A Short-Lived but Influential Supergroup
If the Rock Gods gave awards, Buffalo Springfield would deserve consideration for "Most Accomplished in the Least Amount of Time." The pioneering band, whose members included folk troubadours Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Richie Furay, Dewey Martin, Bruce Palmer, and (later) Jim Messina, came together in 1966 and lasted less than two years. They made two albums as a cohesive group and another in a more splintered every-man-for-himself fashion, and in that time developed an earthy melding of folk, country, and rock that, along with the early albums of the Byrds, hugely influenced California pop rock of the '70s.
Buffalo Springfield's eponymous debut finds the group casting about for its sound—attempting its own approximation of tightly scripted British Invasion pop (Stephen Stills's beautiful "Sit Down I Think I Love You") as well as exploring barroom odes (Neil Young's "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing") and percussion-spiced rockers ("Pay the Price"). The follow-up is erratic for different reasons. There are great tunes from Stills and Young, and three less interesting ones from Furay.
Both albums are consequential; neither captures the group's full story. As a result, Retrospective is the most satisfying way to encounter Buffalo Springfield. This carefully assembled collection begins with Stills's "For What It's Worth," one of the sage check-your-head anthems of the 1960s. Then it moves in a musically logical, nonchrono-logical sequence that argues for the group's standing among the most adventurous outfits in an adventurous time. All the tunes now enshrined in Classic Rock history are here—Young's harrowingly psychedelic "Mr. Soul" and Stills's Laurel Canyon meditation "Bluebird" and surprisingly powerful "Rock and Roll Woman"—and many of them offer moments of gut-wrenching paradigm-shifting guitar from Stills.
That's one surprise waiting for those who haven't thought much about Buffalo Springfield recently: While Young has received the lion's share of the love from rock pundits, Stills—whose music is trenchant and graceful in equal measure—is overdue for reappraisal. Just one pass through the work of Buffalo Springfield, and you'll hear why.
Released: 1969, Atco
Key Tracks: "For What It's Worth," "Mr. Soul," "Bluebird," "Broken Arrow."
Catalog Choice: Buffalo Springfield.
Next Stop: Stephen Stills: Stephen Stills
After That: The Stills-Young Band: Long May You Run.
Book Pages: 129–130