For What It's Worth
|"For What It's Worth"|
|Single by Buffalo Springfield|
|from the album Buffalo Springfield|
|B-side||"Do I Have to Come Right Out and Say It?"|
|Recorded||December 5, 1966|
|Studio||Columbia Studios, Hollywood|
|Buffalo Springfield singles chronology|
"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. It was performed by Buffalo Springfield, recorded on December 5, 1966, and released as a single on Atco Records in January 1967. The single peaked at number seven on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. This song is currently ranked number 63 on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time as well as the eighth best song of 1967 by Acclaimed Music.
Although "For What It's Worth" is often seen as an anti-war song, Stephen Stills was in fact inspired to write the track because of the Sunset Strip curfew riots 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, beginning in mid-1966, the same year Buffalo Springfield had become the house band at the Whisky a Go Go on the Sunset Strip. 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 the city to pass local ordinances stopping loitering, and enforced a strict curfew on the Strip after 10pm. The young music fans, however, felt the new laws infringed upon their civil rights.
On Saturday, November 12, 1966, fliers were distributed on the Sunset Strip inviting people to join demonstrations later that day. Several of Los Angeles' 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. The unrest continued the next night, and periodically throughout the rest of November and December, forcing some clubs to shut down within weeks. 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." 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.
The song was recorded on December 5, 1966 at Columbia Studios, Hollywood. Tom Dowd claims he mixed the song at Atlantic's studio in New York, though this has been disputed. Dowd did take part in the production of Cher's version of the song in 1969. The song is distinguished with the use of the "guitar harmonics" technique and sound.
"For What It's Worth" quickly became a well-known protest song. 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.
Neil Young—Stills' bandmate in both Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (CSNY)—would later write "Ohio" in response to the events at Kent State; CSNY included a version of "For What It's Worth", its lyrics modified to reflect the Kent State shootings, on their 1971 live album "4 Way Street". An all-star version of "For What It's Worth" with Tom Petty and others, was played at Buffalo Springfield's induction by Petty to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997; Young did not attend.
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), Rush, Cher, Oui 3, Queensrÿche (on their album Take Cover), and Public Enemy. Cher's 1969 cover did not enter the Billboard Hot 100; AllMusic retrospectively called her version "mature [and] forceful".
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). The track features extensive and complex lead-guitar solos by Cassidy himself. The album received rave reviews. Critic Dave Thompson wrote for Allmusic, "Recorded live on his 1974 world tour, at the height (and, though nobody knew it, in the final days) of Cassidy-mania, Cassidy Live is a peculiar document, on the one hand standing as an indication of just how fierce the hysteria around the lad was, but, on the other, living proof of what a sensational showman he was; as evidenced by tracks like 'For What It's Worth'." He concluded, "Rock history has sidelined Cassidy with a finality that seems almost personal, shovelling him up a teen idol side street from which the only escape was retirement and resignation. Cassidy Live, however, was recorded while he still thought he had a chance of advancing -- and few period live albums come even close to capturing its excitement."
The hip-hop group Public Enemy sampled "For What It's Worth" on their 1998 song "He Got Game", which also featured Stephen Stills. Oui 3 adapted the song for their 1993 debut single of the same name, which reached number 26 in the UK chart. In 2017, Haley Reinhart released a cover of the song as the third single from her third studio album, What's That Sound?
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