Buffalo Springfield were a short-lived, but fascinating band. It’s easy to draw parallels with The Byrds – both were 1960s Californian folk rock bands, with volatile lineups, who spawned many notable acts. Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Richie Furay of Poco, and Jim Messina of Loggins and Messina were all members of the group.
Buffalo Springfield’s origins are well documented – Stills and Young had already crossed paths as they both tried to break into the music industry. Stills had unsuccessfully auditioned for The Monkees, while Young had been in a band with Rick James. Stills and Furay were driving through Hollywood when they spotted Neil Young’s distinctive black hearse with bass player Bruce Palmer in tow; Canadians Young and Palmer had been unsuccessfully seeking Stills for a jam session, and were driving out of town. The four formed Buffalo Springfield with experienced drummer Dewey Martin, who had previously played with The Standells.
In just over two years, Buffalo Springfield released three albums, although they’re most remembered for recording one of the decade’s best known protest songs, Stills’ ‘For What It’s Worth’. But their history was also tumultuous – Palmer was deported several times for drug possession, while the temperamental Young quit and returned to the group several times. With such a volatile history, the group only really hit their potential on one of their three albums, but they’re still a fascinating act, a collective of several exceptional talents taking their first steps in recorded music.
Buffalo Springfield Album Reviews
Buffalo Springfield’s debut album feels somewhat anachronistic – released almost a year after Californian contemporaries The Byrds released the ground-breaking ‘Eight Miles High’, Stephen Stills’ melodic folk-rock and British invasion style songs are tame in comparison. The album was re-released in early 1967 with Stills’ breakthrough single ‘For What It’s Worth’ added as the opening track, and it’s clearly a step ahead of Stills’ other material on this record, with its counter-cultural message and Young’s minimal, yet effective, guitar leads.
It’s the more enigmatic Young who’s the most interesting figure on Buffalo Springfield – with his high pitched voice, he wasn’t a confident singer initially, and Richie Furay sings lead vocals on two of Young’s songs, ‘Flying on the Ground Is Wrong’ and ‘Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing’. ‘Clancy’ wasn’t necessarily a good choice for lead single – it’s too nuanced and cryptic for mass appeal – but it’s the strongest piece on the original album. Young does take lead vocals on two of his second side compositions, and his thin voice is compelling on ‘Burned’ and ‘Leave’. Stills’ material is tuneful on songs like ‘Go And Say Goodbye’, but he almost feels like a songwriter for hire.
Buffalo Springfield is a promising debut, and ‘For What It’s Worth’ is an enduring 1960s protest anthem, but the group would easily surpass it on their second full length.
Buffalo Springfield Again
After the success of ‘For What It’s Worth’, Buffalo Springfield had much more studio time to work on their followup. At the same time, they were in disarray – Palmer was deported to Canada for drug offences, while Young quit and rejoined the band several times. Indeed, his ‘Expecting To Fly’ was recorded with Spector sideman Jack Nitszche without the input of any other Springfield members, and was intended for a Young solo album. Young and Stills’ work is both much more ambitious and accomplished than on their debut, and often brilliant, but the inclusion of three Furay songs weighs the album down.
Of Young’s material, the multi-part ‘Broken Arrow’ wears its obvious Sgt. Peppers influences on its sleeve, a wandering epic where Furay is the only other Buffalo Springfield member participating. ‘Expecting to Fly’ is a beautiful string laden ballad, while ‘Mr. Soul’ uses a fuzzy riff reminiscent of ‘Satisfaction’. Stills also gets an epic piece with the multi-part ‘Bluebird’, while the excellent ‘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. Amongst all these classics, it’s easy to overlook Stills’ ‘Hung Upside Down’, but it’s a great album track. On the other hand, Furay’s three compositions are slight; they’re generally short and inconsequential, although Dewey Martin’s lead vocal on ‘Good Time Boy’ is distracting in its brashness.
There are a few throwaways on Buffalo Springfield Again, but its best moments are among the best songs of 1967.
Last Time Around
Buffalo Springfield had already disbanded by the time their final album had been released in order to fulfil record company obligations. The five original members only appear on one song; the opening Young song ‘On The Way Home’, while Young is often absent altogether. Jim Messina is listed as an official member of the band, producing, writing ‘Carefree Country Day’, and contributing bass parts. The strangest story behind a song is ‘The Hour Of Not Quite Rain’, where the lyrics came from the winner of a radio competition, which Furay set to music.
Young’s two songs are both strong, and Furay’s writing has improved, but Stills dominates the album with a bunch of lesser known but often enjoyable material. Stills shows his interest in Latin music for the first time on record with ‘Uno Mondo’, while the draft dodging song ‘Four Days Gone’ is a strong album track. ‘Questions’ was later revised as part of ‘Carry On/Questions’ on Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s Deja Vu. Young’s ‘I Am A Child’ and the slick, radio friendly ‘On The Way Home’ are perhaps the best known songs here, while Furay’s writing has improved with ‘Kind Woman’ and the drama of ‘The Hour Of Not Quite Rain’.
Last Time Around often feels like a bunch of solo recordings by the different band members pieced together, and it’s disjointed, but it’s still a worthwhile swansong from a volatile band.
This compilation was the only Buffalo Springfield album I owned for a long time, and it does a good job of covering their best work. It’s a good one shop solution, even if Buffalo Springfield Again is a better listen.
Ten Favourite Buffalo Springfield Songs
Expecting To Fly
For What It’s Worth
Rock and Roll Woman
Hung Upside Down
Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing
I Am A Child
Four Days Gone