Study Guide

For What It's Worth Technique

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  • Title

    You might have noticed that the line "for what it's worth" doesn't ever appear in the song itself. Nonetheless, the title does seem to make sense; the speaker in the song is asking listeners to look more carefully at their surroundings but isn't telling them to follow a specific path or do anything a certain way. "For What It's Worth" captures that tone of thoughtful, friendly, non-intrusive advice.

    This title, it seems, was little more than a stroke of luck. Charles Greene, the producer for the track, recounts that Stills said something along the lines of, "Let me play you this song for what it's worth." (Alternate sources claim that Stills was talking to Ertegun at the time.)

    When he learned that Stills hadn't thought up a name for it yet, Greene insisted that he had, in fact, already named it. It was another record exec, Ahmet Ertegun, who added that it would be a good idea if the cover for the single included the words "Stop, Hey What's That Sound," so as not to confuse record buyers (Source, 127).

  • Setting

    In the early 1960s, the LA music scene was dominated by folk music, with a few surfer bands cruising in in the Beach Boys' wake. But after the British invasion, the LA scene was transformed, and the Sunset Strip, which had fallen on tough times since Hollywood's glory days of the 1930s and 1940s, experienced a revival.

    A handful of clubs were at the center of the newly electrified musical nightlife, including Whiskey a Go Go, Pandora's Box, and London Fog. Several of the 1960s artists who had cut their teeth on the Strip along with Buffalo Springfield went on to national and international fame, including the Byrds, the Doors, Barry McGuire, Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention, War, the Turtles, and Iron Butterfly. 

    In the decades that followed, the LA scene continued to produce some of the biggest names in contemporary music: The Eagles, Black Eyed Peas, Weezer, the Wallflowers, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Reel Big Fish, Mötley Crüe, Rage Against the Machine, the Bangles, Jane's Addiction, and Guns and Roses.

    Stills was inspired to write the song by an events on the Sunset Strip close to his home in Los Angeles, but "For What It's Worth" would come to represent a broader spectrum of injustice in the minds of its listeners. Its vague lyrics helped to easily insert the song in any political setting or context.

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