Buffalo Springfield: What’s That Sound? — Complete Album Collection

Buffalo Springfield
What’s That Sound? — Complete Album Collection
(Rhino)
Music: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Package: 3 out of 5 stars

The question posed by this reissue’s title is a valid one. What exactly was Buffalo Springfield’s sound? Was it rock, pop, folk-rock, baroque, psychedelic, singer-songwriter, Latin influenced, Americana or the always contentious “country rock”? The quintet’s meager output — the band only lasted for three albums and two years (1966-’67) before combusting — was all those genres and more. How else to explain such unique entries as Neil Young’s orchestrated gem “Expecting to Fly” sharing space on the same album as Stills’ blues-rocking “Hung Upside Down”?

In retrospect, we know that any band with three singers, guitarists and songwriters as strong willed as Richie Furay, Stephen Stills and Neil Young was headed for a perfect storm of ego clashes. But upon the release of their somewhat overlooked/under-appreciated (at least at the time) debut, there seemed to be a bright future for the five piece. Their first hit single “For What It’s Worth” (the chorus of which provides this collection with its enigmatic title) was recorded later, only added after the initial pressing, leaving the rest of the eclectic tunes to find an audience. Young contributed some terrific folk-rockers in “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” and “Flying on the Ground is Wrong” on the band’s debut. But in a short-lived lack of vocal confidence, he let Furay sing most of them, only helming the pop-rocking “Burned.”

The follow-up, 1967’s Buffalo Springfield Again, was arguably its finest hour, well, actually 33 minutes. All three frontman contributed solid material led by Young’s raucous re-write of the Stones’ “Satisfaction” riff in “Mr. Soul.” Stills’ psychedelic guitar rocking “Bluebird” is folk-blues rocking at its most creative and riveting and Furay’s sweet, acoustic country charmer “A Child’s Claim to Fame” sounds like a dress rehearsal for his work with Poco, the outfit he formed after Springfield disbanded.

By the time the appropriately titled Last Time Around was released in 1968, the band had already collapsed. While it’s the least interesting of the three albums, there are some terrific highlights in Young’s “I Am a Child,” Stills’ tropicalia pop ballad “Pretty Girl Why” and Furay’s folk/country classic “Kind Woman.” Producer Jim Messina contributed the lazy filler “Carefree Country Day” which sounds like warmed over Lovin’ Spoonful, and Stills’ “Questions” was put to better use when it was later incorporated in C,S,N & Y’s “Carry On.”

But hearing these songs, in the order they were released, lets us re-examine lesser known deep tracks such as Stills’ jazz/blues “Everydays” and Furay’s baroque, chamber string driven “In the Hour of Not Quite Rain,” a dated but fascinating and odd, almost experimental, dreamscape somewhat similar to McCartney’s “Eleanor Rigby.”

The original three CDs are still available separately, and these tracks are almost all included in 2001’s comprehensive, in print and — with its rarities, demos unreleased tracks and lavish book — essential four disc Springfield package. The primary reason for this set’s existence is updated remastering and the somewhat obscure mono mixes of the first two discs. The same team that worked on Neil Young’s catalog sonic upgrade cleaned up the audio by using original masters. The improvement is noticeable, if not jaw-dropping, and the albums are also available on vinyl for the first time since their release. 

Sure, it feels like a cash-grab; anyone who already owns the box can save their money. And expanding this to five short platters (with no booklet or new notes), when it would have been cost effective to combine them on three is not only inefficient but pushes the list price to almost $40. Still, for those who haven’t yet been exposed to the revelatory music of Buffalo Springfield, now is as good a time as any to explore the catalog of a group whose eclectic, still undefinable sound helped kick start the Americana genre.