Buffalo Springfield

TrackSingle / Album
Nowadays Clancy Can't Even SingBuffalo Springfield
Everybody's WrongBuffalo Springfield
Flying On The Ground Is WrongBuffalo Springfield
For What It's WorthBuffalo Springfield
Mr SoulBuffalo Springfield Again
BluebirdBuffalo Springfield Again
Expecting To FlyBuffalo Springfield Again
EverydaysBuffalo Springfield Again
Rock & Roll WomanBuffalo Springfield Again
Broken ArrowBuffalo Springfield Again

 

Buffalo Springfield photo 3

Buffalo Springfield (l to r): Dewey Martin (drums), Richie Furay (guitar, vocals), Stephen Stills (guitar, vocals), Bruce Palmer (bass), Neil Young (guitar, vocals)

 

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Buffalo Springfield photo 2

Buffalo Springfield (l to r): Dewey Martin (drums), Jim Messina (bass), Neil Young (guitar, vocals), Richie Furay (guitar, vocals), Stephen Stills (guitar, vocals)

 

Contributor: Rob Morgan

The cliché of leaving home for the bright lights of Los Angeles is only a cliché because there is an element of truth in it. It’s happened before and it may well happen again – LA is a city of dreams, on the edge of the west coast of America, stuck between the Pacific Ocean and the deserts to the east of it. Hollywood, Rodeo Drive, Disneyland, Sunset Strip … a magical place indeed.

Buffalo Springfield may have formed in LA in 1966 but not many of their members were natives, and most of them had been on the music scene (albeit on a low key level) for a number of years. Stephen Stills was from Texas originally but had moved around the country soaking up musical influences. Richie Furay was originally from Ohio and met up with Stills in the Au Go Go Singers. When they played in Fort William they met native Canadians, Neil Young and Bruce Palmer. When Young and Palmer drove to California in Young’s hearse (it made it easy to wheel musical equipment in and out), Stills and Furay spotted the distinctive vehicle in a traffic jam on Sunset Boulevard and reacquainted themselves with the two Canadians. With the addition of another Canadian, Dewey Martin, on drums, the five piece line up of Buffalo Springfield was completed in early 1966 (the band name was provided by Van Dyke Parks who spotted it on a steamroller). It seems they came together very quickly – Stills’ friend Peter Tork remembers seeing their first gig only a month after Stills had been complaining about not being able to form a group. Records show that they were playing live within a few weeks of that meeting on Sunset Boulevard.

They made an immediate impact on the LA live music scene, dominated at the time by Love and the Byrds. The combined guitar firepower of Stills and Young, the three way harmonies of Stills, Young and Furay plus the rock solid rhythm section of Palmer and Martin was a force to be reckoned with. There was soon a bidding war for them – Stills’ friend Barry Friedman was their original manager but was pushed out by Charlie Greene and Brian Stone, who had links with Atlantic Records through managing Sonny and Cher. The Springfield signed with Atlantic through their Atco subsidiary and Friedman was pushed out of the picture – a shame as he had close contact with Elektra Records who were interested in signing the band.

During the summer of 1966 Buffalo Springfield recorded their debut album with Greene and Stone in the producers’ chairs. Somewhere along the line the power of the live band was lost in translation in the studio, some say it was the producers not knowing how to record the band, some say it was nerves on the part of the musicians (certainly Young was so unsure of his recorded voice that he passed some of his songs to Furay to sing). Either way, the eventual issue of the eponymous album later in the year was seen as a disappointment and an opportunity missed. The band themselves wanted to record the whole album again, but only had the time and money to remix the mono album. Little did anyone realise that mono was on the way out and the despised stereo mix would remain in the record racks for the next thirty years.

But really, how bad is the production on Buffalo Springfield? I’ve never had a problem with it to be honest. Maybe my own background listening to jangly guitars from the Byrds and Love through to the Field Mice and the Orchids made me more amenable to the album when I first heard it in the early 90s. Sure, it doesn’t have a lot of power in the rhythm section and the guitar firepower of Stills and Young barely ignites, but the general performances and the songs themselves are great.

