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The Story Behind the Song – “For What It’s Worth”

The song that put Stephen Stills and his band, Buffalo Springfield on that map was inspired by the now almost-forgotten Sunset Strip riots of 1966.

By the mid-sixties, L.A.’s Sunset Strip had become the nucleus for the emerging rock & roll nightclub scene. The area was attracting large numbers of teenagers, many of whom simply loitered around the street, not really patronizing any of the clubs.

Local business leaders, not pleased to have so many young people using the Strip as a hangout enacted a 10 p.m. curfew. Resistance to the curfew was almost immediate. A local radio station called for a peaceful rally at one of the clubs, Pandora’s Box (appropriately named, as it turned out), to peacefully protest the curfew. The rally was anything but peaceful. It turned into a riot with kids smashing store windows and car windshields and the police smashing the protesters.

These nightly riots stretched on for weeks, capturing national attention. American International Pictures, always quick to capitalize on anything they thought their teenage drive-in audience wanted to see, even made a quickie picture about the phenomenon called (what else?) Riot on Sunset Strip.

Stills, whose band was part of that emerging scene, thought the whole thing was absurd. The kids were hopelessly outmuscled by the police. So he wrote “For What It’s Worth” as a way to urge his peer group to chill out and think before they got themselves really hurt.

The song became a huge success when it was released on Atco Records in 1967. It’s notable also as one of the few hit records whose title is never mentioned in the lyrics of the song.




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