For What It's Worth

Album: Buffalo Springfield (1966)
Charted: 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 Charles Greene and Brian 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 helped launch the band to stardom and has remained one of the era's most enduring protest songs, but Stephen Stills, who authored the tune, had very different feelings than many might expect. He said, "We didn't want to do another song like 'For What It's Worth.' We didn't want to be a protest group. That's really a cop-out and I hate that. To sit there and say, 'I don't like this and I don't like that' is just stupid."
  • 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.
  • This song gets covered a lot - for a weird experience, check out the cover versions of "For What It's Worth" done by Ozzy Osbourne on the Under Cover album and Queensryche on their Take Cover album. Both of them pretty much murder it.
  • This song plays during the opening credits of the movie Lord Of War starring Nicolas Cage, and was used in the movie Forrest Gump starring Tom Hanks. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Steve - Kitchener, Canada

Comments: 50

  • Cy from California Barry from Saquoit, NY
    For the sake of clarity, San Bernardino CA is not in Orange County. Do you mean “The National Orange Show Center” in San Bernardino, San Bernardino County, CA?
  • Melinda from AustraliaI wasn’t born till 1965. But even the first few bars /intro of this song takes you completely knee deep into the 1960’s. And the early 70’s. This song almost makes you spellbound. It evokes all the political and social upheaval of the 1960’s. Which had to happen. Baby boomers were right to say no to the conditions and expectations of their 1940-1950’s mindset parents. And thank god for the hippies and brave political/student activists of that era. If it wasn’t for them we’d have to marry who we are currently sleeping with. Have No single parent support. No equal pay for women. No pill. They created the Right to abortion, Gay liberation, moved the Civil Rights movement forward + they effectively ended the draft. Cause of Vietnam. Could u introduce the draft today? Hell no.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn April 15th 1966, Buffalo Springfield performed in concert for the first time, the venue was the Orange County Showgrounds in San Bernardino, California, they opened for the Byrds...
    Nine months later quintet's debut charted record, "For What It's Worth", entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #90, eight weeks later it peaked at #7 {for 2 weeks} and it spent 15 weeks on the Top 100...
    The group had four other Top 100 records; "Bluebird" {#58 in 1967}, "Rock 'N Roll Woman" {#44 in 1967}, "Expecting To Fly" {#98 in 1958}, and "On The Way Home" {#82 in 1968}.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn October 28th, 1967, the Buffalo Springfield appeared as guests on an episode of the CBS-TV private eye series 'Mannix'*...
    At the time the quintet's "Rock 'N' Roll Woman" was in its second of two weeks at #44 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart, and that was also its peak position on the chart...
    Between January of 1967 and October of 1968 they would have five Top 100 records with one reaching the Top 10, "For What It's Worth, it was their debut record and it peaked at #7 {for 2 weeks} on March 19th, 1967 and it stayed on the chart for 15 weeks...
    * 'Mannix', starring Mike Connors, ran for eight seasons with a total of 194 episodes, and it won four 'Golden Globe Awards'.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn November 19th 1967, 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.
  • Chris from Norman, OkWhen Neil young comes in on the line "paranoia strikes deep" I get chills and I love it. Powerful stuff.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn 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.
  • Camille from Toronto, OhI 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.
  • Valerie from Eureka, CaI 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!!!
  • Terri from Grand Junction, CoCheck 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"...
  • Kayla from Pittsburgh, Pagreat song!!
  • Ken from Philadelphia, PaThe 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".
  • Zach from Duluth, Mnthe song is about how the police treated the hippies in the sixties
  • Jennifer Harris from Grand Blanc, Mithis song was on The Muppet Show and The Wonder Years. It's about Pandora's Box nightclub closing.
  • George from Holiday, FlBack 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
  • Zep from Cape May, NjOkay, 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)
  • Rahul from Chennai, Indiayeah exactly...i first heard it in the movie lord of war and i've been yearning to know the name of this songever this song is gr8....
  • Roman from Barrie, Onthe 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...
  • Derek from Worcter, Manobody knows the name of this song seiriously it took me like a year to find out
  • George from Holiday, FlI 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!
  • Musicmama from New York, NyDewey 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.
  • George from Little Rock, ArI 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.
  • Vanessa from Raymond, MsOne 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.
  • Mark from Seattle, WaThe 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.
  • Steve from Fenton, MoThis is without a doubt one of the best songs of the 60's.
  • Allie from Clarkston, MiThe anti-war hippie anthem. One of the best protest songs ever!!!
  • Musicmama from New York, NyKudos 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!
  • Michael from Chicago, IlThis 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.
  • J.d. from Detroit, MiI 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
  • Ramon from Long Beach, CaI 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?
  • April from Ferndale, WaTo Jordan from Canada "smile on your brother" is a lyric from the song 'Get Together' by the Youngbloods, not Buffalo Springfield.
  • John from Fort Worth, TxIt'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
  • Steve from MarkhamJust saw CSNY Monday night in Toronto - did this tune and did it well!
  • Josie from Funkytown, NcThis song is breifly played in Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde when the sorority is protesting animal testing.
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScI'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.
  • Flo from Toulouse, France"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.
  • Barnabus from Black Forest, GreeceAh.. the sixties. They never die.
  • Howard from St. Louis Park, MnThis 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 Men
  • Steve from La, Castills 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
  • Stefanie Magura from Rock Hill, ScThat's funny that Public Enemy sampled. I guess it sort of fits their music though.
  • Stefanie Magura from Rock Hill, ScWush 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.
  • Jerry from Brooklyn, NyThe 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!
  • Ross from Independence, MoThis is #63 in Rolling Stone's list of 500 greatest songs.
  • Stefanie Magura from Rock Hill, Sccharlie from Thomaston CT1 are you kidding? i love "Bluebird". that's an awesome song, and stephen stills has a great voice!
  • Gonny from Faketown, Gai 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....
  • Dean from Blountsville, AlI 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.
  • Charlie from Thomaston, Ctanother good song by buffalo springfeild thats really underrated is bluebird
  • Jordan from Ontario, Canadagreat song but there's not much from buffalo springfield at this site, namely mr. soul or smile on your brother, both of which are great
  • Ria from Amsterdam, Netherlandsgreat song,all i can say. the hippie anthem of the sixties still lives on.
  • John from Holland, MiWhen 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!
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