Friday 4 September 2009

Buffalo Springfield "Last Time Around" (1968) (News, Views and Music 43, Revised 2014)

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Buffalo Springfield “Last Time Around” (1968)

On The Way Home/It’s So Hard To Wait/Pretty Girl, Why?/Four Days Gone/Carefree Country Day/Special Care//In The Hour Of Not Quite Rain/Questions/I Am A Child/Merry-Go-Round/Uno Munda/Kind Woman

(Review first published on September 4th 2009; Revised review published on August 30th 2014)

They say a picture tells a thousand words - and this album, both front and back, tells more than most. With the Springfield all but over, this final part of their trilogy was cobbled together by Richie Furay and new bassist Jim Messina from old tapes and outtakes that features a variety of line-ups that had been used across the past three years. They needed a cover in a hurry and looked for one of the five men together - with Jim, who worked hard on this record, an integral part of the band. They couldn't find a single one: the album cover as we know it today is two seperate photographs cleverly welded together - one of Stephen, Jim, Richie and Dewey staring stage left and another of Neil, solo, staring dramatically stage right away from them all. Many fans have assumed he was simply sulking, but no - this is a 'detail' from a bigger picture re-cropped to put Neil's head back to the same size as the other three, with the join covered up by a 'crack' that runs through the photograph cutting through the 'R' in 'Springfield' and the 'R' in 'Around'. Cracks, people looking the other way, fancy lettering round the outside with five men looking sulky inside: it's the perfect cover for this troubled album. Even the back cover is a fitting eulogy of the band, with various pictures and illustrations from the times cobbled together into a collage and made up to look as if they've been 'branded' into a 'buffalo hide'. Three years of so much talent and all it's come to are scraps, with the Buffalo Springfield only really a band for one badly-recorded LP, with even the relatively few shots of the Springfield together now divided up into portraits of individuals as the band go their separate ways. Too many tantrums were thrown and the band that once promised so much is now in pieces, with this album a 'contractual obligation' in return for the money spent on it, even though there's no 'band' left around to promote it: talk about a 'difficult third album' and no wonder it didn't sell even the little amount it's predecessors had!

‘Last Time Around’ is an interesting record. Clearly it doesn’t have the consistency or the sheer downright brilliantness of ‘Buffalo Springfield Again’, one of the best ‘Summer Of Love’ albums of them all, but it’s far more consistently brilliant than it has any right to be for an album of 'leftovers' from a time when all three creatives in the band were saving their best material for future works (this record only really exists as a 'thankyou' to Atlantic boss Ahmet Ertegun for his faith in the band). The writing for the Springfield was on the wall long before even that second album – too many creative giants going in too many different directions meant their career was always going to be short and the lack of hits to follow-up ‘For What It’s Worth’ was the death-knell that prevented the Springfield ever becoming a household name out of the West Coast of America. By this album the band is as dead as a dodo, with bassist Bruce Palmer long since gone thanks to drug busts and deportations galore, Young quitting three times in the 1967-68 period and drummer Dewey Martin and Stephen Stills sick and tired of the whole process and ready to hand their notice in (they left the compiling of this album to Richie and Jim to do what they liked with, basically saying 'I no longer care' - given the circumstances they're amazingly fair). Now, many people were amazed at the wealth of unreleased material on the ‘Buffalo Springfield’ box-set 10 years or so ago, but actually there’s quite a bit more still left unheard – the band recorded constantly between 1966 and 68 without ever organising release dates and albums.  

