Buffy Sainte-Marie was one of my favorite songwriters of the 1960s, and I learned at least a half-dozen of her songs — but, for some reason, my favorites tended to be songs that made little or no sense for a man to sing, like “I’m Gonna Be a Country Girl Again” and “Soulful Shade of Blue,” which is a plea to her dressmaker to make her a lovely dress that will attract the man she loves.
“Cod’ine” is also from a woman’s point of view, but strong enough to be sung by anybody… the problem being that none of us will ever sing it as well as Sainte-Marie did. This was probably the song that first attracted me to her work, through the devastating performance she gave on a Newport Folk Festival anthology LP.
In a parallel to current oxycodone and Oxycontin addiction, codeine is an opioid that was a common ingredient in cough medicine, sold legally in drugstores, but frequently used to get high. There were monographs on the dangers of codeine addiction as early as the 1930s, but it continued to be widely prescribed and also used in many over-the-counter cough medicines. Sainte-Marie herself was prescribed it for a throat problem in 1963 and apparently became addicted, though not to the extent of the character in her song.
In any case, I learned the song but never performed it, because I was so captivated by her performance — I would try to sing it the way she did, and I couldn’t come close. But for this project I figured I might introduce the song to some listeners who didn’t know it… so here it is. And, now that you’re here, I recommend checking out the original. A terrific, though excerpted, version was filmed at Newport: