Buffalo Springfield’s 1966 debut album is a bonafide classic. It’s such an iconic record that the band’s label, Atco, who released the album in December 1966, decided to re-release it in March 1967 with an updated tracklist. The decision was made after the band’s standalone single ‘For What It’s Worth’ became a huge countercultural hit. The revised version featured it as the first track, which has since added to it being hailed as the definitive of the two versions.
Buffalo Springfield is significant in the way that it first introduced two of the era and rock and roll’s brightest lights to audiences. It was the first album to feature the stellar songwriting of both Stephen Stills and Neil Young. Without this record, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young wouldn’t have come to fruition, and it’s likely that without its successes, both Stills and Young wouldn’t have gone on to have such illustrious solo careers.
Buffalo Springfield was formed in early 1966 after Stills and Young had met whilst playing in their previous groups in Ontario, Canada. They played their first show at the iconic Troubadour Club in Hollywood in April that year, and the single, written by Young, ‘Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing’, was released in July. It was sung by guitarist Richie Furay and became a local hit. However, outside of the hippie bubble of Los Angeles, it failed to make much of a dent.
Buffalo Springfield was recorded that summer at the hallowed Gold Star Studios in Hollywood. This was the same establishment where producer du jour, Phil Spector perfected his ‘Wall of Sound’ style, and where Brian Wilson worked on much of The Beach Boys material. Interestingly, Young only sang the lead part on two of his five compositions that made it onto the album, with Furay helming the other three.
Another significant element of the album is that it was produced by both the group’s managers, Charles Greene and Brian Stone. Between them, the pair had minimal production experience, and, in truth, it showed. Although the songs are brilliant, when you listen back to the album, it’s like listening to a bootleg, the panning and levels are all wrong, and at many points, it sounds like the band are underwater – it’s a miracle that the album was so well received.
Understandably, the band were displeased with the final mix. They felt that the record did not reflect the visceral nature of their live shows and even asked Atco to give them time to re-record it. However, the label didn’t want to miss out on the Christmas profits, so they went ahead with the album as it was. Strangely, it remains one of the worst produced but greatest albums you’ll ever hear in what is undeniably a product of its time.
In a way, though, it’s classic after classic. ‘For What It’s Worth’, ‘Go and Say Goodbye’, ‘Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing’, ‘Hot Dusty Roads’ and ‘Do I Have to Come Right Out and Say It’ are just a handful of the tracks that stand out. The album touches on every human emotion possible and is electrified, downbeat, hazy and abrupt, and for this reason, it is one of the definitive albums of the era. Compositionally it went way further than many of the band’s contemporaries and even gives The Byrds a run for their money in terms of jangly, folk-inflected rock.
Stills, Young, Furay and the rest of the band shine on Buffalo Springfield, and it shows just how accomplished they were as songwriters at this early point in their careers, a dazzling truth. The quality of their songs managed to overcome the terrible production value, a miraculous feat. It set a precedent for the rest of the band’s short-lived career and the monumental legacy that Stills and Young would go on to create for themselves towards the end of the decade.
Listen to the 1967 version of Buffalo Springfield below.