Feb 12

Buffalo Springfield: “Rock & Roll Woman”


Each member of the band tried to be an island unto themselves, but couldn't afford the rent and had to go in on a single, crowded island together.

Aside from the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield was the greatest of all American folk-rock bands — with a lineup that claimed Neil Young and Stephen Stills as its primary songwriters, it’s not too surprising, really. Despite my dislike for Stills himself (he was among the most full-of-himself artists out there at the time, in a profession full of big egos), I can’t deny that he had great songwriting chops. And Neil Young is one of the all-time rock greats. So put them together with the underrated Richie Furay, and magic was pretty much guaranteed.

All in all, they were one of the coolest bands going at the time, and there is little in the way of filler on their first two albums, 1966’s Buffalo Springfield and 1967’s Buffalo Springfield Again, both outright classics. Their third and final album, 1968’s Last Time Around, was a bit more spotty, probably due mostly to the lessened participation of Young, on his way out the door to his solo career by that time. Really, the idea of Neil Young as part of a band seems strange now, as he’s such an individualist, but I think that’s a big part of what makes Buffalo Springfield so fascinating, seeing him working as part of a unit. Nonetheless, the Stills songs sound like Stills songs, and the Young songs sound like Young songs — Young didn’t work with Stills as a songwriting team, a la Lennon and McCartney.

As much as I love Neil Young, oddly enough it’s Stephen Stills’ songs that stand out most among my favorite Buffalo Springfield songs. There’s the ubiquitous “For What It’s Worth,” known to pretty much everyone everywhere, from their debut album, but then there’s “Bluebird” and today’s song of the day here, “Rock & Roll Woman,” both from Buffalo Springfield Again. “Rock & Roll Woman” finds the band beautifully blending the acoustic and electric, with excellent background harmonies. Neil Young’s signature electric guitar solo nails the song’s sound, and it’s all topped off with Stills’ throaty, soulful singing. And I love how it all comes to a sudden stop on a single, tremolo’d chord strum that quickly fades away. It’s all over so quickly, before you can fully absorb how great it is. Much like the mercurial band itself, which for all intents and purposes was only around for two years before going their separate ways, but in that brief span leaving an indelible mark on rock for years to come.

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