Buffalo Springfield Week; III. “Bluebird”

September 10, 2015 • 7:15 am

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!”

More barn!!!!

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.


13 thoughts on “Buffalo Springfield Week; III. “Bluebird”

  1. Ach, now I remember I used to have that album with the 9 minute version on it. I got it in the early 1980s when it seemed like ancient history from a long lost golden age. Still does, of course…

  2. Listening to this brought back memories of 1968 and hours spent with an illegal smile and this song and this album. Thanks.

  3. Also, Jack Nitzsche was a very great producer, helping shape a particular sound in the sixties and seventies and influential on a whole load of bands that were around in the late nineties/early noughties – Mercury Rev in particular, whose fourth and fifth albums took that ornate, gilded sound of Nitzsche’s and spun it into weird, beautiful new directions. They were a big influence on me and their fifth album was set to be produced by Nitzsche until he died in 2000.

    Looking back on my favourite bands, one thing that they all had in common was that they tended not to deny their influences, and so listening to them, and reading interviews with them, led me to explore other artists, who led me in turn to explore other artists, etc. Many, many of these routes, often flagged up by very different bands or artists, converged on Neil Young.
    I used to send off to an independent record store(I lived in a rural backwoods) called Sister Ray that advertised at the back of the NME and who had a whole load of old albums, by all the greats of rock and roll, for £6.99 – which seemed like ridiculously good value back then. I hoovered up everything by Neil Young(not so much Buffalo Springfield – I only had so much pocket money) and all the rest and educated myself in the history of rock and roll. Perhaps something is missing today, when I can access every album ever made, good or bad, in a few seconds. Before, I remember treasuring the albums that turned out to be as good as everyone said they were, and devoting a certain amount of time to an album even if, on first listen, it sounded pretty tedious. Now, with Spotify, I’m not sure I even listen to an album all the way through if it doesn’t immediately grab me, never mind listen to it two or three times.

    On the other hand I can also see that Spotify is one of the wonders of the modern age so…I’m going to stop rambling here.

  4. Stephen Stills is truly one of rock’s finest players. Other guitarists that are “legendary” are half the player he is.
    Thanks for posting this, I wasn’t familiar with that song until now.

  5. An excellent song from an excellent band. The James Gang also did this song on Yer Album. Those of you who had the manual turntables will remember the “Easter egg” in the end grooves. “Turn me over….turn me over” and on the B side “Play me again….play me again.”

  6. There seem to be at least 4 popular songs with the catchy title “Bluebird” by Paul McCartney,Christina Perri, and Sara Bareilles, but the Buffalo guys seem to have gotten there first. Well, it’s a great title and there’s no reason not to keep using it.

    I’m not really this literal minded, but I (far far too literally) honor the request for “more barn” here. The 2nd photo in this article features Neil Young’s own barn at Broken Arrow ranch.

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