A Review of the...|
by Lorcan Devine
At the time, Buffalo Springfield failed to achieve mass acceptance or any real success outside of the Los Angeles area. They only had one US Top 40 hit in For What It's Worth and they never toured outside of America. However, in the past 35 years Buffalo Springfield have grown in stature. They are now given the respect and attributed the influence of the likes of The Byrds and The Beach Boys. This is of course largely due to the subsequent success of founder members Neil Young and Stephen Stills and, to a lesser extent, that of the other pivotal singer songwriter in the band, Richie Furay.
Many believe the first six months was the peak for this band. Live was the sound to be captured. Young always felt frustrated by the failure to capture the 'real' Springfield sound. "Buffalo Springfield should have been recorded live - from the very beginning. The vocals always had to be overdubbed. Our producers made us do the new things in the studio, laying down a track then singing. That's why the Buffalo Springfield records don't sound right. All the records were great failures as far as I'm concerned" -- from interviews with Nick Kent, circa 1989-92, in the The Dark Stuff (Penguin 1994).
All three main players were actively involved in the selection of the tracks on the Box Set, which includes 88 tracks. As well as containing many familiar recordings, there are 36 demos, remixes and other previously unreleased material, many of which haven't even been bootlegged. The songs cover the band's brief, but intensely creative existence, (all of somewhere between 19 - 25 months) between April 1966 and May 1968, before inexperience, personality clashes and internal strife would eventually bring this young band down.
Although not available at time of this review, Box Set packaging includes historical essays by Pete Long and Ken Viola, supplemented by rare photos and memorabilia, vintage newspaper and magazine clippings, a complete discography and a listing of the band's concert appearances.
Produced by the group members themselves, discs one through to three are sequenced chronologically, from the band's earliest demos to their eventual demise in 1968. At Neil Young's suggestion, disc four features newly remastered versions of Buffalo Springfield's first two albums in their entirety -- Buffalo Springfield (in mono) and Buffalo Springfield Again (in stereo). Note that the group's third album, Last Time Around, was released after the band broke up and was not recorded with the full involvement of its members.
Disc one, from 1966, is the strongest and features some excellent demos from Young. There Goes My Baby (1966 demo) is a gorgeously sparkling acoustic number, originally recorded for Sonny & Cher. The quality of the sound is stunning. An awesome Out Of My Mind (1966 demo) features hallmark Springfield harmonies and marks the first hints of Young's disaffection with the music business - a major lyrical theme throughout his work.
Flying On The Ground Is Wrong, (1966 demo), features Young's impassioned vocal. His voice was deemed unacceptable during the recording sessions and Richie Furay takes the lead on the album version. I've rarely heard better Neil Young.
Down, Down, Down (1966 demo) has lyrics which later feature in Young's opus, Broken Arrow. The disc concludes with album versions you will know of some mighty Young songs, Burned, Out Of My Mind and Flying On The Ground Is Wrong (with Furay on vocal).
Stills' 1966 demos are solid and fresh, with great harmonies and clever guitar work. Come On, Baby Don't Scold Me and Neighbour Don't You Worry all point to the future CSN sound. The studio version of Sit Down I Think I Love You is the first special Stills moment.
Richie Furay contributes a soulful Sad Memory (1966 demo). His vocal on the studio version of the majestic Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing is outstanding. He lives and breathes a song that Young wrote, but Furay made his own.
Disc two gets off to a slow start and is thin on Neil Young tracks. There is evidence of a mellower Stephen Stills in 1967. The absolute classic album versions are here - For What It's Worth (a true American moment), Mr. Soul, Bluebird (not the famed 9 minute version which featured on 1973's double anthology LP, a version neither Young nor Stills ever wanted released), Rock & Roll Woman and Expecting to Fly.
The legendary Stills-Young love/hate relationship was at the heart of the Springfield story. Their rivalry and cameradie can be heard and sensed throughout Box Set. On disc two, when Stills is at his best with For What it's Worth, Young immediately follows with the monumental Mr. Soul, which guarantees fascinating listening. Did these guys inspire each other or what?
Demo highlights from 1967 come from Stills with So You've Got A Lover, possibly his finest vocal, and a more reflective Hung Upside Down. Furay delivers an impressive Nobody's Fool, later recorded by Poco. Young contributes another slower mix of Down, Down, Down, which is a real grower. The disc also contains some oddities - a couple of unremarkable instrumentals, some band 'jams' and a rare and forgettable cover version of Eric Eisner's No Sun Today.
Disc three is surprisingly heavier on Neil Young material, as chronologically speaking, Young left the band (and re-joined) a few times in this period. The disc also includes some of the weaker material from the posthumous Last Time Around, and the disc tends to tail off, maybe reflecting the literal fragmentation of the band during this period.