Their debut single, Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing, was an odd choice to introduce their music to the listening public, Young’s song offers tantalising glimpses of someone’s confusion, mirrored by the seamless move from straight 4/4 into waltz time for the chorus. It must have sounded very odd at the time. There’s some straightforward entirely pleasant mid 60s guitar pop like Hot Dusty Roads and Go And Say Goodbye, there’s hints of possible guitar heroics on Leave, and Young’s two vocal showcases are revealing – both Burned and Out Of My Mind show him as restless, confused and worried about the scenes he’s seeing around him. But when band and song fire on all cylinders it’s still a great sound. Stills’ Everybody’s Wrong has plenty of jangle and drone and developing vocal harmonies throughout the song. Flying On The Ground Is Wrong is one of Young’s loveliest melodies, swinging from major to minor, and sung beautifully by Furay, while Do I Have To Come Right Out And Say It? catches that moment in a love affair just when someone wants to tell someone else they think they’re pretty special. So Buffalo Springfield isn’t as bad as its reputation, but better was to come. The debut was considered a flop at the time and neither single from it (Burned was issued after the failure of ‘Clancy’) reached the Billboard Hot 100. Buffalo Springfield could well have become another cult band with more potential than actual sales, but circumstances worked in their favour.

During the autumn of 1966, the Sunset Strip was a tinderbox waiting to erupt. Young people were getting restless in LA and the authorities were clamping down on it. Eventually the police imposed a curfew of 10pm; the Pandora’s Box club (a hang out for ‘long hairs’ and prototype hippies) was forced to close and in response the young rock fans rioted. Stills was close enough to the scene to pick up the tension and wrote a song about it and played it for Greene, stating “Let me play you a song, for what it’s worth”. Studio time was immediately booked, the distinctive song was recorded and an acetate was on local radio within a week.

For What It’s Worth may be Stills’ song but it’s a full group performance. Palmer and Martin set up a simple laid back rhythm while Young adds tension with chiming guitar harmonics. Stills’ lyrics are ambiguous – he doesn’t say which side he is supporting but “nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong”. There’s no judgement, no taking sides, just observations and the memorable chorus line “Stop, children – what’s that sound? Everybody look what’s going down”. The verse harmonies sound like the hums of disapproval from the older generation, Young’s tremolo guitar solo doesn’t resolve the song. But somehow through all the ambiguities For What It’s Worth captured the moment perfectly. Recorded in December 1966 and issued at the start of January 1967, it quickly climbed up the charts in the US, reaching #7 in the Billboard Hot 100 in March. Buffalo Springfield had a hit single and it was a credible hit single. The world should have been at their feet, but slowly they threw it all away.

There had always been tension in the band, even before the success of For What It’s Worth. Young had health problems – childhood polio left his body weakened and he started having epileptic fits during Springfield concerts. Somehow these upset Stills who accused him of trying to destroy his career (or maybe he didn’t like all the attention Young received from worried female fans after his fits?). Also, Young had been arrested with Stone and Greene in late ˈ66, and there were intimations of trouble there. Whatever tension was surrounding Young in late ˈ66, he channelled it into a new song, Mr Soul, recorded in early ˈ67. The song melded the Stones’ Satisfaction riff into something more nervous, Young’s lyrics are filled with portents of doom; fame clearly did not sit easily on his shoulders at this point. The music was powerful and insistent though, as were the multiple guitar overdubs which threaten to overpower it. Mr Soul was Young’s first masterpiece.

1967 would be a year of turmoil, trouble and triumph for Buffalo Springfield. Bruce Palmer was busted for drugs in early 1967 and deported back to Canada immediately. The band tried to carry on without him, hiring Jim Messina as their new bass player, but the vibe wasn’t quite the same. Palmer would slip in and out of the USA, sometimes unseen by the authorities, but wasn’t around for much of the recording sessions which took place in the Spring of ˈ67. Atlantic wanted to capitalise on the success of For What It’s Worth and Buffalo Springfield recorded numerous songs in a piecemeal fashion wherever they could. Then as Spring turned to Summer, Neil Young left the band to go solo just as Buffalo Springfield were due to play at the Monterey Pop Festival in June. Luckily, David Crosby of the Byrds stood in for Young at Monterey, further establishing his connection to Stills. Young would rejoin Buffalo Springfield in the autumn of ˈ67 just in time to contribute to their second album, Buffalo Springfield Again, issued in November.

Buffalo Springfield Again shows the lack of cohesion in the band during 1967. It rarely hangs together as the sound of a five piece band, unlike the debut album. It could be argued that the stress and the fighting and the break ups and falling back ins contributed to a better album. It could also be argued that the scattershot stylistic blend anticipated The Beatles, another album made by a band caught in flux, pulling in different directions but still creating magic. Whatever the circumstances of the album’s tortuous creation, the results were worth it.