However interesting the music that's been heard officially and unofficially, I have to say that hands down this is the best of all the Springfield music that didn't appear on the first two albums. Yes the box set material was interesting - and some of the demos like 'We'll See' and 'My Kind Of Love' would have been great dressed up as full band performances, but given the half-finished state a lot of the record was in, this is was as good as it gets. The three writers in the band all have chances to shine (though some more than others) and the lack of squabbling over credits means that Richie finally gets the space he deserves to show off what a growing talent he had.  It would have been better still with full band performances from the original five, of course, and there isn't a single song that features even the four-man Steve, Richie, Neil and Dewey line-up anywhere (Neil's only present on 'I Am A Child', recorded away from the group). As a result, it’s terribly uneven, with lots of recordings  that feature a band member on their own (Stills plays everything bar the drums on 'Special Care', while 'In The Hour Of Not Quite Rain' features Richie singing against an orchestra) and not even a harmony vocal this time around for drummer Dewey. Taken as an ‘album’ like the other two it’s a frustratingly bumpy ride, with finished and unfinished band tracks nestling against solo recordings – but taken as a kind of early rarities set it’s a marvellous opportunity to view the Springfield at work and many individual tracks are among the greatest Springfield songs of them all (think of this album as a close cousin of the Small Faces’ similarly unfinished ‘Autumn Stone’ from the same year – though thankfully this album isn’t a double set padded out with singles and unfinished backing tracks!)  

There have been lots and lots of conflicting and differing opinions about this third, final and most forgotten album in the Buffalo Springfield’s canon – and, depending on your perspective, they’ve all been right to some extent. To the psychedelic fans who adore the band’s second album ‘Again’ this album is a let-down, with hardly any of the pizzazz and kaleidoscopic tendencies of its predecessor. To the Neil Young fans this is a curio only, the original home of the CSNY concert standard ‘On The Way Home’ and the Decade-compilation favourite ‘I Am A Child’ with only two-and-a-half songwriting credits and one vocal to Neil’s name. To the core fans of the Springfield in 1968 this album is a sad end, a postscript to a band that had the world at their feet and had such eclecticism they could have taken their talent in thousands of directions. Most critics say this is the weakest of the three records and to some extent they're right: 'Last Time Around' misses the wonderful brotherhood of the first record and fizz  and crackle eclecticism of the second and even as late as 2000 and the box set the Springfield seemed to want to wipe this posthumous album out of history, only including a handful of tracks when the first two albums are largely heard twice over! But to fans like me who came to this band long after their farewell gig in 1968 (and let's face it that's most of us as the Springfield never did hit the big time in their lifetime) who understand the significance of this album’s place in both Stills and Young’s career and have more than a soft spot for country-rock with gorgeous harmonies, this record is a minor masterpiece. How could a record this good have been over looked for so long?

Well, as we've said, it's not a 'family' record. Neil doesn't come out of this record too well despite already being groomed to be the band's big star. His one big shining moment on the album  and his only vocal - on setlist regular 'I Am A Child' - is a defensive put-down to Richie's earlier 'A Child's Claim To Fame', a clever song about indulging genius because of the happiness it brings that could only have been written by a Springfielder. As good a defence as any to why the Springfield broke up, it sounds peaceful and contented when Neil does it in concert on now but on record sounds almost spiteful, putting down the others with the lines 'you make the rules - you say what's fair' when, 'child' that he is, Neil's into the music not his responsibilities as band member. 'On The Way Home' is a Neil song handed over to the band without much thought and dressed up by Richie from a moody folky ballad about not wanting to go back to your roots into a joyous horn-led celebration of what it means to return to the family fold. This song alone proves how far the Springfield had pulled away from each other, but it also shows how sympathetic they are to one another: this song sounds fine done both ways (hear CSNY's  live record 'Four Way Street' of 1971 to hear how Neil wanted to do it), with the great and very Neil Young line 'I won't be back till later on - if I do come back at all...' Desperate to include Neil's name on the LP, Richie even turns a fragment of a Neil Young song heard on a session tape into a full blown song, using it as the middle eight of his own sleepy re-write of 'Hung Upside Down', 'It's So Hard To Wait'  (Neil's bit is 'If I think you care more than a little for me...') It would have been fascinating to hear early solo songs that we know were written in this period, like 'Birds' and 'The Old Laughing Lady' done Springfield style, but considering how little input Neil put into this record it's interesting how much a part of the band sound he still feels. 

