Buffalo Springfield Week: “Flying on the Ground is Wrong”

Buffalo Springfield, one of my favorite bands of all time, lasted just a few years (1966-1968) and produced but three albums. But their influence on music was profound—if for no other reason than that the band helped mold the later careers of both Stephen Stills and Neil Young. But the Springfield’s songs stand on their own: things of beauty—as novel at the time as many of the Beatles songs were in theirs.

Besides Stills and Young (both on vocals and guitar, with Stills also on keyboards and Young on harmonica), the band featured Dewey Martin on drums, Richey Furay on guitar and vocals, Jim Messina on guitar and, Bruce Palmer on bass. There were other itinerant members, but that was the heart of the group.

I’ve always said that if I could come back as someone else, it would be Steve Stills. He was enormously talented, and in all four ways possible for a musician: he was a great singer, with a gravelly blues voice, a fantastic songwriter, a super guitarist, and multitalented, able to play many instruments (piano, dobro, banjo, drums, acoustic and electric guitar, and so on). On the wonderful song “Do for the others,” from his first solo album, he plays every instrument and does all the vocals. His bandmates in the later group Manassas called him “Captain Manyhands” because of his multifarious instrumental talents.

And, of course, Stills was wickedly handsome. I wouldn’t have minded at all looking like this when I was in my twenties.

Stephen Stills-VS-ID40-2012-08-03 02 44 00

Here’s the rest of the group, with a very young Young. If you’re Canadian, you’ll know that Young, Palmer, and Martin were born in your land. It was truly an American/Canadian group.

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And here they are recently (they had a brief reunion five years ago, but it was sad: Stills’s voice is gone, and their music was a thing of the time):

buffalo-springfield

Many of the best songs recorded by the Springfield were written by Neil Young. Sadly, he didn’t sing most of the ballads: that was left to Richie Furay, who, it must be said, had a great voice—perhaps better than Young’s for songs like the “Flying on the ground is wrong”. (Neil was allowed to sing the “weird songs,” some of which I’ll feature this week.) Stills was responsible for the rockers like “Bluebird” and “Rock and Roll Woman.”

And, as I implied above, for the next ten days or so I’ll feature my favorite songs from Buffalo Springfield, a band that was never commercially successful, didn’t get the recognition it deserved, and is now largely forgotten. (Their only hit, which I won’t feature as it’s become a cliché, is “For what it’s worth.“)

Here’s one of Neil Young’s ballads, sung by Richie Furay. I’m not exactly sure what it’s about, save for a rocky romance between disparate personalities, but most Young songs are enigmatic and defy easy understanding (just wait until you hear “Broken Arrow”!). But this one, from their first album, “Buffalo Springfield” (1966), is lovely and haunting. No music like this was being made in 1966.

50 Comments

  1. Stephen
    Posted September 7, 2015 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Here’s Neil doing a solo acoustic version in 1969.

  2. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted September 7, 2015 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    Veering slightly in musical direction, Lemmy seems to be burning out his Motörhead. Which would be a shame, though hardly a surprise.

    • Draken
      Posted September 7, 2015 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      But you know:
      My, my, hey, hey
      Rock ‘n’ roll is here to stay
      It’s better to burn out, than to fade away
      My, my, hey, hey

  3. Posted September 7, 2015 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Hoping you’ll include Springfield’s “Go and Say Goodbye,” the first song I ever learned to play all the way through on a ’65 butterscotch blonde Fender Telecaster I bought off a friend in high school. Sadly, I sold it to help pay undergrad tuition a couple years later. Oh, how I still regret that decision.

  4. Randy Schenck
    Posted September 7, 2015 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    You don’t need to play it but at the time, seems like everyone played For What it’s Worth.

    I would also mention the Guess Who, another nearly forgotten band of the same period and also Canadian. Had some very good songs such as “These Eyes”.

    • Draken
      Posted September 7, 2015 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      So now we should Guess Who?

    • Posted September 7, 2015 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

      Yes, “These Eyes” is a fantastic song. I haven’t heard it in years.

  5. Dr. Jim
    Posted September 7, 2015 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Brilliant, simply brilliant stuff! My little brother introduced them to me as he did so much music.

  6. Posted September 7, 2015 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    WOW My favorite band in my high school years and still today. I play Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing on guitar. I enjoy their “evolution” from folkies to rock. Their harmonies, guitar licks, word choices expose a knowledge of country, folk & blues. A true Americana band.
    I own all their records , cds and I don’t think there is a bad song in the catalogue.
    I saw Richie play with Poco a couple of years ago at the Wildwood Theatre in Steelville MO. Still in fine voice!

    • Draken
      Posted September 7, 2015 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      AFAIK they only ever had 3 studio albums. Amusingly, Wikipedia tells me they released a best-of immediately after disbanding- and it got platinum. That ain’t bad for three years of work!

    • Draken
      Posted September 7, 2015 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      By the way, my first thought after I read that Stills lost his voice was: so nowadays Stephen can’t… even sing 🙂

  7. Joseph McClain
    Posted September 7, 2015 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    I think Stephen Stills is an odd choice for a determinist to pick as someone they’d like to be. Burnout, personal tragedy, health issues and no doubt creative frustration.

