CSN&Y – Ohio ——— Songs that reference Richard Nixon

Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming, We’re finally on our own, This summer I hear the drumming, Four dead in Ohio

One of the most famous songs to mention Nixon by name…or at least the one I think of the most. It was inspired by a tragic real event that took place onMay 4, 1970, when the US National Guard shot four unarmed students at Kent State University in Ohio. Neil Young wrote it shortly after seeing a news report on the tragedy. It was released 10 days after the shootings.

This song is extremely powerful…In that time some rock songs were like newspaper articles for the young. The guitar riff is pure Neil Young at his raw best. The song peaked at #14 in the Billboard 100 in 1970. This was released as a single, but the song did not appear on an album until Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young included it on their live album Four Way Street a year later.

Neil Young considers this the best song he wrote with CSN&Y. He included this on his 1977 Greatest Hits album Decade. After the single’s release, it was banned from some AM radio stations because of the challenge to the Nixon Administration in the lyrics.

The most famous song to mention Nixon or Watergate is probably Sweet Home Alabama… This is a write up from Dave from A Sound Day.

From Songfacts

The Kent State shootings had a profound effect on some of the students who later became prominent musicians. Chrissie Hynde was a student at the time and eventually formed The Pretenders. Mark Mothersbaugh and Jerry Casale were also on campus, and after the shootings, they developed the band Devo based on the concept of “De-Evolution,” meaning the human race was regressing. Said Casale, “It refocused me entirely. I don’t think I would have done Devo without it. It was the deciding factor that made me live and breathe this idea and make it happen. In Chrissie Hynde’s case, I’m sure it was a very powerful single event that was traumatic enough to form her sensibility and account for a lot of her anger.” Mothersbaugh added, “It was the first time I’d heard a song about something I’d been a participant in. It affected us. It was part of our life.”

A tin soldier is a toy soldier, mindlessly controlled by its owner. In this song, Young likens the National Guard troops to tin soldiers controlled by Nixon.

It’s likely he got the metaphor from a 1969 song by The Original Caste called “One Tin Soldier,” which went to #1 in Young’s native Canada (it was an American hit two years later for the band Coven). Other songs with the phrase in the title include “The Little Tin Soldier” by Donovan (1965) and “Tin Soldier” by the Small Faces (1967).

Jerry Casale gave Songfacts this account of the shootings:

“I was a student, I was a member of SDS – an antiwar group called Students for a Democratic Society, trying to restore Democracy at a time when LBJ and Nixon were running roughshod over it. There were several antiwar groups. That protest that day where everybody got shot was a protest against the expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia. It was a secret expansion, Nixon had done it the night before and we found out about it the next day – the whole nation did. They did it without an act of Congress, without passing any new law or having any meetings. It was completely unconstitutional.

So we’re out there at noon, about 3,500 students at Kent State were out there. The governor, who certainly was a pro-war kind of guy, Governor Rhodes, he had placed the National Guard inside the heating plant of the school the night before anticipating what would happen when the students found out about Cambodia. Not only did he do that, but he waited until about 9 a.m. on May 4th to declare Martial Law, which suspends all first amendment rights of The Constitution, meaning that any assembly is automatically illegal, you’re automatically committing a crime.

These National Guardsmen poured out of the heating plant, surrounded the protesters, and with a bullhorn announced that Martial Law had been declared and that we were all going to jail. Everybody starts chanting and screaming and they start shooting tear gas and some of the more ballsy protesters, while they’re coughing and choking and puking are trying to throw it back, but most of the kids were anywhere from 50 to 100 yards away from these lines of National Guardsmen with guns.

Nobody believed that the guns were actually loaded with live ammo. They just suddenly formed a row. The first one knelt and the second one stood, and they just shot right into the crowd, shot at all of us, down the hill at all of us. The worst thing about it is that two of the four students killed weren’t part of the demonstration, weren’t part of an antiwar group. They’d just come out of class from the journalism building at that time and come out on their way to their next class and we’re looking at the protest, just seeing what the hell’s going on, and they got killed. The bullets just went everywhere, it was like a scatter-gun approach, like shooting geese. A lot of the bullets went over the heads of the protesters and kept going straight down the hill. One of the kids that’s paralyzed for life was getting into his car to leave campus after his class, and they shot him in the back. He was at least 200 yards away and wanted nothing to do with what was going on. It was shocking. It pretty much knocked any hippie that I had left in me right out of me that day.