Stills, though, was there to the bitter end and is on particularly strong form. After doing his best to ignore the peg of 'social protest singer' gained after 'For What It's Worth' became a hit, Stills returns to the subject with glee here. 'Four Days Gone' is a classic song of draft-dodging from the 'Government madness' with a terrific vocal where Stephen is one the verge of tears throughout - was this song inspired by Neil and Bruce's tales of their old Mynah Birds bandleader Rick James on the run from the law? 'Special Care' is an early version of Stills' classic 'Word Game', fizzing with injustice and taunting the elder generation who see the narrator's long hair and trendy clothes and think 'I'm trouble - would you like to shoot me down?' The 1967 era outtake 'Pretty Girl, Why?' is a nice find too, almost but not quite as pop-handsome as 'Rock and Roll Woman' from the previous album with a catchy melody and some lovely CSN-practicing harmonies. 'Questions', the second love song written for Judy Collins after 'Bluebird', isn't quite there as a song yet (it will be when Stills revives it as the second half of CSNY's 'Carry On') but it's still too good to be 'thrown away' on what's effectively an outtakes set. The most important piece of music on the whole album, though, might be 'Una Mundo' - English translation 'One World' - the very first Spanish/Latin Stephen Stills song after a childhood spent surrounded by native speakers. While this song is a chirpy let's-unite-together psychedelic-era anthem, in time Stills will use the fact that he can 'hide' behind foreign languages to give us his very deepest, most personal thoughts. A percussion-heavy rhythm song, 'Una Mundo' is also arguably closer to the 'real' Stills than anything he's given us till now: for the first time ever in his recording career he doesn't have to be 'commercial' because the Springfield are well over by the time of this recording; less a chance at a hit single than an attempt to find a 'new' sound for the future (it may help if you know that Stills started his career as a drummer). 

The star of the album, though is Richie. Finally given the freedom and space to be an 'equal partner', his progress across this record is staggering. 'Kind Woman' is his breakthrough song, a country-rock lament for wife Nancy that sets the tone for most of his future career to come, it was recorded with just him, Jim and Dewey and is basically a template for Richie's next band Poco, already being discussed when this album was being compiled. The fact that it sits at the end of this album (and that Richie and Jim, both founding members of that band, choose to stick it at the end) is interesting, as if staking a claim for the future to come (Messina's similar 'Carefree Country Day' is the album's other Poco template, though not quite as original). Richie's wedding to Nancy in 1967 was a big event by the way, attended by the band and half the world's media. Fearing what Neil, especially, might turn up in Furay asked his friend politely not to wear his customary 'Indian' look; Neil obliged - and turned up wearing an American settler confederacy army uniform instead (which didn't go down a lot better!) Elsewhere 'It's So Hard To Wait' is a pretty ballad and 'Merry-Go-Round' the last Springfield single which was perhaps a little lightweight for the pop world of 1968 and clearly inspired by The Hollies' 'On A Carousel' but is none the worse for that if you like your pop records. However the song that always gets forgotten and overlooked (it didn't even make the box set) is the eerie 'In The Hour Of Not Quite Rain', a fascinating collaboration with Micki Callen that came about thanks to a competition. Needing a bit of a push, the Springfield had vaguely promised to set the best set of lyrics sent into their most supportive radio station KHJ. Callen clearly hadn't been listening to much Springfield as his dramatic lyrics are quite quite different from anything the band had ever done before, a moody dramatic picture of summer changing to Autumn (or 'Fall' if you're American). Many fans don't like it and not many people took it seriously (Neil's attempt to draw up a list of possible songs for a third album - printed in Richie's 'For What It's Worth' book - simply have a large question mark next to this track), but it's a great breakthrough for Richie's songwriting, given the 'quietest' member of the band the space to be moody and magnificent instead of offering up soul-soundalikes for Dewey and his own pretty folk ballads that, literally, keep the 'peace' between his louder colleagues' louder songs. It's a shame that there aren't more songs like this in his discography in fact although Poco do a few - they're usually his greatest achievements. Unusual as it is, 'In The Hour Of Not Quite Rain' is, along with 'Uno Mundo', the one song that pushes boundaries and suggests what a wonderful record a fourth Springfield LP might have been. 

