How Neil Young Wrote “Ohio”

Neil Young's looks over with intensity. Photo Credits: Instagram / the__fossil

The events in the 60s were more than just an emergence of new music and style. It was about protest as well. The counterculture revolution involved young adults and adolescents who were starting to question and reject the norms and beliefs that were set by society.

Some of the issues of that were viewed as a norm in that era were racial segregation, poverty, environmental pollution, and discrimination of the minority. Teens and young adults started to fight back through peaceful protest and music. Thanks to the emergence of technology such as television, information spread easily.

An Anti-war protestor in the counterculture era.
Photo Credits: Instagram / hippie.fanatic666

Musicians of that era also joined in the revolution. Most of the music was composed as a counterculture theme or artists expressing their own protests. One of these musicians was Neil Young.

Neil Young’s “Ohio” was written after he saw the photos of the Kent State Shootings in Life Magazine which occurred on May 4, 1970. On the same evening, Young’s group were already in the Record Plant Studios in Los Angeles. The song was already rehearsed. “Ohio” was recorded live and only took a few takes. The track was then released 10 days after the tragedy.

John Filo’s Pulitzer Prize–winning photograph of Mary Ann Vecchio kneeling over the body of Jeffrey Miller minutes after he was shot by the Ohio National Guard during the Kent State shootings.
Photo Credits: Instagram / inakispirit69

Young wasn’t the musician who was deeply shaken by the shootings. Chrissie Hynde was still a student when the shootings occurred and after the incident formed The Pretenders. Jerry Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh were present in the university when the shootings occurred, and formed the rock group Devo.

Ohio” is a protest song and an anthem of the counterculture. It was the time when the youth became more active in the government’s involvement in wars and the massacres of civilians. The Kent State Shootings didn’t only involve the student protesters, but also who were bystanders and observers.

After its release, “Ohio” is described as “the pinnacle of a very 1960s genre”. It is also hailed as the ‘“greatest protest record”. The lyrics helped stir feelings of horror, shock, and anger at the wake of the shootings.

With the conception of “Ohio”, Neil Young and his group were regarded as the leaders and spokesperson of the counterculture generation which persisted until the end of the era.