Friday, 4 July 2008
Buffalo Springfield "Again" (1967) ('Core' Album #17, Revised Edition 2014)
(Review first published in July 2008' revised edition published August 28th 2014)
Track Listing: Mr Soul/ A Child’s Claim To Fame/ Everydays/ Expecting To Fly/ Bluebird// Hung Upside Down/ Sad Memory/ Good Time Boy/ Rock and Roll Woman/
Broken Arrow ( UK and track-listing) US
Well here we are, with the Buffalo Springfield again - but so much has changed since the first record that at times this barely seems like the same group. It all seemed so simple when they started: Richie was the all-American kid next door that all the girls wanted to marry and who was a natural commercial lead vocalist. Stephen Stills was the writer of catchy hits who could write pop hooks in his sleep. Neil Young was the shadowy, dark Indian figure who stayed at the back pealing off lead guitar licks like no tomorrow. But even by the time of the first album the lines were becoming blurred: Richie wanted to write. Stephen wanted to solo. Neil shocked many by wanting to sing his own songs in a voice that couldn't be less like the commercial all-American tones of Richie. During the making of this second album Neil had left and returned once (on the eve of the biggest TV break of their careers), then returned and left a second time (of the eve of the Monterey Pop Festival - the biggest concert of their careers). Bassist Bruce Palmer had been forced to leave the band (after being deported back to Canada for cannabis possession - a drugs bust that hit him and Richie and a visiting Eric Clapton - Stills, who was present, managed to slip out of a window and get help without the policeman finding him!) and the band never stopped trying to find a replacement for pushy drummer Dewey Martin. Even the front cover had to be put together using a cut-and-paste technique because the band were never together on the same day! After being disappointed with the sound and feel of the first album, the band reluctantly fired their managers and first album engineers Charlie Greene and Brian Stone, cutting themselves off from the only people who'd ever had control over them. With no less than three guitarists in the band, this album contains more textures than most multi-artist compilation CDs do and sound all the better for it, even though a slightly different emphasis on each player on each recording means even that establishing sound from the first album isn't here (one minute Stills and Young are competing, the next they're mirroring, the next Neil is reduced to a single hummed note, the next neither man is playing and it's all done by Richie). No two songs on this second album have exactly the same line-up, leading to lengthy sleeve-notes that detail just who on what (a first, as far as I can tell, in rock and roll circles when a band tended to stick together). No wonder this record sounds so different and goes in so many different directions at once.
With all of that going on, you'd understand it if this album was awful. Instead it's fabulous: until you get to know this album really really well (as surely you will) you're never quite sure what's going to happen next: a sideways lurch into blues, a side-step into soul or the six minute prog rock template collage that takes place at the end. The fact that there are now three very different visions of what the band are (heck, scrap that - Neil alone has three different visions of what the band are - add in Dewey's cameo and Stills' schizophrenic choices and that's more like seven) and none of them sound anything like the places the first album went in (which nearly all fits around the same pop-rock-country hybrid gene) ought to make this album fragmented and difficult to get a hold of. In fact it's this album's greatest strength: the magical year of 1967 was all about stretching boundaries and few albums stretch boundaries to breaking point more than 'Buffalo Springfield Again'. What's more, nearly all these performances are near definitive: there are few hard rockers in my collection more powerful than 'Mr Soul', few country-rock pieces more charming than 'A Child's Claim To Fame', few twinkly jazz bluesy piano songs greater than 'Everydays', few orchestral ballads more beautiful than 'Expecting To Fly', few hybrids of riff rock and Appalachian mountain ballad than 'Bluebird, few songs that use dynamics better than the quiet-to-shouting 'Hung Upside Down', few gentler acoustic ballads than 'Sad Memory', few soul pastiches than 'Good Time Boy', fewer pop songs more perfect than 'Rock and Roll Woman' and few songs weirder than whatever the hell 'Broken Arrow' (which is at least half a dozen songs in one anyway). The brilliance of an album like 'Again' is its consistency in the face of so many obstacles. Even by 1967 standards few albums offer as much or take you to as many places as 'Buffalo Springfield Again'.