I had been a member of the honors college and the only way I went to school was with a scholarship. My family was poor and I got a scholarship to go to school. What I had to do every year to earn my scholarship was work three months in the summer for the university admitting new students to the honors college, the incoming freshman, and helping them arrange their curriculum, taking them through the registration process. The summer before May 4th, I had befriended Jeffery Miller and Allison Krause, two honor students, and they turn out to be two of the four killed on May 4th. So I’d known both of them nine months before this happened, and so when I realized that this girl on her stomach with a huge exit wound in her back with blood running down the sidewalk was Allison, I nearly passed out. I sat down on the grass and kind of swooned around and lied down. I was in shock, I couldn’t move.

The government and the press tried to lie about what happened as well as they could. The fact that anybody knows what happened is amazing because they did such a good job of muddying it up and lying, it was amazing. The final chapter there was that the parents of the students who were shot and killed banded together and went on a class action suit against Governor Rhodes and the state of Ohio and the National Guard, and summarily lost across the board. These kids that were shot were 18 and 19 years old. Two of them were 18 and two of them were 19. They lost because by law, no one was allowed to be having a protest once Martial Law was declared, and they threw it out of the court system. I don’t think anyone wants to know the truth. It ruins the myth of freedom in America to find out how easy it can be gone.” (check out our Devo interview)

This became a protest anthem as Americans became fed up with the war in Vietnam. Providing a firsthand account of the shootings and the effect of this song, Alan Canfora told us: “On May 4, 1970, I was waving a black protest flag as a symbol of my anger and despair 10 days after I attended the funeral of my 19-year-old friend killed in Vietnam. I was about 250 feet away from the kneeling, aiming guardsmen from Troop G – the death squad – minutes before they marched away up a hillside. They fired 67 shots from the hilltop during 13 seconds of deadly gunfire, mostly from powerful M1 rifles. I was shot through my right wrist. I survived because I jumped behind the only tree in the direct line of gunfire. About a week later, I was riding in the Ohio countryside with other Kent State massacre survivors when WMMS radio played the song ‘Ohio’ for the first time. We were deeply moved and inspired by that great anti-war anthem.”

Young was a vocal critic of American foreign policy throughout the Vietnam War and became a voice of dissent during the George W. Bush administration when songs like “Let’s Impeach The President” spoke out against the president and his war in Iraq.

Devo recorded this for the 2002 album When Pigs Fly, Songs You Never Thought You’d Hear. The album was a collection of unlikely covers by various artists. Cevin Soling, who put the album together, met Mark Mothersbaugh’s girlfriend at a film festival, who told Mark about the project and got Devo involved. Says Soling: “I knew about the history, I was nervous about them thinking I was being exploitative of their tie to the tragedy. So I really tried to do that gingerly. That took a little while to get off the ground. They did “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” which I guess they had started working on at one point. And I guess it was just sort of difficult getting everyone together and recording. But then they called me back and they said they listened to it and they didn’t think it was good. So at some point in time, they finally all got motivated and got together. I guess Mark was very nervous about putting out something that might not up to Devo quality, and I think he’s finally let the seer of his legacy kind of loom over doing new stuff.”

Ohio

Tin soldiers and Nixon’s 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

Ah, la la la la…

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’s coming
We’re finally on our own
This summer I hear the drumming
Four dead in Ohio
Four dead in Ohio

Author: badfinger20

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

39 thoughts on “CSN&Y – Ohio ——— Songs that reference Richard Nixon”

  1. One of the greatest protest songs ever. I may have mentioned this- or maybe I was just telling someone this- it blew my mind. A few weeks back when they were showing footage of the uprising in Venezuela – a fellow worker said “I was talking to a friend and I told him ” Just asked those kids at Kent State what happens in America when you protest.”– The fella says some crazy things sometimes and I usually just let them slide but I couldn’t on this-and I told him that was horrible what happened- firing on defenseless kids etc- criminal. He backed down from his statement. .. I think that was a big turning point in ending a war. Those kids and the protesters against the war were right. Just my opinion. 58,000 lives ended and countless lives ruined- fighting a rich man’s war. There are wars that have to be fought- WWII a great example- but not Vietnam. One of the highlights of Neil’s career.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I totally agree with you. It shouldn’t have come to this to turn it…it should have been over with long before. When the government tried justify Kent State…it blows my mind.
      People now still try to justify that war…I’ve had the same arguments with people. It still impacts people to this day.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. 58, 000 plus died– how many were impacted? Hard to even put a number on the wounded and the people back home whose lives were changed forever… for what? Vietnam became communist. Did the dominoes fall? How does a communist Vietnam impact us today? Crazy. …. anyway.. I see Hill is on the DL- who is replacing him in the rotation do you know?

