Buffalo Springfield – For What It’s Worth

This was Buffalo Springfield’s only top 40 hit. I’ve always liked the song, especially Neil Young’s harmonics on guitar. The album 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.

According to BMI, the song’s publishing house, “For What It’s Worth” been played 8 million times on TV and radio since its release. In 2014, it came in at number three on Rolling Stone‘s readers poll of the best protest songs.

For What It’s Worth peaked at #7 in the Billboard 100 and #9 in Canada.

From Songfacts

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.”

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 anti-establishment 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.

Buffalo Springfield

There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side

It’s s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away

We better stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Stop, now, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

Author: badfinger20

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

15 thoughts on “Buffalo Springfield – For What It’s Worth”

  1. Great great song… love the lyrics, the guitar, pretty much everything about it. Does seem head-scratching though that the band is so famous, in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and all and they only did 3 albums and this is really the only song most could name by them.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I never knew what the name to this song was, but it’s woven into the fabric of America as an iconic protest song. Weird to think it was about the closing of a teen hangout! Never knew Jim Messina was in Buffalo Springfied. Is it the same Messina that joined up with Kenny Loggins? I adore Loggins and Messina’s music. What instrument does Messina play??

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Same Messina in both yes… he plays guitar but in Buffalo Springfield he replaced their original bass player…he was also the producer and engineer with Springfield.

      Liked by 1 person

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