Monday, 1 July 2013
"Buffalo Springfield" (1966) (Album Review)
“There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear, there’s a man with a gun over there telling me I got to beware, think it’s time we stop – children – what’s that sound? Everybody look what’s going down” “There’s battle lines being drawn, nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong, young people speaking their minds are getting so much resistance from behind” “Paranoia strikes deep, into your life it will creep, it starts when you’re always afraid, step out of line, the men come and take you away” “Brother you know you can’t run away and hide, is it you don’t want to see her cry, is that why, you won’t go and say goodbye?” “Whose that stomping all over my face? Where’s that cigarette I’m trying to trace? Whose putting sponge in the bells I once rung? And taken my gypsy before she’s begun to sing...” “Who should be sleeping but whose writing this song? Wishin’ and a hopin’ he weren’t so damned wrong!” “There’s too many words going down, wrecking against the walls with a hollow sound, all about what it’s going to be, what it is you’ll see, but they ain’t paying you and me – not a crown!” “Is my world not falling down? I’m in pieces on the ground, and my eyes aren’t open and I’m standing on my knees, but if crying and holding on, and flying on the ground is wrong, then I’m sorry to let you down, but you’re from my side of town, and I miss you” “Indecision is crowding me, I have no room to spare, and I can’t believe she’d care, like a dream she has taken me, and now I don’t know where, and a part of me is scared, the part of me I shared once before” “All I hear are screams from outside the limousines that are taking me out of my mind” “If in another time, another place, another day, another face, I’m telling you babe it’s all you know, that one of us should have to go, and I see another man in your eyes, and you’re old enough to know you can’t live lies, and so I’m telling you just exactly what to do, ‘cause you might have to take some advice, pay the price!”
“Buffalo Springfield” (1966)
Baby Don’t Scold Me or For What It’s Worth/Go And Say Goodbye/Sit Down, I Think I Love You/Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing/Hot Dusty Roads/Everybody’s Wrong//Flying On The Ground Is Wrong/Burned/Do I Have To Come Right Out And Say It?/Leave/Out Of My Mind/Pay The Price
‘Buffalo Springfield’ should be a huge, colossal, monumental, epic album. It features the first ever songs from two names that are going to shape the face of music forever in just a few years, together and separately, in the form of Stephen Stills and Neil Young – not to mention the lead singer and creator of Poco, one of the best-loved 1970s bands(however much they’re unfairly dismissed today). With three of the world’s better guitarists, three of the world’s greatest composers and three thrilling singers plus a pretty nifty rhythm section you can quite understand why in 1966 Buffalo Springfield were being talked about as ‘the next big thing’, why members of the Byrds in their peak year of hipness were convinced they’d discovered their successors and why record collectors over have a soft spot for this album and the two offerings that come after it. ‘Buffalo Springfield’ is a record that should, on paper, be talked about in the hushed tones reserved for such debut albums as Pink Floyd’s ‘Piper At Thed Gates Of Dawn’ and ‘Crosby, Stills and Nash’.
Yet when you actually hear it ‘Buffalo Springfield’ couldn’t be a ‘smaller’ album if it tried, focussed for the most part on the themes of love, romance and betrayal most other bands of 1966 covered and with only flashes of the genius to come. Stills hasn’t quite found his ‘voice’ yet and too often comes over as a composer obsessed by The Beatles, while colleague Young seems overly obsessed by Dylan. Lead singer Richie Furay can’t get a single one of his excellent songs onto an album yet (despite having several future classics ready and waiting to go) making for an album that sounds like two different records stuck together and Stills and Young already pulling in very different directions, however well Richie’s voice (singing on tracks by both guitarists) covers up the gap. What’s worse is that this album was put together by a creative team who really didn’t know what they were doing: band managers Charlie Greene and Brian Stone were actually among the top half of AAA managers in terms of believing in their stars and not exploiting them as much as many unscrupulous people in the 1960s did. However they over-reached themselves terribly when they decided to produce and mix the album themselves, despite having no previous experience and turning down offers of help from several big names at Atlantic who did know what they were doing. Those who were there at the sessions have often talked about being disappointed because the music sounded so good in the studio and so bad on the record; many remixes since (including one a few months after the first release when ‘For What It’s Worth’ accelerated sales, one when the album was released on CD and another made especially for the ‘Buffalo Springfield’ box set in 2000) have improved the problem but can’t invent what wasn’t on tape to begin with. You can certainly understand why both Stills and Young have all but disowned this record (only ‘For What It’s Worth’ survives in either’s set lists over the years and even that wasn’t on the ‘original’ record as we’ll see) and why the band’s early fans – who’d fallen in love with the Springfield for their wild, eccentric, unique stage act – were deeply disappointed by this record.
