These days dead rock stars leave back catalogues full of convenient foreshadowings and tragic – but marketable – hints. The Big Bopper’s posthumous contribution to the British pop charts, on the other hand, is a jovial rocker about doomed Injun love. Preston plays it straight but not sentimental, and the Bopper’s ‘war-chant’ backing vocals and whoops fill out the Native American gimmick a bit without making “Running Bear” feel entirely like a novelty. In fact it’s a reminder that the category of “novelty” as something separate from “pop” is a fairly recent conception. “Running Bear”, written and recorded by two respectable rockers, is a neat demonstration of the classic record biz approach – release anything and see what works.
If it had been made a few months later in the flush of the teenage death boom, “Running Bear” might have been played for tears (and ended up quite charmless). Instead Preston presents Bear and Little White Dove’s deaths as a matter of fact, window dressing for the record’s floor-friendly jump from verse stalk to chorus swing.