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For What It's Worth

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"For What It's Worth"
Single by Buffalo Springfield
B-side"Do I Have to Come Right Out and Say It?"
ReleasedDecember 1966 (1966-12)[a]
RecordedDecember 5, 1966
StudioColumbia (Hollywood)
Songwriter(s)Stephen Stills
  • Charles Greene
  • Brian Stone
Buffalo Springfield singles chronology
"For What It's Worth"
Official audio
"For What It's Worth" on YouTube

"For What It's Worth (Stop, Hey What's That Sound)" (often referred to as simply "For What It's Worth") is a song written by Stephen Stills. Performed by Buffalo Springfield, it was recorded on December 5, 1966, released as a single on Atco Records in December 1966 and peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the spring of 1967.[8]

It was later added to the March 1967 second pressing of their first album, Buffalo Springfield. The title was added after the song was written, and does not appear in the lyrics.[9]

In 2004 Rolling Stone magazine ranked the song at number 63 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[10]



Although "For What It's Worth" is often considered an anti-war song, Stephen Stills was inspired to write the song because of the Sunset Strip curfew riots in Los Angeles in November 1966, a series of early counterculture-era clashes that took place between police and young people on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, California, the same year Buffalo Springfield had become the house band at the Whisky a Go Go.[11] Local residents and businesses had become annoyed by how crowds of young people going to clubs and music venues along the Strip had caused late-night traffic congestion. In response, they lobbied Los Angeles County to pass local ordinances stopping loitering, and enforced a strict curfew on the Strip after 10 p.m. The young music fans, however, felt the new laws infringed upon their civil rights.[12]

On Saturday, November 12, 1966, fliers were distributed on the Sunset Strip inviting people to join demonstrations later that day. Several of Los Angeles's rock radio stations also announced a rally outside the Pandora's Box club on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights. That evening, as many as 1,000 young demonstrators, including future celebrities such as Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda (who was handcuffed by police) gathered to protest against the curfew's enforcement. Although the rallies began peacefully, trouble eventually broke out.[13] The unrest continued the next night, and periodically throughout the rest of November and December, forcing some clubs to shut down within weeks.[12] It was against the background of these civil disturbances that Stills recorded "For What It's Worth" on December 5, 1966.



Stills said in an interview that the name of the song came about when he presented it to the record company executive Ahmet Ertegun (who signed Buffalo Springfield to the Atlantic Records-owned ATCO label). Stills said "I have this song here, for what it's worth, if you want it."[9] Another producer, Charlie Greene, claims that Stills first said the above line to him, but credits Ahmet Ertegun with giving the single the parenthetical subtitle "Stop, Hey What's That Sound" in order that the song would be more easily recognized.[9][14]

The song was recorded on December 5, 1966, at Columbia Studios, Hollywood. Tom Dowd claimed he mixed the song at Atlantic's studio in New York, though this has been disputed.[15] Dowd did take part in the production of Cher's version of the song in 1969.[16] One of the most recognizable elements of the song is Neil Young's use of guitar harmonics.[9]

Releases and charts


While memories of the November riots were still fresh, the group and Ertegun pushed for a rush-release of "For What It's Worth".[17] On December 10, 1966, five days after the song was recorded, local Top 40 radio station KHJ began playing the single.[17] It first appeared on the station's "Boss 30" chart on December 28, 1966, at number 26,[18] and was followed by rival KRLA on January 14, 1967, where the single entered its "Top 40 Requests" at number eight.[19] Also on January 14, Billboard magazine identified it as a "regional breakout"[20] and the single appeared on its Bubbling Under the Hot 100 chart.[21] Two weeks later, it debuted at number 90 on the Billboard Hot 100, where it peaked at number seven on March 25 and remained on the chart for a total of fifteen weeks.[22] Although the single did not reach the charts in the U.K.,[23] the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) certified a 2004 release by Warner Music as platinum (sales and streams of 600,000) in 2023.[24]