For all it’s faults, though, there’s much to love about this record. Stills is at his simplest here, a long way from the epics like ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ he’ll be writing in just three years’ time and yet he’s already mastered the knack of writing memorable pop songs with hooks to die for which sound deeply contemporary (it’s more or less the only time you’ll hear Stills ‘copying’ instead of inventing a style all of his own until 1978) and even if none of his six other contributions to the record quite match ‘For What It’s Worth’ in terms of drama or sophistication then that’s forgivable for a new writer no one is yet taking that seriously. An even bigger surprise is Young, who comes up with five songs of varying degrees of obliqueness – a style the future guitar god will abandon for good in just a few years, preferring to make his songs simpler and more esoteric. Few songs around in 1966 sounded like the ones Neil comes up with here (even Dylan was never this weird) and ‘Clancy’ especially is one of Neil’s long lost classics, a track that says a great deal without actually saying anything concrete at all (after perfecting this style on ‘Expecting To Fly’ from the next album – perhaps the greatest ever Buffalo Springfield song – Neil barely writes like this again on his 60-odd LPs). We also get one of the world’s first anti-stardom songs, written by Neil at a time when no one outside a handful of local Buffalo Springfield gigs had a clue who he was! It’s fascinating in retrospect to see just how much the two writers on this record, locked in a lifelong competition with each other, begin to sound like each other, Stills stretching himself to sound like the more ‘mysterious’ Young and Neil simplifying his work to sound more like the top-tapping Stephen.
No, this album has much to recommend it – it’s just unfortunate for this poor understated, almost humble record that a good 90% of the people who’ve heard this comparatively low seller have come to it because of their love for at least one of the three superstars this album bred – and 9% of the remaining 10% must have bought this LP on its re-pressing, rushed into the shops when single ‘For What It’s Worth’ finally broke the band into the charts. We’re all expecting a bit too much from this record, looking for the talents of band members that we know go onto greater things and expecting them to be there from the start. Treat this record as a first attempt by a newbie group in their early 20s no one’s heard of yet though (even ‘For What It’s Worth’ , the one Buffalo Springfield song the general public know even if most of them seem to assume it was a CSN song, was released after this album and only added to the running order in retrospect) and a record that’s of a period with other mid-60s releases before the ‘summer of love’ changed the charts forever and it makes a lot more sense, an impressive debut and period piece from a band that show just enough glimmers of their future talent to be interesting. Just check out the awful packaging, proof that record label Atlantic clearly don’t know how to market this new band with the strange name yet, however much faith boss Ahmet Ertegun will be placing in Stills in years to come (just check out the horribly dated teen magazine cover of close-ups of the band and the surprisingly spot-on ‘synopses’ of each member on the back cover; Stills is ‘youthful – sometimes childlike’ and Neil is ‘deep and dark’ by the way). To be honest, this record still sounds more like a ‘1965’ record – mainly acoustic, with the folk roots showing and a little bit of Merseybeat for good measure – but there are pieces of the puzzle being put into place here already that are clearly born out of talent. Neil’s songs from this record often get attention, mixing images and metaphors in a way that the guitarist will soon drop entirely in favour of more direct and instinctive writing that’s way ahead of his years (Neil was not quite 21 when this album was recorded). Stills, though, isn’t far behind, putting together strands from all of the groups he’s ever been in during his 24 years (rock, folk, blues, country) and coming out with a sound that switches between pleasingly familiar and daringly progressive with every turn.
Add in Richie’s pop-chart-hugging vocals, Dewey Martin’s simple drumming and Bruce Palmer’s wildly eccentric bass riffs and you clearly have a band going places, even if some of them appear to be cul-de-sacs for now.
It’s amazing, too, in retrospect how much the addition of ‘For What It’s Worth’ changes this album. For a few months at least anyone purchasing the Springfield’s debut album would have had Stills’ ‘Baby Don’t Scold Me’ in it’s place (note the original running order was tweaked for second pressings, something all the CD re-issues have followed and which we follow here; the original running order was: Go and Say Goodbye/Sit Down, I Think I Love You/Leave/Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing/Hot Dusty Roads/Everybody’s Wrong//Flying On The Ground Is Wrong/Burned/Do I Have To Come Right Out And Say It?/Baby Don’t Scold Me/Out Of My Mind/Pay The Price), a muscly rocker with the Beatlesy overtones even higher than the rest of the record and further evidence that, had he been recording back in 1964, Stills really could have provided America’s answer to Merseybeat. Since re-released on the ‘Buffalo Springfield’ box set of 2000, it was the rockiest song on the whole original LP and was arguably the least subtle track of a pretty subtle record. By contrast ‘For What It’s Worth’ is a folk protest song of the highest order, inspired by the teenage riots on Sunset Strips against a draconian curfew which inspired quite a few AAA songs (The Monkees’ ‘Daily Nightly’ is a more psychedelic and obscure take on the same theme) but none as good as this one. What this excellent song – the real blossoming of Stills’ career and deservedly the biggest hit the band ever had – achieves most, though, is the art of subtlety. Opening the album with quiet, concentrated, sombre octave guitar ‘pings’ and Stills’ understated but clearly angry vocals couldn’t be in a bigger contrast to ‘Scold Me’s rather OTT hysterics. Stills the political troubadour is born here – in exactly the same way his future partners Crosby and Nash are ‘born’ after writing The Byrds’ ‘What’s Happening?!?!?’ and The Hollies’ ‘King Midas In Reverse’ respectively, more challenging songs written to reflect more3 challenging times and with a really important message to put across. Thankfully the Springfield will go further in this direction in the future, widening their palate for the impressively eclectic ‘Again’ released mere months later – here, though, it seems to exist ‘outside’ the record (especially as the replacement opening track), somehow at odds with the tales of doomed romance and disappointing love affairs Stills and Young are writing (however obliquely in the latter’s case). The trouble is that almost everyone whose bought this album has purchased it because of this one song – and it’s actually quite an anomaly for the period (my advice: go and buy ‘Last Time Around’ instead, the neglected third and final album that features much more politically savvy Stills songs than ‘Hot Dusty Roads’ or ‘Go and Say Goodbye’).