Even in their death throes the Springfield are stretching their palette like crazy here. We commented a lot in our review for ‘Again’ how jaw-droppingly eclectic this band were, pulling off country, rock, soul, pop, psychedlia, sound collages, blues and a thousand and one other things without batting an eye-lid. ‘Last Time Around’ continues the theme, stretching the band’s sound to moody orchestral epics, jazzed up pop and out-and-out country, without sacrificing the band’s straightforward complicatedness, all tight harmonies, punchy riffs and interesting dynamics. It also sets the tone for both Furay’s later sound with Poco (‘Kind Woman’, which effectively has just Furay and Messina performing, sounds more like a template for the band than any song they actually made) and Stills’ sound with CSNY (harmonies are more important than ever on this album – plus there’s a definite emphasis on acoustic sounds that had only been in the Springfield’s oeuvre occasionally before this – not to mention a first, unedited attempt at the ‘Questions’ part of the song that will eventually evolve into Stills’ classic 1970 song ‘Carry On’). In other words, 'Last Time Around' might not be the best Springfield LP but it's a crucial stepping stone towards what the band members will go on to do. 

However you treat this record: as a 'proper' part of the 'canon', as a rather good outtakes release, as a prelude to the Buffalo Springfield box set or as a 'baby tape' for CSNY/Stills/Young or Poco, 'Last Time Around' has plenty to offer. Given how little interest was shown in the record by 3/5ths of the band and how  little the 'proper' Springfield line-up play on it (with only the outtake 'Pretty Girl Why' anywhere close to the 'original' line-up), 'Last Time Around' is a highly fitting eulogy to the band's name, a welcome encore that might not be up to the true heights the band reached in their short time together but deserves far more respect than it currently gets. Currently out of fashion and off catalogue, 'Last Time Around' is long overdue a proper re-issue, perhaps with the best of the period recordings from the box set (and perhaps a few unissued recordings) added to it? Ignored as it was by most of the band, 'Last Time Around' is key to understanding the band's past, where they might have gone next (the country route? The orchestral route? In yet more directions at once?!?) and a hint at what's to come in the members' future solo and band careers. As the cover tries to tell us, treat this album as a scrapbook pasted together from odds and ends rather than a 'full album' and you can't go wrong – although, at the same time the words ‘buffalo springfield’ emblazoned into the hide of a cow signify that the Springfield mark is there for life – and none of the band members will ever quite be able to escape it’s grasp.

The Songs:

