Rhino Factoids: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, “Ohio”

Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Rhino Factoids: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, “Ohio”

44 years ago today, Neil Young’s protest anthem inspired by the shootings at Kent State was recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and was rushed into release as a single within only a few weeks of its composition. For those of you who’ve gotten used to a world where live performances are uploaded to the ‘net for official purchase within minutes of an artist leaving the stage, let us assure you that, for 1970, the turnaround time for “Ohio” was considered incredibly fast.

Written by Young after seeing Life Magazine’s photos of the aforementioned shootings, CSN&Y recorded “Ohio” as well as its B-side, Stephen Stills’ “Find the Cost of Freedom,” in the same session, which made for an emotionally charged evening for all of the participants.

In the liner notes of his career-spanning (from 1966 to 1976) compilation, Decade, Young said of the song:

It's still hard to believe I had to write this song. It's ironic that I capitalized on the death of these American students. Probably the biggest lesson ever learned at an American place of learning. My best CSNY cut. Recorded totally live in Los Angeles. David Crosby cried after this take.

According to Crosby himself, “I was so moved by it that I completely lost it at the end of the song, in the recording studio, screaming, ‘Four... Why? How many more?’ For me, 'Ohio' was a high point of the band, a major point of validity. There we were, reacting to reality, dealing with it on the highest level we could – relevant, immediate. It named names and pointed the finger. It said, ‘Nixon.’”

Unfortunately, it was that very line – “tin soldiers and Nixon coming” – which resulted “Ohio” being banned from some radio stations, but despite those conservatives who couldn’t handle CSN&Y naming names, the song still made it to #14 on the Billboard Hot 100 and, perhaps more importantly, went on to be named one of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in 2004.