One of the things I love most about 'Again' - one of my favourite albums - is the back sleeve where the Springfield pay tribute to all their many influences. And there's a lot of them: some 80 in all. In a nice piece of AAA inter-connectivity, many of them you'll know: Stills presumably nominated the band he was once in the running for, The Monkees (listed here as 'Mickey Mikey Davey Peter'); Dewey surely nominated his hero Otis Redding (who came very close to recording a soulful version of this album's 'Mr Soul' before Neil refused to let him - soul fan Dewey refused to speak to him for weeks!); lifelong fan Neil presumably picked Pentangle guitarist Bert Jansch mere months before that band were formed; the band's friendship with David Crosby presumably led to the listing of 'The Five Byrds' (interesting given that Gene Clark had left the band a year earlier and there were just four at the time this album came out!); others include 'Jefferson Airplane' 'The Stones' and 'The Nurk Twins plus George, Ringo' (full marks if you understood that obscure Beatles reference from the days when John and Paul were an Everly Brothers-style acoustic duo). There are some lovely nominations to the people who'd helped individual members of the band on their way to fame and fortune too: Neil's friend and fellow Squire Ken Koblun (who filled in for Bruce for all of a month before the band realised it wasn't working), Neil's new friend and Phil Spector's number two Jack Nitzche, Stills' childhood friend Jimi Hendrix, future Springfield member and occasional engineer Jim Messina and most sweetly 'Mort', the name of Neil's hearse which started it all (Stephen and Richie, stuck in a traffic jam and needing a guitarist for their band, recognised mutual friend Neil's hearse going the other way and flagged him down - had Neil had a more 'normal' type of car the Springfield might never have met!) The result is one of the greatest and sweetest of all AAA back covers, paying tribute to friends and inspirers back when that sort of thing just wasn't done, whole at the same time showing off just what a wide and eclectic mixture of styles was thrown into the Springfield melting pot (the line 'spelling by the Buffalo Springfield' reveals their humour too, although all bands and names are spelt correctly, even Jack Nitzche who has an impossible name to spell!)
The one problem with this record - and the reason that, ultimately, it didn't quite sell as well as the debut - is that the band have thrown out the buffalo with the bathwater. While the first album is patchy, at its best it offers at least two great new voices to rock and roll that never really get used again. Neil Young is a folkie protest songwriter in Bob Dylan mould, full of obtuse lines that poetically make the most perfect sense even if no other writer had ever quite put it like that ('Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing' and 'Flying On The Ground Is Wrong' are the two best examples). Stephen Stills, meanwhile, seems determined to write about anything other than the social protest the band had scored their one and only big hit with, 'For What It's Worth'. The band's last release up until this album (and only added to the first album on the re-issue), fans must have been expecting for a whole record on this theme - and Stills could have delivered it too (just look at the early CSN albums). Richie, meanwhile, has been shunted from singing his colleagues' songs and is now writing his own, giving the band a third, gentler, folkier voice that isn't represented on the first album at all. The biggest selling point of the first album - Stills and Furay singing in harmony - doesn't happen once on this album; the pair overlap lines on 'Hung Upside Down' but that's about as close as they come - and Richie doesn't sing even a harmony part to Young's three songs (I still think that's Stills singing falsetto on 'Expecting To Fly', by the way, but the official line is it's Neil singing double-tracked so I won't argue that here). No wonder fans weren't quite sure what to think of all this: there's just no continuity here, with the Springfield effectively a whole new band (while Bruce is missing from a lot of the record due to his legal troubles, Neil overdubs on what little he wasn't present for anyway so there shouldn't be this many changes to the sound). The fact that the various problems and sticking points within the band meant that the Springfield waited a whole six months before following up 'For What It's Worth' and then came up with 'Bluebird' (a great song but not a great single in the same way 'Rock and Roll Woman' would have been) also meant that they lost any momentum and continuity amongst fans. The Springfield blew it, then, but blew it most marvelously - luckily retrospective collectors like me, who know what eclectic tastes all three main writers are going to have in the future, can appreciate 'Again' much more than fans in 1967.
