According to legend, Stephen Stills chased down the black hearse driven by Canadians Neil Young and Bruce Palmer, forming the basis for 1960’s L.A. folk-rock group Buffalo Springfield. While Buffalo Springfield lasted less than two years and three albums and only enjoyed one hit single (Stills’ ‘For What It’s Worth’, aka “Stop, hey, what’s that sound?”, which has been retrospectively adopted as a counter-cultural anthem by TV documentaries and feel-good movie makers), if nothing else they are notable as a training ground.
Neil Young went on to a long and varied solo career, Stills formed Crosby, Stills and Nash while third singer-guitarist Richie Furay formed country-rock group Poco. So while Buffalo Springfield were a seminal group in their own right, Retrospective is doubly interesting as a fascinating insight into the development of Young and Stills.
Young’s restless creativity kicks in right from day one of the Springfield; he’s already self-mythologising in ‘Broken Arrow’ while his six songs on Retrospective presage the amount of musical ground he would cover in his solo career. Young was less than confident about his vocal abilities so Furay takes on the lead vocals on the charming ‘Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing’.
On the other hand, Stills’ material on Retrospective has a degree of charm, but it hardly points the way to his early CSN peaks like ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ and ‘Carry On’; ‘Go and Say Goodbye’ sounds like apt material for a uncool folk outfit like The Seekers or The Kingston Trio. The time in between the demise of Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills and Nash was well spent in day long jamming sessions with Jimi Hendrix. While Stills arguably turned out as a superior guitarist to the more heralded Young, his skills haven’t come to fruition here
Young’s guitar lines in ‘For What It’s Worth’ are minimalist perfection; the solo he produces in the fade-out is modest but it fits the song perfectly. Along with ‘For What It’s Worth’, Young’s epics are the most noteworthy pieces on Retrospective; the multi-part ‘Broken Arrow’ wears its obvious Sgt. Peppers influences on its sleeve, while ‘Expecting to Fly’ is a beautiful string laden ballad. Stills’ ‘Rock and Roll Woman’, supposedly about Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick, combines David Crosby and Stills voices on record for the first time with excellent results. Furay’s sole contribution ‘Kind Woman’ is merely pleasant.
With only two years of material, some of the material isn’t quite compilation worthy. While it may be more sensible to buy Buffalo Springfield’s individual albums, Retrospective is an excellent budget priced selection of a slightly overlooked sixties group.