The question, like many debut records, is where this band came from, with such a fully formed sound and style. I’ll assume that anyone interested enough to read a Buffalo Springfield review already knows that the band met in a traffic jam (Furay and Stills noticing their old joint pal Young’s unusual transportation – a hearse he nicknamed Mort and drove because it was the cheapest care he could afford – while trying to put a band together) and that they got their unusual name from the sideplates of a steamroller company that was parked in a road near to where the band used to meet and rehearse (The company gave their blessing to the name and said they’d ‘look out for them with affection’ – in stark contrast to what happened when the Moody Blues started out as the M&B Bands in the hope of recognition from a Birmingham brewery). I’ll assume, too, that you already know the end of the story – Bruce’s deportation back to Canada for drugs (back in the days when even the Beatles hadn’t publicly admitted using them yet); Neil’s yo-yo career plan, quitting and rejoining the band at least half a dozen times before their last concert at the end of 1968 and a capacity for self-destruction that even Michael Jackson would look on with envy, the band disintegrating every time their career seems to be finally getting somewhere (prestigious TV shows; the Monterey Pop Festival, etc). This is a band who were destined for greatness, had all the ingredients they needed to be the greatest band the world had ever seen and yet due to both bad luck and poor decisions ended up the band that ‘could’ have been in the eyes of many. This mixture of tragedy and comedy even extended to the reunion gigs a couple of years ago, when the band were booked to play several shows, Neil quit at the last minute and Stills and Furay limped on to a rather sorry full stop without him, in an almost exact replica of what had happened in 1968. ‘Buffalo Springfield’ isn’t just the start of the band’s recordings, it’s the start of the band’s decline, the group simply pulling in so many directions you can already hear it splitting wide open on this first record which alternates between poetic puzzling and muscly might.
Frankly the Buffalo Springfield’s problem – and yes I do mean problem – is that they had too much talent for one band. At the band’s beginnings the lines were clear: Richie was the talented lead singer girls screamed for and no one else did any singing, Stephen was the natural songwriter who reflected what the audience were thinking and Neil was the brooding guitarist who already had a sound all of his own that few could copy. Somewhere along the line, though, the roles in the band became blurred and the three musicians turned into Renaissance men stepping on each other’ toes. Neil began writing thick and fast and started singing on stage despite having possibly the polar opposite voice to Furay’s (it’s not a bad voice – far from it given how well Neil will sing during his early solo years especially – but being high-pitched and deeply unusual it couldn’t have been less like Furay’s radio friendly vocal features and was quite unlike anything around in 1966). Stills got really into the guitar, sparking a competitive musical debate with Neil that continues to this day, off and on and became more interested in singing on his own songs. Laidback Richie lets things slide for this album but he, too, is already writing his own excellent songs (many of the highlights of ‘Again’ were actually demoed for this album) and is a deeply under-rated rhythm guitarist to boot. It’s like the Beatles’ story in miniature, complete with ‘George Harrison’s rise dominating the band by the end (Furay) and two songwriting partners forever linked in the public eye and who started off as ‘best buddies’ but had such different styles and ideas they quickly ended up competitors not partners. Indeed, poor Richie gets a very rough deal on this album – his own songs of the period are superior to a good half of what’s on offer here (‘My Kind Of Love’, re-recorded by Poco, was intended for this album before Neil wrote ‘Do I Have To Come Right Out And Say It?’), he sings lead vocals on only four songs on the album and shares lead vocals on a further three, in stark contrast to the early sessions where it was intended he would be singing everything. He doesn’t get to play much guitar either, although thankfully Furay has more space to work with on albums two and three when Neil’s commitment to the band wavers.
The Springfield characters were all very different people (at least the Beatles had some similarities – the only group that came close to The Springfield for such wild differences in the same band are The Byrds and their original line-up didn’t last any longer) and to boot they had a regional divide that split the band down the middle (Stills and Furay the two Americans; Young and Palmer the two Americans; Dewey – another Canadian – came along quite late in the story) and who, far from hiding their differences behind closed doors like, say, The Mamas and Papas or even The Byrds did at the time re-enacted these splits on-stage (where Stills was often found looking like a cowboy and Young dressed like an Indian!) The most famous quote from this album’s packaging is the line listed under Stills’ biography: ‘Steve’s the leader – but we all are!’ Stills’ naturally dominant tendencies and love of hard work naturally made him the leader but, as he himself admitted later ‘you can’t try to get the likes of Neil or Bruce to follow orders; they’d just naturally rebel!’ With five very strong personalities, all of them different and all as determined as the others in getting their own way, you suddenly begin to understand just why this band named themselves after both a steamroller and nature’s ‘stubbornest’ animal and why this was a band destined to burn brightly before turning supernova instead of hanging around and fading away...
