Buffalo Springfield – Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing

My friend and I discovered his father’s Buffalo Springfield’s greatest hits album in the early eighties. I grew to be a fan then and there, before I knew about Stills, Young, and the rest. Broken Arrow was my favorite song but Mr. Soul, For What It’s Worth, and this one we could not get enough of.

This song was Buffalo Springfield’s first single and the breakout for both Stephen Stills and Neil Young – although it wasn’t supposed to be. Originally the song 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.

Richie Furay sings the lead on this song after hearing Young play it earlier. Furay had songs he wanted to include on the album. His songs got lost in the shuffle with the Stills and Young and the developing rivalry between the two.

It wasn’t a smash by any means, but it charted at #110 in the Billboard 100 and #75 in Canada in 1966… so it got some airplay and was a regional success in California. Their album Buffalo Springfield peaked at #80 in the Billboard Album charts in 1967.

In Los Angeles, California’s WKHJ was the first radio station to play the song. Buffalo Springfield’s management arranged this feat 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.

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.

Neil Young: “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.”

The Carpenters did a version on their album Ticket To Ride in 1969.

From Songfacts

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.”

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.

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.

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. 

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.

Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing

Hey who’s that stomping all over my face?
Where’s that silhouette I’m trying to trace?
Who’s putting sponge in the bells I once rung?
And taking my gypsy before she’s begun?
To singing the meaning of what’s in my mind
Before I can take home what’s rightfully mine
Joinin’ and listenin’ and talkin’ in rhymes
Stoppin’ the feeling to wait for the times
Who’s saying baby that don’t mean a thing
‘Cause nowadays Clancy can’t even sing

And who’s all hung-up on that happiness thing?
Who’s trying to tune all the bells that he rings?
And who’s in the corner and down on the floor?
With pencil and paper just counting the score?
And who’s trying to act like he just in between?
The night isn’t black, it can only be screened
Don’t bother looking you’re too blind to see
Who’s coming on like he wanted to be
Who’s saying baby, that don’t mean a thing
‘Cause nowadays Clancy can’t even sing

And who’s coming home on the old ninety five?
Who’s got the feeling to keep him alive
Though havin’ it, sharin’ it ain’t quite the same
It ain’t no gold nugget you can’t lay a claim
Who’s seeing eyes through the crack in the floor
There it is baby don’t you worry no more
Who should be sleepin’ but is writing this song
Wishin’ and a-hopin’ he weren’t so damned wrong
Who’s saying baby, that don’t mean a thing
‘Cause nowadays Clancy can’t even sing
Who’s saying baby that don’t mean a thing
‘Cause nowadays Clancy can’t even sing


Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

11 thoughts on “Buffalo Springfield – Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing”

  1. I still have my original BS albums from “back in the day.” Mr. Soul is my favorite, along with Broken Arrow, Kind Woman, For What It’s Worth. Hell, pretty much all the songs. If they ever played Dallas or Fort Worth, I never knew about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Broken Arrow…I can’t tell you how much I love that song but yes I like all the ones you mentioned.
      They had a few reunions…so much talent in that band.


  2. This is an interesting song, that’s easy to like. I didn’t know any of the story about the production of their album. That’s almost a crime. 😮 I can see why they’d still be mad about it today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was surprised that Young wrote this song….and didn’t sing it….I always wondered but after reading the info…it was a mess.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Textured ballad. First time hearing it. Seems strange to not have Young or Stills on vocals. In the slide show I was reminded that Jim Messina used to be in the band. So strange to think this was Neil Young’s breakout song.

    Liked by 1 person

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