Everybody Look What’s Goin Down

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Song: For What It’s Worth (1967)

Artist: Buffalo Springfield

Album: Buffalo Springfield (Atco)

Buffalo Springfield has had a tremendous influence on folk-rock, and the so-called “California Sound.” Two of their members, Stephen Stills and Neil Young, are today musical icons and they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. Yet, to many listeners, they remain unknown except their one big hit, For What It’s Worth.

The words in the title are never mentioned in the song lyrics, and most people will recognize the song as the title of this post, “Stop, Hey, What’s That Sound, Everybody Look What’s Goin’ Down.” This song is a protest song and is associated with the Vietnam era, having been used in several Vietnam war movies.

The song, written by Steven Stills, later of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, was about a curfew enacted along the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, and the battle that erupted between the Hollywood police and teenagers there, known as the Sunset Strip curfew riots (hippie riotsteen riots). In November of 1966, Steven Stills saw on television teenagers being brutally assaulted by polices outside the Whisky-A-Go-Go and Pandora’s Box. It was not an abstract moment for stills. Buffalo Springfield had been a resident band for the Whisky-A-Go-Go.

Buffalo Springfield

Despite the specific inspiration of the song, the lyrics are timeless. Stills, in the lyrics calls attention to the dangers not only of the police state, but of paranoia and “us and them” thinking: “Nobody’s right when everybody’s wrong.”

As the story goes, the band was formed when Stephen Stills and Richie Furay were driving down Sunset Boulevard in L.A. and the duo spotted a hearse. Stills was certain that the hearse belonged to a Canadian fellow he had become acquainted with a few years before in 1965, Neil Young. The two had met in Thunder Bay, Ontario, at the Fourth Dimension. Young was there with his group, The Squires, and Stills was there with The Company.

Neil Young did turn out to be the owner of the hearse, who also had Bruce Palmer with him, who became the bass player.

It seems that Stills has invited Furay to join his band, which did not actually exist yet, and after Young’s group The Squires had broken up, the bassist Bruce Palmer had decided to drive down to Los Angeles to find Stills, having no idea where he actually lived. They had no luck finding him and were heading out of L.A. toward San Franciso when they got stuck in a traffic jam on Sunset Boulevard when Stills and Furay passed them going the opposite direction, and Stills recognized Young’s hearse.

They had all been folk musicians, but they decided to form a rock band, comparable to the Byrds, which featured David Crosby. Dewey Martin was brought in on drums. Buffalo Springfield’s first self-titled album was more folk and country-oriented than the Byrds.

The lyrics of For What It’s Worth may be instantly recognizable, but so are the opening harmonics, played by Young, which have taken on a life of their own and have been sampled by rap musicians.

The song was covered by Cher in 1969, as well as by the Staple Sisters. Cher’s version did not do nearly as well as the original, which went to number 7 on the Billboard Charts.

Buffalo Springfield’s second album, Again, has a much harder rock and psychedelic sound. The band was only together for a few short years, but like other earlier bands with later legends, they could be considered an ex-post-facto supergroup.

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