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For What It's Worth by Buffalo Springfield

Album: Buffalo SpringfieldReleased: 1966Charted:
7
  • Written by Buffalo Springfield guitarist Stephen Stills, this song was not about anti-war gatherings, but rather youth gatherings protesting anti-loitering laws, and the closing of the West Hollywood nightclub Pandora's Box. Stills was not there when they closed the club, but had heard about it from his bandmates.
  • In the book Neil Young: Long May You Run: The Illustrated History, Stephen Stills tells the story of this song's origin: "I had had something kicking around in my head. I wanted to write something about the kids that were on the line over in Southeast Asia that didn't have anything to do with the device of this mission, which was unraveling before our eyes. Then we came down to Sunset from my place on Topanga with a guy - I can't remember his name - and there's a funeral for a bar, one of the favorite spots for high school and UCLA kids to go and dance and listen to music.

    [Officials] decided to call out the official riot police because there's three thousand kids sort of standing out in the street; there's no looting, there's no nothing. It's everybody having a hang to close this bar. A whole company of black and white LAPD in full Macedonian battle array in shields and helmets and all that, and they're lined up across the street, and I just went 'Whoa! Why are they doing this?' There was no reason for it. I went back to Topanga, and that other song turned into 'For What It's Worth,' and it took as long to write as it took me to settle on the changes and write the lyrics down. It all came as a piece, and it took about fifteen minutes."
  • Buffalo Springfield was the band's first album, and this song was not originally included on it. After "For What It's Worth" became a hit single, it replaced "Baby Don't Scold Me" on re-issues of the album.
  • Notable when you consider this song's success, the group quietly recorded this without involving their producers Greene and Stone, with whom they had had immense dissatisfaction about the recording of their album up until then. Greene and Stone had insisted on recording each musician separately and then combining them later into mono to stereo tracks, which produced a tinny sound. This was the first time the group's united performance was caught on tape. (Thanks to Dwight Rounds for his help with this. Dwight is author of The Year The Music Died, 1964-1972.)
  • This was used in a commercial for Miller beer. The antiestablishment message was, of course, ignored and the song was edited to avoid the line "There's a man with a gun over there, telling you you've got to beware." The commercial replaced this line by pulling up the chorus of "Everybody look what's going down."
  • Songwriting powerhouses Jim Messina and Neil Young were also in Buffalo Springfield, but Stills wrote this song himself. Young has never allowed his songs to be used in commercials, and wrote a song bashing those who do called "This Note's For You."
  • This song plays during the opening credits of the movie Lord Of War starring Nicholas Cage, and was used in the movie Forrest Gump starring Tom Hanks. (thanks, Steve - Kitchener, Canada)
  • Public Enemy sampled this on their 1998 song "He Got Game," which was used in the movie of the same name. Stephen Stills appears on this song. (thanks, Zodiac Digital - Washington, DC)
  • This song gets covered a lot - for a weird experience, check out the cover versions of "For What It's Worth" done by Ozzy Ozborne on the Under Cover album and Queensryche on their Take Cover album. Both of them pretty much murder it.
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Comments: 46

