recorded after Last Time Around; Disc Four then takes the listener back to the beginning and presents Buffalo Springfield and Buffalo Springfield Again in their entirety, the former in its preferred mono mix (including both “Baby, Don’t Scold Me” and “For What It’s Worth”) and the latter in the familiar stereo. Good as it is to hear these LPs in their original sequences, this disc repeats a considerable chunk of material from the first three discs. The mono mixes are at least unique; the stereo tracks are simply straight repeats. At the end of the day, Box Set oddly drops just a mere handful of the group’s released songs in favor of these duplications. Three tracks off Last Time Around are absent, and other notable omissions include the lengthy version of “Bluebird,” the Neil Young-sung take of “Down to the Wire” as introduced on his Decade, the Monterey Pop performance of “For What It’s Worth” and the two tracks excavated by Young for his long out-of-print Journey Through the Past, television performances of “For What It’s Worth/Mr. Soul” (mimed to a studio track on The Hollywood Palace) and “Rock & Roll Woman” from The Ed Sullivan Show. Yet Box Set devotes an entire disc to repeated songs.
One has to ask, “What were they thinking?” Each track on Disc Four, with the exception of “Mr. Soul,” has appeared earlier on the box. Though the wasted fourth disc is frustrating, there’s still much to offer here in terms of both music and packaging. Unlike most Rhino box sets, the booklet doesn’t contain lengthy essays or track-by-track liner notes. Instead, it’s lavishly designed after a scrapbook containing innumerable newspaper clippings, magazine articles and advertisements. Looking back on it today, it’s a clear precursor to the style of Neil Young’s massive Archives box. There’s a complete discography and fascinating list of every concert appearance played by the band, including the infamous Monterey Pop date in which David Crosby sat in; Doug Hastings had briefly replaced Neil Young in the lineup. All players are listed for each song, too. In total, the now unfortunately out-of-print Box Set is a must-own for any Springfield fan, even if it falls short of the completeness which would have been so easily attainable. Perhaps the upcoming tour will give Rhino a reason to reissue, or even better, revise and expand Box Set. Whether or not that happens, though, thankfully Buffalo Springfield’s core catalogue remains in print to remind listeners of this band that burned brightly for a short time, nearly defining folk-rock, country-rock and the entire California sound along the way.