Interestingly the making of this second LP is when people concerned with the Springfield stop talking about each other as a band of brothers and start referring to themselves as a family with everything that word implies: not just unconditional love and concern but arguments, riots, power-plays, sulks and moving boundaries. Like the steamroller they were named after, the individual components of Buffalo Springfield start working together and without quite meaning to flatten everything in their path. 'A Child's Claim To Fame' is directly inspired by the anger in the room: Richie wearily wondering what games Neil was playing when he quit the band a second time (a sheepish Neil first adds a lovely guitar and harmony part to say 'sorry' and then writes his own self-deprecating sequel for the next record, 'I Am A Child').Even the rest of the record seems to have lost that kind of laidback warm rosy glow of creativity heard in that first album though: this album is a tightly coiled spring, leaping out of the blocks with the power riffs of 'Mr Soul' and never quite getting back in its box until the pulsating stressed heartbeat on the fade-out of 'Broken Arrow' finally fades away. Recorded in chaos, with more than a few inter-band feuds going on and most of the band not speaking to each other for extended periods (to break this down Stills appears on just five tracks, Young on eight, Furay on nine, Dewey on six and Bruce on five). it's amazing that Buffalo Springfield Again got released at all. Richie's excellent book 'For What It's Worth' reveals that this period saw a lot of whispering going on - a lot of 'let's not tell Dewey we're recording' and 'where's Neil?' So much so that this album's credits include a wonderful array of extra-curricular musicians who come and go one song at a time: country legend James Burton appears on dobro on 'Child's Claim', Jim Fielder plays bass on 'Everydays', Bobby West plays bass on 'Bluebird', Doin Randl plays piano on 'Expecting To Fly' and 'Broken Arrow' and, presumably jokingly, actor Charlie Chin is credited for 'banjo' on 'Bluebird' (an in-joke that seems to have been lost in the mists of time - most likely Stills played it himself! Another joke is that Neil's new trick of using reverberating echo on his guitar parts mean his guitar tone sounds big and distant - the band joke it was 'recorded across town' on 'Sad Memory'). In all seven separate producers are credited on just the ten tracks on this album: that's surely some sort of AAA record; talk about a loss of continuity! Amazingly, though, the record holds together well - despite the change of locations, producers, musicians, writers, singers and goodness knows what else, offering a much wider palette of colours than on the first record. 'Buffalo Springfield' was about love good and bad. 'Again' is a rollercoaster ride full of highs and lows, not about love's hellos and goodbyes but infatuation and heartbreak. The first album is ready to have fun. The second is spoiling for a fight (although 'Child's Claim, the most laidback sounding track on the album, is the only piece that has one).
Well, sort of. The biggest theme across this album - and perhaps the reason it all slots into place as well as it does - is the ongoing fight between war and peace. While 'Mr Soul' is an angry snarl at the restrictions and trappings of fame (a moodier update of the first album's 'Out Of My Mind', written before Neil had really experienced what fame was), the very title of 'Broken Arrow' suggests he wants to make peace (in Neil's words 'a broken arrow means a truce, usually after one side has lost a lot'). 'Mr Soul' was recorded before Neil left the band - 'Broken Arrow' on his return. 'Expecting To Fly', the one cut in the middle, is effectively Neil's first solo song, a gorgeous epiphany of beauty and certainty after hopelessness and helplessness cut completely alone with the help of arranger Jack Nitzche. Stills' 'Everydays' tried to be laidback and casual about a romance, but keeps finding itself growing in infatuation with each loud chorus and with Neil's insistent hum throughout suggesting a tension that won't let go. 'Bluebird' is the first Stills love song for Judy Collins but it's a frenetic, whirlwind, hold-on-tight ride where either or both could fall off at any time, with Stills and Young finally scoring their first guitar duel on record many times over thanks to the wonders of overdubbing (although the liner notes credit that are a1,386 guitar parts on this record seems a little over-estimated). 'Hung Upside Down' starts off lethargically with a weary sigh about not wanting to fight any more, but raises itself to a fierce battle with each soulful grunt from Stills, sounding as if he's inflating the song to sound bigger with every breath he takes. Richie makes peace with the lovely 'Sad Memory', a song written and recorded before Neil walked out the band but which cleverly reflects on how some goodbyes aren't meant to be and why memories can be revived again in the present. And then there's 'Child's Claim', an uncharacteristically nasty song where 'too much fame' spoils what might have once been a promising career. The country-rock backing is fooling no one - this piece has more guitar stings than any Stills or Young solo-ing with amplifiers turned way up high. That just leaves 'Good Time Boy', a song Richie wrote for Dewey that simply proves how unlike the rest of the band he is: out for fun and adventure and not caring about art.
