Buffalo Springfield – Buffalo Springfield

Buffalo Springfield (1966)


1. For What It’s Worth 2. Go And Say Goodbye 3. Sit Down, I Think I Love You 4. Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing 5. Hot Dusty Roads 6. Everybody’s Wrong 7. Flying On The Ground Is Wrong 8. Burned 9. Do I Have To Come Right Out And Say It 10. Leave 11. Out Of My Mind 12. Pay The Price


Corporate-manufactured musical groups can’t accept all applicants. They have to choose people with just the right combination of inoffensive cuteness and instantly dated, fashionable hairstyles. Sometimes, though, they make the wrong choices. For instance, when Lou Pearlman, Guinness world record holder for world’s fattest man, rejected Chris Kirkpatrick from the Backstreet Boys, little did he know that the mega-talented Kirkpatrick would soon go on to become the guy in *NSYNC who had dreadlocks and never actually sang!

Let me try that again. For instance, when television producers rejected Stephen Stills from the Monkees, little did they know he would one day become an associate of the great Graham Nash and composer of such grindcore fuck rock anthems as “Helplessly Hoping” and “Southern Cross.” They couldn’t have predicted such incredible heights for the young Mr. Stills, of course, but the rejection stung him nonetheless. So, after coming to acceptance with the fact that he would never be able to play a member of a band on TV, he decided to do the next best thing: start an actual band.

And, doubtlessly, Buffalo Springfield was Stills’ band. Since Neil Young is as established a pillar in rock ‘n roll as there can be, while Stills’ relevancy basically completely evaporated sometime during the early 70’s—at least beyond his laryngitic performances on periodic Crosby, Stills & Nash reunion tours which are attended primarily by aging baby boomers who wear the same sandals with calf-high socks and 1987 Grateful Dead tour t-shirt to every show they go to, and who yell at you for daring to stand up during the performance because they earned the $150 it took to pay for these tickets by busting their asses selling real estate or life insurance or something and they’ll be goddamned if they’re going to be reminded that there are actually other people in the audience—we tend to have an unbalanced view of their respective powers back in the 60’s. Because it was Stephen who was the big-time honcho back then, it was Stephen who wrote the more popular songs between the two of them, it was Stephen who had the silky, crackling burr of a voice that even I think is sexy. Neil was just the spacey, weird other guy who had seizures on stage and sang like a mentally retarded ostrich. The balance shifted quickly enough, but for now, the Springfield was about Stephen Stills’ vision.

Well, at this early stage, the vision is quite often prettier than the actual execution. Though there is a vision. See, there were a million Beatles wannabes swarming around El Lay by 1965, but really none of them (there or anywhere else) had figured out how to start a band that had more than one person in it who could actually play the guitar well. So these guys thought it might be a good idea to have two or three, and as a result the interplay between Stills’ smooth-as-hell noodling and Neil’s now-legendary spastic thunder became essentially their main attraction. But although there’s lots of great guitar stuff on this record, the mix is so tinny and amateurish that it hardly can be said to reflect the intensity that their live shows allegedly possessed at the time. And it certainly doesn’t help that many of these songs are corny as shit. There’s an awful lot of sissy early-mid 60’s boilerplate love songs with the most cringe-worthy sub-’63 McCartney lyrics you can imagine. Some of them fare better than others on the strength of performance alone. “Sit Down, I Think I Love You,” for instance, is quite a bit catchier than the rest, for starters, but also tweaks expectations just slightly with that one dissonant note at the end of the lead guitar motif and the fuzz solo. Likewise, something as distastefully rednecky as “Go And Say Goodbye” can get by on those Stills/Young interlocking lead guitar parts. I can also resist turning my nose at something as unabashedly hokey as “Hot Dusty Roads” based on Stills’ voice alone. But there’s pretty much no saving any song whose first lines are “Listen to my song/It isn’t very long” (Stills’ Furay-sung “Everybody’s Wrong,” a tepid attempt to incorporate the Indian drone sound that Revolver made all the rage for a few months back in the day). Really, there’s precious few moments where it sounds like the Springfield are willing to really roll up their sleeves… “Leave” comes to mind; even though it’s just half-baked macho 12-bar blues, it does feature Neil going off on wild, ripping solos that preface the sort of thing we’d soon be hearing from Crazy Horse. Likewise, the simple blues riffs of “Pay The Price” close out the proceedings with some dearly-needed grit.

Furay isn’t writing his own songs yet, but since at this point pretty much everyone thought Neil’s voice was uglier than Rosie O’Donnell in a mini skirt, he sings most of Neil’s songs. I don’t mind Richie’s voice; it’s just sorta generic. But his blue-eyed crooning fits a couple of these compositions better than Neil’s would… mostly because said compositions are weirdly sappy attempts at Motown balladry (“Flying On The Ground Is Wrong,” “Do I Have To Come Right Out And Say It”) that I’d never imagine Neil had in him before hearing them. We’ve all gotta start somewhere, I suppose. And besides, his other contributions are intriguingly off-kilter, especially in contrast with Stills’ Beatles aping. The waltzing “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” is especially odd—perhaps a bit too oblique and tonally dissimilar to fit snugly within the album’s running order—but it’s good. However, the haunting “Out Of My Mind” is really the first appearance of the introspective, deeply emotional Neil Young we know today – an important first step. But don’t think that means you can skip over the fun little pop rocker “Burned,” which if written a decade later might’ve fit nicely on Zuma or something. One of Neil’s many lost gems.

However, Stills more than establishes his place on top of the dog pile with “For What It’s Worth.” I give the utmost credit to Young’s tolling-bell tremolo guitar, but Stills’ insight and melodic tension is tremendous… you can feel the humidity, the dread, the paranoia that “strikes deep,” dripping off every note, every observation he makes. The same stuff that was in the air when disillusionment and confusion about the direction of the country had begun to spread among the younger generation by the time Buffalo Springfield came out. Why is our government lying to us? Why are they sending thousands upon thousands of us halfway across the world without telling us why? And why are they beating our heads in when we dare to ask? The answers may not have been “exactly clear,” but “For What It’s Worth” demonstrated that there were a lot of people who simply needed to know anyway.

So, that’s what we’ve got… one classic, a couple of early Neil Young gems and a whole lot of average mid-60’s guitar pop. Could be better, but as a first stab at things for future rock ‘n roll powers, I’ll take it.

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