25 Sides Of the Buffalo Springfield
The Buffalo Springfield story begins on one of the greatest examples of synchronicity in the annals of rock.
Richie Furay, had come to Los Angeles at the request of friend, and former bandmate, Stephen Stills, to put a band together. Nothing was gelling for them, but they did spend a lot of time perfecting their vocal harmonies. Canadian Neil Young, with fellow Canuck, and bassist, Bruce Palmer, had already been in L.A. three weeks, specifically looking for Stills, when they decided to give it up, and leave town.
Stuck in the westbound lane of Sunset Boulevard, in one of L.A.’s legendary traffic jams, in April of 1966, Stills saw an old, beat up, black Pontiac hearse, with Ontario plates, stuck in traffic headed east. He immediately recognized it as Young's. He flagged down the hearse, and the two cars pulled into the parking lot of Ben Franks.
One of the songs Stills and Furay had been working on, to perfect their blend of voices, was Young's "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing", so they insisted he come to their apartment and hear his song. After they played it for him, Young announced he was sticking around.
Either Chris Hillman or David Crosby, of the Byrds, suggested Dewey Martin for the drums, and after taking the brand of a steamroller company for a name, Buffalo Springfield was born.
A six week residency at the Whiskey A Go Go, on the Sunset Strip, started with few attendees, and quickly became mob scene. It established the BS reputation as the best live band around. Unfortunately there is little left to illustrate what those live shows were like. Possibly the best is audio from a show in Whittier, CA, with the original line up. Someone has kindly posted an improved version here.
The band’s turbulent tenure was short-lived, but the superstars and great bands that formed from its wake, and the deep influence it had on the music of its time, resonates to this day.
Our friends at the great Wild Honey have chosen a tribute to the Buffalo Springfield as their 2018 annual autism benefit show Feb. 17, in Glendale, CA. The show will feature BS founding member Richie Furay, who I think will not only do BS songs, but classics from his tenure with Poco. Keyboard legend Don Randi (The Wrecking Crew) will reprise his parts from the records as well.
Added to that is Wild Honey's typically wide and rich collection of great artists including: show music director Rob Laufer; Micky Dolenz (The Monkees), Susan Cowsill (The Cowsills, the Continental Drifters); Carlene Carter; The Dream Syndicate, Elliot Eaton (The Cars); Martha Davis (The Motels); The Three O’Clock; Cindy Lee Berryhill; Iain Matthews (Fairport Convention); and many more. Plus the Wild Honey Orchestra, one the greatest backing bands around.
So this seemed a great opportunity to revisit the Buffalo Springfield, and take another look at 25 of their greatest songs, as well as the young men who made them so.
Info on the Wild Honey show can be found here.
25. IN THE HOUR OF NOT QUITE RAIN - LAST TIME AROUND
So let's begin at the end. An L.A. radio station ran a "write a poem" promo in August of 1967, and the first prize was having the winner's poem set to music by the Buffalo Springfield. It's a crazy idea, and coupled with the fact the band was already falling apart, its no surprise that the two chief songwriters refused to comply. So the task fell to third writer, Richie Furay, who turned in his most unusual song. With its groaning strings, psychedelic and wandering melody, it could fit comfortably on one of Scott Walkers idiosyncratic records. Instead, its appears on the last original record by the Buffalo Springfield.
24, CAREFREE COUNTRY DAY - LAST TIME AROUND
By the time of their third record, Last Time Around, Buffalo Springfield was no Longer a band. Producer/engineer Jim Messina, pulled the record together, with Furay, from leftover tracks after the other band members had flown the coup. Messina would go on to form Poco with Furay, and then Loggins and Messina with Kenny Loggins. But on this record, on which he produced and played bass, he provided the laid back vocal.
23. SPECIAL CARE - LAST TIME AROUND
When the Hammond B3 organ kicks in it ignites this soulful track. Stills' versatility as a songwriter was evident everywhere across the BS records. In fact, some will argue he wrote the band's best songs. I love the songwriters equally. American all-girl band Fanny did a great cover, here, that followed the original template. Mama Soul, Doris Troy (Just One Look) also covered it for her first album on Apple Records, here. But the BS version is still my favorite.
