May 4, 2010 marks the 40th anniversary of the tragedy at Kent State. No song better captured what the country was feeling at the time than “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. The song itself still stands as one of the greatest examples of the immediacy of music.
As the story goes, it was David Crosby who saw the article on the event in Life Magazine and challenged buddy Neil Young to write something. Within twenty minutes he had finished the song. The band convened that night and recorded the entire thing, guitars, drums, bass, vocals, harmonies–all live, in just a couple of takes.
As they were mixing the song, they realized they needed a b-side and chose to record another new composition, this one by Stephen Stills, called “Find the Cost of Freedom.” The band sat in a tight circle and sang the song, with only Stills on guitar. The tape was played back and they sang it again, adding harmonies. In a span of about six hours, history had been made.
Both tracks were airmailed to New York and within days the record was out on the radio, pointing fingers and naming names. Many AM stations refused to play the track, because of it’s criticism of the Nixon administration. However, the burgeoning underground FM format embraced the song.
As a side note, the group already had a song racing up the charts at the time, “Teach Your Children,’ written by Graham Nash. By releasing “Ohio,” it basically killed the momentum of the other song. At one point in July 1970, both songs were in the top 20. Despite it’s limited airplay, “Ohio” still peaked at #14. It stands as the greatest achievement of C,S,N & Y.