When Lyrics Meant Something – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and “Ohio”

May 4th Marks the Anniversary of Four Kent State University Students Murdered For Protesting The U.S. Invasion of Cambodia and the Vietnam War

Do today’s songs have meaning?

One of the things I am confronted with in the 21st century is the degraded state of music today, especially lyrically. Do people really listen to the lyrics of songs and give them any serious thought?  Or are the majority of songs being written not worthy of deep examination?

In the 1960’s and 70’s music listeners certainly did pay attention to the words being sung. They pored over lyric sheets which were inserted into LP albums with artwork that was meant to be contemplated, pondered, discussed, interpreted and argued over. Beginning with the shift to CD’s in the late eighties with their micro-printing of lyrics and the current predominance of online purchasing of music, lyrics have become obfuscated behind imagery or ignored by casual music listeners.

Neil Young of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young wrote what I think is one of the most important rock songs of all time and people who are not familiar with the band may not know the backstory of the song Ohio or even have heard the song.

On May 4 ,1970 students at Kent State University in Ohio were protesting the recent announcement by President Richard Nixon for U.S. forces to invade Cambodia and expand the Vietnam war. National Guard troops opened fire on the students, killing four of them:

Neil Young saw photos of the shooting in the Life Magazine issue of May 15, 1970. He went for a walk in the woods, and came back with the lyrics to one of the most powerful songs ever written. The song was quickly recorded on May 21, 1970 and was released as a single shortly thereafter. Many radio stations refused to play it because of the anti-Nixon and anti-war sentiments. This was a time when to speak against the war or the government or the president was considered a risky thing to do. That did not stop Neil Young from openly criticizing President Nixon through this song.   Through underground FM radio airplay and a resonating message that appealed to the counter-culture, Ohio reached #14 on the top 100 Billboard music chart. Ohio ended up becoming one of the anti-war anthems for the remainder of the Vietnam war.

Here are the lyrics:

Ohio (Neil Young)

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 gunning 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 gunning 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.

This link attempts to explain the meaning behind the song.

And here is CSN&Y performing Ohio live in 2000

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7 thoughts on “When Lyrics Meant Something – Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and “Ohio”

  1. Mary Ann

    There are definitely bands now, or in the recent past, that have very meaningful lyrics. Disturbed is one that comes to mind, with many anti-war, anti-[GW]Bush lyrics, anti-pollution songs. Want a powerful set of lyrics, look up the song Another Way to Die, by Disturbed. You may not like rock music, but you can certainly read lyrics without having to hear the music. The song I listed is one of my very favorite, as it is powerful, and every line is true. Disturbed was never afraid to speak truth to power!
    For a great example of why we still need this kind of music, read: nytimes[dot]com/2018/11/27/magazine/insect-apocalypse.html
    For the lyrics of the song listed above, see:
    azlyrics[dot]com/lyrics/disturbed/anotherwaytodie.html

    Reply
  2. Old school

    Nature abhors a vacuum. Whether Peace or abject violence , the chosen entity will expand until it meets a containing resistance. The choice is yours , Contain your demons or perish with them .

    Reply
  3. artgal

    5 dead in Dallas….wtf Guns are not the answer, War is not the answer, Clinton OR Trump not the answer. What’s it all about Alfie? Who are our lyricists in 2016?

    Reply
  4. Mark Heard

    Those were dark days in the history of this country. We tried to change things, this brought us back to reality.

    Reply
  5. Roy Pulliam

    I am a vet 66-67
    I m so sick of using ptsd as an excuse to violate others rights and act irresponsibly. Get a life and get over it.

    Reply

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