Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Bonaparte’s Retreat

First recorded by A.A. Gray (1924).
Also recorded by Crockett’s Kentucky Mountaineers (1927), William Hamilton Stepp (1937).
Hit versions by Pee Wee King & His Golden Western Cowboys (C&W #10 1949), Kay Starr (US #4 1950), Billy Grammer (US #50 1959), Glen Campbell (C&W #3/CAN #1 1974).

From the wiki: “‘Bonaparte’s Retreat’ is the name of two related songs. The original was a wordless melody that existed as various fiddle tunes dating back to at least the late 19th century and probably well before that. In 1950, American country music artist Pee Wee King recorded a modified version of the song, with lyrics added. The song has become associated with American old-time and bluegrass music, and is considered to be a staple in the traditional American songbook. The title originates from Napoleon Bonaparte’s famous retreat from Russia in 1812, and the song is believed to have first been written in the aftermath of that event.

“Fiddler A. A. Gray recorded the song in 1924. In 1937, American ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax, while traveling through Kentucky, recorded violinist William Hamilton Stepp playing ‘Bonaparte’s Retreat’. This recording was inducted in 2016 into the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry.

“Stepp’s version of the song was used as a major component of Aaron Copland’s ‘Hoe-Down’ from the ballet ‘Rodeo’. ‘Hoe-Down’ has in turn been covered by various artists, including Emerson, Lake and Palmer on their 1972 album Trilogy. It has also received use in television and film, including the American TV ad campaign ‘Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner’.

“In 1950, Pee Wee King added lyrics to the instrumental and released his arrangement of ‘Bonaparte’s Retreat’ as a single. This version slowed down the melody and added lyrics, about dancing with and wooing a girl. King’s lyrics refer to the original song in the chorus: ‘I kissed her while the guitars played the ‘Bonaparte’s Retreat”.

“King’s recording peaked at #10 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart. Kay Starr recorded a pop version of the song later in 1950. Her arrangement peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Billy Grammer recorded and charted (#50) in 1959 with a crossover country-pop version.

“Glen Campbell then covered the song for his 1974 album Houston (I’m Comin’ to See You). It was released in July 1974 as the album’s second single. Campbell’s version peaked at #3 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart. It also reached #1 on the RPM Country Tracks chart in Canada.”

Crockett’s Kentucky Mountaineers, “Bonaparte’s Retreat” (1927):

William Hamilton Stepp, “Bonaparte’s Retreat” (1937):

“Beef, It’s Whats for Dinner” TV advertisement featuring Copland’s ‘Hoedown’ (1993):

Pee Wee King & His Golden Western Cowboys, “Bonaparte’s Retreat” (1949):

Kay Starr, “Bonaparte’s Retreat” (1950):

Billy Grammer, “Bonaparte’s Retreat” (1959):

Glen Campbell, “Bonaparte’s Retreat” (1974):

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