Universal Soldier (song)

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"Universal Soldier"
Song by Buffy Sainte-Marie
from the album It's My Way!
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 an immediate 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, as did Glen Campbell. 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."[1]

Sainte-Marie has said she approached writing the song from the perspective of a student writing an essay for a professor who didn't see eye-to-eye with her perspective, hoping to present him with a different point of view.[2]


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.[3]

Sainte-Marie sold the publishing rights to the song, but later bought them back for $25,000.[4]

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.[3] In Donovan's version, Dachau became Liebau (Lubawka, Poland), a training center for Hitler Youth.[citation needed] Donovan's recording was released on an EP titled The Universal Soldier in the United Kingdom (August 15, 1965). The EP continued Donovan's run of high charting releases in the UK by reaching No. 5 on the charts. The tracks on the EP are "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. 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 No. 53 on the Billboard charts.[citation needed] 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". Cash Box described it as "a plaintive, twangy, medium-paced message-song which takes a strong anti-war stand."[5]

Sainte-Marie was glad that Donovan's success with this song got more people to hear it.[3]

Other covers[edit]


In 1965, Jan Berry of Jan and Dean released as a single an answer song presenting the opposite point of view, titled "The Universal Coward", which criticized anti-war protesters.[7] Dean Torrence objected and did not participate.[8]

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.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "It's My Way (1964)". Buffy Sainte-Marie.
  2. ^ Friend, David (February 3, 2017). "Return of the protest song". The Hamilton Spectator/ The Canadian Press.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ "Buffy Sainte-Marie is recording again". Financial Times.
  5. ^ "CashBox Record Reviews" (PDF). Cash Box. September 11, 1965. p. 14. Retrieved January 12, 2022.
  6. ^ "YouTube". YouTube. September 3, 2008. Retrieved November 21, 2013.[dead YouTube link]
  7. ^ Moore, Mark A. (2016). The Jan & Dean Record: A Chronology of Studio Sessions, Live Performances and Chart Positions. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co. p. 261. ISBN 9780786498123. Retrieved August 12, 2019.
  8. ^ Cohen, Ronald D.; Kaufman, Will (2015). Singing for Peace: Antiwar Songs in American History. Abingdon, England: Routledge. p. 86. ISBN 9781612058078. Retrieved August 12, 2019.
  9. ^ "Universally Noted". Smithsonian (December). 2004. Retrieved December 13, 2021.

External links[edit]