Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing

Album: Buffalo Springfield (1966)
Charted: 110
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Songfacts®:

  • This song was Buffalo Springfield's first single and the big breakout for both Stephen Stills and Neil Young - although it almost wasn't. Originally it had "Go and Say Goodbye" by Stephen Stills on the A-side and Young's "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing" on the B-side, before their producers caved to pressure from distributors and flipped the sides.

    Thus, from their very debut, Stills and Young were set up for rivalry. Stills had already gotten to think of Buffalo Springfield as his band, and here he was getting upstaged by his lead guitarist! So instead, Richie Furay sings the lead. Furay had songs he wanted included on the album, but he got lost in the power struggle between Stills and Young.

    Further stress on the band's debut was brought about by frustration with their producers. Though the legendary Ahmet Ertegun was their mentor, they'd been hooked up through the management team of Charlie Greene and Brian Stone, who were clearly out of their depth. Greene and Stone named themselves Buffalo Springfield's producers and had them signed not to Atlantic proper or even their subsidiary Atco, but to their own York/Pala Records label, giving them a bigger slice of the profit pie than they otherwise would have been entitled to. As drummer Bruce Palmer is quoted in Neil Young: Long May You Run: The Illustrated History, "They were the sleaziest, most underhanded, backstabbing motherf--kers in the business! They were the best!"

    Also from that book: "What hurt the album more than anything, though, was Greene and Stone's production. Despite the Springfield's strength as a live act, the managers forced each musician to record separately, piecing the parts together. Worse, after the band participated in the mono mix, Greene and Stone quickly converted the album to stereo, resulting in a tinny mix that outrages the group to this day. Young commented that Greene and Stone made them sound like the All-Insect Orchestra."
  • Neil Young wrote this song, which is partially based on one of his real-life schoolmates.

    Ross "Clancy" Smith attended Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, Canada, with Young. He was a notable and apparently controversial figure, though exactly why is a bit difficult to extract from accounts. In John Einarson's Don't Be Denied, Young says, "He was a kind of persecuted member of the community. He used to be able to do something, sing or something, and then he wasn't able to do it anymore. The fact was that all the other problems or things that were seemingly important didn't mean anything anymore because he couldn't do what he wanted to do."

    In the same book, classmate Diana Halter says Clancy had multiple sclerosis, and was "so intelligent and so bright that he masked the sweet soul beneath it all."

    All accounts taken together, it's hard to put an exact picture together of what made Clancy such a standout figure, but all agree he was exactly that.
  • Though Clancy was an inspiring figure in the song, "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing" is about Young as much as it about Clancy. He wrote it in 1965 after having a terrible time in Toronto, where his attempts to get things going as a professional musician totally flopped. The rejection he experienced there was so complete ("humbling," as he called it) that it sent him into a fit of introspective, frustrated songwriting. Out of this pain began to emerge the songwriting style on which Young would build his legend. The pinnacle of those songs, many of which were only recorded on demos or not recorded at all, was "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing."
  • Released on Buffalo Springfield's eponymous debut album, the song peaked at #110, which wasn't very good at that time. Unlike the modern era when there are so many bands and expectations are a bit more muted, back then a major-label act, even a new one, was expected to at least break into the top 100 to be considered commercially viable. The song was popular in the Los Angeles area, however, which was the nexus of hippie counterculture.
  • Los Angeles, California's KHJ was the first radio station to play the song. Buffalo Springfield's management arranged this by giving the station advanced tapes of "A Day In The Life" by the Beatles, which gave them the chance to break the song ahead of anyone else.
  • Young first recorded this song on a January 1966 demo for Elektra Records (Elektra rejected the demos). It can be heard on the 2009 release of The Archives Vol. 1 1963–1972.
  • Buffalo Springfield recorded the song at Gold Star Studios in Hollywood. Furay sang lead while Young backed him and played guitar and harmonica.
  • There's a live solo recording of the song on Sugar Mountain – Live at Canterbury House 1968.
  • The psychedelic band Fever Tree recorded the song in 1968 on their self-titled debut album. The Carpenters did a version on Ticket To Ride in 1969.
  • Furay got an early preview of this song from Young himself when the Canadian visited Furay's New York City apartment. He was auditioning to be house performer at a nightclub called the The Bitter End and played it there. Some of the auditions were recorded but haven't been released anywhere.
  • The Clancy Brothers inspired the musical form in this song, with its Irish-styled 2/4 rhythm verses and 3/4 rhythm choruses.
  • Many journalists and historians have noted this song as Young's artistic breakthrough, the one that helped him find the niche that would give him the kind of appeal that endured over 50 years later.
  • Who's coming home on old 95?

    Einarson in Don't Be Denied posits that this line might refer to a trip that Young took home to Winnipeg in the fall of '65, suggesting that the train was numbered 95.

Comments: 2

  • Adam from West Palm Beach, FlDewey Martin was their drummer...
  • Reg from Kemptville, On, -I've been quite amazed by this song. As a teen I grew to love progressive rock. This song is not 'progressive rock' but it is as complex as many prog songs.
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