Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Neil Young Discography Part One - Buffalo Springfield / Buffalo Springfield (1966)

Okay folks! Here we go. Neil Young's will indeed be the next discography i'll be tackling for review, and a long bloody discography it is. Around 30 solo albums, 10 live albums, plus important side projects along the way. Therefore for this series i'll be limiting myself to a couple of songs and probably not so much flashy picture fun as with the Manics or Pulp series, but that'll hopefully mean I can do one or two of these a week and breaze through em.

My obsession with Neil Young is directly inspired by my father's obsession with Neil Young. As a teenager/twentysomething he was completely obsessed, travelled to Canada to see Crosby Stills Nash and Young on tour four times, and its through his collection of every Neil album on vinyl (even Time Fades Away folks) that I slowly became just as obsessive. At first I couldn't understand quite why my dad would wail along to this whiney voiced guy so much, but slowly as I grew through my teenage years and became your stereotypical slightly confused teenager (with the requisite broken hearts along the way), Neil's songs slowly thrust themselves into my life. Only Love Can Break Your Heart, Like A Hurricane, I've Been Waiting For You, When You Dance I Can Really Love and a thousand more. So many albums, so many incredibly, intense, heartfelt songs. Hopefully I can get some of the magic across in my reviews.

Neil's musical career proper (after one incredibly rare single with 'The Squires', started in LA in the mid sixties, when he met and joined forces with the songwriters and musicians that would become the Buffalo Springfield; Stephen Stills (later of CSN, CSNY, Manassas), Richie Furay (later of Poco and Souther, Hillman, Furay Band), Bruce Palmer (later of Beach Boys, CSNY) and Dewey Martin (umm....yeh.) With such a strong field of songwriters, they couldn't fail to make a big impact. They signed with Atlantic in 1965 and released their debut self-titled album a year after.

Okay so Buffalo Springfield were very much dominated by Stephen Stills songwriting, with Neil as a very important but definitely secondary influence. That's not a problem of course, cos Stills is THE MAN, and at this point neither of them were yet at their peak, so the fact that both were contributing the best they had to the group dynamic meant that they shone when if they were the frontman without such support they might have failed.

The record that most of as knows opens, of course, with Stills' For What's Its Worth (I say most of us because it was actually added on to later copies of the album after its success as a single, a la How Soon Is Now). It's definitely the bands best known song, and with good reason. Stunningly constructed with timely lyrics, you can hear its influence far later, for instance on The Folk Implosion's Natural One, and on the numerous rap songs that have sampled it. The handclaps are wonderful. Also has some mini hints of Neil guitar workouts near the end. Go And Say Goodbye (Stills) is a nice Byrdsy romp, with some nice vocal melodies from Stills and Furay but overall it's a little slight and too short to make much impact. The third Stills song in a row is Sit Down I Think I Love You, a slow psychish tune that again seems to have needed a bit more work. You can definitely hear that the band were being rushed into the first album. Luckily the songs picked up by a few jagged Neil guitar flashes here and there and even a mini solo. Even at this early point the fuzzy sound that would inspire Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth and countless others was already starting to come out, and contrast starkly with Stills more clean countryish licks.

So here we are! Neil's first song to be heard by most of the public, and he doesn't even get to sing it! Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing, lead vocal by Furay because Neil's voice was considered too weird, was the Buffalo's debut single, and is wonderful. Neil's knack for an odd construction and a beautiful lilting vocal melody is such a nice contrast with Stills. The lyrics are mystical, melancholic and would hint of much bigger things to come, as does the dense, shimmering production (that afterchorus guitar figure is ace), which would develop further with future Buffalo songs like the incomparable Broken Arrow. A classic. Back to two more Stills songs, both Hot Dusty Roads and Everybody's Wrong are both rather lovely. The first shows Still's excellent grounding in roots music which would later explode into the faultless Manassas project, and the second is a nice minor key romp only ruined by some rather BAD rhyming. Shame on you Stephen! Good Neil guitar bursts though. And what's with that A Day In The Life orchestral burst? Those crazy kids.