Young provides a classic in One More Sign (1967 demo), a simple and intimate acoustic song. Some of the other Young demos here later end up on his solo albums - Round & Round & Round and Old Laughing Lady. An unreleased mix of On The Way Home from 1967 (minus the strings that were on Last Time Around) will later become a CSN&Y staple. Disc three also contains the studio versions of I Am A Child, which was one of only two Young tracks buried on Last Time Around, and his greatest studio masterpiece, Broken Arrow, recorded separately with Jack Nitzsche.
Furay briefly lifts things towards the close, with his magnificent studio version of Kind Woman. For completists, note there are no versions of either Carefree Country Day (Messina) or The Hour of Not Quite Rain (Callen / Furay) from Last Time Around. The final track, a plaintive Stills 1968 piano demo of Four Days Gone, ends the chronological section on a melancholic note.
Disc Four you should know. This contains the remastered versions of Buffalo Springfield (in mono) and Buffalo Springfield Again (in stereo). After working your way chronologically through discs 1 - 3, with its mix of demos and studio produced, it's good to hear the complete sets again. The restoration work has polished and buffed these diamonds. All your listening is rewarded. Hear those guitars and harmonies in glorious mono / stereo. These two great shiny classic 60's albums sparkle.
Box Setis a fine legacy and will please, and in places delight, true Springfield fans. The decision to list studio and demos chronologically, and to include the two remastered albums on disc four, is a good one. Box Set goes a long way towards recapturing the early Buffalo spirit and addressing in some way the sense of an unfulfilled sound, so deeply felt as failure in the past by Young. Some of the fabled vintage live performances from the early months, if available, could have helped recreate that elusive spirit too.
For the casual, the curious, or simply those with less time or disposable income, a long overdue overhaul and re-appraisal of the current single disc "best of", Retrospective, may have been in order. This would prove a better introduction to Buffalo Springfield (similar to the approach Rhino took with the recent Monkees box set package, simultaneously released with a separate "greatest hits" disc). However, as the past 35 years have shown, people tend to find their own way to Buffalo Springfield.
The strongest studio and the most durable unreleased material here
is undoubtedly Young's, of which there are some real pearls, but the
contribution of Stills and Furay to the Springfield sound
should never be sold short. "We were good,
even great", Neil Young famously said - master of the
understatement and the minor chord. Dust down the fringe jacket.
Check those sideburns. For what it's worth... Buffalo Springfield
Again & Again.
My copy dropped through the mail box yesterday. I listened to the four CD's yesterday and I have to say that it is awesome. It sounds just incredible, the early demos are remastered astonishingly well. It flows really nicely, with the first three CD's running in order. There has been some critisism for including the first two albums on the forth CD but IMHO it finishs the CD off really well, by recaping what had gone before, it also sounds ace, especially the MONO version of the first album.
The packaging is beautiful, with some excellent photos. The essays by Ken Viola and Pete Long are enjoyable too, though the text is so small some of you out there may need a magnifying glass to read it. The book is designed like an old scrapbook with loads of cut out newspaper clippings sellotaped onto the page. It is a treasure trove of information, including an updated gig list taken from Pete Long's Ghosts On The Road. I have to say that Rhino really have done a superb job on this set, and I am highly delighted that they have got the job on Neil's archives.
One slight niggle is that whoever did the final proof check of the timings and songs lists made a few mistakes. Little things like the CD or Box tracklisting having wrong timings next to the songs. The book seems to be correct though, so I suggest you use that for reference.
All in all well worth the long wait. It really wets my appetite for Neil's archives. They are going to be superb if this is anything to go by.
Here's my $ 0.02 on the Buffalo Springfield Box Set after the first listen...
I pre-ordered mine on-line and, though I probably could have saved a few bucks scrounging through the stores, it was waiting for me when I got home from work on release day, so I can't complain too much.
Many Rusties will already have a lot of the Neil demos on various boots and comps, so why shell out more $ for them now? This is a no brainer: the sound quality of all the demos is excellent! And all of the demos, including Stills' and Furay's', are worthwhile.
Alternate takes are a nice touch, and also sound great (with the exception of the alternate version of Mr. Soul on Disc 2, which sounds like you're playing an old LP -- but that kind of adds to the archival feel, I guess).
The book is first rate, except for the microscopic print! It should come with a magnifying glass.
I hadn't listened to the original version of Expecting To Fly on a great sound system cranked up in years. God that is a great cut.
Stills really was great during this era. Too bad he couldn't sustain it longer...
I got a small taste of the feeling that I'll no doubt get if and when THE archives see the light of day.
Definitely worth the investment.