Any band that boasts Stephen Stills and Neil Young is bound for greatness. Buffalo Springfield didn’t just get the S and Y of CSNY, they got Bruce Palmer, Dewey Martin, and Richie Furay too. They weren’t around for long, but in the two years they stuck together they made some of the most influential rock music of the 20th century. Stills, Young, and Furay would all go on to enjoy bigger success in the future, but this is where it all started. These are the 10 best Buffalo Springfield songs of all time.
10. On the Way Home
Last Time Around was the anti-climactic end to a brief but glorious career. The band’s final album was a hodgepodge collection of songs salvaged from their last recording sessions. It lacked coherence and some of the material is at best uneven and at worst disappointing. But still, there are enough nuggets to be mined to make it listenable. On the Way Home is one of the highlights. Written by Neil Young, sung by Richie Furay, and featuring a dynamite performance from Stills, it’s a joy.
9. Rock & Roll Woman
Rock & Roll Woman might not be the best song Stephen Stills ever wrote with Buffalo Springfield, but it’s still sublime. Although the band sometimes got labeled as folk-rock, they never really were. Young had too much vitriol running in his veins to allow it, and the entire bunch of them were far too clever to be so easily defined. They knew when to shake up the timings, when to alter a rhythm, and when to change the tempo, thus avoiding folk-rock territory and thus creating masterpieces like this tasty beauty.
8. Kind Woman
The band’s final album was divisive. Even their most loyal fans struggled to get their heads around its bloated dynamics. But the worst Buffalo Springfield album is still better than most band’s best albums, and Last Time Around was by no means without its delights. Its standout track is Kind Woman, a gorgeous ballad with an irresistibly tender heart. It might not have the potency of some of the band’s bigger hits, but its gentle loveliness still makes it a classic.
7. Sad Memory
It may be one of their lesser-known gems, but Sad Memory still ranks among Buffalo Springfield’s best pieces. In fairness, Furay isn’t exactly pushing himself lyrically (as Billboard points out, with lyrics like “Did you ever love a girl/ Who walked right on you?/ You should know just how I feel, then” competing for attention on the same album as Young’s Broken Arrow and Mr. Soul, it’s abundantly clear who was the John and who was the Paul). But no matter – the song’s sparse arrangements, Furay’s crystal clear vocals, and the sumptuous melodies more than compensate.
6. Flying On The Ground Is Wrong
Ranked as one of the best ever Buffalo Springfield songs by Classic Rock History, Flying On The Ground Is Wrong is a thing of beauty. Richie Furay interprets Neil Young’s lyrics with a warmth and wisdom that even Neil’s live solo renditions couldn’t better. The elegant, restrained arrangement only serves to improve matters. From start to finish, it’s masterful.
5. Down To The Wire
Down to the Wire is a puzzler. The first time even the most ardent Buffalo Springfield fan heard it was on the 2001 compilation album, Buffalo Springfield Box. Why Buffalo Springfield elected not to release it when they were active is a mystery. It’s also a travesty. With Neil singing his heart out, Stills being his godlike best on guitar, and the rest of the band doing a sterling job of keeping up, it ranks as one of their very finest songs.
When David Crosby raised the possibility of inviting Neil Young to join CSN with Graham Nash, Nash was initially hesitant. He eventually agreed to a meeting, during which he asked Young why he should agree to the idea. Young’s answer was swift and to the point. Had, he asked, Nash ever heard Young and Stills play together? Nash had, so that was that. it may sound like an arrogant response. It wasn’t. When Young and Stills perform together, magic happens, as it does here and as it does on so many other songs. Bluebird might not be the most well-known of the band’s songs, but the divine interplay between Stills and Young unquestionably makes it one of their best.
3. Expecting To Fly
Penned by Neil Young, Expecting to Fly has it all… oblique lyrics, soaring vocals, and a sublime orchestral arrangement provided by Phil Spector sideman Jack Nitzsche. As Wikipedia notes, the song marks the transition from the band’s group-oriented compositions toward more individualized performances. In another band, the shift might not have worked. But Buffalo Springfield had Neil Young. It had Stephen Stills. It couldn’t but work, as this ethereal, fragile beauty very ably demonstrates.
2. Mr. Soul
Written by Neil Young, Mr. Soul is rock and roll to its core. It’s got the rock, the roll, and the riffs. Most of all, it’s got Young, who totally dominates the song with his wonderfully obscure lyrics, his fuzzy guitar, and his soaring vocals. When he left the band, he took the song with him. No matter how often he unleashes it at live shows, it never loses its appeal.
1. For What It’s Worth
By 1966, the Vietnam War had been gobbling up too many lives for too long, and Steven Stills, for one, had had enough. So he wrote For What It’s Worth, one of the most incendiary protest songs of the era. Except it’s not. Well, it is a protest song, but it’s not the war Stills is raging against, it’s the rough-handed treatment the police had been dishing out to his hippie friends on the Sunset Strip. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter whether it was about the war or the hippies. This, as Rolling Stone says, was the band’s breakthrough hit, the one that cemented their reputation and launched the careers of Stills and Young. It’s a classic, and no matter how many times it gets trotted out in movies, TV shows, and commercials, a classic it will always be.