But what's this? Three Neil penned songs in a row? Good stuff. Flying On The Ground Is Wrong is sung by Furay (again!), and he does a good job with great material. The verses aren't up to much, but Neil's backing vocals really make the chorus something wonderful. Neil is clearly influenced by the Beatles on some of these early tracks (especially on that middle eight), but its nice to see how his contributions develop as we go through the three Buffalo albums, becoming weirder and more idiosyncratic. Burned features Neil's first released lead vocal, and very nice it is too. Probably the most rocking song on the record, it's very lo-fi sounding (sounds like GBV to me!), and actually quite badly recorded as a whole (or maybe thats the stereo cd mix?), but lots of fun and hard to get out of your head. Neil's vocal isn't fantastique, but its nice that he actually go to do one considering he wrote a third of the album! Do I Have To Come Right Out And Say It is another Neil penned, but Furay sung track, and it's probably Neil's weakest song on the record. Lazy lyrics and an uninspired melody except for the pre-chorus bit with Neil's vocals and that minor key lilt, but overall it goes on a bit too long (and it's only 3 minutes long).

With Leave we're back in Stills-land, and we open with an ace Neil guitar solo, and then little guitar bursts throughout. ACE. Definitely the most rockin' Stills moment on the record, and it's a shame there aren't more of them, cos I think at this point he was maybe trying a little too hard to be successful rather than following his muse. Stills is an AMAZING guitar player (Neil would later dub him the Stringman), and we don't get enough of it on this album. Out Of My Mind is the last Young penned song, and he gets to sing again! It's a great vocal, helped by some ace harmonies in the background from Stills and Furay, and makes a pretty good song almost, allllmost great. We finish with the decent upbeat track Pay The Price from Stills, which makes for a good closer.

Overall the first Buffalo album IS a good one, but for me Neil's songs stand out by a MILE, and I expect as the album originally stood (without For What It's Worth) this would have been even more obvious. I was only going to post the first two of these songs, but then realised of course that this would mean not actually giving you any songs sung by Neil. Silly me. So here's three of 'em. Enjoy!

Buffalo Springfield - Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing
Buffalo Springfield - Flying On The Ground Is Wrong
Buffalo Springfield - Burned


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great stuff - I'm a contempory of your dad's, and was into Young from the beginning - Last Train to Tulsa, anyone?

Looking forward to the next installment(s)!


3:10 am, January 24, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

that's The last TRIP to Tulsa (the song took me to the south of France for a few years in a row, actually). Old age gets in the way of your memory?
I'm 49


5:08 pm, January 24, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great timing, I've just started reading the 'Shakey' bio of Neil and I'm just at the beginnings of Buffalo Springfield and how they botched the production on the first album...! Thanks.

11:37 am, January 25, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Neil Young fan here. Good review for Buffalo Springfield. I liked that album, especially For What It's Worth, Flying on the Ground is Wrong and Out of My Mind. I'm looking forward to the rest. The thing I love about Neil Young is he's so multi-dimensional. If you listen to his whole discography, it's not just snapshots, it's a whole journey, a journey that hasn't stopped yet (think Living With War).

I'm only 14 years old, so it's a real pity for me that nearly everything I see of Neil Young is in retrospect. I'd have loved to experience the Time Fades Away tour or the Broken Arrow tour. Still, I hope I might have an opportunity to see him someday.

Anyway, keep up the good work with the reviews. I'll be reading them.

1:10 pm, February 04, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great reviews so far, thanks a lot for your effort!

5:21 pm, March 03, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yo to one of you anonymouses:
It's "Last TRIP to Tulsa", not Last 'Train'. Dan Hick's and the Hot Licks had an album called "Last Train to Hicksville". Perhaps, this is the source of your befuddlement.

12:36 pm, April 16, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is great stuff!!! For anyone who calls themself a fan, you cannot go w/o the influential start of his career. I'm an 18 year-old guitarist and could not be more touched or inspired by an artist as I am by Neil Young!


4:35 pm, April 24, 2007  
Blogger cowboy said...

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5:34 pm, July 31, 2011  

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