    • Michael Garner
      Posted September 8, 2015 at 8:58 am | Permalink

      Are you inferring that Mr Stills could have made better choices, or that PCC could have chosen to admire someone else?

      • Joseph McClain
        Posted September 9, 2015 at 10:45 am | Permalink

        PCC said “I’ve always said that if I could come back as someone else, it would be Steve Stills.” Admiration is one thing, but picking someone as an alternative life, with the good and the bad bits, is something else. And Stills was incapable of making better choices, right? It’s like saying, I’d like to be Stephen Hawking, only I wouldn’t get ALS.

  8. Posted September 7, 2015 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Some of you may be familiar with the eTown radio broadcasts. They are recorded at eTown Hall here in Boulder and it is a great venue for about 150 people to hear great musicians. We recently went to see Richey Furay and Special Guests, who turned out to be his daughter and Los Lobos – and they were great! What a pleasurable 2+ hours, which gets edited down to one hour for radio. It is also always a treat to see host Nick Forster play. Richey still has a very nice voice, and we only had to hear a soupcon of his Jesus-talk.

  9. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted September 7, 2015 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    They got a lot of credit in the English music press when I was younger. Maybe they’re less highly-regarded in the American press?

    I love Neil Young, he’s one of my all-time favourite artists. I remember a quote from a critic in the late sixties/early seventies saying that N.Y. had ‘discovered a limitless trove of perfect melodies’. Not limitless obviously, otherwise his recent stuff would be as good as After The Goldrush, but that quote sums up how effortlessly productive he was at his peak.

    His ear for melody is up there with Lennon and Brian Wilson – songs like Sugar Mountain, Harvest and Tell Me Why have that aching balance between sweetness and regret that he was so good at capturing. Tell Me Why actually hurts a little when I listen to it.

    I look forward to the week’s posts…

  10. Posted September 7, 2015 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    I admit rather woeful ignorance of the music of Buffalo Springfield, which is odd because I love Neil Young, and have always recognized the technical brilliance (among other traits) of Stephen Stills. In fact, last year I saw Neil Young during his solo tour of the US, and it was one of the most moving, beautiful, profoundly human performances I’ve ever had the privilege to attend. It was just Neil Young and a few lights, a ramp or two which vaguely suggested a pathway or journey. On the stage he had arranged maybe 15-17 guitars in different locations, a couple of “souped-up” keyboards, and a miniature pipe organ. He told some great stories, and let the raspier quality of his voice break your heart all the more. Just as it was when I saw the 90 year old Tony Bennett two years ago, it was a mind-be being experience to discover that they both not only still “had it,” but that they could command ALL of it at any time. Despite changes in tonal quality (timbre) and changing tastes over the years, they were both able to let that unique raspiness communicate even more raw, fearless emotion with every song, phrase, and bent note. My favorite part of the night was the one song he played on the miniature pipe organ. He seemed to get more animated, pushing the stool.out of his way, partially hunched over the instrument like a mad scientist, old, craggy hands coming down hard on the keys, confidently cranking out a familiar vamp, the pulsing vibrato of the instrument almost brining from the ether a candelabra and perhaps a Tim Burton-like mosaic of frenetically dancing animated monsters, all careering about the stage until he sang with the perfect quotient of mania in his voice: “Well hello Mr. Soul…” Yeah, it was awesome.

    • daniel bertini
      Posted September 7, 2015 at 10:48 am | Permalink

      Love Mr. soul!! Outstanding rock song, great band!

  11. Posted September 7, 2015 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Neil Young wrote a few songs about Stills — Stringman (here’s a nice cover of it (seems appropriate to link to an amateur cover rather than something professional).

    And he wrote Cocaine Eyes for Stills apparently too —
    “Ain’t a day goes by I don’t burn a little bit of my soul.”

  12. daniel bertini
    Posted September 7, 2015 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Love Mr. Soul!! Great band!!

  13. Posted September 7, 2015 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    They’re new to me. Based on this first example, I’m glad for the introduction.

    b&

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted September 7, 2015 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

      It seems unlikely that anyone in the US could have lived through the last four decades without hearing “For What It’s Worth”.

      However I’m quite prepared to believe there are large numbers of people who’ve heard it many times without knowing what it’s called or what band Stills was in when he sang it.

      If you know what comes after “Stop, hey, what’s that sound”, you’re in the latter category.

      • Posted September 7, 2015 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

        Ah…okay. Yes, I would seem to, indeed, be in the latter category. Thanks for the clarification.

        b&

  14. Ken Kukec
    Posted September 7, 2015 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Nice tune. In the popular consciousness — to the extent Springfield ever dented the popular consciousness at all — they’re seen, I think, merely as what Young & Stills did before they hooked up with Crosby & Nash right before Woodstock (and I think this misconception has been fostered over the years by some snide comments passed by Young & Stills).

