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Neil Young’s “Ohio”

| May 4, 2017 | 2 Comments

Kent-State-Life-Mag-Cover1On May 4, 1970, a student demonstration at Kent State left four students dead, one paralyzed and eight others wounded.  The protest, meant to be a demonstration against the Vietnam War, ended when the Ohio National Guard opened fire into the crowd with over 60 rounds for a solid 13 seconds.

When Neil Young saw the horrific images in that month’s edition of Life magazine given to him by David Crosby, he reportedly disappeared for several hours and returned to his CSN&Y band mates with his song.  The foursome went into the Record Plant Studio in L.A. and recorded it live in only a few takes. (During the same session they recorded what would become the single’s B-side, Stephen Still’s ode to the Vietnam War, “Find the Cost of Freedom.”)

Their label rushed it to release as a single, and it was pushed to radio stations  even though they had another hit, “Teach Your Children,” climbing the charts.  It was immediately picked up by FM stations, while banned from many AM stations for its anti-Nixon and anti-war sentiments. The result was “Ohio” permeated the public consciousness within three weeks of the shootings.

Pop-culture historian and journalist David Bianculli said: “It was the quickest and best reaction to Kent State, with Neil Young acting as 50 percent songwriter and 50 percent journalist. And nobody stopped to think, ‘What will this do to our other hit? What will this do to our image? What will the advertisers think?’ They just thought, ‘This is important and needs to be on the air.’”

Bianculli continued: “After the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, you felt kind of helpless as a young person. It seemed that when someone had your voice, that voice was silenced, usually by violence. Then you have Kent State, and college kids are actually fired upon. And when you just might start to be thinking, you don’t dare have a voice or there is no voice, from the radio comes this voice of solidarity and outrage. It wasn’t just a pop song.”

Category: Behind The Song

Comments (2)

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  1. Jeff says:

    Hi Lydia,
    Thanks for the great article. I’m a big fan of Neil Young. He was a huge inspiration on my music. I wrote a song on May 4th 2010 for the 40th anniversary of the tragedy. I wrote it in the style of “Ohio”. It’s called “13 Seconds 67 Shots”. Right now I have only a scratch demo (vocal/acoustic guitar) at http://www.reverbnation.com/jeffpowers. I hope to have a full band version in a couple months. I hope you listen to it. It’s very simple with only two verses like “Ohio”. Thanks again for the article. Jeff Powers

    • Bart says:

      If you get satellite tv station axs tv you might want to know of a show they have called the big interview with Dan rather in this episode of the show he is interviewing NEIL young I just saw it and highly recommend it to you

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