Song Writing

Let Me Be Your Teddy Bear: Teddy Bears and Teddy Boys in Songs

by Amanda Flinner

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At the start of the 20th century, two innovators from two different countries came up with one idea: the teddy bear. In the US, candy shop owner Morris Michtom read a political cartoon by Clifford Berryman depicting President Theodore Roosevelt's refusal to kill a wounded black bear on a hunting trip in Mississippi (though he had one of his men do it). Michtom encouraged his wife to create two stuffed toys that resembled bear cubs to display in his store window. Roosevelt, who bristled under the nickname "Teddy," was nevertheless honored by having the dolls dubbed "Teddy's bears," and throngs of his supporters armed themselves with the mascots.

Meanwhile, German toymaker Richard Steiff was preparing to ship his new bear dolls to a company in New York City, but they never arrived. The Roosevelt teddy bears were left to sweep the nation and become a symbol of comfort for generations, while Berryman continued to draw bears in his Roosevelt cartoons, forever linking the president to the animals and their stuffed counterparts. By 1907, the bears made their debut in song with the classic "Teddy Bears' Picnic" and have literally and figuratively (and sometimes, creepily) shown up in music ever since.
"The Teddy Bears' Picnic" (1932)
by Henry Hall and his Orchestra
Picnic time for Teddy Bears
The little Teddy Bears are having
A lovely time today.
Watch them, catch them unawares,
And see them picnic on their holiday

Many traditional children's songs and stories have a twisted past, but Irish songwriter Jimmy Kennedy didn't mean for this song to be creepy - especially coming from the soothing tones of Bing Crosby or Anne Murray, who probably wouldn't hurt a fly (she's a Canadian, after all). But for a generation of kids raised with horror films about dolls coming to life and slaughtering everyone in sight, it's a little unsettling to imagine a legion of teddy bears feasting and frolicking in the middle of the woods, then returning home all stoic-like to their unwitting child owners. There's even an inherent warning in the lyrics to any non-bears spying on the activities:

If you go down to the woods today,
You'd better not go alone!
It's lovely down in the woods today,
But safer to stay at home!

This begs the question, what will they do if they catch you and what, exactly, are they eating?

John Walter Bratton composed the instrumental for "Teddy Bears' Picnic" in 1907. Others added words since then, but it was Kennedy who wrote the definitive lyrics in 1932, not surprisingly. He was a prolific songwriter who penned over 2,000 songs performed by a host of legendary artists from Bing Crosby ("Did Your Mother Come from Ireland?") and Frank Sinatra ("South of the Border") to Elvis Presley ("Harbor Lights") and The Platters ("My Prayer"), many of whom recorded their own versions of "The Teddy Bears' Picnic." The first recording was made with Henry Hall and his Orchestra with vocalist Val Rosing in 1932.

"Ready Teddy" (1956)
by Little Richard
I'm ready, ready, ready teddy,
I'm ready, ready, ready to a rock 'n' roll

If parents were worried that rock 'n' roll was all about sex, they were right – at least with "Ready Teddy." Did anyone really think it was about the bear? Little Richard's 1956 hit, written by John Marascalo and Robert "Bumps" Blackwell, was all about revving up to do the deed.

The song inspired the catchphrase "Ready Teddy" (George Lucas included it in his pre-Star Wars nostalgia classic American Graffiti, when bad boy Paul Le Mat announces "I'm a Ready Teddy!"). The song made history when Elvis Presley performed it for some 60 million viewers on his debut appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Elvis would have his own hit with a teddy song the following year, this time about the actual bear.

"(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear" (1957)
by Elvis Presley
Baby let me be,
your lovin' Teddy Bear
Put a chain around my neck,
and lead me anywhere

Elvis Presley's "(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear" was born out of a rumor, possibly spurred by his monumental Ed Sullivan Show appearance, that became a reality. When news hit the fanzines that The King had a penchant for teddy bears, hordes of fans began sending Elvis the stuffed animals, and he soon amassed a collection of thousands of furry friends.

The songwriters Kal Mann and Bernie Lowe were inspired by the mixup and wrote the song, complete with Elvis on the cover with one of his new pals. It topped the charts for seven straight weeks, but that didn't endear the little friends to the singer. That Christmas, he donated them all to charity.

The following year, Phil Spector (who would become a famed producer and, unfortunately, a convicted murderer) formed his first vocal group and dubbed it The Teddy Bears after the hit song. Soon, they had their own hit with "To Know Him Is To Love Him."