 First up, then, is the brassy optimistic glare of ‘On The Way Home’. Chances are, given the law of averages, most of you reading this will be curious Neil Young aficionados rather than passionate Springfielders so by now you’re probably thinking ‘yep, I know that one – its that lovely slow wordy acoustic song Neil always seemed to be doing in concert in the early 70s’. If that’s true, and you’ve just bought this album on the back of this review, then prepare yourself for a shock: this gentle Dylan-like ramble is turned into a poppy masterpiece courtesy of Furay’s arranging gloss. In context of what was going on in 1968, this is the perfect start as it’s Neil Young waving goodbye to his band – and quitting before he could record it himself. The opening line is a brilliant summation of everything that was running through Neil’s head in late 1967-68. Always something of an outsider in the band, fame had helped him find a new group of friends like arranger Jack Nitzsche and offered a way out of the disappointing sales and daily arguments going on with the band. And yet, Neil could sense that the others – Stills especially – brought out the best in him and firmly believed in the group’s potential, even while their sheer amount of differences were driving them apart (Neil alone is about 100 musicians in one as his ridiculously wide-ranging solo career shows – no wonder the Springfield’s list of influences on the back cover of ‘Again’ went into the hundreds). As this song tells us, Neil ‘held his breath’ ‘when the dream came’, aware of how great this band was and could still be (not for nothing did Neil write the sappy song ‘Buffalo Springfield Again’ in the year 2000 – he may have left them in the lurch a dozen times but he genuinely felt a connection with this band that he didn’t quite have with, say, CSNY). But too soon the band becomes a ‘strange game’ with Neil’s metaphor of smoke blowing in the wind in every direction his metaphor for how his life and the band was pulling him in all directions. Listen out too for the line ‘I won’t come back till later on, if I do come back at all – but you know me and I miss you now’. Part of Neil doesn’t want to go and part of Neil is suffocating within the band. Pointedly, this song is titled ‘on the way home’, with Neil trying to fins his way back to the ‘true’ path – yet as we know, Neil never did find the one true path, he found hundreds. This is Neil learning that life lesson in what is more or less the first of his truly autobiographical works (although you could make a case for both ‘Burned’ and ‘Mr Soul’) and a giant step forward in his song-writing. This band arrangement can’t match up to the readings that Neil will later give it in concert – it is, after all, a highly personal song – but whoever decided to turn it into an optimistic rather than pessimistic song was definitely on the right tracks, as its blassy glare and frustration-turned-opportunity is a minor classic and a fine way to kick off the album. It’s also a close cousin of the Beatles ‘You Never Gave Me Your Money’ with its head-shrugging then heart-tugging chorus ‘nowhere to go!’
‘It’s So Hard To Wait’ is also co-credited to Young, with Furay, but Neil can’t even remember the song today so it’s safe to say that this is mainly Richie’s work (Furay himself says he based the song on an improvised lick of Neil’s that consisted of the first two lines of the song). It’s a bluesy, sleepy song that might well be Furay’s take on the same subject of band disarray, with all the headaches and heartaches of the past three years piling up on his shoulders so that he doesn’t know where to turn (‘I just can’t seem to get moving...’). In truth, there’s not much going on in this song at all, which consists of just two verses and the title sung as a standalone chorus, but this recording rescues any defects in the song, consisting of a gorgeous sighing lead vocal from Richie at his best and a sterling and spare orchestral accompaniment that sweeps around the song. It’s the tired and heavy sound of someone running out of steam and feeling hemmed in by life – compare this song to the pop sunshine of most of the first Poco album and its easy to see how oppressed even the eternally sunshiney Furay felt at the end of the group’s career.   

‘Pretty Girl, Why?’ is the earliest song on the album and even though its only a year older than the rest it does sound slightly out of place here (its probably the only truly ‘band’ performance on the record, with some lovely Stills/Furay harmonies and shimmering Young guitar). You can hear a fascinating alternate mix of this song on the Springfield box-set that shows just how much hard work went into the overdubs for this song – so why it never appeared on ‘Again’ is a mystery. It’s certainly up to standard, straddling the band’s pop past with its chorus of ‘pretty girl, why not love me?’ and its angry final verse deriding politicians and the young press-ganged into war ‘brandishing his father’s sword’ (the first time, really, that Stills has spoken out against the Vietnam War since ‘For What It’s Worth’ – perhaps he didn’t want to get typecast as a protest singer?) That makes for a curious mix and in truth ‘Pretty Girl, Why’ is a terribly lopsided song, lurching from pop to alliterative wordplay to bluesy guitar solo and back again – but as a distillation of all the factors and genres Stills felt running through his veins back in 1967, it’s a fascinating song. 

‘Four Days Gone’ may well be the best track on the album and although it never mentions Vietnam by name, it’s clearly based on that event with the song’s character a shadowy nameless figure, turned criminal out of necessity because he doesn’t want to go to war. Stills’ on-the-edge-of-tears-but-strong vocal is breath-taking, singing from the heart throughout as he tries to find a safe path across the last three miles he needs to get to freedom. Unusually for Stills, who usually tells it like it is and has no qualms about getting up politicians and regulations’ noses, Stephen lets the experiences and frustrations of his character do the talking here. Even though we never learn his name, we really feel for this poor innocent character, forced to flee his home and safety in order to avoid fighting in a war he doesn’t believe in. The kindness of the like-minded strangers he meets, in contrast to the faceless demanding ‘Government madness’ that forced him on the run in the first place, makes the song even more important, with the root of this song questioning how ordinarily pleasant and likeable human beings can let their country be run in such a manner. The one thing that falls flat in this song is the rather pedestrian backing, with one simple drum pattern throughout and some rather boring guitar licks (although Stills’ solo is another expert piece of music, channelling all the frustration and must-keep-moving urgency of the song into 30 seconds). If you can find it, Stills’ piano demo for this song on the Buffalo Springfield box set beats it in every way, with Stills’ vocal even more weary and fed-up than on this semi-finished version.