You can’t listen to any of the trinity of Springfield LPs without thinking about what might have been had these differences not occurred and – as the only album made entirely with the original line-up – you end up thinking about that during this debut album the most. While only ‘For What It’s Worth’ is a true 24 carat classic, it’s fair to say that almost all of these songs nearly come up to that level but something – a poor choice of rhyme, a lack of a chorus, the poor production – gets in the way. The later, older Stills would have insisted on repairing some of the vocals on the album; the older Young would have got the band to rehearse more and re-record tracks less; the older Furay – now a leading member of the Christian church – would probably have insisted on some lyric changes. That’s all it would have taken for this ‘nearly’ album to have been the debut album of all time, right up there with the other two records, the acknowledged classics ‘Again’ and the under-rated lost ,masterpiece ‘Last Time Around’. ‘Buffalo Springfield’ is the weaker of the three, but even if it’s not a great LP it is an LP full of great moments. The catchy guitar riff of the (very early) country rock rough and tumble of ‘Go and Say Goodbye’, the lyrics to the sombre waltz dance of depression and guilt on ‘Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing’, the four bar stomp of ‘Leave’ and the harmonies on ‘Everybody’s Wrong’ – all of these are passages right up there with the very best AAA records. If only the band had tweaked a couple of the songs, had an extra days’ rehearsal and had a proper producer working on the record then, well, the sky was the limit for the Buffalo Springfield, a band who might never have matched their early promise but who arguably promised more than almost any other band. In the end what impresses most about this albums isn’t the songs (impressive as they are), or the singers (ditto) or guitar playing (which is as good as it gets for 1966): it’s the fact that this debut album manages to sound quite unlike any other record ever made – including the two follow-ups to come. Part folk, part rock, part country, part blues, part protest, only Pentangle ever matched this band for the sheer amount of genres it covers. Hey, children, what’s that sound? It’s a sound quite unlike anything anybody else did anytime ever – and that alone makes it a ‘classic album’ in my book, despite its many faults.
We’re starting this review with ‘Baby Don’t Scold Me’ because it’s the ‘missing’ song only included on original pressings of the album– if your copy of the album starts with ‘For What It’s Worth’ (and most of them do!) then please see the next track and if it’s ‘Go and Say Goodbye’ then please the track after! An angry rocker fairly blistering with contempt, ‘Scold Me’ is the musical equivalent of someone trying to shake off a nagging girlfriend by sweeping this way and that, switching keys at the drop of a hat and with less construction than any other Stills song of the period, seemingly one long outpouring a la John Lennon (like many a Stills song on this album it’s very Beatlesy and not unlike Lennon’s similarly emotional ‘Not A Second Time’ from ‘With The Beatles’. Both the original hard-rocking version and a superior, sweet acoustic demo featuring just Stephen and Richie turned up on the ‘Buffalo Springfield’ box set. The combination of simple words and a complex, convoluted tune is an interesting experiment for this record you wish Stills had used more, although the sound of the ‘finished’ version is so wildly different to anything else on the record it does rather stick out like a sore thumb. The band sound uncomfortable with the song too, speeding up during the take and ending with a rather weak and desperate series of ‘alright!’s that sound like a rather desperate attempt at soul (if you haven’t read my review of the ‘Again’ album then it might surprise you to learn that Otis Redding came very close to recording the Buffalo Springfield song ‘Mr Soul’...) In all, on the one hand it’s a shame that ‘Baby Don’t Scold Me’ is a song known only to the faithful few who either looked out rare original copies of the album or the almost-as-rare box set because it is another important stepping stone in Stillks’ development as a writer; in terms of performance, though, this probably is the weakest on the original record and so was a good choice to be given the push. The band should have stuck to their acoustic arrangement in my eyes...
