Can just 4 verses compose a meaningful song? Yes. At least according to CSNY, an american folk rock supergroup made up of David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and (occasionally) Neil Young, whose surnames inital compose the acronym of the bands name.
The song is called “Find the Cost of Freedom”, wrote by Stephen Stills and released in 1970, here presented to you in the live version taken from the 2008 “Déjà Vu Live” album.
Indeed, despite its scarce lyrics the song carries a strong and complex meaning. It was the B-Side to the protest song “Ohio“, which Neil Young wrote after seeing Life magazine’s photos of the Kent State shootings that left four young war protesters dead (see photo). Rumor has it that when the group finished recording Ohio and then realized they didn’t have a B-side picked out, Stephen Stills suggested Find the Cost of Freedom almost as a natural consequence.
The haunting acoustic guitar intro and the perfect “a cappella” vocal harmony of the quartet creates a sort of gospel feeling, which perfectly fits the powerful and emotional repeated lyrics.
These simple lyrics hide a deep and wide meaning, especially if related to the context of 1970:
“Find the cost of freedom
Buried in the ground
Mother Earth will swallow you
Lay your body down”
The cost of freedom refers to the death of those who are fighting for it, in this case the anti-war activists left dead in Kent and the soldiers who were dying in Vietnam.
Mother Earth has swallowed the bodies of young soldier fighting the “freedom war” in Vietnam as well as the bodies of young students expressing their freedom in protests against the war in Vietnam.
But if we look at this song with contemporary eyes, its meaning sadly fits our days perfectly: Mother Earth is still swallowing dead bodies of those who are fighting for their freedom (or believe so), no matter the age, sex, religion, race or ideals.
Notably, in 2006, Crosby and Nash performed an “a cappella” version of this song with David Gilmour (Pink Floyd) in the Royal Albert Hall. You can find this beautiful version here.
If you want to listen to the original 1970 version, you can find it here.