Robert Plant, a former vocalist for Led Zeppelin, is a musician whose viewpoint carries a lot of weight. Many of the singer’s fans listen intently to what he says when he talks about his line of work, so his participation in the BBC Radio 4 program Desert Island Discs was enlightening.
Plant’s presence on the radio show to talk about the eight songs he would take with him to a desert island gave an intriguing glimpse into the songs that had affected and motivated his own creative journey, including Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Ohio.” The political anthem is more than simply a song; it plays a significant role in the counterculture era and expresses an important point about an important period in American history.
At Ohio’s Kent State University, the National Guard opened fire on a crowd of unarmed demonstrators on May 4, 1970. On that particular day, four persons passed away and nine others suffered grave injuries. 67 rounds were fired at the anti-Vietnam war demonstrators in all. Polls showed that the general people supported the National Guard over the demonstrators. Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young had a distinct perspectives.
David Crosby wrote of the track in the CSN boxset, “For me, ‘Ohio’ was a high point of the band, a major point of validity, There we were, reacting to reality, dealing with it on the highest level we could – relevant, immediate. It named names and pointed the finger. It said ‘Nixon’. I was so moved that I completely lost it at the end of the song.”
“I remember getting nuts at the end of the song, I was so moved,” Crosby later told Neil Young’s biographer Jimmy McDonough in Shakey. “I was freaked out because I felt it so strongly, screaming, ‘Why? Why?'”
For Plant, the song serves as a potent reminder of the potential of music as a tool for highlighting political concerns and enacting social change. The former Led Zeppelin vocalist made a statement after choosing the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song during his appearance on Desert Island Discs. He said, “This is the song which was written which will remind us forever how it can go nastily, badly wrong.”
It’s poignant that Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young recorded the song just three weeks after the massacre and only realized it was called “Ohio” a few weeks later when the incident was still making headlines. The recording is replete with the band’s enraged wrath over the unfair killings, and it continues to be the ultimate protest song.
While CSNY was on tour, President Nixon announced his resignation in 1974. Onstage in New Jersey, the ensemble delighted in sharing the news with their fans before launching into an intense performance of “Ohio.” Take a listen to the song below.