22, EVERYDAYS - BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD AGAIN
Considering bassist Bruce Palmer was deported during its recording (after a drug bust), and that Neil Young was in and out of the band like a turnstile, it's a wonder that the second record, Buffalo Springfield Again, is the band's best. Another example of Stills' range as a writer, this sarcasm filled, jazz-influenced number found itself covered by both the rock band Yes (here), and jazz artist Kenny Burrell (here), and flourished in both genre. But again - its best by BS.
21. IT'S SO HARD TO WAIT - LAST TIME AROUND
Last Time Around divides people. Some think it's the band's weakest, other find their artistic peak here. The number of slower tracks puts off the more rock inclined listeners. But this beautiful song from Richie Furay, written with help from Young, is top caliber. Its loose smokey vibe, and the smooth, emotional vocal from Furay, which pours out like molasses on a hot day, are hard to resist. The arrangement, which has some late night, old school, jazz vibe doesn't hurt either.
20. BURNED - BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD
Neil Young wrote five of the 12 songs on the band's debut record, but sang only two. This great track, that indicates where Young was headed on his early solo records, is one of them. It's subject matter, coupled with its straight forward structure, made it ripe for covers. Two of the best were by Wilco (here), and my favorite, this great version from Teenage Fanclub (here). Of course, Neil has come back to it on his own several times, recently with Promise Of the Real (here).
19. PRETTY GIRL WHY - LAST TIME AROUND
Young's contributions to Last Time Around were limited, which leaves the bulk of the songs coming from Stills. And they're a great set, including this beautiful Latin-flavored question to former love Judy Collins. It also showcases Stills' vocals, smooth as silk here, and as versatile as his songwriting chops.
18. QUESTIONS - LAST TIME AROUND
Salvaged from the wreckage of BS, "Questions" would later be married by Stills to a new song of his, "Carry On" (here), and appear on the first Crosby, Stills, and Nash record. This version is a wholly different animal. Stills and Furay's vocal harmony, honed in their Fountain Avenue apartment in Hollywood before Springfield was born, are part of the reason.
17. DOWN TO THE WIRE - BOX SET
A version of this great Neil Young track, with Young singing, appeared on his 1977 "retrospective" Decades. But for my ears, this previously unreleased version, which first appeared on the BS box set is superior because of Stills' lead vocal. Evident as well is the Springfield's experimentation with rhythms and arrangements to spice things up.
16. MERRY-GO-ROUND - LAST TIME AROUND
Furay displays some great pop song draft on this track The production, with calliope sweetener, gives it a sheen that could have spelled single. In a sign of the state of things at this stage in BS, Furay is the only member of the band to appear on the track.
15. CHILD/S CLAIM TO FAME - BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD AGAIN
Neil Young's mercurial spirit has ruffled many a musical collaborator wrong, and Richie Furay was one such feather during the recording the band's second album. Young quitting the group several times during the recording of Buffalo Springfield Again didn't hamper the quality of the record, but it certainly strained the relationships within. BS was Stills' band, and Young originally his friend, so he had the say on whether Young could come back into the fold each time. Must have been frustrating for Furay, who spoke to, and about, his bandmate Young, in this heavily country tinged song. A superior effort that not only pointed the way to Furay's work in Poco, but shows puts BS at the forefront of the country rock movement.
14. FLYING ON THE GROUND IS WRONG - BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD
Stills and Young have regularly dismissed the debut Springfield record, but its hard to understand why. They were unhappy with the production, yes, but the songs are great. This Young song is one of the three sung by Furay. One story has it that the label didn't think Young's voice was commercial enough (which would be an epic mistake in hindsight). Furay turns in an absolutely perfect vocal here, complementing the song, and remaining emotionally different from Young's later solo version (here). The song was also covered by the Guess Who (here). That band's Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings have known Young since their teens in Winnepeg's small rock scene. It's easy to imagine the song was written for them to do. Another great version comes from Rainy Day (here), comprised of members of L.A.'s Paisley Underground (and sometime Wild Honey members) - David Roback (Mazzy Star), Kendra Smith (Dream Syndicate) and Suzanna Hoffs (the Bangles).
