Buffalo Springfield are that rarest of beasts: an influential 1960s band whose recorded legacy hasn’t been recycled into dust. Classic-rock radio stations don’t dig much deeper than their one bona fide hit, “For What It’s Worth,” preferring instead to play the songs of the band’s splintered progeny: Crosby, Stills and Nash, Poco, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Loggins and Messina, et al. But though the Springfield lasted little more than two years and struggled to release three albums, the group contributed as much to rock & roll as its famous divorces. This long-overdue four-disc box chronicles and illuminates that contribution.
The first three discs follow the group’s recordings chronologically. Buffalo Springfield (1966) introduced a tightly drilled quintet whose music proposed the country-rock hyphen well before Dylan, the Byrds or the Flying Burrito Brothers. The songwriting was divided between second guitarist Stephen Stills (“Sit Down I Think I Love You”) and lead guitarist Neil Young (“Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing”), and favored the voice of rhythm guitarist Richie Furay, often in tandem with Stills as an updated Everly Brothers. Unfortunately, inept production eliminated the subtlety and power from their debut; superb bass player Bruce Palmer was especially victimized. There was more energy and balance to Young’s “Mr. Soul” and Stills’ “Rock & Roll Woman” from Buffalo Springfield Again (1967), but the rest of the picture was becoming irreparably fragmented, with three individual writer-singers overseeing their own material and Stills challenging Young on lead guitar. The album’s pinnacle, Young’s haunting art-song collaboration with Jack Nitzsche on “Expecting to Fly,” featured no other band members. The band burned up the track so fast before hitting the wall that Last Time Around (1968) had to be pieced together for posthumous release.
Sadly, few tapes have surfaced to document the ferocity of the band’s stage performances. Box Set collects the few developed songs that didn’t make the albums (though they’ve rightly nixed the clumsy nine-minute “Bluebird” that leaked out some years back). The thirty-seven unreleased tracks include alternate takes and mixes, sometimes superior solo demos (Stills’ “Four Days Gone,” Furay’s “Sad Memory”), instrumentals (Young’s twisty “Falcon Lake [Ash on the Floor]”), and songs we would encounter later in their careers (“Round and Round and Round” and “Old Laughing Lady” from Young). The set’s only real flaw is the redundant Disc Four, which reprises the first two albums. Buffalo Springfield were a great American band done in by their overabundance of talent. They went from being an inspired idea straight to a cherished memory without letting themselves, or us, linger too long over the magic they made in between. Now is our chance.