A song written in 1967 is being replayed in airwaves and personal iPhones as an anthem to the protests in America in 2020. It's called For What It's Worth by the group Buffalo Springfield with musicians Stephen Stills, David Crosby, and Richie Furay. Other past members of the group include Neil Young and Dewey Martin.
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 November 1966—a series of early counterculture-era clashes that took place between police and young people on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, California.
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 10 p.m. 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.
“The way it’s written, it’s so open to interpretation,” says Heart’s Ann Wilson, who released a cover on her EP The Ann Wilson Thing. “It’s so open that it’s brand new today. The main hook, ‘Everybody look what’s going down’ – you can apply that, to say, the current election. The song is going, ‘What the hell is this?’ You can apply the song to any situation in any decade.”
And people are definitely applying it for our times and the protests asking for long overdue reforms in policing. Read the lyrics down below, and see for yourself why its message still resonates in 2020.
For What It's Worth
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 soundEverybody 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 awayWe better stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going downStop, hey, what's that soundEverybody look what's going downStop, now, what's that soundEverybody look what's going downStop, children, what's that soundEverybody look what's going down
Source: LyricFindSongwriters: Stephen StillsFor What It's Worth lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc
Sources: "Sunset Strip Riots | Closing of club ignited the 'Sunset Strip riots'". Los Angeles Times. August 5, 2007.
David Browne (November 11, 2016). "'For What It's Worth': Inside Buffalo Springfield's Classic Protest Song". Rolling Stone.
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