The three songwriters were at the top of their game, each bringing something new and different to the album. Neil Young contributed three songs, Mr Soul was a powerful album opener. Expecting To Fly (recorded solo with Jack Nitzsche) was a remarkable song – orchestral yet intimate, beautifully melodic, melancholy, and a startling glimpse of Young’s talent. Broken Arrow closed the album in style; a multi-sectioned song, each verse and chorus linked by sound effects, a baseball ground organ … the song could be read as a state of the nation address, making no judgement, just showing America as it was in the late ˈ60s, the battle between youth and experience … it’s all there.

Richie Furay wrote three songs too. A Child’s Claim To Fame clips along in a country trot; some say the song was aimed at Young’s defection from the band. Sad Memory is virtually a solo song – just acoustic guitar and voice with a distant guitar solo as counterpoint. Furay also wrote Good Time Boy for Dewey Martin to sing and indulge his Otis Redding fantasy.

Stephen Stills’ songs may not have expressed his tortured soul or reflected the generation gap like Young’s contributions to the album, but they were just as good in their own way. Everydays is a supple little groove, recorded live in the studio and featuring a bravura performance by Young on “Humm” – in reality managing to sustain a guitar note via feedback for as long as possible. Hung Upside Down was moody, built on harmonised Young fuzz guitar lines. Rock And Roll Woman shows the influence of David Crosby (he is credited as “Inspiration” for the song, and those backing vocals are pure Croz) and is a fantastic song. Is it a tribute to Croz, or Mama Cass or someone else? Finally, Bluebird is a monster, all of the band firing on all cylinders, Young and Stills having a guitar battle, heavenly harmonies, and a banjo coda.

Buffalo Springfield Again was well received at the time especially by the burgeoning underground press in America. However, the review in the first issue of Rolling Stone (December 1967) hits the nail on the head:

“What Buffalo Springfield Again though obviously lacks is cohesiveness. Diversity is an advantage but some times goes too far and becomes disunity. This album sounds as if every member of the group is satisfying their own musical needs.”

Quite. The album peaked at #44 in the Billboard charts but there was little the band could do to promote it. They did continue to play concerts into 1968 but frankly it didn’t seem like anyone’s heart was in it. More recording sessions took place but hardly any with all five members together. Finally, the band fell apart after another drugs bust in the Spring of ˈ68, leading to a final deportation for Palmer, and Buffalo Springfield was over.

There was one final album, a contractual obligation if ever there was one, entitled Last Time Around. Even the band photo on the cover was a collage; they couldn’t even get together for a photo session. If Again showed fractures in the band, Last Time Around had chasms. It’s perfectly enjoyable but doesn’t reach the peaks on their previous albums. Even so, there are some notable songs. Young’s I Am A Child was possibly his reply to A Child’s Claim To Fame, and anticipates a certain strand of Young’s future musical direction. Furay’s Kind Woman does the same for his future direction too. Stills throws in Questions, which he would later adapt into another form, and there’s the perfect 60s pop of Pretty Girl Why (written for Stills’ girlfriend Nancy Priddy, mother of Christina Applegate). The oddest moment of the album is The Hour Of Not Quite Rain. An LA radio station ran a competition to write a lyric for a Buffalo Springfield song and this lyric won. It’s a heroically daft piece of baroque psych pop.

Of course once Buffalo Springfield split, the individual members could go on to their own careers. Stills teamed up with David Crosby (see Toppermost #271) and Graham Nash (from the Hollies) to become Crosby, Stills & Nash (see Toppermost #90). Richie Furay turned towards country, forming Poco (see Toppermost #387) alongside Jim Messina and Rusty Young who both appeared on Kind Woman. Neil Young quickly signed to Reprise and started a solo career, also working with Crazy Horse and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. It was with these acts the members of Buffalo Springfield fulfilled their potential, and this made the Springfield more remarkable in retrospect. It’s surprising then that they haven’t been compiled more frequently. There was a Best Of issued in 1969, a double anthology in 1973 (featuring a different nine minute version of Bluebird) and finally a four CD boxed set of their complete works early in the 21st century. This, however, generated more questions than answers, not least about the legendary lost album, Stampede. This was slated for release in the summer of 1967, there were front covers printed up but nobody ever put together a track listing. During the early months of ’67 the band recorded a lot of material which remained unissued (unless via bootlegs) until the boxed set, songs like We’ll See, Kahuna Sunset and My Kind Of Love are perfectly pleasant but pale in comparison to what was eventually issued on Again. The best song from this period had actually been released by Neil Young on his Decade triple album compilation in 1977; Down To The Wire is as desperate and spooked as his other ’67 songs. Could it have fitted onto Again? Probably, but there was enough in fighting and jockeying by Stills, Young and Furay to get their songs on the album, maybe it would have tipped the balance too much towards Young. In the end, Stampede was more of a record company idea than an actual album, but this hasn’t stopped bootleggers and music fans from trying to compile their own version.

