Crosby, Stills & Nash: “Wooden Ships”

Jefferson Airplane recorded their own version of the song for their controversial fifth album, Volunteers.

Exhibits_Vietnam_Music_WoodenShips

When Crosby, Stills & Nash released their eponymous debut album in 1969, there was only one co-write on it (which would be the norm for future albums by the group). That Woodstock-era song, which became a classic both on its own and as part of an album that helped shape the musical tastes of a generation, was “Wooden Ships.”

Written by Stephen Stills, David Crosby, and Crosby’s onetime roommate, Jefferson Airplane/Starship’s Paul Kantner, “Wooden Ships” is generally interpreted as a veiled look at the aftermath of nuclear holocaust. The song was written during a period when the threat of a final nuclear war was uppermost in so many minds, during the ‘60s crisis in Indochina and heightened tensions between the United States and the USSR. Artists like Barry McGuire, with his throaty “Eve of Destruction,” and songwriting satirist Tom Lehrer, with his pretty-damned-funny “We Will All Go Together When We Go,” addressed the same theme. But CSN, with their wonderful harmonies and Stills’ great performance on several instruments, made a thing of beauty from a decidedly less-than-cheery premise.   

Crosby told the website MusicRadar in 2012 that the song is, indeed, about a dismal subject that numerous books and movies had addressed before, and have made millions of dollars from since, from The Time Machine to The Terminator. “I had that set of (chord) changes,” Crosby said. “Stephen added to them … and we all wrote the song. It’s a post-apocalyptic story. The world has gone to hell … The idea was that we were sort of... Sign In to Keep Reading

To view this content,

Join Today

or Sign In

The Benefits of Membership:

  • Limited-time FREE Feature Magazine Content
  • Exclusive access to members-only contests and giveaways
Click to Join

We've started a free American Songwriter membership. Click here to learn more.