The gulf between the two albums is huge - so much so that, together with the lengthy drawn out recording sessions, fans have often wondered if there was a 'missing' album in between the two. Officially there wasn't, but for reasons best known to themselves Atlantic 'accidentally' fanned the flames of this idea by printing up their own mock-up sleeve of what they wanted the second album to look like, titled 'Stampede' and with Dickie Davis (Bruce's replacement) sat in front with a hat pulled down low over his eyes. There was not rack listing given, but that didn't stop fans drawing one up - especially when demo recordings began to circulate first on bootleg and then officially as part of the eponymous Buffalo Springfield box set in 2001. The Springfield seem to have recorded a lot more demos than they ever had space to record - unusual for the period (there are very few Byrds or Hollies demos around, to nominate the two other 'feeder' bands for CSNY) and even more unusual that so many of them should have been kept intact all those years (you wonder how many more were accidentally 'lost' along the way). I'm not sure the 'Stampede' album as fans compiled it would have been quite up to 'Buffalo Springfield' or 'Again' but there are several great songs that deserved to have been finished: Stills' rocking 'We'll See' and Beatley 'Neighbour Don't You Worry', Richie's neat 'My Kind Of Love' and 'Words I Must Say' and the two most 'finished' songs, a driving Lovin' Spoonful Furay song with Stills on lead titled 'No Sun Today' and the most famous unreleased Springfield song, Young's 'Down To The Wire' (finally released on solo compilation 'Decade' in 1977). I'm less keen on the two jam sessions (known to bootleggers as 'Raga #1' and 'Raga #2' but now to box-setters as 'Buffalo Stomp' and 'Kahuna Sunset') but it would have been an interesting album - and you can hear it as a sort of stepping stone between the two, with more daring ideas and experimentation but with the Stills-Furay harmonies still firmly in place. In retrospect the Springfield might have been better off releasing this record as an interim release anyway - even though technically it didn't exist - making it low-key just to keep their name in the public eye and to help their fans latch onto what they were doing with this record a bit more. Certainly 'Again' deserved a better roll of the dice than what it did get - a US high of #44 and no chart appearance at all in most of Europe.
In a just world everyone should have heard of the Buffalo Springfield, not just curious Neil Young fans or people who know For What It’s Worth from its countless appearances on film soundtracks and compilation CDs. Stills and Young would only find true success after they became CSNY and Richie Furay found greater commercial success with under-rated soft-rockers Poco, yet despite their later fame all three members still rate this band very highly and its easy to see why at one time they were tipped as the next big thing for the top, heavily championed by acts of the time like the Byrds. By rights they should have been the next big thing - 'Again' is more than a match for other great period recordings like (to quote the 'other' CSN feeder bands again) 'Younger Than Yesterday' and 'Butterfly' (and I say that as a fan who rates these as amongst the best albums made by The Byrds and The Hollies respectively). If only the band had been 'together' for their appearances on the Carson show (the most prestigious music show after Ed Sullivan, taped at a time when Neil left the band the first time) and at the Monterey Pop Festival (which took place just four months before this album's release, during the second time Neil had left the band). Young's need to go out alone and do things he couldn't do even within the elastic framework of the band is understandable on the one hand ('Expecting To Fly' is a staggering break-through in his songwriting, kindly donated to the band even though Neil must have known a solo career was on the cards) and not on the other (had the band got it together to follow-up 'For What It's Worth' properly they could have been the single biggest band of the mid-1960s, but by the time 'Bluebird' came out the fans had got bored of waiting and moved onto the next big thing - which in AAA terms means Jefferson Airplane or Pink Floyd depending on what side of the pond you lived).
But then the Springfield were always coming apart from day one. Some bands thrive on that kind of friction - the Buffalos more than most. Whose to say we would have had a band at all without those clashes and that uncertainty hanging over everything? While ultimately the Springfield are seen as a bit of a disappointment who never quite lived up to their amazing potential, the fire that was lit underneath them raged fiercely enough to drive at least five 'normal' bands and it never raged stronger than on this album, where the band is hanging together by a string and seems to be kept together by sheer willpower. Great as the first Springfield albums is (and greater still as it would have been if it had been recorded properly) and wonderful and under-rated as the third album 'Last Time Around' is (and greater still as it would have been with more involvement from Neil), it's here, right in the middle, with the band pulling in so many different directions at once that you can really get a sense of just how important this band was - and how many different places they could have gone. This is the Buffalo Springfield again, but they might not be here for much longer says that title, while the band already spell out their future in that curious cover, Bruce Palmer - already long gone for the second time by the time this album came out - reaching up to the hand of an angel whose looking the other way, as if bored and moving on to something else, while the rest of the band perch uncomfortably on top of a mountain they've outgrown. The members of the Springfield were simply too 'big' to belong in a single band; this album proves it beyond a doubt, a magic carpet ride to new places every single song - sometimes going to several different places within the same song! That a record this splintered and this difficult to make ended up being as magnificent as it is says much for the talent in the group and the fact that this relatively obscure album still grants a high placing in other ‘top album’ lists besides my own shows what an important and influential album 'Buffalo Springfield Again' was, despite the lack of sales. Would that other albums covered a hundredth of the ground of this eclectic, exotic and elastic album.