13. OUTOF MY MIND - BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD
Neil was a man on the edge during Springfield, judging by his lyrics, so mature for a kid of 20. This one finds him losing his sanity, alienated and apart from all around him. It would be easy to assume it is about the prices of celebrity, but Neil was a nobody at this point. They all were, as you can see in this short interview clip from American Bandstand (here). It's a beautiful melody, over a funeral beat that supports the song's solemnity, with characteristically beautiful backing harmonies by Furay and Stills throwing another wrench in the works. The demo version, which appears on the box set, is stunning, in its beauty more, apparent over spare acoustic guitar, with Furay and Stills backing vocals pure as snow (here)
12. I AM A CHILD - LAST TIME AROUND
With its easy country vibe, "I Am a Child" could have found a place on Young's classic Harvest. It's also easy to see it as a response to also country vibe Furay song, "A Child's Claim To Fame". Embracing the child within ("I am a child, I last a while"), this song has had resonance for Young throughout his career, appearing later on Live Rust.
11. ON MY WAY HOME - LAST TIME AROUND
Another Neil Young song that Furay sang lead on, this time not because of record company interference, but out of necessity. No one in the band had an interest in finishing this album but for Furay and producer Messina. Since there was no Neil vocal, Richie added his. It's a great uplifting song, horn embellishments give it a taste of soul, and the great backing vocals add the sweetener. But most of all I like Furay's lead vocal on this. Hard to understand why this was not a hit.
10. EXPECTING TO FLY - BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD AGAIN
In May of 1967, Young went into Sunset Sound studios with producer Jack Nitzsche, and the result was this extraordinary track. They brought in an orchestra, which Nitzsche arranged, and spent days playing around with the sounds. The result has a clear Beatles influence. There have been some interesting covers, one by Young's fellow Canadians Of Montreal (here) and another by Wild Honey alums Au Pair, featuring Gary Louris (Jayhawks) and Django Haskings (here). But you can't compete with the original in spirit or execution. While you're here, take a listen to Neil's solo take live (here).
9. ROCK AND ROLL WOMAN - BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD AGAIN
Boasting an all time great riff on acoustic guitar, doubled by some beautiful harmonies, and covering at least three genres, should be enough for most songs. But Rock and Roll Woman is not just any song. It also has a nice key shift from an augmented minor to major (plus singing in minor while playing major - blues trad brought to folk rock). It's simple chord structure was born in a jam session between Stills' and David Crosby (a budding friendship that would find greater commercial fulfillment then BS's fractured friendships) would, and as its subject - the woman - is Grace Slick, of the Jefferson Airplane.
8. SIT DOWN, I THINK I LOVE YOU - BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD
Stills and Furay spent weeks in their little Fountain Boulevard apartment in Hollywood working on their vocal harmonies. "We watched the Beatles, and copied that." says Furay. There were three singers, he adds, but him singing with Still in unison created a fourth voice. Those harmonies are in great evidence on this song. While singing the song during their storied run at L.A. Whiskey A-Go-Go, Furay couldn't' help staring straight into the eyes of a girl named Nancy, who regularly stood directly in front of him every night at the Whiskey. In March, Nancy and Richie Furay celebrate their 51st wedding anniversary. The Mojo Men had a modest hit with this, which was my first encounter with the song. The arrangement, by Van Dyke Parks, replaced the folk vibe with a very pop harpsichord. (here)
7. HUNG UPSIDE DOWN - BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD
With a great guitar riff hook, and the trademark Springfield guitar interplay between two great guitar players in the band (Stills and Young), this is one of the more underrated tracks in the catalogue. It gives a decent approximation of what their legendary live shows sounded like. Furay again takes lead on a song he didn't write, and really brings something to the verse that the writer would not have. Then that writer, Stills, opens up with some great vocalizing on the chorus.
6. BROKEN ARROW - BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD AGAIN
I read somewhere that "A Day In the Life" could have been a Buffalo Springfield song, and "Broken Arrow" a Beatles song. The two feel related, and with Young's structural experimentation, and time shifts, "Broken Arrow" fits the Beatles forward drive. Probably not coincidentally, the song begins with some crowd noise, not from a Springfield show, but a Beatles one. Then the snippet of "Mr. Soul", and off we go into the band's most complex song. Young wrote this was he was only 21, which shows how far ahead of the curve he was from early on.