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I don’t see a defense that holds water for that war. All of those people and their families…I’ve been asked why I took the “hippies” side…

        Urias will take his place partially…they will split up time between Urias and Strippling. They don’t want many innings on Urias. I do believe Hill could be done…I hope I’m wrong because he is important but this what happens before you need Tommy John. He may be able to come back…this will probably be his last year anyway. He has been such an important pitcher and leader for them.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. I keep forgetting how old Hill is- an odd career- i think a tommy john finishes him off but he has been counted out before. ….its odd the war has been over for 45 years or so but its still a hot button issue. … i hate getting into political stuff- but ‘my country right or wrong’ isn’t always the right approach. we have seen how the politicians can lead you down the wrong path. over the years i have grown to admire those who stand up against wrongs- it certainly doesn’t make a person un-american in my book.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. He thinks he will be back in a month or so. He wants to finish this year bad…He has been a blessing for them…he is the second oldest player at 39…next to Albert. I do hope he gets back.

        Politicians can and have got people killed. Some people will not discuss…they will not listen to any reason. I also steer clear if possible.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. It seems like a lot of pitchers anymore are getting shut down if they have any issues- just to try to avoid surgery- hope the rest does them well etc. I am rooting for Hill- always liked his comeback story.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. If I remember correctly the reviews for the book were good. speaking of reviews- I will get to that review of the beatles book soon- kind of re-reading the thing first.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. I am also compiling a list of similar books to mention in the review- books on The Beatles music- and The Beatles as musicians. I don’t know if there is a one ‘go to’ book concerning their music- a lot of good ones though. I am thinking of making it a semi-regular feature-once i get rolling- the beatles book report.

        Liked by 2 people

      8. I would like to read one on them as musicians because as musicians they had flaws but they turned the flaws into their advantage…especially George. He could not just rip into a Clapton like solo but he would make it more interesting by going about it in a different way…hard to explain what I mean. I guess sticking to their strengths is the best explanation.
        I will be reading.

        Liked by 2 people

      1. It’s odd- he’s not a bad guy but he says the craziest things sometimes. He can be entertaining – his version of history is quite interesting- no matter how many times I have told him- he still thinks for example that President Reagan was shot in the hand and it was just a minor thing- I tell him what happened but he still sticks to the shot in the hand story lol.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t remember this event without intense anger, and I was a little kid several states away when it happened. One thing is better today, and that is that the state, the individual shooters, and their chain of command might actually face prosecution and accountability. With Kent State, the attempts to hold the authorities accountable failed, which is yet another act of injustice. From Kent State, the reaction and anger spread to other universities around the country. Our town turned violent and lawless, with arson, bombings, and attacks on police; and the police attacking innocents. The National Guard moved in. Two innocent young men were gunned down by law enforcement, 4 days apart. The town hasn’t forgotten. We lived a half-block from the university when I was a little grade school kid; and I remember my mom explaining to me what a curfew was, and what martial law meant. So when this song plays, I appreciate it for telling the story, and I make myself not hear the words, because it makes me too angry.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I can’t blame people for being enraged. It was just so senseless. To hold no one accountable was beyond insane.

      Many people don’t think about what you talked about… the chain of events it started all over the country.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I’ve always liked this song, long before I was old enough to even understand what it was about. I had no frame of reference as no one in my family was in VN. Had several in WWII.

    No one talked about VN in school. I learned about VN in college.

    We were, what, 3, 4 years old when it happened?

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Iran of course we both remember really well. Cronkite would say how many days the hostages had been held at the beginning of every newscast

        Like

  4. Great song and interesting post! thanks for link to my page too! I don’t remember the event , being like you guys pretty young at the time, but it was shocking and as you’ve said, pretty much Neil right at top of his game.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I know man…I had that one half way written up…I wasn’t sure which one to pick… I have one coming tomorrow that is pretty hard hitting.

      BTW…loved your sugar blog yesterday…that was interesting.

      Like

  5. Max, this is a first class and important post. Over the years when tragedies of this magnitude happen, I try to emotionally distance myself from the facts of the incident, at least until I’m ready to handle them. Now, almost 50 years later, I was ready to read your post on what happened at Kent State. It’s so much worse than the little I knew. Do you mind if I re-blog this on tao-talk?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. OK thanks. The governor at the time, if still alive, needs to be found and retribution taken. If he’s not, then upon his kin. I feel the same way about Governor Snyder, the monster that approved poisoning the citizens of Flint while sending the clean water to the auto production plant. Their days will come, if not in this life, in the next.

        Like

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