10 Best Buffy Sainte-Marie Albums

Buffy Sainte-Marie Albums

Photo: Drpeterstockdale, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

There are not many Native Americans in rock, pop, country or even folk. but Buffy Sainte-Marie is the best known. She was the first Native American to win an Oscar for her best-known song, “Up Where We Belong”, which was covered by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes for the movie, An Officer and a Gentleman (1982). Although best known for her music, she also is known for her many appearances on Sesame Street from 1975 to 1981. Buffy Sainte-Marie has been an activist since the 1960s. Her music has many facets, from celebrating Native American heritage to psychedelic soundscapes. Here are the 10 best Buffy Sainte-Marie albums.

# 10 – I’m Gonna Be a Country Girl Again

Despite the title, this isn’t entirely a country album. There are some songs with just Buffy Sainte-Marie and a mouthbow. Songs include re-recordings of two older songs, “Now That the Buffalo’s Gone” and “The Piney Wood Hills” and two short American folk songs. A few songs are given a lush Nashville studio treatment. She tried to go more mainstream here, but audiences didn’t respond. This originally came out in 1968.

# 9 – Sweet America

This ironically titled album from 1976 would be Buffy Sainte-Marie’s last for sixteen years. This tried for a more mainstream sound, with many more instruments than in her previous albums. She also incorporated some Native American chants and singing styles. Tracks range from folk to blues. A few are quite chipper. This has the original version of “Starwalker”, which she would rework a few times in her later career. All of the songs are less than three and a half minutes long, which should have made them radio-friendly. However, radio stations would not play Buffy Sainte-Marie.

# 8 – Running for the Drum

Buffy Sainte-Marie leaves her folk roots here in this 2009 award-winning album and goes deeper to her Native American roots, which she blends with hard rock tunes. She pulls no punches in her lyrics here as she flings barbs at the rich and powerful in “No No Keshagesh,” government workers in “Working for the Government” and still-persistent colonialism in “America the Beautiful.” Also contains a new version of her classic “Little Wheel Spin and Spin.” There are some softer tracks like “Still This Love Goes On.”

# 7 – Medicine Songs

This award-winning album from 2017 picks up where Power in the Blood left off. It does not consist of entirely new material, as there are re-recordings of several older songs. It blends the latest musical technology with Native American chants. It also features Buffy Sainte-Marie’s usual penetrating lyrics and vocal gymnastics. Original songs include “The War Racket” and “You Got to Run (Spirit of the Wind.)”

# 6 – Coincidences and Likely Stories

This 1992 album was supposed to be Buffy Sainte-Marie’s big comeback after sixteen years in exile from the music industry to raise her family and work in education. However, it was ignored by the public. It could have been because people were used to her 1960s albums, which consisted mostly of just her and a guitar. Gone are the traditional folk and protest songs. Even the country songs are gone. Instead, there are synthesizer-heavy tunes with a distinctly rock flavor. Perhaps the public was too saturated with World Music and its appearances in mainstream acts like Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel to make this stand out from music at the time. Tracks include “Bad End”, “The Big Ones Get Away” and “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.”

# 5 – It’s My Way!

This is Buffy Sainte-Marie’s first album, which first came out in 1964. She starts off with a song about Native Americans, “Now That the Buffalo’s Gone” and goes on to do traditional folk songs, the anti-war anthem made famous by Donovan “Universal Soldier” and one of the first popular anti-drug songs, “Cod’ine.” Many times, it’s just her voice and a guitar, which still fills up the ears like a whole orchestra. The cover image shows Buffy Sainte-Marie holding a mouthbow, which (sadly) has not shown up in many pop or folk albums.

# 4 – The Power of the Blood

This 2015 offering is one of those albums that defies categorization. It ranges from hard rock to dance. Buffy Sainte-Marie makes use of a much wider palette of instruments, sampling and vocal overlays to paint her lush songs. It makes you wonder if the technology has been available in the 1960s, she would have been a household name. This is yet another album that garnered her awards. Songs include the title track, “Not the Lovin’ Kind” and the inspirational “We are Circling.” Also includes a reworking “It’s My Way.”

# 3 – Many a Mile

This is perhaps the most enchanting entry in our list of 10 best Buffy Sainte-Marie albums, because of its variety. It includes traditional folk songs, including the funny “Johnny Be Fair”, the often-covered sad love song “Until It’s Time for You to Go” and the country-flavored title track, about traveling the country and traveling through life. This came out in 1966. Five tracks would wind up on her 1970 greatest hits album.

# 2 – Illuminations

A commercial failure when it was released in 1969, it is now considered a ground-breaking work in the use of vocal distortions through electronic processing by a Buchla synthesizer and for its general spiritual weirdness. Five songs would wind up on her better selling and better known The Best of Buffy Sainte-Marie. This is a very short album by today’s standards, with seven of the twelve songs being under three minutes long. Subjects tackled include what Mary felt when the labor pains started in “Mary” and what a victim feels like in “The Vampire”. The best-known track is “God is Alive, Magic is Afoot” with the words fellow Canadian Leonard Cohen. It was re-released in 2019.

# 1 – The Best of Buffy Sainte-Marie

Normally, a greatest hits compilation doesn’t make the top of a best album list, but this one is different. It not only has a great cross-section of songs from her first six albums, but also is one of the easiest of her older albums to find. It originally came out as a double album and on 8-track cassette in 1970. There was a one-album version released in 1972, but that one lacks many fine tracks. When the CD version came out, it included all the tracks for the double album. The only problem we have with this best of Buffy Sainte-Marie albums is the cover picture – just why is she green?

10 Best Buffy Sainte-Marie Albums article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021

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