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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Buffalo Springfield: Buffalo Springfield


1) Go And Say Goodbye; 2) Sit Down I Think I Love You; 3) Leave; 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) Baby Don't Scold Me; 11) Out Of My Mind; 12) Pay The Price; 13*) For What It's Worth.

Listening to Buffalo Springfield's debut in the context of everything that surrounded it in those bubbling fall days of 1966, one thing that might strike you is how decidedly non-psychedelic, perhaps even anti-psychedelic it is. It is possible that some people back then might have thought of Buffalo Springfield as «yet another second-rate Byrds imitator», but the Byrds themselves were strongly bitten by the psychedelic vibe that year, writing songs about spacemen and playing trippy Coltrane-influenced guitar solos — leaving their second-rate imitators to lay the strongest claim for «best roots-rock album» of the year, even if the term «roots-rock» did not exist back then («rock» being still way too young to feel the need for any «roots»).

Of course, it's not as if Stephen Stills, Neil Young, or Richie Furay had any ideological issues with psychedelia, and, um, «for what it's worth», Neil occasionally includes a bit of droning, and every once in a while, they fuss around with special effects on their guitar sounds, from simple fuzz to trickier tricks (Leslie speakers?); since the word «psychedelic» can be adapted to a very wide variety of meanings, you could try and make a good case for this record as well. But that would most likely be an exercise in sophism: Buffalo Springfield is, first and foremost, just an unassuming collection of well-written songs from a couple of young kids enthralled at the per­spective of merging together simple pop melodies, age-old folk tradition, and relevant-contem­porary verbal meaning. The Beatles, The Byrds, and Bob Dylan circa 1965 being their mentors in this exciting business.

A certain amount of record executive pressure is felt here — namely in the circumstance that most of Neil Young's songs are being sung by Richie Furay; the powers that be imperatively de­cided that Furay was incompetent as a songwriter (and it's not as if they were totally wrong on that one), but also that Young was way too weird as a singer (come to think of it, they were sort of right about that, too, except that «weird is good» in the artistic paradigm), and this is why you don't get to hear Neil's own take on ʽFlying On The Ground Is Wrongʼ until you get around to some of his solo live shows. But that ain't much of a problem — Furay is a lovely singer indeed, and since electric folk rock in 1966 was still largely associated with the earthy sweetness of Roger McGuinn and the other Byrds, it is understandable how Neil's high-pitched «womanly whine» would be deemed un-commercial.

The good news is that Stills and Young already come up to the table as competent songwriters. While there is a certain level of simplicity and innocence to these songs that would gradually be ushered out by professionalism, Buffalo Springfield does not feel like a generic Byrds rip-off. Some of the songs, especially Stills', do come across as sort of formulaic pop — but it is still an inventive formula. ʽGo And Say Goodbyeʼ plays out like a country dance tune, with three diffe­rently toned guitar parts that all try to sound like interlocking banjos — however, the verse and chorus vocal melodies are sheer Beatles (in fact, the verse melody is reminiscent of Harrison's ʽYou Like Me Too Muchʼ, and the first verse talks about "the night before" — subconscious on the rampage!), and even if that may not sound like much, the song immediately establishes a solid special case for the Buffalo Springfield — where the Byrds usually tended to have a fully integ­rated sound, these guys actually sound like they're competing against each other from the very beginning. A folk rock band with «feuding» members? Now we're talking!

Of the two songwriters, Young immediately comes across as the «deeper» one, an impression that would, of course, be maintained forever on — and an impression largely conditioned by the fact that the man was probably depressed and psychologically wounded already as an embryo in his mother's womb, which is why he is able to contribute a whole set of credible downers (ʽNow­adays Clancy...ʼ, ʽFlying On The Ground Is Wrongʼ, ʽBurnedʼ, ʽOut Of My Mindʼ — even the titles speak for themselves) at the tender age of 21. Even his solitary love song on the album, ʽDo I Have To Come Right Out And Say Itʼ, is an under-the-bed serenade from somebody who's way too insecure and afraid to tell anyone that he wants to hold her hand. Unfortunately, no Neil Young-sung version of the song seems to exist, which is a pity, because Furay sounds the refrain so tenderly and sweetly that it must have won the band quite a bit of female fans! (But they'd all be Furay's, of course. Damn that Neil and his "indecision").

