One Track Mind: Buffalo Springfield, “Mr. Soul”
by Nick DeRiso
Was thinking about the aptly titled Buffalo Springfield Again, and this brilliant grungy mess, after hearing news that the band would reform for a tour later in the year.
Recorded in 1967 for the second of what would be a brief three-album tenure for Buffalo Springfield, Neil Young‘s “Mr. Soul” builds off the career-defining riff from “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” But it’s no Rolling Stones rip off.
No, this is too wild for that. At times, “Mr. Soul” is almost out of control, and every bit the predictor of the compellingly complex, sometimes confusing solo career ahead for Young. (He’s continued tinkering with it, too, as “Mr. Soul” has appeared a handful of times elsewhere, notably on Young’s techno-rock curio Trans and on the terrific concert memento Unplugged.)
The track bursts out in a tangled web of ass-whipping guitars, then Young starts an acidic attack on the music business, and what it does to those who get pushed through its grinding gears. As “Mr. Soul” rattles along, Richie Furay adds a yowling background vocal, ominous skronks whiz by and then, over a stomping bass and angry, smeared guitar, Young growls out a timeless line from an obsessed fan’s letter: “She said ‘You’re strange, but don’t change’ … and I let her.” Next comes a delightfully disturbing flurry of guitar sounds, like having several people talk to you all at once, before a deft switch on the above line: “Is it strange I should change?” Young repeats, as the song fades. “Why don’t you ask her.”
If Buffalo Springfield remains a band that never quite reached its true potential — outside of the Stephen Stills’ songs “For What It’s Worth” and “Bluebird,” anyway — Young’s mercurial nature was surely to blame. He was in and out of the studio for much of the recording of Again, just as he came and went in Crosby, Stills and Nash, Stephen’s subsequent band. But it’s that same flinty creativity that sparks engrossing, obdurate experiments like this, too. You can’t have one without the other.
Young, Stills and Furay (later of Poco) will hit the road this fall, hard on the heels of last year’s Buffalo Springfield reunion at Young’s Bridge School Benefit in Mountain View, Calif. On that emotional 12-song set, drummer Joe Vitale replaced the late Dewey Martin and Rick Rosas (Young’s longtime bassist) sat in for Bruce Palmer, who has also passed.
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