Universal Soldier (song)

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"Universal Soldier"
Song by Buffy Sainte-Marie
from the album It's My Way!
FormatLP record
GenreFolk rock
Songwriter(s)Buffy Sainte-Marie
Producer(s)Maynard Solomon

"Universal Soldier" is a song written and recorded by Canadian singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie. The song was originally released on Sainte-Marie's debut album It's My Way! in 1964. "Universal Soldier" was not a popular hit at the time of its release, but it did garner attention within the contemporary folk music community. It became a hit a year later when Donovan covered it. Sainte-Marie said of the song: "I wrote 'Universal Soldier' in the basement of The Purple Onion coffee house in Toronto in the early sixties. It's about individual responsibility for war and how the old feudal thinking kills us all."[citation needed]


In the six verses of the song, a soldier of different heights, ages, religious and political backgrounds is depicted, fighting in different times, for different countries (starting with Canada, where Buffy Sainte-Marie comes from), and with different motives, always thinking that he is fighting for peace but never realizing he is part of the problem. The song ends with:

He's the Universal Soldier
and he really is to blame.
His orders come from far away no more.
They come from here and there and you and me,
and brothers, can't you see
this is not the way to put an end to war.[1]

Donovan cover[edit]

"Universal Soldier"
Song by Donovan
from the EP The Universal Soldier
ReleasedAugust 15, 1965 (1965-08-15)
GenreFolk rock
LabelPye (NEP 24219)
Songwriter(s)Buffy Sainte-Marie
  • Terry Kennedy
  • Peter Eden
  • Geoff Stephens
The Universal Soldier EP track listing
4 tracks
Side one
  1. "Universal Soldier"
  2. "The Ballad of a Crystal Man"
Side two
  1. "Do You Hear Me Now?"
  2. "The War Drags On"

By 1965 the song had caught the attention of budding folk singer Donovan, who recorded it using a similar arrangement to Buffy Sainte-Marie's original recording.[1] In Donovan's version, Dachau became Liebau (Lubawka, Poland), a training center for Hitler Youth. Donovan's recording was released on an EP titled The Universal Soldier in the United Kingdom (15 August 1965, Pye NEP 24219). The EP continued Donovan's run of high charting releases in the UK by reaching #5 on the charts. Tracks on the EP: "Universal Soldier"; "The Ballad of a Crystal Man" b/w "Do You Hear Me Now?" (Bert Jansch); "The War Drags On" (Mick Softley).

The lack of interest in the EP format within the United States led Hickory Records to release the song as a single in September 1965 (Hickory 45-1338). Donovan's cover of "Universal Soldier" was backed with another track from the British EP: Bert Jansch's "Do You Hear Me Now?" Donovan's US release of "Universal Soldier" also became a hit, charting higher than his previous single "Colours" and ultimately reaching #53 on the Billboard charts. This success led Hickory Records to include the song on the United States release of Donovan's second album, Fairytale, replacing a cover of Bert Jansch's "Oh Deed I Do".

Sainte-Marie was glad that Donovan's success with this song got more people to hear it.[1]

Other covers[edit]

Quoted unknowingly in Smithsonian article[edit]

Lyrics from this song (ending in "without you all this killing can't go on") were quoted in Owen Edwards' article "Kilroy Was Here" in the October 2004 edition of Smithsonian. The author identifies the lyrics as "free verse" from "a mysterious poem" that was found written on a cot from a Vietnam War era troopship. The true authorship of the words was provided by more than 285 readers who wrote in to provide a correction.[3]


  1. ^ a b c Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 34 - Revolt of the Fat Angel: American musicians respond to the British invaders. [Part 2] : UNT Digital Library" (audio). Pop Chronicles. University of North Texas Libraries.
  2. ^ "YouTube". YouTube. 2008-09-03. Retrieved 2013-11-21.
  3. ^ "Universally Noted". Smithsonian (December). 2004. Retrieved 2008-06-01.

External links[edit]