On this day in 1967 {November 19th} King Curtis & the Kingpins' instrumental covered version of "For What It's Worth" entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #100; it stayed on the chart for four weeks and on its last week it was at its peaked position, #87...
Two months earlier on September 17th the Staple Singers' covered version entered the Top 100; their version also stayed on the chart for 4 weeks, peaking at #66...
King Curtis, born Curtis Ousley, passed away on August 13th, 1971 at the young age of 37 {a stabbing victim}...
May he R.I.P.
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
When Neil young comes in on the line "paranoia strikes deep" I get chills and I love it. Powerful stuff.Chris - Norman, Ok
On January 21st 1967, the Buffalo Springfield performed "For What It's Worth" on the ABC-TV program 'American Bandstand'...
Exactly one week later on January 28th it entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; and on March 19th it peaked at #7 (for 2 weeks) and spent 15 weeks on the Top 100...
Cher covered the song on her 1969 album '3614 Jackson Highway'; it was released as a single but never charted.
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
I merely think it's an okay song. Steve from LA, CA, thanks for giving some understanding about the song title. And Derek of Worcter, MA, you're right, even tho people know the song, who knows this is the title? I've heard the song since I was a kid, but only found out the title when my own son was in junior high and his class sang it for a 60s themed school program.Camille - Toronto, Oh
I have been a Neil Young fan and thusly a Buffalof Springfield fan since I was a teenager...OUCH. I am 63 now. But you know, I wouldn't trade my age for one moment. There were so many good, new, challenging and original things that came from the 1960's...things that can never be replicated.....and Yes, yes, yes, thank you SO MUCH for stating what this song really was about. It got really tiring hearing that is was an anti-war song. OMG!!! I just read the Muppets did a version of this song...I can only imagine!!! Lol, lol!!!Valerie - Eureka, Ca
Check out Crystal Bowersox's version of 'For What It's Worth' on her first CD release titled 'Farmer's Daughter'...the passion, the voice, and she makes it current singing
" Young people should be speaking their minds"...
Terri - Grand Junction, Co
great song!!Kayla - Pittsburgh, Pa
The irony here is that, while this song continues to be remembered as one of the great protest anthems of the 60s, it was written by a man, Stephen Stills, who was actually a conservative who had little interest in the counter-culture movement of the 60s (except for how it could enrich him). The song is about a small protest against the closing of a minor club on the strip and you don't have to do much parsing of the lyrics to see that Stephen is, at best, neutral toward the cause of the "hippies" in this particular event. For as long as Buffalo Springfield existed thereafter (and later with CSNY, too), he made a concerted effort to avoid "protest songs" since, in his own words, the Springfield didn't want to become "another protest band".Ken - Philadelphia, Pa
the song is about how the police treated the hippies in the sixtiesZach - Duluth, Mn
this song was on The Muppet Show and The Wonder Years. It's about Pandora's Box nightclub closing.Jennifer Harris - Grand Blanc, Mi
Back to you Zep, Cape May. Yes, I can see your point and I sure we could discuss this thing to death. All I'm saying is that this is how the song struck me from the first time I heard it back in '67, and it has stuck with me eversince. I guess you could call it a "first impression" or "gut reaction", (or combination of both)but I just never got it as a "hippie anthem" as others have.
George, Florida
George - Holiday, Fl
Okay, George from FL, I can see what you mean. But I get a different feeling from the lyrics. I think the lyrics, "Nobody's right if everybody's wrong" means that a lot of religions and political figures accuse every one else as being wrong.
And maybe its not Anit-Hippie, but maybe its just telling the people who accuse others of being wrong to stop, realize the situation, realize what you are doing and try to get along. It could also be telling protester to do more then just saying "Hurray for our signs" and do more to help.
(You know the sounds they are talking about could be gun shots)
Zep - Cape May, Nj
yeah exactly...i first heard it in the movie lord of war and i've been yearning to know the name of this songever since...lol.... this song is gr8....Rahul - Chennai, India
the group got their name off a huge earthmoving machine sitting on the side of the road - couldn't get an American name like that if you tried the same technique today...Roman - Barrie, On
nobody knows the name of this song seiriously it took me like a year to find outDerek - Worcter, Ma
I was a 20 year old Hippie in '67 and heard Scott Muni debut this on whatever NYC station he was on at the time. This is clearly an Anti-Hippie song! Consider the verses: 1. "There's a man with a gun over there..." (ref: NVA) 2. "Battle lines being drawn, Nobody's right if everybody's wrong..."(ref: Hippie protesters who were basically against everything) 3. "A thousand people...carrying signs, Mostly say Hooray for OUR side" (ref: Hippie protesters with tunnel vision) 4. "Paranoia strikes deep...Step outta line the man comes and takes you away" (An obvious reference to pot smoking and the paranoid side affects and being under the cops' microscope at the risk of arrest). Then the chorus: "STOP children...everybody look what's going down" (Hold on - look at what we're doing!)
This is definitely a patriotic and ethical message aimed at the youth and the anti-war protesters of 1967!
George - Holiday, Fl
Dewey Martin R.I.P 7 February 2009





This song is what Swedes call a kultubarer. It really is a time-capsule of a certain part of the '60's. But the way the beats, the clapping and the vocals work really create a mood. Nicely done, and still holds up 40 years later.
Musicmama - New York, Ny
I think this song eptimozies the the social consciousness of the youth during the 60's the most.
honorable mentions include come together by the youngbloods, all you need is love by the beatles, and won't get fooled again by the who.
George - Little Rock, Ar
One of the greatest social commentary songs of all time. The song is as just as relevant in these precarious times as it was when released. Stephen Stills may have not written it as an indictment of the political scene at the time, rather the riots,but the song ended up that way. Its one of my top ten of all time.Vanessa - Raymond, Ms
The top comment is correct. For What's It's Worth was about the L.A. teen clubs gettig hasseled by the cops. I saw Peter Fonda on national TV talking about that song, the movie Riot on L.A. Strip , and that he was one of the very first protesting the cops to be arrested.Mark - Seattle, Wa
This is without a doubt one of the best songs of the 60's.Steve - Fenton, Mo
The anti-war hippie anthem. One of the best protest songs ever!!!Allie - Clarkston, Mi
Kudos to J.D. of Detroit! About the song: I think it's about disorientation. When the persona of the song says, "There's a man with a gun over there/Telling me I got to beware," is he/she really facing danger or is he/she falling into the self-doubt that malevolent authoritarians try to induce in their subject. When people are being watched, or even think they're being watched, they're much more likely to go along with what an authoritarian wants. And they want to be on the "right" side of the battle lines being drawn, and don't want confrontation, much less to be victims of it. They know the answer to "Are you with us or with the terrorists?"