‘For What It’s Worth’ is where it all begins in so many ways. If most Springfield songs are ‘fun’ then this one is the moral centre, Stills’ sense of outrage at a specific event (the curfew laws on Sunset Strip that led to riots by around 100,00 teenagers one night, an angry line of policemen in retaliation the second night and a club known as ‘Pandora’s Box’ being set on fire) universal and timeless enough to work for any age with a generational divide in their midst and under the threat of a terrible, stupid law. Like so many CSN songs to come, Stills wrote the song at high speed and had it released within weeks of the events (rumour is his managers half-jokingly told him the riots were on the news so much they’d make a great inspiration for a song), reflecting the times so perfectly that this song couldn’t help but be a hit, however much sabotage was going on (such as Neil quitting the group days before an important TV spot promoting the song). Stills has said since, too, that the ongoing war in Vietnam was on his mind when he wrote the song, although there’s nothing specific in the lyrics (still a perennial in Stills’ setlists, it’s amazing how many ‘atrocities’ this song fits, younger fans identifying with this song afresh during the Kent State shootings, Watergate, the Gulf War and the backlash after 9/11). The song is so new, in fact, that his voice is still genuinely quivering with the outrage of it all, Stills singing in his ‘natural’ voice for the first time, unlike the Beatle poses he affects on a lot of the rest of the album. It’s easy to see why too – this is still among Stills’ top ten lyrics nearly 50 years on, contrasting the open, happy hippie protest ‘singing songs and carrying signs’ and the rigid, uncompromising voice of authority hovering with their ‘guns’, refusing to see life from another point of view. Rather than divide, though, ‘For What It’s Worth’ asks for both sides to put away their differences in the name of peace a full year before the summer of love, directly appealing to the audience at home with the line ‘children, what’s that sound?’ in a sort of mini-precursor to my favourite Stills song ‘Word Game’ the last verse takes things further and braver, warning us that ‘if we step out of line the man come to take you away’ which was pretty radical stuff for 1966 (even if Stills always went further concert, claiming the man come ‘to shoot you down’). The title, by the way, is not mentioned in the lyrics (another radical step for 1966) and came about because Stills played it to boss Ahmet Ertegun with the words ‘here’s my new song, for what it’s worth – but it doesn’t have a title yet’ – after singing the song an excited Ertegun told him that, actually, he’d just given them the perfect title (the very throwaway nature of the title suggesting that, as one of the ‘youngsters’, no one’s listening to what Stills has to say either). Perhaps surprisingly, he gives the musical hook of the song (the opening octave leap guitar ‘pings’) to Neil to play even though he could have performed them just as well – in fact this song might well be unique in Stills’ canon from being a song that he wrote but doesn’t play on (that’s Furay on the acoustic guitar). Memorable, courageous and note-perfect throughout, ‘For What It’s Worth’ is the best-selling Springfield song for a reason – it’s just a shame that the band never quite delivered the similarly inspired follow-up they needed to stay high in the charts (although ‘Bluebird’ and ‘Mr Soul’ come very close).
‘Go and Say Goodbye’ is more typical of this first album, a rough and ready country-rock song that’s probably the simplest Stills ever wrote. Sounding not unlike the Beatles’ cover versions of country songs (usually Ringo’s), a sprightly backing is crossed with a speedy patter-song type lyric that’s rattled off at top speed. Stills and Furay’s voices combine well together here, sometimes singing the same notes and sometimes in harmony and the band clearly know this song well, having been in their set for longer than most of their originals. Lyrically this is simple stuff and even contains the archetypal Beatles half-rhyme of ‘hide’ and ‘why’ (see ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’); in fact dare I say it it’s rather too simple, sounding more like a song from 1964 than 1966. At least we get to hear Stills and Young’s guitars bouncing off each other but it’s a very odd battle indeed. Stills is fully immersed in the style and ever the impressionist does a great Chet Atkins pastiche, while Young absolutely refuses to mould his style round the song in anyway; his flowery playing in the right speaker is recognisable to anyone whose ever heard his playing from the following 47 years. Not the deepest or greatest of songs, perhaps, but it’s got a great hook this song and shows that Stills has a real knack for writing catchy pop songs.
‘Sit Down I Think I Love You’ was the first song Stills ever had released, an early version by the Mojo Men being released as a single shortly before this album (you can hear it on the Nuggets various artists collection), although it’s sung more tongue-in-cheek than the Springfield’s version and isn’t quite as good. Again, this is a simple song with a country vibe but taken at a slower rate this time and the highlight is Stills and Furay’s impressive radio-friendly harmony once more. Another repeat is the Beatlesy reference ‘I can’t hide being around you’ which is sung here as the risking-censorship drug reference ‘I get high’ (‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ is a similar trick and opinion differs as to whether the fab four intended the sneaky reference or whether it was just there by accident). What’s new is the rather angry tone of the song, Stills actively ordering his girlfriend to ‘sit down’, even though the rest of the chorus makes clear that he’s actually being rather sweet (he simply wanted her to keep quiet so he could admit his real feelings for her without her interrupting). Deeply unusual by Stills’ standards, this song only features three verses and no real chorus, while the lyrics seem to have as much difficulty making themselves understood as the narrator, drifting out to empty clichés like ‘you know what they say about the bird in the hand’ (its worth ‘two in the bush’ if you’re not up on archaic English expressions, although quite what that has to do with the song is never made clear). Young reveals more of his Shadows influences here than usual (the band that inspired him to pick up the guitar in the first place), while Stills’ guitar sound is eccentric to say the least, croaking like a frog at one point and cutting through Young’s sweeter frills with some direct reverb-filled stings during the solo, perhaps reflecting the insensitive narrator struggling to make himself heard. Given Stills’; own difficulties making his emotions clear (something he manages to do well in song but not, according to most accounts, in person) it’s tempting to see this song as an admission of guilt, unsure quite how to let his real feelings out. Then again, it could simply have made a good hook for a pop song.