Neil Young weighs in first with the debut of one of his favourite themes: stardom alienating him from the ‘real world’ lived in by fans – surely a bit of wishful thinking there as the band never quite made the big time, although they were knocking on doors loudly at the time of this recording. The pounding drive and tongue-twisting lyrics of Mr Soul are special though, even for a Neil Young song, and it is one of the few songs Neil has ever revisited (see ‘official out-takes’). None of the many versions come close to this version however, with an intense and swampy guitar duel going on between Stills and Young at their best. The song’s riff is a steal from Satisfaction, but sounds more like Otis Redding’s bass-heavy version than the Stones’ original (soul fan and Springfield drummer Dewey Martin allegedly offered the song to Otis without its author’s knowledge; excited by the song’s nervous energy Redding is meant to have drawn up an arrangement before Neil coldly told the singer that only the author was allowed to cut the song – to be fair that story may well be apocryphal and Neil has never really spoken about it). Perfect as the song would have been for Otis, Neil’s vocal is a revelation here. His first handful of lead vocals on the previous album had been slightly embarrassing, missing the mark completely for their perfectly arranged pop formula backing and suffering from a sparse and unforgiving mix that tripled any slight mistake. Here Young is gloriously off the straight and narrow, reveling in the idea of making as much noise as possible and Mr Soul – amazingly Neil’s first published rocker despite being his sixth song with the group – sets the template for much of the glorious Crazy Horse mayhem to follow in his career. For once this albums’ in-joke filled sleeve-notes don’t tell a lie – recorded during Bruce Palmer’s deportation hiatus, the band were left desperately searching for a bassist until the receptionist at the Sunset Sound recording studio said her boyfriend could play a bit of bass and called him up. Sadly his name has been lost to posterity in the years since!
Richie Furay, meanwhile, was still struggling to get his first song on an album, despite a claim made in his excellent book For What It’s Worth that he had all three of this album’s Furay-composed songs written and perhaps even recorded a full year earlier. A Child’s Claim To Fame is a clever, half-sarcastic half-straight song, following on well from the theme of Mr Soul with its tale of facades and lies. The song is far more like a conventional pop song, however, with a pretty tune and a steel guitar riff that seems to have wondered in off a television commercial. Allegedly, the song is a dig at Neil for acting like a spoilt brat and nearly ending the group prematurely – Neil will go on to write his own self-deprecating reply with I Am A Child on the group’s next album. Ironically its Neil who shines out most on this album’s rare example of a group performance – his harmony vocal is the perfect antidote for Richie’s smiling charm and his already easily identifiable guitar work adds another dimension to the song.
Everydays adds some light jazz to the album, with a great piano lick and a low humming guitar note from Neil to match. Stills is well known for dipping his fingers in several musical pies, but only on his last album Man Alive (2005) does he ever attempt to pull off this song’s jazz trappings again. And that’s a shame because Stills obviously has a great feel for the genre – his arrangement of twinkling unpredictable piano set against Neil’s one-note drone and some rhythmic bass murmurs is spot-on. The song doesn’t take fire quite as it should, however, due to the subdued production that lets the song slowly grumble along rather than soar out of the speakers, a hangover from the last album’s problems sadly, despite the fact the group are producing the album themselves this time in the believe that they couldn’t possibly do a worse job than their managers Greene and Stone (who mixed their first effort despite having no experience whatsoever). The sleevenote’s comment that Neil recorded his guitar part ‘across town’, by the way, isn’t true – its an in-joke about how loud Neil’s amp made him sound and how that one particular guitar note seemed to reverberate round the studio.