As with so many bands from the past, the desire was always there for Buffalo Springfield to reform. Neil Young even sang about it on his song Buffalo Springfield Again – “I’d like to see those guys again and give it a shot/Maybe now we’ll show the world what we’ve got” and eventually it happened. It wasn’t a full reformation – both Palmer and Martin had passed away by then – but Young, Stills and Furay played together for Young’s Bridge School charity in 2010, and played more concerts together in 2011 before Young – ever restless – moved back to Crazy Horse, and Buffalo Springfield were put on hiatus.

The legacy of Buffalo Springfield extends further than the extensive careers of the former band members. For What It’s Worth became a counter culture anthem, especially when Stills extended it into a chant (hear his version on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Four Way Street live album). The song has been sampled (by Public Enemy) and covered (by Cher, the Staple Singers and Oui 3) and remains a potent though ambiguous symbol of Sixties idealism. But if that’s all you know of Buffalo Springfield – and the reputations of the former members – then there is plenty to discover within their back catalogue. Certainly, Buffalo Springfield Again can hold its head high amongst the best albums of 1967, and the debut album is a fine example of mid 60s guitar pop. Dive in, you won’t be disappointed.

 

 

Dewey Martin (1940–2009)

Bruce Palmer (1946–2004)

 

Buffalo Springfield: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Buffalo Springfield at Discogs

Neil Young official website

Stephen Stills official website

Richie Furay Toppermost #374

Jim Messina official website

Buffalo Springfield biography (iTunes)

Rob Morgan writes about the music he loves for a number of websites and is a regular contributor to Toppermost. He also creates podcasts. He tweets @durutti74.

TopperPost #660

7 Comments

  1. Dave Stephens
    Sep 28, 2017

    Great feature Rob and not before time. Buffalo Springfield trump most of their successors in my book including CSN with or without Y. The album BS Again might have been patchy but the good tracks were classics. The only other selection I’d like to have seen in would have been Sit Down, I Think I Love You.

  2. Michael Martin
    Sep 28, 2017

    I’ve only got Neil Young’s Decade which features a few Springfield songs, must investigate further … a very informative piece of writing Rob.

  3. Keith Shackleton
    Sep 29, 2017

    I’m not going to argue with any of those! I do remember when I first heard of the Springfield. It was one of those “transistor radio on the pillow, too late to stay up, school in the morning’ moments.. I can’t remember if it was Peel’s show, but it’s highly likely. It wouldn’t have been when the clip was first broadcast, I think, so it must have been a re-run of Led Zeppelin’s 1971 Paris Theatre performance, when the guys jammed around in the middle of Whole Lotta Love, as they often did. So there, in the dark, pretty spooky really, Robert Plant adds a few lines of For What It’s Worth, which struck me so hard I never forgot it. I used to have a tape, long gone now, and when Zep’s BBC Sessions came out on CD, I thought, brilliant, I’ll hear it again, in glorious remastered fidelity. But that bit is edited out! Anyhow, after that I went back to the source, as you do, and loved the original.

  4. Steve Cook
    Sep 29, 2017

    Hate to be pedantic but the four CD box set is not their complete works. It’s pretty light on tracks from Last Time Around (which I think is a hugely underrated album, by the way). I suspect this is because of Neil Young’s involvement in compiling it. I don’t think he’s a fan, probably because he’s not on many of the tracks.

  5. Andrew Shields
    Sep 29, 2017

    Like Michael, I have only really known ‘For What It’s Worth’ and the Springfield tracks off ‘Decade’ up to now. This great piece, however, has given me the perfect map from which to start exploring further. Thanks…

  6. steve fruitman
    Sep 30, 2017

    Neil Young met Stephen Stills in Fort William / Port Arthur – twin towns now called Thunder Bay, Ontario. The way you wrote it, it sounds like Fort William is somewhere else. Although he was born in Toronto, Neil was living in Winnipeg, Manitoba at the time.

    • Rob Morgan
      Oct 1, 2017

      Thank you for the correction – I wasn’t aware of this, I did think they were separate places.

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