For more than 50 years, Buffy Sainte-Marie has been making music to help make the world a better place. Although best known for her protest songs about the treatment of Native Americans, she can also crank out a killer love song. Her songs span the range of folk, pop, country and the psychedelic. If you are unfamiliar with her work, you are now in for a treat. You may even recognize a few of her tunes covered by more popular artists. Here are the top 10 Buffy-Saint Marie songs.
# 10 – Up Where We Belong
This is the most well-known entry in our list of top 10 Buffy Sainte-Marie songs. She wrote this with Jack Nitzsche and Will Jennings. Recorded as a duet by Joe Coker and Jennifer Warnes, it first appeared on the soundtrack of the hit 1982 movie An Officer and a Gentleman. It earned her an Oscar for Best Original Song. Although a massive hit, hard core Joe Cocker fans were appalled that Cocker strayed into pop. Here is a version done by Buffy.
# 9 – I’m Gonna Be a Country Girl Again
This is an unusual love song, since Buffy isn’t singing to a lover but to the countryside. It’s very Nashville with steel guitars, background singers on the chorus and references to an old dog. She’s been unfaithful to her beloved countryside by living in the city for a while and going to college, but she’s back and the countryside has forgiven her. This first appeared on her 1968 album of the same name. This was also one of the many songs she performed on Sesame Street, when she was a frequent guest from 1975 to 1981.
# 8 – God Is Alive, Magic Is Afoot
Being Canadian, Buffy was quite active in the Canadian art scene in the 1960s. When she read a poem by then little-known guy named Leonard Cohen, she was inspired to put a tune to the words. She has since said that this was the easiest song she ever wrote. The song mainly consists of just Buffy and her guitar, it’s bookended by vocal distortions from an early synthesizer that makes her voice sound like footsteps. It appeared originally on her 1969 album Illuminations.
# 7 – Hey Little Rockabye
This is also a love song, but it’s about the love between a person and the puppy that she adopts from a shelter. Not only is this a toe-tapping little tune with a classy arrangement, but also features some of the rhythms and “hey hey” calls used in Native American music and some from Buffy’s older tunes based on Native American music. This is arguably one of the happiest songs she ever wrote. Compare this to “Cod’ine” and you’ll see two sides of a very complex songwriter. This was released in 2020 in conjunction with her children’s book of the same name.
# 6 – Starwalker
Although best known for quieter songs, Buffy certainly can rock. She does in this song, mixing Native American imagery and traditional vocalizations with a hard-rock arrangement. We get a brief, tantalizing glimpse at a few characters, including Starwalker, who “don’t drink no wine.” This first appeared on her 1992 comeback album, Coincidences and Likely Stories.
# 5 – Now That the Buffalo’s Gone
Buffy’s well-known for her songs about the mistreatment of Native Americans. The first track on her very first album was just such a song. Some of those songs meander and some are repetitive. This is her best protest song since it gets to the point without being too heavy-handed. It’s just her and her guitar and a whole history of wrong-doing. Sadly, it’s not dated as Native Americans are still disenfranchised today. This song is especially poignant to listeners with a trace of Native American blood, but not enough to be members of a tribe. “Now That the Buffalo’s Gone” originally appeared on her debut album, It’s My Way!
# 4 – Cod’ine
This song is known under a variety of spellings, but this is the original. Janis Joplin’s version is better known, but Buffy holds her own in retelling a drug addict’s pain. Although hooked on codeine, she’s still proud that she never became an alcoholic. It’s that little moment of painting a complete character portrait in a few lyrics makes this ranks high on lists of not only top Buffy Sainte-Marie songs, but top anti-drug songs. It originally appeared Buffy’s first album, It’s My Way! (1964.)
# 3 – Winter Boy
Both eerie and sweet, this little song is about a lonely woman making friends with a young boy, or adopting a boy. It’s a little vague, which all good poetry is. It’s just her and the guitar and a very powerful set of lyrics set to an unconventional melody without a chorus. The guitar is played as gently as snowfall. Buffy wrote another song called “Summer Boy” but they are related in title only. The Yankee Dollar covered this song in 1968. “Winter Boy” originally appeared on her 1966 album Little Wheel Spin and Spin.
# 2 – Universal Soldier
Arguably one of the best anti-war songs ever written during an era of jaw-dropping protest songs, Buffy describes just about every type of soldier there is – and then lets us know that it’s not the Universal Soldier’s fault that war happens. Although it’s an indictment of the listener and the singer herself, it also contains a note of hope. If we are all responsible for war, then we are all responsible for stopping war. Donovan’s cover is perhaps better known than the original, which appeared on Buffy’s first album, It’s My Way!
# 1 – The Vampire
There is a lot going in on in this little song, just over two minutes long. If it wasn’t for the title, you would think this was about a woman who fell in love with a tall, old and abusive man. There are no vampire stereotypes here, with the sole exception of when she looks into his eyes, “no reflection came.” This is a tight piece of both storytelling and songwriting, which deserves its spot at the top of our list of to 10 Buffy Sainte-Marie songs. This, also, appeared on her 1969 folk-psychedelic album Illuminations.
Top 10 Buffy Sainte-Marie Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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