Beauty isn’t a word often associated with Neil Young’s songs but there is no better word to describe Expecting To Fly than beautiful – fragile, aching, orchestral and otherworldly, this is another early style that its composer sadly largely abandoned after this track. The song, as discussed above, was really recorded by Neil during his time away from the group and there is still speculation over whether or not Neil added any overdubs on his return to the group (I’ve read in various articles that the harmony vocal on this track is Stills or Furay or even Neil double-tracked – several hundred playings of this track over the years and I’m still not sure which of them it is. A small point to get excited about I know, and yet it’s the vocals that really do make this track).Carefully sung by Neil (and his possible fellow harmonisers) line by line, its so exact and spot-on that performance-wise as well as musically it doesn’t sound like a Neil Young song at all, going right against the grain of Neil’s later ‘no overdubs’ philosophy. The first note is interesting too because its actually the last note played backwards. Many people of the time compared this song to the Beatles’ similar ‘swelling orchestra’ trick at the end of A Day In The Life, but actually Expecting To Fly was recorded long before that track was ever released. Much of the praise for this song must go to arranger Jack Nitzsche, a colourful figure in the Young universe who ended up being a part-time member of Crazy Horse and was blamed for being the brains behind several of Neil’s bad career decisions over the years, from leaving the Springfield to creating havoc and stirring up trouble on Neil’s ‘doom tour’ of 1973. On this track, however, he’s unquestionably a force for good: this lovely, fragile song is more than matched by its string arrangement and the false-ending when a choir fade back in to end the song by singing its chord note is a masterful piece of work. The words, too, are incredible on this song and really are Neil Young like – hazy and slightly surreal, they tell us of their narrator’s attempts to better himself despite knowing his aims will always be frustrated. Caught dreaming of the future, ‘expecting to fly’ but in truth unable to make the first move, he frustratingly watches the girl he fancies walk out of his life without saying a word, cursing his failure and bad luck before addressing us, the listener, as his magic girl and telling us that ‘ if I never said I loved you now you know I tried. Stunning stuff. Graham Nash was so taken with this song he recorded an almost equally gorgeous copy, Wings, with the Hollies (as heard on their Rarities album), little knowing that he was about to cross paths two of the men who had recorded it.
If Expecting To Fly is Neil’s tour-de-force then Bluebird is Stephen’s. A perfectly crafted pop song, with a strong hook and a simple singalong chorus in his Springfield tradition (‘She’s got soul! She’s got soul! She’s got so-o-o-o-o-ul!’), it still packs in plenty of surprises, from the two-minute long guitar battle in the middle to the banjo coda at the end. Another clever thematic link – this song follows on from Neil’s imagery of ‘feathers’ and ‘perches’ – Bluebird is equally good at telling us about the character of its author. Where Neil is so nervous he lets his sweetheart walk away without her even knowing he existed, Stills is out serenading his lady and is the one telling her not to be blue. Those ho-ho-ing sleevenotes are back in business again on this track, claiming that 1,111 guitar parts were overdubbed onto this track – surely you’d never hear anything else if all of those parts made it to the mix and this one is beautifully clear – but it still sounds like a lot of guitar-work packed into this track, even so. Stills’ acoustic work in particular is awe-inspiring – just when you think he can’t possibly improvise any more notes around the song’s tricky chord structure he spins off in some other, equally inspired direction. The perfect pop song, with traditional sounding concepts played with such energy and power Bluebird would have been perfect for radio airplay whilst also having enough musical innovations to keep critics and fans happy. The band never quite recovered from this song’s failure as the follow-up to For What It’s Worth and its easy to see why they had such high hopes for the song - Bluebird soars throughout all of its tricky parts and rarely puts a foot wrong, quite possibly being the album’s highlight.
However, Hung Upside Down – one of the least known tracks on the album or Stills’ career come to that – is another strong contender for that accolade, a fantastic song full of uncharacteristic self-doubt and worry that Stills only really begins to delve into again on his mid-70s solo records. Characteristically, though, Stills doesn’t want to be seen to be moping about so he gives the verses to Richie to sing – and boy is he up to the task; his moody, sighing singing is one of the greatest vocals in the band’s history, setting the scene superbly for Stephen’s demented ravings that follow. The lyrics might express Stills’ worries about not getting anywhere, but the strident chorus finds him trying to shout his way out of his apathy, stirring the band up into such a crescendo that they continue pounding out the song’s insistent riff until they get tired. This solo repeats the main gist of the song all the way through again, with Stills’ tired and head-bowing fuzz guitar riff set against his urgent guitar improvisations and out-of-control shrieking. An intriguing song, quite unlike any other in Stills’ canon.