5. NOWADAYS CLANCY CAN"T EVEN SING - BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD
It's hard to listen to Neil Young's early songs without wondering - what happened? So tortured (sometimes) and so very young. Furay's vocal softens some of the angst here, but fantastic song that it is, this might not have been best choice for the lead single from the debut record. But it was the song that sealed the BS, when Stills and Furay brought Young back to their apartment and played it for him. They'd used the song to build their vocal harmonies. Two very different artists took a shot at covering the song, Fever Tree (here) and the Carpenters (here) - and it works for both.
4. KIND WOMAN - LAST TIME AROUND
Buffalo Springfield launched the careers of two huge stars, Stills and in the case of Young, also an icon. Because their legacy is so bright, the incredible career of Richie Furay gets overshadowed. It shouldn't. From the ashes of BS, Furay went on to form Poco. The title track of that band's first album, "Pickin' Up the Pieces", referred to the collapse of his old band. During his tenure with Poco, Furay helped create the country rock genre with songs like: "Good Felling To Know", and the excellent Gram Parsons cover, "Brass Buttons". A number BS songs appear on the Poco records, and this is the best of them. "Kind Woman" was written about Furay's wife Nancy shortly after meeting her. With "Kind Woman", Furay arrived as a songwriter. Personally, I prefer the live Poco version (here), but a great song is a great song, and this take ain't no slouch.
3. BLUEBIRD. - BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD AGAIN
There are so many things to love about this great Steve Stills up-temp number from the second classic record. First, there's the great melody, fed by some nice lyrics and a soulful vocal. Then there's the guitar interplay between Stills and Young, on acoustic and electric. The "bridge" after the last verse, riding a repeated guitar riff, glides on a vocal harmony, from falsetto on down, before the tangled guitar solos, and finally a last banjo backed verse, before fading out on Stills' banjo. Bliss. Jam bands were about to begin their ascendancy and Springfield were known for some very long, guitar driven versions of this song.
That's 25, but it could be more. What would you add? Comment below Spotify playlist.
2. MR. SOUL - BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD
"You're strange, but don't change", is a lyric that could describe Neil Young. Ans while no song could describe his career, this driving, tangled, mesmerizing rocker certainly gave the forward thinking listener an idea of where things might go. Along with the lyric, an acidic attack on the music business and its human toll, it's the guitars that define "Mr. Soul". The riff is based on the Stones' "Satisfaction" (a Jagger satire?), but that is just the starting point. From there the distorted, chaotic, clustering guitar lines follow every path, battling each other along the way. A wide range of bands have covered the song (click band name for link): a strange, languid version from the Everly Brothers; Dream Syndicate; Ozomatli; Rush; and yes, even Cher has been there.
FOR WHAT ITS WORTH - BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD
As the story goes, Ahmet Ertegun, the legendary executive at Atlantic Records (and hence, the Springfield home label, ATCO), had come to the west coast to hear songs from the band for their album. As an afterthought, Stills said, "I have another one, for what it's worth", and played him a song he wrote inspired by some youth riots on L.A.'s Sunset Strip. Ertegun immediately heard a hit single. And it's no wonder. The cannily simple, cunningly effective tremolo guitar tones, quiet heartbeat of the drum, and Stills' conversational vocal, give it a sound unique in rock, then and now. It became a huge hit. The lyric reads like a tight and terse mystery novel, parceling out details sparingly. The use of the word "heat" alone, with its many meanings (the cops, guns, pressure, temperature), opening the second verse, is worthy of a term paper. For What Its Worth remains not only Buffalo Springfield's most iconic song, but one of the most iconic recorded tracks in the history of rock. It's spot at the top of this list is well earned. And even an iconic track such as this has some unique cover versions, interestingly with a preponderance of soul and metal takes. A few examples are: Staples Singers; Ozzy; Lou Rawls; Sergio Mendes; Queensryche; and . Oh yeah, and Cher's been there too.
So there's 25 from the Buffalo Springfield. Below is a Spotify playlist so you can take the songs with you. And below that is the comments section - what do you think I left out?