To capitalize on the single's success, Atco was pushing for a follow-up album that featured the song.[31] It began printing album jackets with the title Stampede, but the group did not have enough songs for a new LP.[32] Instead, Atco reissued their debut album and added Stills's song as the opening track.[33] It eventually reached number 80 on Billboard's Top LPs chart.[22] As one of Buffalo Springfield's best-known songs, it is included on several of the group's anthologies, such as Retrospective: The Best of Buffalo Springfield (1969),[34] the Buffalo Springfield box set (2001),[35] and What's That Sound? Complete Albums Collection (2018).[36]

Critical commentary and legacy


Cash Box said the single is a "throbbing, infectious protester circling 'round the current happenings in Cal."[37]

"For What It's Worth" quickly became a well-known protest song.[38] However, contrary to popular belief, the song was not motivated by the Vietnam War, but rather a confrontation Stills had in Los Angeles' Sunset Strip neighborhood.[39] In 2006, when interviewed on Tom Kent's radio show Into the '70s, Stills pointed out that many people think the song is about the Kent State shootings of 1970, even though its release predates that event by over three years.[40] Neil Young—Stills's bandmate in both Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (CSNY)—would later write "Ohio" in response to the events at Kent State.[41]

An all-star version of "For What It's Worth", with Tom Petty and others, was played at Buffalo Springfield's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997; Neil Young did not attend the event.[42]

The song is a staple of period piece films about 1960s America and the Vietnam War, such as Forrest Gump, and often used as a common shorthand to quickly establish the atmosphere of 1960s counterculture movement and protests.[43]

The song appears in the intro to the 2005 film Lord of War, showing the lifecycle of a rifle cartridge, from manufacture to firing.[44]

On August 17, 2020, Billy Porter sang "For What It's Worth" for the 2020 Democratic National Convention backed by Stephen Stills on guitar, a nod to the song's resurgent use in the summer 2020 American protests.[45][46]

In 2000, the 1966 recording of "For What It's Worth" by Buffalo Springfield on ATCO Records was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. The HOF lists the ATCO date as 1967.[47]

Covers and sampling


"For What It's Worth" has been covered, sampled, and referenced in numerous musical performances. Versions include those by the Staple Singers (US #66 in 1967)(CAN #46 in 1967),[48] Art (1967 single from Supernatural Fairy Tales), King Curtis (in the 1967 album King Sized Soul),[49] Ken Lyon & Tombstone,[50] Rush, Cher, the Candyskins, Oui 3 (UK #28),[51] Queensrÿche (on their album Take Cover), Miriam Makeba (on her album Keep Me in Mind), Ozzy Osbourne and (həd) p.e. (retitled Children). Cher's 1969 cover did not make the Billboard Hot 100 but it did reach #88 in Canada.[52] AllMusic retrospectively called her version "mature [and] forceful".[53]

Sergio Mendes and Brasil'66 recorded a version of this song. It reached #10 in the Adult Contemporary Music Chart on September 19, 1970.[54] Singer Karen Philipp suggested to Sergio that he should cover the song. Karen does all of the vocals for this song by overdubbing. Two versions of this song exist: The mono 45 has a more extreme overdubbing of Karen's vocals with a different organ solo than the LP.[55] The LP version is in stereo with a different vocal arrangement.[56]

David Cassidy recorded an extended live version for his 1974 album Cassidy Live! (Bell Records, UK #9; recorded live in Great Britain in May 1974).

On episode 2.21 of The Muppet Show, originally airing 19 February 1978, "For What It's Worth" is performed by an opossum (Jerry Nelson) and a chorus of woodland animals. The third verse is rewritten by an uncredited writer to give the song an anti-hunting theme.

The hip-hop group Public Enemy sampled "For What It's Worth" on their 1998 song "He Got Game", which featured Stephen Stills reprising his vocal performance from the original song.[57] Oui 3 adapted the song for their 1993 debut single of the same name, which reached number 26 in the UK chart.[58][59] In 2017, Haley Reinhart released a cover of the song as the third single from her third studio album, What's That Sound?[60] In 2018, the Lone Bellow released a cover of the song as a single.[61] In 2022 Stevie Nicks released a cover of it as well, not to be confused with her 2011 song of the same name.