In contrast to the last track’s complex backing, Sad Memory is just Richie and an acoustic guitar with a quiet and sensitive electric guitar part from Neil over the top. This is Richie’s show, though, giving him the chance to show off his warm tenor on his own romantic song reflecting on memories past and girls he used to know. Most of this song’s lyrics are stuff we’ve all heard several times over, but features quite a sweet last verse. Letting the listener into the song, the narrator asks us outright about whether we have ever had anyone walk out on us when we thought we were made for each other and sighs with us in knowing despair, ‘then you’ll know just how I feel’.
Good Time Boy, again written by Richie but sung here by drummer Dewey Martin in a one-off vocal appearance, has always been the least-loved track on this record. The trouble lies not with the song particularly or with Dewey’s performance, which might not be subtle but does have quite a good bluesy groove going on in his voice. It’s simply that this song doesn’t fit the rest of the record at all well, having none of the themes of hiding behind facades or worrying anxiety the rest of the album has and its headlong dive into soul territory is perhaps one genre too far. It’s easy to see why this song went down well live however (with Stills making a rare appearance on drums to cover for Dewey prowling round the front of the stage belting out the song) as on its own terms its got a great groove and the added horns give it plenty of pazzazz and sparkle.
Stills bows out on the album with Rock and Roll Woman, one of the most charming pop songs he ever wrote and another surprise flop as a single. Despite its lack of sales, however, this song is still tremendously important in terms of Stills’ career. Befriended by the Byrds’ David Crosby sometime in 1967, this is the first song the pair of songwriters came up with together, albeit Crosby had to settle for an ‘inspiration’ credit when Stills’ publishing company made it clear the two wouldn’t be allowed to work together. Possessing a 50/50 mix of Crosby’s off-beat guitar tunings and Stills’ talent for writing complex harmonies in a pop setting, it may well be the only Crosby-Stills collaboration in the whole of their history. The song was inspired by another album archive favourite – the Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick, who had only just joined the band at the time this song was recorded but had already made a big impact with her first band The Great Society. Hearing this song now, she must be pretty pleased that two of the most respected writers of the day saw her in such a good light – the rock and roll woman is a ‘joy to know’ (As a final piece of album archive linking pieces, this song was also covered by the Beach Boys on their early post-Brian tours circa 1968-1970 after the Springfield worked for a time as the band’s support act. Their version of this song can be heard in the American Band video, but annoyingly they never recorded this song for an album). Stills’ ear for a catchy hook was never better, the guitars-and-organ duel at the end is incredibly exciting and the harmonies (with a guesting Crosby complementing Furay’s usual great work very well indeed) simply glimmer out of the speakers. More great stuff from Stills and one of the Springfield’s better group performances.
With the dying notes of Rock and Roll Woman disappearing down a sudden black hole, in comes the album’s most ambitious track, Young’s Broken Arrow. Divided into several parts which are separated by sound effects, recordings nicked from genres such as rock, jazz and even a bit of ballroom dancing plus – on the opening – a Dewey Martin studio recording of Mr Soul overdubbed with screams from a Beatles concert; I couldn’t even begin to tell you what the hell it all means. However, the verses all lead back to the same chorus which relates to the idea of peace – that whatever troubled feelings each of the song’s many narrators have during their life, they see the Indian message of a ‘broken arrow’ as some defining moment in their lives and stop to think things over. A strangely lumbering piano lick dominates the song and it’s with some relief that we keep switching to the sound effects so often, to spare us this repetitive sound. Having said all that, even if this song is ridiculously over-ambitious – and again, it’s a style that Neil will only use on extremely fleeting moments throughout the next 40 years of his career – some of the lyrics are fascinating in a ‘modern poetry’ sort of way and Furay’s harmony work is as splendid as ever. Neil’s mantra throughout his solo career has been ‘first thought best thought’ and as his records get increasingly rougher and filled with ever-more mistakes, its quite a surprise to hear him attempting a track of this epic stature again.
So much talent, so much promise, it broke Ahmet Ertegun’s heart (the head of Atlantic) when the Springfield broke up as he thought they were the best band he’d ever heard and, well, I don’t blame him. The growth from the band’s promising-but-heavily-flawed first album to the dynamite second is jaw-dropping and its so so sad that there was only more LP after this one to enjoy. Once acclaimed as ‘America’s greatest band’ in the 1960s, a ridiculous assertion at face value considering both the Springfield’s long list of rivals and the fact their reputation rests on only three albums and one hit single but with the ring of truth to it, there’s no denying this record’s diverse strength or the fondness with which so many remember it, members of the band included.