Not only amazing sound, but also a unique story behind Buffalo Springfield – For What It’s Worth. Let’s talk about how the musical composition was created and the meaning that the author put into his creation.
History of creation
In the distant sixties, it was customary for musicians of any orientation to speak openly about political views. One of the most important songs of this era of rallies was For What It’s Worth, which was recorded at the studio on December 5, 1966, and it was already released on December 23, 1966, while it was able to take seventh place on the Billboard Hot 100, but in the spring of next year. In 2004, the song was ranked number 63 on the list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Needless to say, how important this composition was.
The lyrics and music were composed by guitarist Stephen Stills. He wanted to compose an anti-war song, but events happened that forced him to change the subject.
Let’s listen to the author’s memoirs:
Something was spinning in my head. I was going to write about the guys who were on the front line in Southeast Asia, but I wanted it to have nothing to do with the methods of this mission, which was crumbling before our eyes.
Then we went back with a guy – I don’t remember his name – to Sunset from my house in Topanga, and there was a funeral for a bar [talking about the Pandora’s Box club], where high school students and guys from the University of California loved to dance and listen to music.
[The authorities] decided to call in a special police force because there were three thousand guys gathered in the street, although there was no looting or anything like that. Everyone was just hanging out in honor of the closing of the bar. A whole black-and-white company of the Los Angeles Police Department in Macedonian combat formation, with shields, helmets and so on, blocked the street, and I thought, “Wow! What is this all for?” There was not the slightest reason.
I went back to Topanga and that other song turned into For What It’s Worth. To write it, it took no more time than it took to fit all the chord changes and write down the words. She showed up ready, fifteen minutes later.
Merchants trading on some section of Sunset Boulevard decided that the young elements that appear on the street every day are not good for commercial enterprises. A group of guys gathered on the corner and said, “We won’t budge.” There were about three full buses of LA cops that looked a lot like stormtroopers… I looked at it and said, “God, America is in great danger.”
In fact, it intertwined four different things, including the war and the absurdity of what was happening on the Strip. But I knew that I had to get out of there, and returned to Topanga, where I wrote a song in fifteen minutes.
The song’s title comes from a line that Stills introduced the song to the band’s managers. The musician said something like: “I have this song here, for what it’s worth” (“I have such a song, for that matter”).
Meaning of “For What It’s Worth” – Buffalo Springfield
Many believe that the song For What It’s Worth was written as anti-war. However, this is a mistake. In fact, the song is about a clash of youth police (namely hippies) that took place on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. Otherwise, those events are often referred to as the “hippie riot”.
The mid-sixties saw the popularity of hippies and rock and roll. Initially, the government had nothing against such movements, as it creatively developed youth, but at some point all local parties began to go beyond the reasonable. Drug and alcohol abuse, marginal behavior and walking right on the road have become the last straw of patience of the city of angels government.
In 1966, the Los Angeles government began to take measures that could make life easier for local residents and moderate the ardor of marginalized youth a little. The first such decision was to change the name of the most popular rock club “Whiskey a Go Go” to Whisk.
Then not only residents intervened, but also the owners of local businesses. The constant wandering along the road created traffic jams, which scared off potential customers, and after 22:00, many residents simply wanted to sleep, and not listen to the youth making noise and having fun. Then they adopted the strictest law on the prohibition of going outside after ten in the evening. However, this only angered the local party-goers.
On November 12, 1966, rock fans on the Sunset Strip actively distributed leaflets calling for them to come to the protest on the evening of the same day. With only a few hours left before the event, a local radio station announced that a demonstration was being held next to a bar that the authorities wanted to close and demolish.
About a thousand youth representatives came to the rally in order to defend the club, as well as express their opinion on the curfew law. Even future celebrities have appeared in a number of protesters, especially Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda.
The unrest did not subside throughout the night and continued to go until December. Later, the government brought police and national units into the streets, where endless protests took place. Along the way, it was decided to cancel the “youth permit”. which applied exclusively to certain twelve clubs that were located on the protest street. And this meant that only adults after reaching the age of 21 could enter these clubs.
Already at the very end of autumn, in November 1966, the city elite, after lengthy negotiations and voting, decided to buy out and demolish the Pandora’s Box club. The club was finally destroyed in August of the following year.
Both famous musicians and actors managed to participate in the protests, and the author of the song was present at the rally and was one of its participants in November 1966. This was the inspiration for the song For What It’s Worth. After returning from Los Angeles to Topanga, he literally puts the lyrics and music in 15 minutes, and then presents the material to the label. The leaders are inspired by this story and without thinking twice agree to record and release the single as soon as possible, because the bill was for minutes, such a hot topic! They manage not only to write a song, record it in the studio and release it, but also put the records on sale, and at the same time, all the protests that take place on the Sunset Strip are not only not over, they are in full swing. Here, for efficiency, of course, you can slap.
So, the song of a guy who attended a rally in defense of the bar, which he literally wrote on his knee, became a real protest anthem in America and Canada. In the future, the already legendary musical composition spawned many covers, parodies and even several films that were inspired by this song.
Release and achievements
The track was released as a single on Atco Records in January 1967. It peaked at number seven on the Billboard Hot 100.
The song was not included in the band’s first album, Buffalo Springfield. Later, when it became a hit, it was included in all reissues of the record.
For What It’s Worth is in several rankings, including:
- Best Compositions of 1967 – Acclaimed Music
- “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” – Rolling Stone
- “The Greatest Protest Songs of All Time” – Rolling Stone
- Young Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda took part in the demo to mark the closing of Pandora’s Box.
- According to BMI, the song has been played on radio and television over eight million times since its release.
- Many believe that the song is dedicated to the shooting at the University of Kent, but that tragedy happened in 1970, three years after the track’s release.
- The song was featured on the soundtracks of the films Lord of War and Forrest Gump.