‘Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing’ is a key song for all parties involved. One of Neil’s earliest songs, he taught it to Stills during their days playing in folks clubs in 1963/64 who was most impressed with it. After the pair drifted apart he met up with Richie, who’d known Stills for years and asked after this great song he’d heard so much about. When Neil drifted back to Canada Richie and Stephen worked up a new harmony-laden arrangement of the song and added it to their setlist, finally playing their ‘new’ interpretation for their creator upon meeting him in that infamous traffic jam in 1966. A natural for the album, then, ‘Clancy’ was also released as the band’s first single despite receiving a radio airplay band for the slight swear word ‘damn’ in the last verse – had it been a hit it might have changed the band’s fortunes completely, making Neil the focus point and dictating their new style. Instead it sounds like another cul-de-sac the band never attempted again, but a highly pleasing one. Neil was clearly Dylan-influenced when he wrote this song of missed opportunities and fading fortunes but Dylan never had quite the emotional commitment Neil did and ‘Clancy’ is one of its author’s greatest works, the title character a lost and fading wannabe whose seen it all. There are some classic couplets here: ‘Having it, sharing it, ain’t quite the same’ ‘Whose putten sponge in the bells I once rung?’ ‘Whose that silhouette I’m trying to trace?’ ‘Whose seeing eyes through the crack in the floor?’; all three are perfect metaphors for the slightly faded, invisible characters in the song and the song reads more like a poem than a typical song lyric circa 1966 (just look at how many words there are per line, in contrast to any of Stills’ songs on the record). The best line, though, might well be at the end when Neil breaks down the ‘4th wall’ and admits that he, too, is waiting for something better out of life (‘Who should be sleeping but whose writing this song, wishing and a hoping he weren’t so damned wrong?’) Neil’s best song on the album by some margin, its one heck of a song for a 21-year-old to have written (with a pathos and empathy most 60-year-olds can’t manage) and I so wish it had stayed in his setlists for longer (there’s a particularly nice version from his first solo concert in1968 that came out on the ‘Sugar Mountain’ Archives CD release a few years back). For all their enthusiasm, Stills and Furay’s vocals don’t quite get at the real heart of this song, which is about loss and heartbreak – fans rather than interpreters, although Neil’s own strained harmony vocals suggests he couldn’t have suing it much better himself at the time (Neil struggles with his vocals across this album but finds his niche by Springfield record no 2). A masterpiece in miniature, no wonder so many people who only knew the Springfield from this one song were hailing them as the next big thing...
‘Hot Dusty Roads’ is next, a bluesy slice of semi-autobiography that’s probably the closest Stills song here to the sort of songs he’ll be singing in years to come. The only problem is that Stills hasn’t done much living by this time and what could have been an interesting nostalgic ramble runs out of things to say long before the song’s 2:52 minutes are up. Stills offers up some interesting ideas here though: the title, for a start, is a clever red herring; the narrator doesn’t want to sing about ‘no hot dusty roads’ because he’s a ‘city boy’ whose rarely travelled. Few songwriters would have been open enough to admit, too, that the narrator isn’t really in love – he’s just after a girl’s company because ‘I don’t like being alone!’ (a rather brave admission by 1966 standards). There’s a characteristic middle eight which seems to crop up on all the Stills songs that did and didn’t make this first album, one that’s clearly dictated by the rhyming scheme where the music comes to a rather awkward full-stop and an unnecessary repeat of the first verse at the end of the song that a later, mature Stills would have nixed, but by and large Stills has found his voice on this song. That’s especially true when you consider that the lyrics and music are telling us two different things, a very useful Stills trick from the future (the lyrics are edgy and paranoid, but the music is laidback country-blues). Somehow, though, there’s something that stops this song being first-rate: the melody is so obvious that the listener knows where it’s going to arrive long before it does, Young turns in a rather pedestrian guitar solo (similar to his one-0note affair on ‘Cinnamon Girl’ but much, much worse) and an unwise switch to falsetto harmonies from Richie in the last verse. Considering that ‘Hot Dusty Roads’ covers as much ground as it does its a shame that its all rather unmemorable to listen to.
Side one ends with a minor classic, though, the urgent ‘Everybody’s Wrong’. A very
Byrdsy backing track of ringing guitars and some energetic percussion makes this the most arresting song after ‘For What It’s Worth’ and while the words aren’t quite up to that song’s protest and values they are still remarkably ahead of their time for 1966. The performance of this song is arguably the closest we have to hearing what the live Springfield must have sounded like (there are two live tapes doing the rounds, but both the 1967 Monterey and 1968 Huntingdon Tapes are of a tired band struggling to replace their lead guitarist rather than the band’s premier line-up at its finest) and it’s easy to see why so many people raved about them. The three guitars are all meshed together, ‘weaving’ an entirely new sound in the way that the Rolling Stones always try to but never quite manage, while all three vocalists make the most of their very different voices, Richie’s casual lead, Neil’ nagging harmony and Stills’ cautious bass never sounding better together. It sounds, though, as if Stills started the song as a joke (‘Listen to my song, it isn’t very long...’), writing himself an AAAA rhyming scheme generally reserved for comedy songs and sounding like a cross between a limerick and a nursery rhyme, only later realising the importance of what he was saying. Another distinctly Beatlesy Stills song, it explodes into anger on a chorus that’s the precursor to Stills’ best couplet on 1982’s ‘Daylight Again’ (‘When everyone is talking and no one is listening, how can we decide?’) claiming here that ‘there are too many words going down, ringing in the air against a hollow sound’. The depiction is slightly clumsier but the message is the same: if those in charge won’t embrace new ways of thinking then every generation is doomed. There’s even a rare mention of pre-decimal currency in an AAA song, the Springfield claiming that ‘they ain’t paying you and me – not a crown!’ (which seems a strangely English reference for a group that was 2/5ths American and 3/5ths Canadian). Listen out for the last note, a real squeal of feedback and bitterness from Neil that’s only a smidgeon away from the ‘Crazy Horse’ sound to come, although this is very much Stills’ baby, complete with his quick rhymes and a knack for covering deep subjects within pop songs. Stills hasn’t quite got the formula he’ll make his fortune with just yet, but it’s obviously on the way.
