Ohio Song Essay

"Ohio" is a protest song and counterculture anthem written and composed by Neil Young in reaction to the Kent State shootings of May 4, 1970, and performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.[1] It was released as a single, backed with Stephen Stills's "Find the Cost of Freedom", peaking at number 14 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and number 16 in Canada.[2] Although a live version of "Ohio" was included on the group's 1971 double albumFour Way Street, the studio versions of both songs did not appear on an LP until the group's compilation So Far was released in 1974. The song also appeared on the Neil Young compilation albums Decade, released in 1977, and Greatest Hits, released in 2004.

The song also appears on Neil Young's Live at Massey Hall album, which he recorded in 1971 but did not release until 2007.


Young wrote the lyrics to "Ohio" after seeing the photos of the incident in Life Magazine.[3] On the evening that CSN&Y entered Record Plant Studios in Los Angeles, the song had already been rehearsed, and the quartet—with their new rhythm section of Calvin Samuels and Johnny Barbata—recorded it live in just a few takes. During the same session, they recorded the single's equally direct B-side, Stephen Stills's ode to the war's dead, "Find the Cost of Freedom."

The record was mastered with the participation of the four principals, rush-released by Atlantic and heard on the radio with only a few weeks' delay. (This was despite the group already having their hit song "Teach Your Children" on the charts at the time.) In his liner notes for the song on the Decade retrospective, Young termed the Kent State incident as 'probably the biggest lesson ever learned at an American place of learning' and reported that "David Crosby cried when we finished this take."[4] Indeed, Crosby can be heard keening "Four, why? Why did they die?" and "How many more?" in the fade.

According to the notes to Greatest Hits, it was recorded by Bill Halverson on May 21, 1970, at Record Plant Studio 3 in Hollywood.[5]

Lyrics and reaction[edit]

An article in the Guardian in 2010 describes the song as the 'greatest protest record' and 'the pinnacle of a very 1960s genre.' while also saying 'The revolution never came.' [6]

The lyrics help evoke the turbulent mood of horror, outrage, and shock in the wake of the shootings, especially the line "four dead in Ohio," repeated throughout the song. "Tin soldiers and Nixon coming" refers to the Kent State shootings where Ohio National Guardsmen shot and killed four students and Young's attribution of their deaths to the President of the United States, Richard Nixon, even though the National Guardsmen had not been federalized and were under orders from Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes. Crosby once stated that Young keeping Nixon's name in the lyrics was "the bravest thing I ever heard." The American counterculture took the group as its own after this song, giving the four a status as leaders and spokesmen they would enjoy to a varying extent for the rest of the decade.[7]

After the double's release, it was banned from some AMradio stations because of the challenge to the Nixon Administration in the lyrics but received airplay on underground FM stations in larger cities and college towns. Today, the song receives regular airplay on classic rock stations. The song was selected as the 395th Greatest Song of All Time by Rolling Stone in December 2004.[8] In 2009, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.[9]


Additional personnel[edit]

See also[edit]


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Title: Song in the Anti-Apartheid and Reconciliation Movements in South Africa
Creators:Makky, Nora
Advisor:Horowitz, Amy
Issue Date:2007-06
Abstract:As Apartheid developed in South Africa, political, cultural, and religious resistance emerged. This essay will explore the history of songs used in the anti-Apartheid movements in South Africa. Studying music’s role in the South African liberation movement reveals various issues concerning the social dynamics and cultural history of the nation. Exploring the soundscapes of South African independence opens space for a new perspective and better understanding of the way diverse communities formed a unified movement to resist Apartheid. Music helped people of diverse tribal and racial identities transcend differences that remained salient in other contexts. This paper draws on a wide variety of scholarly sources in disciplines such as history and musical ethnography. Interviews with Gabi Mkhize, a current member of the African National Congress (ANC), Ohio State University Graduate Student, and isiZulu instructor, offer evidence to support the centrality of music in anti-Apartheid movements. Music spanned ethnic differences, united generations, and aided in the organization of South Africans against their oppressive white government. The findings of this project will expand upon prior research and provide specific historical data to substantiate the claims that music indeed has a strong impact on the revolution in South Africa. Song is embedded in South African culture and it is not surprising that this medium would serve as a principal vehicle in defeating the Apartheid government. Songs were used to hide protest slogans, banned materials, secret information, etc. Further research concerning the historic role music played in unifying and liberating oppressed communities might consider other timeframes in black South African history or explore the role of music and politics in the context of white South African communities. Other historic occurrences might also be approached through the study of music, then compared and contrasted to South Africa’s experience. The portability and flexibility of music allowed it to play a crucial role in the liberation movements against Apartheid.
Series/Report no.:The Ohio State University. Department of International Studies Honors Theses; 2007
Keywords:South Africa

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