1960s folk-rock pioneers Buffalo Springfield have unveiled a new remastered album collection, What’s That Sound?, due June 29. The set collects their three-album discography — Buffalo Springfield, Buffalo Springfield Again and Last Time Around — with a fresh remaster in mono and stereo overseen by Neil Young. Today, the Springfield are mostly remembered as a springboard for songwriters Young, Stephen Stills and Richie Furay, who would go on to scale various commercial and musical heights throughout the next five decades.
But everything about the band had an air of improbability; it all began and ended so fast. Stills, a session cat who had recently flunked his audition for The Monkees, first ran into a 20-year-old Young at a Winnipeg coffeehouse called The Fourth Dimension. The latter was freshly out of The Mynah Birds, whose singer, a teenage Rick James, had been hauled off to prison for deserting the U.S. Navy.
Stills and Young separately bolted for LA the following year, literally passing each other on the Sunset Strip; Neil in a hearse, Stills and Furay in a van driven by record producer Bill Friedman. “I saw the license plate and joked to Stephen, ‘Hey, there are your friends from Canada,’” recalls Friedman in the band’s biography For What It’s Worth. “I was kidding, and he looked over, and it was!” Whether or not that story is a convenience, it’s fun to imagine music history playing out so much differently if the guys didn’t have their eyes on the road that afternoon. Or the Buffalo-Springfield Roller Company steamroller parked outside Friedman’s place.
In the Springfield’s two years together before they flamed out, the group would record some sterling country rock, including Young’s brooding “Mr. Soul” and Stills’ ubiquitous demonstration song “For What It’s Worth.” But if you’re willing to dig a little deeper into what they could do, here are eight lesser-known tracks from their songbook.
“Hot Dusty Roads” (from Buffalo Springfield, 1966)
Buffalo Springfield released their self-titled debut in 1966, but there wasn’t much celebrating by the band; to them, the sound wasn’t up to par. Buffalo Springfield was produced by Brian Stone and Charles Greene, the band’s managers who had no prior experience behind the boards. But it’s all about the tunes, man: Stills charmingly strains past his years on “Hot Dusty Roads,” casting himself as a rough-and-tumble city man after your own heart: “I’ll give you loving and a place to take off your shoes.”
“Burned” (from Buffalo Springfield, 1966)
Neil Young’s first lead vocal in the Springfield is full of morbid, destructive adverbs: he’s crashed, flashed, confusing, losing; there’s no use running away. And the music’s so sunny that they give it a little tack piano solo. The combinative sweet-and-sour effect was the engine that would drive power pop three decades later: Wilco and Teenage Fanclub both covered “Burned” in the ‘90s.
“Do I Have to Come Right Out and Say It” (from Buffalo Springfield, 1966)
Richie Furay is a Charlie Brown-style victim of love on this doo-wop gem from the debut, one who can’t get it together to ask his crush object to go steady. It ends more nuanced than it begins; Furay is already duking it out with Young as to who’s the most psychologically dark writer in the Springfield: “Indecision is crowding me/ I have no room to spare/ Part of me is scared.”
“A Child’s Claim to Fame” (from Buffalo Springfield Again, 1967)
Did Gram Parsons really invent country rock? Because “A Child’s Claim to Fame” virtually invents Gram Parsons. A lovely down-home strummer with a high-and-lonesome Richie Furay vocal, it’s one of the finest examples of what can happen when a throaty kid from LA irreverently inserts himself into country music’s purview of heartbroken adults. “So sadly, I watch the show/ And see what you became.”
“Everydays” (from Buffalo Springfield Again, 1967)
Sort of a spiritual cousin to The Beatles’ “Blue Jay Way,” also released in 1967, Stills’ “Everydays” squints at daily monotony until it seems rather far-out. “Old woman there with red shoes/ One million balloons, all used,” Stills reports of this strange planet called Earth. A single fuzz guitar note buzzes like a TV out of signal.
“Sad Memory” (from Buffalo Springfield Again, 1967)
“Did you ever love a girl/ Who walked right on you?/ You should know just how I feel, then.” Furay isn’t lyrically reinventing the wheel with this deep cut from Buffalo Springfield Again, but it hardly matters when the music is this sparse and gorgeous, his voice clear as a bell. Taken on the same LP as Young’s abstracted “Broken Arrow” and acerbic “Mr. Soul,” it was abundantly clear who was the John and who was the Paul.
“Questions” (from Last Time Around, 1968)
Recorded to fulfill a contract and only coming out after the band had disintegrated, the overstuffed, restless Last Time Around strains at itself. “Questions” particularly doesn’t want to congeal into a whole, with overdubbed harpsichords and fuzz solos rattling around the margins. It would almost sum up the band’s brief, explosive existence in a single, coded line: “Now that we’ve found each other/ Where do we go from here?” If they could only see the paths that lay ahead.
“Kind Woman” (from Last Time Around, 1968)
Furay has the final track on Buffalo Springfield’s divisive final album, and on the band’s entire body of work. His classy, luminous “Kind Woman,” a ballad for his wife, Nancy, might be the band’s loveliest tune ever, one that quietly stands above their radio hits. Session pedal steel player Rusty Young answers each chorus with a clean rain shower of notes. “Kind Woman” and the group’s entire existence turned out to be only an introduction to Stills, Young and Furay, but what a last time around.