See also



  1. ^ "For What It's Worth" was rush-released as a single,[1] but most authors do not specify its release date beyond December 1966.[2][3][4] The single debuted on Billboard's Bubbling Under the Hot 100 chart on January 14.[5]


  1. ^ Browne, David (November 11, 2016). "'For What It's Worth': Inside Buffalo Springfield's Classic Protest Song". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on October 19, 2022.
  2. ^ Savage, Jon (2015). 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded. London: Faber & Faber. p. 563. ISBN 978-0-571-27762-9.
  3. ^ Janovitz, Bill (2013). Rocks Off: 50 Tracks That Tell the Story of the Rolling Stones. New York City: St. Martin's Press. p. 99. ISBN 978-1-250-02632-3.
  4. ^ McKittrick, Christopher (2020). Somewhere You Feel Free: Tom Petty and Los Angeles. New York City: Post Hill Press. chap. 1. ISBN 978-1-64293-512-7.
  5. ^ "Bubbling Under the Hot 100" (PDF). Billboard. January 14, 1967. p. 24.
  6. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "Great Moments in Folk Rock: Lists of Author Favorites". Richieunterberger.com. Retrieved January 26, 2011.
  7. ^ Jim DeRogatis (1996). Kaleidoscope Eyes: Psychedelic Rock from the '60s to the '90s. Carol Publishing Group. p. 51. ISBN 978-0-8065-1788-9. Retrieved October 13, 2015.
  8. ^ "Billboard". Nielsen Business Media, Inc. March 25, 1967 – via Google Books.
  9. ^ a b c d David Browne (November 11, 2016). "'For What It's Worth': Inside Buffalo Springfield's Classic Protest Song". Rolling Stone.
  10. ^ "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time 2004: 1-100". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on June 19, 2008. Retrieved December 23, 2022.
  11. ^ Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 34 – Revolt of the Fat Angel: American musicians respond to the British invaders. [Part 2] : UNT Digital Library" (audio). Pop Chronicles. University of North Texas Libraries.
  12. ^ a b "Sunset Strip Riots | Closing of club ignited the 'Sunset Strip riots'". Los Angeles Times. August 5, 2007. Retrieved January 16, 2012.
  13. ^ Meares, Hadley (March 7, 2019). "Rebellion and rock 'n' roll: The Sunset Strip in the '60s; How go-go dancing teens—and the underage clubs that embraced them—turned the Strip technicolor". Curbed Los Angeles. Retrieved February 22, 2021.
  14. ^ Einarson, John; Furay, Richie (2004). For What It's Worth: The Story of Buffalo Springfield. Taylor Trade Publications. p. 127. ISBN 978-0-8154-1281-6.
  15. ^ McDonough, Jimmy (2003). Shakey: Neil Young's Biography. New York City: Random House. p. 201. ISBN 9780679427728.
  16. ^ "Top 20 Pop Spotlight Cher - For What It's Worth". Billboard. Nielsen Business Media, Inc. August 16, 1969.
  17. ^ a b Einarson & Furay 2004, p. 127.
  18. ^ "KHJ's "Boss 30" Records in Southern California". Boss 30 from 93 KHJ. December 28, 1966.
  19. ^ "Top 40 Requests". KRLA Beat. January 14, 1967. p. 8.
  20. ^ "Breakout Singles". Billboard. Vol. 79, no. 2. January 14, 1967. p. 44. ISSN 0006-2510.
  21. ^ "Hot 100". Billboard. Vol. 79, no. 2. January 14, 1967. p. 24. ISSN 0006-2510.
  22. ^ a b c "The Buffalo Springfield: Chart History". Billboard. Retrieved June 3, 2023.
  23. ^ "Buffalo Springfield – Singles". Official Charts. Retrieved June 3, 2023.
  24. ^ "British certifications – Buffalo Springfield – For What It's Worth". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved October 27, 2023.
  25. ^ "RPM 100" (PDF). RPM. Vol. 7, no. 6. April 8, 1967.
  26. ^ "Top 100". Cash Box. Vol. 28, no. 37. April 1, 1967. p. 4. ISSN 0008-7289.
  27. ^ "100 Top Pops". Record World. Vol. 21, no. 1035. April 8, 1967. p. 21. ISSN 0034-1622.