Stills provides the perfect extravert counterpart to Young's introverted character — passionate and permutable as hell: one minute he asks you to ʽSit Down I Think I Love Youʼ, then the very next moment you already have to ʽLeaveʼ because all it took for the I-love-you obsession to turn into I-hate-you rage was one small record groove. He also pays a little more attention to song structure and hooks, where Neil seems more concerned with overtones and atmospherics, and the two of them strike a great balance so that the record neither threatens to drown in watery melan­cholia nor to float away on the fluffy pop hook breeze.

But the real value almost always lies in the potential of this band as a guitar outfit — not a lot of pop bands around that time had two lead guitarists in the group with two distinct styles: ʽSit Down I Think I Love Youʼ, if anything, is priceless already for its doubled guitar break, first with Neil playing a grungy ʽSatisfactionʼ-esque fuzz solo, then Stills cutting in with a soft, fluent, playful country guitar part representing the other side of the protagonist's split personality. They also have a sense of intertextual humor — right in the middle of the rocking ʽBaby Don't Scold Meʼ, for just one bar, the riff from the Beatles' ʽDay Tripperʼ makes a guest appearance out of the blue, in addition to the song featuring some raga-influenced guitar playing (which, I guess, makes it the most proverbially «psychedelic» number here, although that's not saying much). Why? Be­cause we can, that's why.

Actually, checking the dates, I see that most of the songs here were recorded already after the boys must have had heard Revolver — but they were almost certainly written when the band's freshest Beatles impressions were still from Help! and Rubber Soul, and it is amusing, in that respect, that Stills' ʽPay The Priceʼ, with its fast tempo and mildly threatening lyrics, closes the album in much the same fashion that ʽRun For Your Lifeʼ closed Rubber Soul. Which is to say, a somewhat underwhelming and totally non-conceptual coda, but at least we don't see Stills promoting womanslaughter (maybe he'd love to, but Atlantic Records wouldn't let him anyway). And which is also to say that Buffalo Springfield, as a whole, was not quite «on the cutting edge» when it came out in December 1966 — for that matter, were Buffalo Springfield ever «on the cutting edge»? — but who cares, when you've got these two interesting and so significantly different personalities pooling their talents, Lennon-Mc-Cartney-wise, on the same record?

Trivia time: in typical American fashion, the record was mutilated just three months later, as a new re-release took the band's newly successful single ʽFor What It's Worthʼ and inserted it as the lead-off track at the expense of ʽBaby Don't Scold Meʼ — as if there weren't enough free space on the frickin' LP to allow for 13 tracks instead of 12. Of course, ʽFor What It's Worthʼ is not just an insanely catchy song, but it also represents a certain «maturity stage» for Stills (he'd already tried the «serious approach» with ʽEverybody's Wrongʼ on the original LP, but it wasn't very memorable and sort of got lost in between all of his love songs and all of Neil's mopey mini-epics), and in a way, it feels a little out of place on the record (imagine the Beatles replacing ʽDrive My Carʼ with ʽTomorrow Never Knowsʼ, or starting Sgt. Pepper off with ʽRevolutionʼ), making the decision completely commercially motivated. That said, there's really no conceptual side to the structuring of the record anyway — and those mysterious ping... ping notes in the intro, followed by the most delicately phrased and intoned "there's something happening here..." in the history of world-changing pop music, still arguably remain Buffalo Springfield's greatest contri­bution to humanity, as boring and trivial as that judgement might seem to fans of Poco. Oh, and big thumbs up, of course.

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