‘Carefree Country Day’ is the one song on this album that doesn’t really work – but hear it out of context, or on a Poco album, it wouldn’t actually be so bad. The trouble is that 1) Jim Messina isn’t really a singer in the traditional sense (well, nor is Neil I suppose but I’ve got used to hearing him singing nowadays) and 2) He was only a Buffalo Springfield member at the very bitter end of their run and the band’s sound just buckles under the weight of trying to include yet another singer in a completely different style. As a result, chances are that only him and Furay play on this track (although you can hear Stills doing some David Crosby scat-singing impressions over the fade-out) and its even further in the country vein than some of Furay’s own songs like ‘A Child’s Claim To Fame’. Another of this album’s almost over-laidback songs, this is the upshot of ‘It’s So Hard To Wait’ with the narrator getting up ‘if and when I choose’ instead of straining at the leash to get things done, if only his tired body and his broken heart would let him. While not bad, its a little bit generic and lazy compared to the other song-writing gems on this album.

‘Special Care’ is more, well, ‘special’ although its frustrating that this gorgeous Stills political diatribe is a first case of Stills’ ‘Captain Manyhands’ tendencies (he plays every single instrument on this track barring the drums – and there’s one heck of a lot going on in this recording) as it would be even better played as a simple rocker with a full band working together (CSNY would have done it great – Stills’ band do it pretty well too on the otherwise undistinguished ‘Stephen Stills Live’, 1975). Yet another big breakthrough in Stills’ songwriting, this is Stills adopting the CSN everyman persona, oppressed for believing in hippie values and tired of being prevented from having a say in how things are run in his own country. Challenging the un-named protagonists to ‘shoot him down’ because it’s the only way they’re ever going to shut him up, this is another of ‘Last Time Around’s returns to the sound of their most famous song ‘For What It’s Worth’, asking where on earth things got so out of hand. Stills’ mournful ‘what for?’ after his first outburst and his deranged rant over the fade of this song (‘There was some kind of a talk about how all men are created equal, but some they more equal than others...’) are touches of magic, with real emotion showing through the cracks in this song’s otherwise perfect song structure. To emphasise the points he’s making, Stills hires Buddy Guy on this track, with this towering giant of 1960s music finding it hard to get session work at the time due to the colour of his skin (he appears on The Monkees’ 33 and 1/3rd TV Special at the end of 1968), giving the song even more of a soul element than usual in Stills’ songs of the period. The harmonies, all done by Stills, are another step on the road to CSN (they’re 3-part- most Springfield songs feature Stills and Furay, with special cases where they both back Neil but never normally all three in unison like this) and his guitar-work is amazing on this track. A forgotten highlight in Stills’ early catalogue, ‘Special Care’ is a rewarding song that should have played a bigger part in the man’s catalogue – indeed, with Stills planning a solo career in 1968, you wonder why he didn’t insist on saving this track for himself, seeing as the others aren’t on it.

