Apr 04

JOHNNY PRESTON – “Running Bear”

Popular17 comments • 3,079 views

#98, 17th March 1960

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.



  1. 1
    Doctor Mod on 16 Sep 2006 #

    This song is forever etched in my mind as the soundtrack to the Christine Keeler versus Mandy Rice Davies striptease scene in the film Scandal.

    Otherwise, I’d probably not think of this silly song at all.

    (Oh yes, that other “exotic” #1 song about the woman who eats “coky-nuts” and wears a “hoolie-hoolie skirt” is a striptease number in the film as well. It must say something about pop fantasies of native peoples.)

  2. 2
    James Grifiths on 5 Sep 2008 #

    The version in the movie Scandal was not Johny Preston singing it as it was a live version by a british singer and he was never spoken about in the titles which was very sad as it was a great version of this preston song.Does anyone now the name of the singer in the Scandal version.

  3. 3
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 17 Mar 2009 #

    the better (“sonata”-form) model for what “ebony and ivory” should have been trying for…

    (the sad ending is a better idea: “Don’t let this happen to you kids!”

  4. 4
    wichita lineman on 17 Mar 2009 #

    Also Rag Doll by the Four Seasons, which fell one place short for Popular, but trumps Running Bear and Ebony & Ivory with ease. I’m assuming the “doll” in question was from “across the tracks” and not just a girl without much of a dowry.

    Hot Chocolate’s Brother Louie, mind you, was more of a Love Thy Neighbour take on race relations – much as I normally love them! The spoken parts made me cringe when I was 10 let alone know. “Get it???” croaks Alexis Korner to a collective groan of embarrassment.

  5. 5
    jeff w registered on 28 Apr 2009 #

    My score of 10 for sentimental reasons: one of the very few 7″ singles my parents bought.

  6. 6
    enitharmon on 6 Mar 2011 #

    So it’s farewell then, Johnny Preston.

  7. 7
    Jimmy the Swede on 6 Mar 2011 #

    Yep, poor ol’ Johnny. The ragin’ river (Styx) has finally pulled t’bugger down. “Running Bear”, of course, is the song favoured by the Scottish rugger team. Calcutta Cup next Sunday…

  8. 8
    Snif on 6 Mar 2011 #

    One thing I never understood – if the raging river prevented them from getting together, how’d they ever get the idea of being in love with each other in the first place?

  9. 9
    Mark G on 7 Mar 2011 #


  10. 10
    wichita lineman on 8 Mar 2011 #

    I’ve never really understood what Johnny Preston was meant to be. My favourite single of his was his third hit, a cover of Shirley & Lee’s Feel So Fine on which he plays both parts (I’m a sucker for falsetto).

    And he had a gracious loser, Orbison-esque moment here.

    By the end of 1960 he was charting (low) with the Nashville ballad I’m Starting To Go Steady, which I’m thinking might be where his heart lay, but I guess too many novelty hits meant no one took him seriously. Did he make a country rock classic in the late 60s? It feels like there’s something hidden we should know about (heck, even Pat Boone made a slightly freaky late 60s album) and Spotify has no hints. Anyone??

  11. 11
    Erithian on 8 Mar 2011 #

    This song was covered by glam-rock heroes Mud circa 1974, with the “war-chant” backing vocals replaced by a chant of “Injun streaker! Injun streaker!” (geddit?)

  12. 12
    punctum on 8 Mar 2011 #

    #10: According to the Grauniad obit he left the music business in the late sixties (it doesn’t say what he did instead) but later returned to the oldies circuit. What’s all this about a slightly freaky Pat Boone album then?

    The most amazing thing about this song is that one of the backing singers/war chanters is George Jones!

  13. 13
    wichita lineman on 8 Mar 2011 #

    Pat Boone’s Departure album from 1969, released here on Polydor – includes a nice take on John Stewart’s July You’re A Woman and the first commercial release of Song To The Siren.

    JP obits are depressingly thin on detail (bar that George Jones fact!).

  14. 14
    Mutley on 8 Mar 2011 #

    Not forgetting Pat Boone’s “In a Metal Mood: No more Mr Nice Guy” of 1997 covering Led Zeppelin, Hendrix etc. See Pat in leather on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_a_Metal_Mood:_No_More_Mr._Nice_Guy

  15. 15
    lonepilgrim on 22 Jun 2014 #

    I hear traces of ‘Kaw Liga’ by Hank Williams in this. It has a similar slow verse – fast chorus structure and a shared theme of frustrated Native American love. I’m a sucker for this sort of thing, perhaps due to over exposure to ‘3 wheels on my wagon’ on Junior Showtime as a kid

  16. 16
    Wll on 29 Apr 2017 #

    ..This was #1 the week I was born – in America , in both cases
    I can’t find the stork-boy , alas .
    Where is it ? More later .

  17. 17
    Gareth Parker on 8 Jun 2021 #

    A very generous 4/10 from me.

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