Side two begins with ‘Flying On The Ground Is Wrong’, one of Young’s most impenetrable songs of all time. The subject is one of doomed romance like so many other songs of 1966, but is told in such poetic language that it sounds like a much bigger and more revelatory song. The curious title comes from the narrator’s plea that all he did wrong was to ‘fly’ in the belief the relationship was special whilst still a feeble earthbound home but this and the opening verse (with the narrator simply on his knees begging her to return) sound very different when told in such lines as ‘I’m standing on my knees’. To be honest, this song is a little bit too clever for it’s own good, wearing the listener’s patience as they try to decipher it. Much better is the moving middle eight, when Neil makes the first of many career references to feeling like a ‘helpless child’, that helplessness also giving him a feeling of control as it’s his choice whether to stay or go that causes ripples for everyone else (hints of his time with the band and with CSNY to come, then). Best line: ‘City lights at a county fair, never shine but always glare’, the scene of the lover’s date not quite as illuminating as the narrator was hoping, leaving him more estranged from his loved one than ever. Richie tries hard singing a song that’s quite alien to what he was probably expecting to sing when he dreamed of being in a rock band and his school-teacherly tones are sincere, if not always convincing. Perhaps this is the one Neil Young song on the album they should have let it’s author sing, if Neil’s keening and vulnerable harmony vocal is anything to go by. Perhaps surprisingly, Neil never tried to reclaim this song later as he did on so many of his Springfield songs on going solo in 1968, despite being desperate for material.
‘Burned’ is one song that Neil got to sing however – at the last minute if Richie’s excellent Springfield book ‘For What It’s Worth’ is anything to go by (Furay having rehearsed it and everything). Neil recounts in his sleevenotes for compilation ‘Decade’ how nervous he was, how many ‘uppers’ he took to give him confidence and how much you can hear that in his voice – while sounding a little eccentric in the context of Stills and Furay’s more polished work he actually does a better job than either of his colleague’s often painful harmony parts. ‘Burned’ isn’t your typical song anyway, even for this album: it’s barrelhouse piano and harmony vocals suggest it’s a mock-tragedy country song, but there’s more than a touch of rock and roll (especially Buddy Holly) about the song construction. A kind of sequel to the last song, Neil talks about being ‘burned, with both feet on the ground’ on a song where his expectations are low but that doesn’t stop the hurt of rejection any more. A series of descriptive words reflecting his state of mind follow (‘painful’ ‘flashed’ ‘crashed’) on a chorus whose very demeanour suggests someone toppling forward, ending each line with a growl. You wonder how Richie would have coped with such a left-field song, one so eccentric that only someone with an unconventional voice like Neil’s could ever have made it work. I wonder, too, if this is a song not just about one of Neil’s short-lived relationships of the period but one of his epilepsy attacks (which were at their peak in the mid-1960s). The sheer unstability of the music and the often-onomatopoeic words suggest it has some root in reality and the music certainly does catch you pout by surprise, like the rug being swept away from under our feet – if so, that would explain why Neil was so adamant about singing on this song in particular. In retrospect this first Young vocal is a key landmark in Neil’s career, but like so many other songs on this album it’s wildly different to the sort of song Young will be writing in just a few months’ time.
‘Do I Have To Come Right Out And Say It?’ is a much more commercial Young song and Furay sounds much more at home here. That said, not many rock songs in 1966 contained words like ‘indecision’ or lines made up of some dozen words each instead of the more usual half-dozen or spoke at such length about the narrator’s inability to talk about what’s on their mind. I’d love to know whether this song was Neil’s response to his partner’s ‘Sit Down, I Think I Love You’ as both songs cover much the same ground, albeit Young’s song is much more ambiguous and hesitant. The idea in the song is that both of them know she looks wonderful – it’s the fact that the narrator has to repeat the fact to make her feel better when he thinks it’s obvious that’s the problem (as is his reluctance to formerly ask her out when its ‘obvious’ the pair are an item already). Given the stories of Young’s early romances (especially in the McDonnaugh ‘Shakey’ biography) this song can’t be anything but autobiographical. There’s the first reference too to the female as a ‘dream’ – a Young favourite allegory that will liven up many a song about cinammon sellers and hurricanes down the years. For the most part, though, this song is surprisingly - well – commercial and the band sound considerably tighter and more polished than the one who played on ‘Burned’. A lovely harmony part from all three singers is the icing on the cake.
