May “70: 18. …And In The Studio

(4PM EST – promoted by Nightprowlkitty)

The May 15, 1970 issue of Life Magazine, a weekly noted for its photojournalism, shocked millions with its unsparing photographs of students killed and wounded at Kent State on May 4. One particular copy was to have an impact that has lasted to this day.

Rock musician David Crosby brought that issue of Life to a studio session for the supergroup he was part of. Originally Crosby, Stills and Nash, it had been joined by Stephen Stills’ old bandmate from the Buffalo Springfield, Neil Young.

All four members of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were seen as political artists. Graham Nash who had been in the British Invasion band, The Hollies, had released in 1969 a solo cut “Chicago (We Can Change The World)”, which starts with a reference to another frame-up trial of Black Panther Party leader Bobby Seale. (Those who have read earlier “May ’70” installments may recollect that the call for a national student strike went out on May Day from a Free Bobby rally in New Haven).

It was Neil Young, though, who took the magazine and disappeared for a couple of hours, returning with the 10 lines that are burned into the consciousness of that generation.

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,

We’re finally on our own.

This summer I hear the drumming,

Four dead in 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?

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?

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,

We’re finally on our own.

This summer I hear the drumming,

Four dead in Ohio.

Four dead in Ohio.

Four dead in Ohio.

The group recorded the song on May 21, along with a B-side “Find The Cost Of Freedom” written by Stills. (I had always thought that they recorded it on May 15, and several internet sources cite the earlier date, but the notes to Neil’s Greatest Hits from 2004 say May 21 and his archives are legendary, so I’m going with this.)

Even though their record company tried to back them down because they had another single (“Teach Your Children”) climbing the charts at the time. CSNY demanded that “Ohio” be released immediately. Dubs were rushed to LA and New York radio stations within days, and another battle began. Many stations refused to play it, especially the mainstream Top 40 stations on the AM band and the new, insurgent, free-form FM stations were the ones to pick it up and run with it.

Singles were out by June, and in July “Ohio” hit the charts. Though it never got higher than #14, it was on for seven weeks, long enough to etch itself into our brains forever–so much so that I’ve used lines from the song to title three of the earlier posts in this series in the full confidence that most of those reading them will make the connection.

6 comments

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    • dennis on May 25, 2010 at 3:36 am
      Author

    check out the “Ohio” covers on YouTube–therer are literally hundreds of them…

  1. …. so do the people living around it.  

    • RUKind on May 25, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    It’s No Country for Old Hippies.

    • dennis on May 26, 2010 at 12:27 pm
      Author

    YouTube videos when I post, but I did have Neil Young doing “Ohio” at Massey Hall in 1971 in this post, and now find that it ain’t showing up on my ‘puter. Is anybody seeing it?

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