In my dotage I forgot to post a song from this series yesterday, but let’s press on.
Any real “rocker” song from Buffalo Springfield was probably composed by Stephen Stills. And this is his best of that genre from the group: “Bluebird,” which appeared on the classic “Buffalo Springfield Again” (1967). That album also has his second-best upbeat hit, “Rock and Roll Woman,” which we’ll hear in a few days; both are presumably about Stills’s many paramours. The development of his “woman as muse” theme reached its apogee when Stills, as part of Crosby, Stills & Nash, wrote “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” a paean to his lover Judy Collins and a lament for their impending breakup.
The guitar solos, both acoustic and electric, are superb, and Stills really shines on his Martin (see below). The fadeout, on a bluegrassy banjo, is also by Stills.
Finally, there’s a nine-minute jam version, released here, which appeared on a 1973 collection of unreleased hits.
The making of the song is described in a piece on BMI (a music-rights management company) on the entire album:
One of those engineers [on the album] was Bruce Botnick of L.A.‘s famed Sunset Sound Studios. Botnick had just completed work on the Doors’ debut album when, on April 4, Stills, drummer Martin and fill-in bassist Bobby West entered Sunset Sound’s Studio One and began cutting tracks for a new Stills tune entitled “Ballad of the Bluebird” (later shortened to “Bluebird”). Stills insisted on keeping the song’s acoustic framework intact, and together with Botnick went about creating an acoustic-guitar sound tough enough to take on a rock rhythm section.
“I used to put compression on lots of things back then,” Botnick recalled recently. “For ‘Bluebird,’ I had Stephen go into the vocal booth with his acoustic guitar, I put up a Sony C-37A [condenser microphone], and then I ran the signal through a Universal Audio 176 limiter – the all-tube kind – which, when combined with Stills’ beautiful playing, produced an absolutely massive sound. And then I turned up the compression till it screamed for mother!”
As Stephen Stills notes, “Bluebird” would not have existed in quite the same way had it been recorded under “normal” circumstances. “It was really a matter of being too young to know or care what we were doing,” recalled the veteran guitarist before a recent Crosby, Stills & Nash performance. “That was how it went with that limiter. It was like, ‘Hey, let’s turn this up to 11 and see what happens . . . no, that’s not quite it, back it off just a bit . . . yeah, okay, okay, there it is!’ I mean, we knew how you were supposed to use the limiter – we just wanted to see what it would do under a completely different set of circumstances. Of course, you also had to have a Pultec EQ in there to really make it work right – first you squashed it, then you brought all the frequencies back out again. That’s what made it different.”
That and a sumptuous 1937 Martin Herringbone D-28, the first in a long line of classic dreadnaughts [sic] that Stills would acquire over the years. “I had just enough money from ‘For What It’s Worth’ to get that Martin – and a Ferrari,” says Stills with a grin. “‘Bluebird’ was the first song I used it on. Of course, vintage Martins didn’t cost the moon back then, either.”
Completed in a matter of weeks, Stills’s “Bluebird” was a bona fide classic – but it wouldn’t be the only one to grace the new album. On May 6, 21-year-old Neil Young entered Sunset Sound, accompanied by producer and future sidekick Jack Nitzsche, along with a rhythm section that featured bassist Carol Kaye, drummer Jim Gordon and guitarist (and current SW101 faculty advisor) Russ Titelman. Like his mentor Phil Spector, in the studio Nitzsche favored live, lush instrumentation topped with layers of echo. By the time it was completed that June, Young’s “Expecting to Fly” was a stunning three-and-a-half minute sound fantasy punctuated by subtle edits, abrupt stereo pans, and multiple keyboards that were felt rather than heard.
And yes, “Expecting to Fly” is one of the songs I’ll highlight in a few days.