For this edition of Country Catalyst, the special feature that offers up country classics to folks who don’t normally go for the twangy stuff, I’m presenting a song that has already had some crossover success. But even though “Bonaparte’s Retreat” had its moment as a pop song, it certainly started out as pure country.
The melody was based on various old instrumentals, but the complete package was put together by the legendary Julius Frank Anthony Kuczynski (aka Pee Wee King), who also had the first hit record with it in 1950. His version is actually a song within a song, because the lyrics say that the band played “Bonaparte’s Retreat” while our hero romanced the girl — and nothing explains just what the former French emperor had to do with it.
A few years later it took a detour to the pop music side of things when Kay Starr recorded it (with the lyrics revised accordingly). The version that’s probably familiar to most of us is the one that was a big hit for Glen Campbell in 1974. Its infectious, driving opening created the perfect upbeat mood for the song. A while later, Willie Nelson recorded it in a style that was a little closer to the original, and in the years since it has become a country standard.