So far, in this b-sides series, there have been four scenarios in which good songs find themselves languishing on the flip-side of a single. These are:
i) When a great song should have been featured on an album, but is inexplicably relegated to obscurity behind less deserving tracks. Examples covered in this series to date include Wings’ ‘Daytime Nighttime Suffering‘ and Led Zeppelin’s ‘Hey, Hey What Can I Do?‘
ii) When an artist has written a lot of strong material, and not all of it can fit on the parent album. Examples so far include Kate Bush’s ‘Under The Ivy‘, Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Silver Springs‘, and Talk Talk’s ‘Picture of Bernadette‘.
iii) When a song’s strong, but simply doesn’t belong on an album – either it’s a cover, it’s too far out of step stylistically, or it’s a fun song that’s too frivolous for an album but perfect for a b-side. Examples include Tom Petty’s ‘Girl on LSD‘ and R.E.M.’s ‘Wall of Death‘.
iv) An act considers singles to be an important part of their discography. Accordingly important tracks appear on the a-sides and b-sides of singles, but don’t appear on studio albums. Examples so far include The Beatles’ ‘Rain’ and The Jam’s ‘The Butterfly Collector‘.
Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young‘s ‘Find the Cost of Freedom’, along with its a-side, ‘Ohio’, fits a fifth category; using the 45 rpm single to get a topical song onto the air as quickly as possible. The conglomerate had only just released their second album (and first with Neil Young) when the Kent State shootings occurred.
The Kent State shootings occurred on 4 May 1970, when members of the Ohio National Guard opened fire on a group of unarmed students at Kent State University; some students were protesting against the extension of the Vietnam War into Cambodia, while others were simply innocent bystanders. Four students were killed and another nine injured.
Two students who were witnesses to the shootings would go on to become prominent rock musicians. Chrissie Hynde, who would later front The Pretenders, wrote in her autobiography:
Then I heard the tatatatatatatatatat sound. I thought it was fireworks. An eerie sound fell over the common. The quiet felt like gravity pulling us to the ground. Then a young man’s voice: “They fucking killed somebody!” Everything slowed down and the silence got heavier.Chrissie Hynde, Reckless
Gerald Casale, later of Devo, stated that:
All I can tell you is that it completely and utterly changed my life. I was a white hippie boy and then I saw exit wounds from M1 rifles out of the backs of two people I knew.
Two of the four people who were killed, Jeffrey Miller and Allison Krause, were my friends. We were all running our asses off from these motherfuckers. It was total, utter bullshit. Live ammunition and gasmasks—none of us knew, none of us could have imagined … They shot into a crowd that was running away from them!
I stopped being a hippie and I started to develop the idea of devolution. I got real, real pissed off.Gerald Casale, Boingboing.net.
Neil Young wrote the angry protest rocker ‘Ohio’ after reading about the Kent State incident in Life Magazine, while Stills’ elegiac ‘Find The Cost of Freedom’ was the b-side. The two songs was recorded on 21 May 1970, in a few takes, and the single was released on 4 June 1970, exactly a month after the Kent State shootings. In the digital age, it’s possible to turn around almost instantly, but this speed of turnaround in 1970 was impressive.
‘Find The Cost of Freedom’ is a simple song, consisting of a minute of subdued acoustic guitar picking from Stills and Young, before the four sing the simple lyrics twice, the second time a capella. Its elegant sadness is the perfect counterpoint to the anger of ‘Ohio’, and it’s a reminder of the era when rock music reached the apex of its cultural significance.
Crosby, Stills & Nash would later revisit the refrain on 1982’s Daylight Again, on the closing track ‘Daylight Again/Find the Cost Of Freedom’.
Find the cost of freedom
Buried in the ground
Mother earth will swallow you
Lay your body down