    Instead, as I’m sure you’re aware, the other members of BS made important musical contributions of their own. Messina and Furay went on to form Poco (and Messina had his partnership with Kenny Loggins in the eponymous duo “Loggins & Messina”) which, along with The Byrds (and the Byrd’s offshoot, The Flying Burrito Brothers) were among the seminal bands in the country-rock/folk-rock sound — a sound that eventually spawned bands like The Eagles, which is a tawdry tale for another thread, since we all know what The Dude had to say about them.

    P.S. – Thanks for pretermitting “For What It’s Worth” from your Springfield series — if I have to hear that song one more time, there will be a man with a gun over there …

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted September 7, 2015 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

      It’s been sampled about a billion times too. It’s sad that such an essentially sweet, decent, well-meaning song, keeps itself to itself, should have become so instantly, teeth-grindingly irritating. The first chime of that guitar figure and I turn into Colonel Kurtz.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted September 7, 2015 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

        If you head up-river into Cambodia with a band of Montagnards, and I’ll hop on the next brown-water boat and attempt a Capt. Willard-style rescue.

  15. Merilee
    Posted September 7, 2015 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Praise be to CC!! I LOVE Springfield!!!!Hard to recognize Neil in that later shot

  16. Steve Gerrard
    Posted September 7, 2015 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    My last year of high school I used to fall asleep every night with headphones on, listening to the Retrospective album on a 7 inch reel-to-reel tape recorder. I still love the guitar work in “Sit Down, I think I Love You” – and the whole album, for that matter. Many good things came from the members of that group over the years.

  17. Posted September 7, 2015 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Buffalo Springfield — I believe they are the unique answer to the trivia question “A rock group named after a steamroller company?”

    • Merilee
      Posted September 7, 2015 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

      So that’s where the name comes from??

  18. Chukar
    Posted September 7, 2015 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    I read elsewhere a while back that Neal wrote (paraphrased) “Flying on the ground…” as a his stab at a drug (LSD especially)-influenced song, adding that the most serious drug he was into at the time was soda pop, so it was really pretense. In this light, the title (part of the chorus) can be seen as a reference to ‘flying” or tripping on LSD, and “since I have changed, I can’t take nothin’ home” as the sort of thing says post-tripping.

    I love the Springfield and didn’t realize until after they broke up that the songs I liked best were written by Young. It’s true that most people outside California weren’t really aware of them. Too bad. They were excellent. CS&N or CSN&Y were not as good, IMHO.

    If you like the Springfield, you might check out Love’s “Forever Changes.” It has been referred to as one of the best albums of the era, and perhaps the best LSD-influenced album ever.

  19. Chukar
    Posted September 7, 2015 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    BTW, A Springfield rifle was one of the top rifles used to shoot Bison, or buffalo.

  20. Ann German
    Posted September 7, 2015 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    Good memories – after I started at Antioch College in 1967, we used to go to Furay’s, the Yellow Springs drug store, and hope to run into Richie Furay on a home visit . . . their music has, as a consequence, always seemed real personal for me and those times.

  21. Larry Smith
    Posted September 7, 2015 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Great band choice for the week! I heard “Bluebird” on the radio a few weeks ago and was impressed with how well it’s aged: it still sounds fresh and inventive.

    If it’s OK to plump for one of their songs for inclusion this week: “On the Way Home.”

  22. Merilee
    Posted September 7, 2015 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    sub

  23. keith cook + or -
    Posted September 7, 2015 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    Buffalo Springfield made their mark down under they got quite an airing amongst my friends at social gatherings, over a cup of tea. When I listen to ‘Rock and Roll Women’ off BS Again you get a precursor of what was to come from Crosby, Stills, Nash and as a solo artist.
    Nice albums all three and I always liked ‘Kind Women’ for the guitar and piano and funny enough the waltz timing..

  24. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted September 7, 2015 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    I’d also nominate Neil Young’s voice as one of rock and roll’s pre-eminent wonders – a thing of cracked, trembling beauty. Not a good voice, but still a great voice if you see what I mean. It’s always surprised me that he had the courage to sing with a voice like that but I definitely think he paved the way for punk rock and the general turning away from technical proficiency.

    • Merilee
      Posted September 7, 2015 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

      Neil and Leonard Cohen. Dylan and perhaps Tom Waits are in a different category altogether.

    • Merilee
      Posted September 7, 2015 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

      And now for something completely different:

      http://www.npr.org/2015/09/02/435574904/first-listen-jonas-kaufmann-nessun-dorma-the-puccini-album

      A majestic voice with muscle and lyricism. ( and Jonas ain’t bad to look at, either)

      • rickflick
        Posted September 7, 2015 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

        “It’s pointless to rank singers.”
        “You can’t put him in a box for the simple reason that there’s no box big enough.”
        “Does he have enough squillo (ping)?”

        How would Kaufmann handle a song like “Helpless”? In my view Young’s best. But then I was born in Ontario. So there you go: personal, personal.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7rQvJgTQ9U

        • Merilee
          Posted September 7, 2015 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

          Love them both;-)
          (Born in California, live in Ontariario)

          • rickflick
            Posted September 7, 2015 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

            California? Bet you can’t play decent hockey. 😉

            • Merilee
              Posted September 7, 2015 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

              You’re right about that, but my son’s a natural;-)


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