Most Springfielders don’t like ‘In The Hour Of Not Quite Rain’, Richie’s turn on the album to do a solo. But I’ve always been impressed by this song, with its moody majesty and world-wearyness suiting this album’s themes well, even if it is all a bit melodramatic. This song must be unique in the complete AAA catalogue, as it came about as part of a competition: against their better judgement, the band got sucked into a 1967 radio station competition to ‘write a song for the Buffalo Springfield to put to music’. With the band all but dead in the water and few entries of the competition, it seemed that this idea would go the way of so many other half-baked competitions from the Summer of Love – and yet Richie was eventually pestered enough to agree to record the winner (to the best of my knowledge the band never had a say in who won – it was all decided by the radio station). Micki Callen was the winner and came up with some smashing, atmospheric words – they fit the Springfield’s story well, too, with their depiction of imminent storms and chaos. It’s a shame we never heard from him again and that the band were just never around to promote this record – it deserved much better. Furay’s music, too, is revelatory, quite unlike anything he would ever write again for Springfield, Poco, Souther-Hillman-Furay or solo, building up to a height of passion in the closing orchestral lick that just oozes fear and premonition. Indeed, had this song been the last track on this album, it would have made a fine end to the band’s career – and yet, stuck in the middle of this whole record, it still sounds out of place somehow, which might be the real reason why so many fans don’t like this song at all.

‘Questions’ is the first fascinating unfinished attempt at nailing a song that would become better known as the second half of CSNY’s ‘Carry On’ from the ‘Deja Vu’ record. This version has more verses and lots of great Stills guitar, but hasn’t quite found its form yet – it rambles and repeats itself in a way that actually mirror’s the song’s questioning contents better than the ‘finished’ product but is a bit of a drag for the listener. Again, the theme of this song is about being unsure where your future lies and the lyrics about talking to a lover aren’t fooling anybody – it’s clearly about the Springfield (no wonder Stills re-activated it when CSNY, too, were on the verge of falling apart). Then again, perhaps Stills is singing about both here – there references to a lover running away while ‘I was chasing you down’ seems to be a first mention of Stills’ on-and-off relationship with Judy Collins (which becomes a bit of an obsession – see almost every song from ‘Suite:Judy Blue Eyes’ onward up to the mid-70s). Again, it’s fascinating to hear so many of the pieces of the puzzle that are about to become so important to Stills’ songwriter strengths fall into place here. Given the chance to finish it, this might have become one of Stills’ better songs even without being part of a medley – though, actually, even here it doesn’t sound bad at all, courtesy of Stills’ gravelly vocal.

‘I Am A Child’ is one of the most famous songs on the whole record, courtesy of its place on ‘Decade’, the most influential and desirable Neil Young album for those fans who caught the artist’s second wind in the late 70s. It’s Neil’s petulant but still quite fond reply to Furay’s song ‘A Child’s Claim To Fame’ – as we said in review 17, Young quit the band so many times when they were on the verge of a breakthrough that Furay was moved to write that song about his partner’s selfish instincts. This song is Neil’s not-quite-so-frosty reply, admitting his childish tendencies in a very obscure way and explaining, sort of, his reasons for acting that way (‘you are a man, you understand...’ – is this Neil talking to his band-mates and explaining that the more they lay down the law the more he’s going to rebel and mis-behave?) It’s affectionate rather than grumpy, with Neil’s vocal almost wistful and in a sweet twist Neil’s last song on a Springfield album is his most Dylan-like fragmented song since the band’s first single ‘Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing’. Like many of Neil’s songs from the last Springfield days right up to the death of Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten in 1972 (which turned him inward and autobiographical again) this song is hard to get a handle on and yet, in its own curious symbolic logical way, makes total sense as well. Neil, by the way, is the only member of the band on the song although it seems he always intended it for a Springfield album rather than one of his solo projects and the bassist, mentioned on the sleeve of ‘Decade’ as being ‘the boyfriend of the receptionist at [recording studio] Sunset Sounds’ is still unknown and un-named – he’s never come forward despite lots of pleas from many a Young biographer. 

