Bonaparte's Retreat (Pee Wee King song)

"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 1800s and probably well before that. In 1950, American country music artist Pee Wee King recorded a modified version of the song, with lyrics added, which he also called "Bonaparte's Retreat". This latter song has been covered by many country artists.

"Bonaparte's Retreat"
Single by Glen Campbell
from the album Houston (I'm Comin' to See You)
B-side"Too Many Mornings"
ReleasedJuly 15, 1974
Songwriter(s)Pee Wee King
Producer(s)Jimmy Bowen
Glen Campbell singles chronology
"Houston (I'm Comin' to See You)"
"Bonaparte's Retreat"
"It's a Sin When You Love Somebody"

Original songEdit

The title of the original "Bonaparte's Retreat" is an apparent reference to Napoleon Bonaparte's disastrous retreat from Russia in 1812, and some earlier British folk songs told of that event.

In 1937, American ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax, while travelling 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.[1]

Stepp's version of the song was used as a major component of Aaron Copland's song "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".

Pee Wee King versionEdit

In 1950, Pee Wee King released "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 song peaked at number 10 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart. Kay Starr recorded the song[2] later in 1950. Her version peaked at number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Billy Grammer recorded and charted (#50) in 1959 with a crossover pop and country 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 number 3 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart.[3] It also reached number 1 on the RPM Country Tracks chart in Canada.[4]

Willie Nelson also covered the song as a bonus track on the reissue of his 1975 concept album Red Headed Stranger. In addition, the song was covered by Michael Nesmith and the Second National Band's 1972 album Tantamount to Treason Vol. 1.

Chart performanceEdit

Pee Wee KingEdit

Chart (1950) Peak
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[5] 10

Kay StarrEdit

Chart (1950) Peak
US Billboard Hot 100[6] 4

Glen CampbellEdit

Chart (1974) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report) 4
Canadian RPM Country Tracks 1
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)[7] 3
US Billboard Hot 100[8] 42


  1. ^ "National Recording Registry Recognizes "Mack the Knife," Motown and Mahler". Library of Congress. 23 March 2016. Retrieved 24 March 2016.
  2. ^ Kay Starr interviewed on the Pop Chronicles (1969)
  3. ^ "Glen Campbell singles". Allmusic. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  4. ^ "RPM Country Singles for October 19, 1974". RPM. Archived from the original on 21 October 2012. Retrieved 18 March 2011.
  5. ^ "Pee Wee King Chart History (Hot Country Songs)". Billboard.
  6. ^ "Kay Starr Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  7. ^ "Glen Campbell Chart History (Hot Country Songs)". Billboard.
  8. ^ "Glen Campbell Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.