The Story Behind The Songs

The Story Behind The Songs

The Story Behind The Songs

HOLLYWOOD, CA - MAY 21: Musician Stephen Stills performs onstage at the 4th Annual Light Up The Blues at the Pantages Theatre on May 21, 2016 in Hollywood, California.

Buffalo Springfield “For What It’s Worth” – This is their biggest, most enduring, and most impactful song. It hits me like no other.  It has a calming tone about it, yet the lyrics are asking some very heavy questions. Stephen Stills wrote this in a matter of 15 minutes.  While the song is heavily associated with the Vietnam War, the song isn’t wholly an anti-war song.  Stills wrote it about youth gatherings protesting anti-loitering laws, and the closing of the West Hollywood nightclub, Pandora’s Box (songfacts).

“For What It’s Worth” was not originally part of Buffalo Springfield’s first album.  The whole story is pretty unbelievable. and yet much of it is straight from Steven Stills.

Buffalo Springfield – “For What It’s Worth” The Origin

In the book, Neil Young: Long May You Run: The Illustrated History, Stephen Stills said, 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 – 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. 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.’ 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.”

The Recording of “For What It’s Worth”

The band quietly recorded it WITHOUT their producers.  The band had been unhappy with their producers who insisted on the band recording all their parts separately for the album.  “For What It’s Worth” was the first song that the band recorded while playing together.  It was not originally part of their first album.  When it became a hit, it replaced the track “Baby Don’t Scold Me” on re-issues.

Songwriting masters Jim Messina and Neil Young were also in Buffalo Springfield. Stills wrote this song alone.  Sidenote: Neil Young has never allowed his songs to be used in commercials. You may remember Neil’s song on this topic, “This Note’s For You.” “For What’s It’s Worth” was unceremoniously used in a Miller beer commercial in the ’90s and has been covered by tons of artists.

Emotional Impact

When I first started practicing yoga, my instructor played this song during savasana (rest and reflection at the end of practice), the song hit me so hard that I was nearly brought to tears.  That moment was defining for me wanting to pursue yoga further.  I can’t, for the life of me, find the rendition that I heard that day, but the comfort and impact of the song were there.  This is one of those rare songs that is still so poignant today.

Let’s enjoy the original before we get to the covers (lots of covers… not all good covers, BTW)


SO MANY ARTISTS have covered this iconic song.  While I was researching the song, I found covers done by everyone from Led Zeppelin to Kid Rock… Ann Wilson to Ozzy Osbourne.  Even Cher covered “For What It’s Worth.” Scroll down to see some of the countless covers.

Covers of Buffalo Springfield – “For What It’s Worth”

  • Led Zeppelin

    Led Zeppelin covered “For What It’s Worth” in concert more than once.  This video has recordings of two:” Live at Blueberry Hill” and from a Seattle show in 1975.

  • Stevie Nicks

    One of my favorite singers, you KNOW it’s Stevie Nicks on whatever she sings.

  • Ozzy Osborne

    NOPE.  Just warning you… NOPE.  Ozzy’s vocal style is not a strong fit for this song.

  • Rush

    OK… Thank God.  I was thinking, “Please.  Rush has got to do this better than most.”  They did.  Geddy’s voice is still signature, but they didn’t try to change the song’s melody as much as some of these covers and I thank Rush for it… profusely.


  • Ann Wilson

    I was surprised. I think Ann Wilson is simply amazing. I thought she would rock this. She did… but I didn’t really love what she did. Not trying to be a jerk, but her rendition loses the sorrowful aspect of this song. That sorrow is important. She does a quick intro piece before the live performance of the song begins.

  • Kid Rock

    I had no idea Kid Rock covered “For What It’s Worth.”  There’s a lot going on in this at certain points. I’m not really a fan of artists “rocking” this song up.

  • Grace Potter

    I love her voice and style.  If you’re not familiar with Grace Potter and like a blues/ folk/ alternative blend, I highly suggest you check her out.

  • The Muppets

    I am so mad right now.  Not a fan of what they did here.

  • Queensryche

    Well, I did not see this coming.  Huh.  I love Queensryche, but… huh.

  • Cher

    No, you shut up.  Honestly, I think her cover is better than most.  Cher’s country/folk roots lend themselves to this cover. It has a unique style, but Cher didn’t change the song’s bones much.

  • Simple Minds

    Yet again, I did not see this coming.  I was surprisingly happy with Simple Mind’s cover.  I feel like they didn’t jack with the song too much and kept the soul.

  • Wailing Souls


    Wailing Souls are a reggae band.  In searching for all these covers, I was intrigued to hear what a reggae band would do with this song.  Check it out!  What do you think?

    You can check out more of my stories behind the songs on the WCSX Over Easy page.


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