‘Merry Go Round’ was the band’s last shot at a hit single and it makes you wonder what the future would have been like had it hit – the band would almost certainly have been forced into staying together and we might never have had CSNY or Poco at all. For only the second time on the album we have the whole band playing together in the same studio (well, minus Bruce Palmer but that, sadly, is a different story) and this song is the most poppish and carefree we’ve heard the band in ages. So much so, in fact, that heard on this album in context it jars badly – just as we’ve got used to hearing the band apart we’re reminded of how together and integral a group they once here. You have to say, though, great as the recording is (and it is - Furay flies on the lead vocal, Stills soars on the harmonies, the band’s new rhythm section is really getting on well), its not the best shot at a single that the band ever had. A weak re-write of The Hollies’ ‘On A Carousel’ (was Stills hanging round with Graham Nash even back then?) it goes exactly where you think it will right up until the fascinating ending that makes it clear that all these happy times are in the past not the present. With its pained farewell ‘What did you do to me? Look what you did to me?!’ sounding so out of place, its made me wonder – is this yet another Furay song about the death of the band, with the merry-go-round hypnotising the character a metaphor for how the band got sucked up into the music until the spinning made them giddy? Perhaps this quiet, understated simple track has more to it than I’ve always thought.

‘Una Munda’ is another important template that might not sound much here but will be amazing once Stills has ironed out the rough edges. The earliest of his ‘latin’ songs, this is Stills playing around with language and sounds without any regard for what they mean unless you speak the language (and so obscure are some of Stills’ choice of languages that it’s a fair bet you don’t). In time this will lead to the end chorus of ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’, the hidden autobiography of ‘Pensamiento’ and the garbled confessional ‘Spanish Suite’. Here, though, Stills is just having fun and enjoying singing any old nonsense that comes to mind, caught up in the song’s infectious rhythms and the great guitar groove.  Or at least he is after the first verse – references to ‘America bleating’ ‘africa seething’ and ‘asia is screaming’ suggest it might be another of his anti-American isolationism songs (possibly the fore-runner of ‘Buyin’ Time’ where Stills shakes his head in despair at how the haves of this world are so intent on keeping things away from the have-nots). That all passes by in a flash, however and soon we’re just left with the rhythms and a Mariachi horn section. It’s hard to treat this song as a throwaway – after all, it becomes intregral to Stills’ art later on and features on his greatest guitar solos of all time – but compared to the other songs here this isn’t in the same league.

The way the album’s been going for the past half-hour, you half expect the band to take a farewell bow with another song about missed opportunities and the parting of the ways. But ‘Kind Woman’ is more of a beginning, with Furay – alone, apart from Messina on bass – perfecting his own template that’s going to keep him safe in the years to come. A love song to his first wife Nancy, its another of this album’s laidback songs but with an important difference – the strength of the couple’s love and the passion the character feels for his lover sits in contrast to the slow pace and setting. Like ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ and countless other classic AAA songs, this is an ‘I-can’t-believe-you-helped-me-through’ piece, with the singer seemingly on his last legs as he recounts how lost he would be without that someone special to pull him through. It’s not as moving as ‘Sad Memory’, as original as ‘Child’s Claim To Fame’ or as eerie as ‘In The Hour Of Not Quite Rain’ but in its own quiet way this song is as great as anything Furay ever wrote for the band. You wonder why Furay, too, didn’t save this song for his own solo career/Poco (Furay and Messina had plotted that band for a while, it seems, at the end of the Springfield days when things got too much for the pair) as it sounds more like them than the hordes of Buffalos that usually play along to Springfield tracks. 

A mighty fine farewell, then, ‘Last Time Around’ is a forgotten minor classic that might not be the best the band ever produced but has lots of highlights and tonnes of important experiments that in time will become the norm for Stills, Furay and Young on their work together and apart. But, sadly, with so many of the tracks about how hard things are being part of a group that never quite made it and doesn’t really get along all that well, its also obvious that the band were meant to split up and were never destined to stay together for any length of time. Long live the magic of the Buffalo Springfield, taken away from us far too soon!

A Now Complete List Of Buffalo Springfield Articles Available To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:

Dewey Martin Obituary and Tribute:

Non-Album Songs

Surviving TV Appearances 1967-2010

Solo/Live/Compilation albums (Including Poco!)

Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Songs

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