What’s In The Words: Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young’s “Ohio”

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Neil Young

"Ohio" composer Neil Young (l) with Willie Nelson (Darren Hauck/Getty Images)

“Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We’re finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.

– “Ohio” by [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young[/lastfm]

Like shattering glass waking you from a deep sleep, the horror of the Kent State massacre 41 years ago today (May 4, 1970), awakened the Peace and Love generation from its illusion that peace and love were imminent in America. CSN&Y’s “Ohio” was a bitter critique of exactly what had become of our country.

On May 4, 1970, four students were killed by National Guardsman on the campus of Kent State University. Inspired by the photographs he saw in Life Magazine, Neil Young wrote the lyrics that would become “Ohio.”

Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?”

With the music written and rehearsed, the band entered the Record Plant in Los Angeles, cut the song in a few takes and had it on the radio within 11 days of the event. Backed with Stephen Stills’ “Find the Cost of Freedom,” the song was banned on many AM radio stations but found roots in underground FM stations of the time.

CSNY Ohio single Neil Young

Sleeve for the single release of "Ohio"

Lyrically, it depends the notion that simple repetition can sometimes be most powerful. Without fear (and also without factual basis, read Video Classics for more), Young pointed to Nixon as the commander in chief who determined the student’s fate, they being “finally on their own.” And what if you did know her and find “her dead on the ground.”

To this day, the song rings true in countless ways.

Read more What’s in the Words.

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