1966 – 1968

Buffalo Springfield

Track analysis for “For What It's Worth

I thought they were going to be a revolutionary kind of group. It was fantastic to have three great guitar players who were also three outstanding lead singers. [When they broke up] I think it was one of the few times I cried, because I just thought I had the historic group.

— Ahmet Ertegun, Founder of Atlantic Records
Rolling Stone

Buffalo Springfield was one of the seminal American groups of the late sixties. In Neil Young, Stephen Stills and Richie Furay the group had three talented singers, songwriters and guitarists. They brought folk and country backgrounds along with them, and integrated these influences into a powerful and cohesive rock sound.

One of the best things about Buffalo Springfield was the sheer variety that they managed to embrace in their recordings. Stills, Young and Furay all contributed compositions to their albums. Young turned out to be one of the most original, expressive and enigmatic lyricists of his generation, and was already contributing mature and impressive songs on the group’s first album. Stills was also an accomplished and wide-ranging songwriter, although his lyrics were simpler, more straightforward and less personal than Young’s. Richie Furay’s compositions began to be included on the group’s second album, and he contributed yet another perspective with his sensitive and soulful lyrics.

The group also had a wide variety of singing voices to choose from. Furay had a pleasant sounding voice. Stills’ voice could be gravelly at times, and Young’s voice was as distinctive as his lyrics. Dewey Martin also contributed occasional vocals. While the three songwriters tended to take lead vocals on their own compositions, the group wasn’t bound to this arrangement, and some of the greatest pleasures of the Springfield catalog are found in Neil Young compositions sung by other band members. The voices of Stills and Furay give Neil’s songs an entirely different feel from ones recorded with Young’s own distinctive but limited voice. The group was also skilled at combining these various voices in ways that seemed influenced by The Beatles, but richer in terms of vocal variety.

Buffalo Springfield was also blessed to have two distinctive stylists playing lead guitars, in the persons of Stills and Young. Stills’ style was more lyrical, and he often made use of the wah-wah pedal. Young’s style was rougher and more abrasive. While both were distinctive, they complemented each other, and again broadened the collective range of the band. The group’s sound also featured frequent acoustic guitars, as well as piano and occasional other instruments.

As a recording unit the band brought all these contributions together in varying combinations, resulting in a sound that was somehow cohesive, yet different on every track. The result was fresh-sounding, intelligent and very American.

It is unfortunate that Buffalo Springfield was a few years ahead of its time. When they started playing and recording together, Beatlemania was still sweeping the land, and the main outlets for promotion of a new band were top 40 AM radio stations and teen magazines more interested in band members’ favorite colors than in their musical influences. It is a reflection of the times that Stephen Stills was reputedly bitterly disappointed to be denied a chance at membership in the Monkees, due partially to his lack of a properly telegenic appearance. (Furay 1997) Although they had a minor hit with “For What It’s Worth” — which caused them to add it hastily to a revised version of their debut album — most of their individual tracks lacked the narrow focus and immediate impact necessary for success on radio stations of the day. The band broke up with only three albums to their credit, released in just a year and a half.

A couple of years later, many of the band’s members would enjoy more commercial success as parts of other groups, including Crosby, Stills and Nash (and sometimes Young), Poco, and Loggins & Messina. Also, ironically, their post-breakup collection, Retrospective: Best of Buffalo Springfield, sold well and received a great deal of airplay on FM stations that by this time were playing album cuts not available as singles. While it is unlikely that this volatile mixture of disparate talents would have lasted long in the best of circumstances, some commercial success and recognition for their talents would have certainly made it easier for them.

While much of Buffalo Springfield’s legacy can be heard on a variety of anthologies, including the Neil Young collection Decade, I recommend purchasing all three of the group’s original albums. There is a lot of variety present, and there is not a track in the bunch that I don’t enjoy hearing repeatedly.

Recommended CDs

Album Title: Retrospective

Original Release Date: 1969

Rating: 5 Stars (Essential)

As mentioned above, this collection garnered lots of FM airplay when it was first released, and served more than any of the band’s earlier releases to establish many of the included tracks as familiar classics. This is a great collection, although it is hard to see why, with the additional purchase of only two more CDs, you wouldn’t want to own the entire Buffalo Springfield collection.


Album Title: Buffalo Springfield Box Set

Original Release Date: 2001

Rating: 3 Stars (Worthy)

For those who simply can’t get enough Buffalo Springfield. Lots of demos and alternate versions of songs, alternate mixes of the complete first two albums, but no live songs. (Although the group was supposed to have been spectacular in live performances, the only decent live recording is reputed to be a bootleg, recorded in Dallas on April 20, 1968). But most people will be better off simply owning all three of their originally released albums.


Album Title: Buffalo Springfield

Original Release Date: 1967

Rating: 5 Stars (Essential)

Some claim that this debut album suffers from poor production, but it is still full of energy and lots of great tracks. This is probably the most cohesive album, with all the band members collaborating on every track. Includes “For What It’s Worth,” “Sit Down I Think I Love You,” “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing,” “Flying On The Ground Is Wrong” and “Do I Have To Come Right Out And Say It.”


Album Title: Again

Original Release Date: 1967

Rating: 5 Stars (Essential)

This is probably the best of their three albums, if I have to choose one. “Bluebird” and “Broken Arrow” are successfully ambitious compositions by Stills and Young, respectively. Other well-known tracks are “Mr. Soul,” “Expecting to Fly,” and “Rock and Roll Woman,” but every cut is good.


Album Title: Last Time Around

Original Release Date: 1968

Rating: 5 Stars (Essential)

By this time the band was about to break up, and many of the tracks here were recorded without all group members present. Still, the results are hard to argue with. Features “Pretty Girl Why,” “I Am A Child” and “Kind Woman.”


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