‘Leave’ shows off yet another side to the group, an angry bluesy song that’s actually pretty close in DNA to Stills’ future partner Graham Nash’s Hollies song ‘Leave Me’ (from ‘Evolution’, 1967). There’s an awful last note (with Stephen and Richie singing in supposed falsetto harmony) that’s too high and painful even for AAA mascot Max The Singing Dog, but that aside a wonderful performance rescues a so-so song. A rollicking rock and roll-blues song, it features another marvellous backing track that I wish we could hear better, with Bruce Palmer’s fret bass runs and Neil’s Hendrix-like howl of anguish in the solo particularly good. Stills might be covering the same ground of ‘love gone wrong’ as his partner’s, but his reaction couldn’t be more different, angrily turning on his girlfriend and alternating between pleas and orders that she should go. Lyrically there’s not much happening at all here and the song’s bare four words per line sit in direct contrast to Young’s songs (which feature up to 15 per line – the average is closer to seven or eight for a pop song), but they do at least offer the singers something to shout and holler with all their might before having to pause and take a breath-in. The tune is a good one, similar to the ‘Twist and Shout’ /’Money’ Beatles covers and making the most of the three or four notes it uses throughout before switching gears and spanning more than an octave on the middle eight. All in all, one of the better songs on the album.
‘Out Of My Mind’, though, is one of the weakest songs despite featuring a bigger window than normal into Neil’s soul. An anti-fame song from someone whose not yet a star, it speaks of the detachment of the rich and famous from the everyday life that inspired their work in the first place and sounds almost like a warning-to-self in case it happens that a heartfelt admission. Neil admits that ‘all I hear are screams from outside my limousines’ but despite his future fame this, surely, is a song about someone else? (perhaps close friends The Byrds who were still being screamed at in 1966? Or Brian Wilsons breakdown? Fittingly this song sounds like The Byrds re-recording ‘Pet Sounds’, with jangly Rickenbacker guitars fighting against curious brass sounds that appear to be played on a guitar...) Shorter than his other songs on the album, Neil stills packs a lot into his words and images and the idea of the blacked-out car the ‘star’ narrator travels in, driving him further and further ‘out of my mind’ and all he used to be is a good one. I just wish the band had put a bit more life into the backing track, which is pedestrian at best and so slow it almost comes to a full-stop during the solo. Like many a Buffalo Springfield song, I actually prefer the demo, which is much more intimate and laidback, the more scatterbrained backing vocals easing the song’s air of discomfort and anguish. Fascinating for fans, but not an easy listen by any means.
The album concludes with ‘Pay The Price, a final exciting slab of rock and roll that’s another of the album highlights. Stills makes up for his lyrical simplicity and directness with a tricky finger-twanging part that he rattles off effortlessly on rhythm but which Neil, unusually, struggles with on lead (perhaps the competition was reaching the point where Stills was making things hard for his colleague? Or perhaps the band just had less rehearsal?) Stills ends this album filled with unhappy love affairs with another song of betrayal, the narrator claiming to ‘see another man in your eyes’ and telling her that she’d better come clean and ‘pay the price’ before it gets worse for everyone. The song is cleverly structured to fall right back into this chorus at a moment’s notice, the narrator getting more and more carried away with every verse, ending in a delightfully garbled last verse of ‘Without your love I can’t go on, ‘cause three’s a crowd, and it’s wrong!’, cramming twice as many words into the final verse. Buffalo Springfield again turn in a terrific performance, especially Bruce and Dewey once again who would be better valued had the producers/managers actually bothered to put them anywhere near the front of the mix. Stills’ vocal is great, his husky tones perfect for these ‘angry’ songs, while Richie’s soothing harmony is equally strong. If only someone had thought of taping the Buffalos in their natural habitat – a live album from a band playing this strong would have been so so special...
What we end up with, then, is an album that should have been better and yet surprises in ways that we perhaps weren’t expecting. Considering the band were new to writing, playing and recording the worst of their songs, arrangements and performances are understandable – and the best of them revolutionary, as good as anything the band will ever do. Perhaps one day someone will find a Buffalo Springfield live tape sitting in their loft and we can hear what they must have sounded like on a good day all the way through; alas this a record made up of only some good days. The band will go on to make adventurous eclecticism the name of the game, turning in a second album that couldn’t be more varied if it featured a bagpipe solo in the middle. For now, though, the differences at the heart of this record are in danger of tearing it apart – without using Richie fully this is two separate bands made of Stills rockers and Young ballads and the pair don’t always sit that comfortably together. Stills wants to make a commercial LP, Young wants to make art and there’s no person in control making the best of both worlds. That said, its this very friction and I-can’t-wait-to-see-where-they-go-next feel that makes ‘Buffalo Springfield’ such an exciting record and if the band trip over themselves a few times that’s only natural for a band who are trying to take strides that are quite this big. My advice is if you love Stills or Young’s or even Poco’s work in general to buy it and see both where these famous sounds started and the many different directions their talents could have gone in. Look at this album at an album made by newbies and producers who didn’t quite know what they were doing and it might well surprise you how good it is. If, however, you come to this record expecting an album’s worth of ‘For What It’s Worth’ or for fully finished songs on a level of most CSNY albums then you might be slightly disappointed. Good, sometimes great, sometimes ghastly, this is nevertheless a fascinating record and one that deserves more plaudits than it often gets. Overall rating – 6/10.
Other Buffalo Springfield articles from this site you might be interested in:
'Last Time Around' http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/09/news-views-and-music-issue-43-buffalo.html
Dewey Martin Obituary and Tribute: http://alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2009/02/dewey-martin-tribute-special.html