"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 byCrosby, Stills, Nash & Young. 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. Although a live version of the song was included on the group's 1971 double album Four 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 album Decade, released in 1977.
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. On the evening that CSN&Y entered Record Plant Studios in Los Angeles, the song had already been rehearsed, and the quartet with their regular rhythm section 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." Indeed, Crosby can be heard keening "Four, why? Why did they die?" and "How many more?" in the fade.
Lyrics and reaction
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 theKent State shootings where Ohio National Guardsmen shot and killed four student protesters and Young's attribution of their deaths to the President of the United States, Richard Nixon. 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 varying extent for the rest of the decade.
After the double's release, it was banned from some AM radio 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 385th Greatest Song of All Time by Rolling Stone in December 2004.
- 1971 - The song was recorded by the Isley Brothers on their album Givin' It Back.
- 1993 - Paul Weller recorded a cover during the sessions for Wild Wood, and it was released as a B-side to his single "The Weaver."
- 1998 - The song was included as a hidden track on the album Thirty Days Out by the Montrose Avenue.
- 2001 - Zegota, an American punk rock band, released a 9-minute-long cover of the song.
- 2002 - The song was covered by Devo on the album When Pigs Fly: Songs You Never Thought You'd Hear. The song was of particular significance to this group. Two of its founding members, Jerry Casale andMark Mothersbaugh, were students at Kent State during the killings, Casale having witnessed the shooting and known two of the victims. Casale was not impressed by it at the time, seeing it as an opportunist song by "rich hippies...making money off of something horrible...that they didn't get." In the liner notes of Decade, Young reflected in 1976, "It's ironic that I capitalized on the death of those American students."
- 2003 - A live version of the song was included as a bonus track on the first album by Mott the Hoople.
- 2004 - The Dandy Warhols placed a version of the song on ther B-sides and covers album Come on Feel the Dandy Warhols, available only through the band's website.
- 2007 - The song was covered by Dala on the Canadian Borrowed Tunes II: A Tribute to Neil Young tribute album. Their recording later appeared on the 2008 tribute album Cinnamon Girl – Women Artists Cover Neil Young.
- 2009 - The song was covered by Chris and Rich Robinson of The Black Crowes in the documentary feature film The People Speak.
- David Crosby — vocals, rhythm guitar on "Ohio"
- Stephen Stills — vocals, guitars
- Graham Nash — vocals
- Neil Young — vocals, guitars