And the instrumentation and vocals give it a creepy quality that we would hope people would see in manipulation and those who manipulate.




This is just the kind of song we need today!
Musicmama - New York, Ny
This song always reminded me of growing up in Chicago during the '60's, with all the unrest in the city, even it wasn't an anti-war song, it sure fits.Michael - Chicago, Il
I hardly remember this song when it first came out. I was a recently returned combat vet, who still believed in fighting for my country.

In the early 80's, when Reagan's handlers resuscitated the Nixon "enemies list", I was at a party, where a man in a wheelchair sang it, I grabbed my guitar and sang it with him.

I still sing it in the chilling atmosphere of the "War On Terror."--J.D., Detroit, MI
J.d. - Detroit, Mi
I was in the 4th or 5th grade the first time I ever heard this song. Well, it wasn't exactly this one but it sounded just like it. Except for the lyrics, which I believe were sung by a little girl. They went, "kitty, kitty cat. Won't you come home, kitty cat?" Does anybody know the name of the song I'm talking about?Ramon - Long Beach, Ca
To Jordan from Canada "smile on your brother" is a lyric from the song 'Get Together' by the Youngbloods, not Buffalo Springfield.April - Ferndale, Wa
It's always been a curious coincidence in my opinion, but when I was 11 years old someone took me to see Lee Oswald's grave since we were already in the cemetery other things. Later, as we were leaving, this song was playing on the radio. I've never forgotten that.
John, 45 Fort Worth
John - Fort Worth, Tx
Just saw CSNY Monday night in Toronto - did this tune and did it well!Steve - Markham
This song is breifly played in Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde when the sorority is protesting animal testing.Josie - Funkytown, Nc
I'm still going to think of "Forrest Gump" when I hear this. It's on the sound track, and we used to play that a lot when I was younger.Stefanie - Rock Hill, Sc
"For What It's Worth" has been covered (around 1968) by a jamaican group called the Uniques as "Watch This Sound", on a rocksteady beat. For the cover, the bass is played by Aston "Familyman" Barrett, soon to become Bob Marley's bass player and much more. This was his very first song to play on.Flo - Toulouse, France
Ah.. the sixties. They never die.Barnabus - Black Forest, Greece
This is one of the best protest songs of the 60s. Unfortunately it was Buffalo Springfield's only hit. They also recorded "Sit Down, I Think I Love You", which was a hit for The Mojo MenHoward - St. Louis Park, Mn
stills had penned some lyrics on an envelope, and handed it to his manager, telling him he just wrote it "for what its worth"
its about riots at Pandora's Box , a club on the Sunset Strip. The LAPD started arresting kids after 10 PM (curfew) and the hippies protested.
At Monterey, Stills changed the lyrics to "theres a man with a gun,,,nowhere" as the cops were mellow at that festival.
CSN do a nice live version of this tune, with some gospel harmonies
Steve - La, Ca
That's funny that Public Enemy sampled. I guess it sort of fits their music though.Stefanie Magura - Rock Hill, Sc
Wush Covered this song? that's so cool! I first heard this song on one of the best sound tracks ever, The Forrest Gump sound track.Stefanie Magura - Rock Hill, Sc
The Muppets did do a great version of this. However, they turned an anti-war protest song into an ecological and anti-hunting statement. Perhaps this is in line with the political sensitivities off the times. Still, a wonderful piece in its own right!Jerry - Brooklyn, Ny
This is #63 in Rolling Stone's list of 500 greatest songs.Ross - Independence, Mo
charlie from Thomaston CT1 are you kidding? i love "Bluebird". that's an awesome song, and stephen stills has a great voice!Stefanie Magura - Rock Hill, Sc
i can't seem to get a good version of this song, even when downloading from a legit source (itunes) the verse just doesn't come in....Gonny - Faketown, Ga
I hear someone who has a sincere doubt in all that they has been taught about patriotism and democracy and freedom. His shock is such that he cannot belive that no one else has noticed this as well.Dean - Blountsville, Al
another good song by buffalo springfeild thats really underrated is bluebirdCharlie - Thomaston, Ct
great song but there's not much from buffalo springfield at this site, namely mr. soul or smile on your brother, both of which are greatJordan - Ontario, Canada
great song,all i can say. the hippie anthem of the sixties still lives on.Ria - Amsterdam, Netherlands
When i was little (im 21) and The Muppet Show was still on tv, I remember seeing this song on the show once. It was great! I love the muppet and this song!John - Holland, Mi