  28. ^ "The RPM 100 Top Singles of 1967" (PDF). RPM. Vol. 8, no. 19. January 6, 1968.
  29. ^ "Hot 100-1967". Billboard. Vol. 79, no. 52. December 30, 1967. p. 42. ISSN 0006-2510.
  30. ^ "Top 100 Chart Hits of 1967". Cash Box. Vol. 29, no. 22. December 23, 1967. p. 16. ISSN 0008-7289.
  31. ^ Einarson & Furay 2004, pp. 167–168.
  32. ^ Einarson & Furay 2004, p. 176.
  33. ^ Einarson & Furay 2004, p. 167.
  34. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Retrospective: The Best of Buffalo Springfield – Review". AllMusic. Retrieved June 3, 2023.
  35. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "Buffalo Springfield [Box Set] – Review". AllMusic. Retrieved April 5, 2020.
  36. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Buffalo Springfield: What's That Sound? Complete Albums Collection – Review". AllMusic. Retrieved April 5, 2020.
  37. ^ "CashBox Record Reviews" (PDF). Cash Box. January 7, 1967. p. 18. Retrieved January 12, 2022.
  38. ^ Lustig, Jay (February 18, 2011). "Song of the Day: 'Rock 'n' Roll Woman,' Buffalo Springfield". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved February 19, 2011.
  39. ^ Hajek, Danny (February 20, 2019). "A Thousand People In The Street: 'For What It's Worth' Captured Youth In Revolt". NPR. Retrieved January 20, 2023.
  40. ^ Stevenson, Tommy (October 20, 2010). "'Days of Rage' conference revisits unrest of May 1970". Tuscaloosa News. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved February 19, 2011.
  41. ^ Lynskey, Dorian (May 6, 2010). "Neil Young's Ohio – the greatest protest record". The Guardian. Retrieved January 5, 2019.
  42. ^ "CSN, Jackson 5 Join Rock and Roll Hall of Fame". Rolling Stone. May 8, 1997. Retrieved February 19, 2011.
  43. ^ Dowd, A.A. (October 21, 2016). "Ewan McGregor flattens American Pastoral into '60s cliché". The A.V. Club. Retrieved August 17, 2020.
  44. ^ "Lord of War Soundtracks". IMDb. Retrieved July 22, 2024.
  45. ^ Aswad, Jem (August 17, 2020). "Stephen Stills Talks His DNC Performance With Billy Porter of 'For What It's Worth'". Variety. Retrieved August 17, 2020.
  46. ^ Bowen, Bliss (June 18, 2020). "Artists give voice to crisis in the streets". Pasadena Weekly. Archived from the original on September 26, 2020. Retrieved August 17, 2020.
  47. ^ https://www.grammy.com/awards/hall-of-fame-award#f [bare URL]
  48. ^ "RPM Top 100 Singles - October 21, 1967" (PDF).
  49. ^ "King Curtis - King Size Soul Album". AllMusic. Retrieved January 2, 2024.
  50. ^ "KEN LYON & TOMBSTONE: For What It's Worth (1974)". YouTube.
  51. ^ UK Official Charts, 20 February 1993
  52. ^ "RPM Top 100 Singles - September 6, 1969" (PDF).
  53. ^ Mark Deming. "3614 Jackson Highway - Cher | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved September 30, 2016.
  54. ^ "Adult Contemporary Chart". Billboard. January 2, 2013. Retrieved August 18, 2020.
  55. ^ "Sergio Mendes & Brasil'66 For What It's Worth (single 45 version) - YouTube". www.youtube.com. Retrieved August 18, 2020.
  56. ^ "For What It's Worth - YouTube". www.youtube.com. Retrieved August 18, 2020.
  57. ^ Locker, Melissa (November 5, 2012). "'He Got Game' | Public Enemy at 25". Time. Retrieved September 30, 2016.
  58. ^ "Oui 3". Blair Booth Music. Retrieved April 6, 2016.
  59. ^ "Oui 3". Official Charts. Retrieved April 6, 2016.
  60. ^ "Exclusive! Haley Reinhart Covering The '60s Classic For What It's Worth Is As Chilling As Our Current Political Climate! Listen!". PerezHilton. August 10, 2017. Archived from the original on August 10, 2017. Retrieved August 10, 2017.
  61. ^ For What It's Worth, October 2018, retrieved March 10, 2020