"Teddy Boy" (1970)
by Paul McCartney
Mommy don't worry now Teddy boy's here
Taking good care of you
Mommy don't worry Teddy boy's here
Teddy's gonna see you through

As rock and roll swept the UK in the 1950s, a new fashion trend was taking hold in London. Well, a new old fashion trend. Young men were reviving the posh style of the Edwardian Era of nearly a half-a-century before and pairing it with a punk attitude, leading the press to call them "Teddy Boys" (Teddy was also a nickname for Edward). Teddy Boys defined the youth movement in England as the nation's first teenagers, and by the time The Beatles left Liverpool in 1964, the Teds' destructive antics were being dramatized on the front pages.

Teddy may be a punk kid, but in Paul McCartney's "Teddy Boy," he's still looking to comfort his mum like a traditional teddy bear. McCartney wrote the acoustic song during the Beatles' 1969 trip to India, intending it for the forthcoming Let It Be album. While it was recorded several times during the sessions, it ultimately didn't make the cut. It debuted on McCartney's self-titled solo album in 1970. Incidentally, the Beatles' versions of the song were produced by original Teddy Bears member Phil Spector.

"The Teddy Bear Song" (1972)
by Barbara Fairchild
I wish I was a teddy bear
Not livin' or lovin' nor goin' nowhere

"The Teddy Bear Song" wasn't necessarily written with murder in mind, but it was a topic familiar to songwriter Don Earl, a homicide detective who liked to write song lyrics but couldn't play the guitar. Earl's lyrics were making such a loud buzz in the Nashville music scene, Nick Nixon heard it all the way in St. Louis, where he worked as a singer and songwriter. He wanted to record the song himself, but was told a tune about a teddy bear was strictly for girls (though Waylon Jennings would record it later). Instead, Nixon teamed up with Earl to write the music for Barbara Fairchild to sing. Like Elvis, Fairchild wanted to be a teddy bear, but for an entirely different reason: she was a dejected woman who would rather be an inanimate toy than endure the heartache of a breakup.

The song was a crossover hit, topping the country chart and peaking at #32 on the Hot 100. After the success of the song, Earl moved to Nashville, where he would pen a couple more hits for Fairchild: "Kid Stuff" and "Baby Doll." Nixon was signed to Mercury Records but decided to stick close to home to be near his family, where he would become a local legend. He would close out the decade with a few more Top 40 country hits: "I'm Too Use To Loving You" (1975), "Rocking In Rosalee's Boat" (1976) and "I'll Get Over You" (1977).

"Teddy Bear" (1976)
by Red Sovine
He said, 'Breaker 1-9, is anyone there?
Come on back truckers and talk to Teddy Bear'
I keyed the mike and I said, 'You got it, Teddy Bear'
And the little boy's voice came back on the air

Fairchild didn't corner the market on sad teddy bear songs. That honor goes to Red Sovine, a country singer who made a living from his odes to truck drivers, and his 1976 hit "Teddy Bear." While CB culture was all the rage in the '70s (see: "Convoy"), with the pre-Internet populace clamoring to talk to strangers over the airwaves instead of the interwebs, Sovine plays the role of a semi-truck driver who connects with a young stranger over the two-way radio one night.

"Teddy Bear" is a paraplegic boy who was left with a CB radio when his trucker dad was killed in an accident, and his one wish is to take a spin in a big rig. By the time Sovine's voice starts to tremor as the trucker determines to grant the request, all of the other big-hearted drivers converge at Teddy's house, too.

Not only did the song become a huge hit, it also prompted a battle against the FCC, who insisted children under 18 were not allowed to have their own CB licenses. Perhaps the tale of a boy who would freely give his home address out to random truckers was not the best defense for detractors. But at least the story ended well, until Diana Williams got a hold of it later that year.

"Teddy Bear's Last Ride" (1976)
by Diana Williams
They never did catch Teddy Bear again
'Cause late one night the Angel came
And the last thing he said before he died was
"Tell all my trucker friends how I enjoyed the rides"

When Red Sovine refused to record a follow-up for his gold-selling single, it was the death knell for his little buddy. Yep, as if things couldn't get any worse, they upped and killed Teddy Bear. The truckers came back again, this time for a funeral procession. Two of the original songwriters, Dale Royal and Billy Joe Burnette, brought the morbid sequel to Capitol Records and their asset Diana Williams.

Sovine responded with a new song with the help of songwriter Moe Lytle. "Little Joe" was about a former trucker who was blinded by an accident and saved by his canine friend, but it included an interesting tidbit of information: grown up Teddy Bear is alive and well and, miracle of miracles, he can walk. Like his stuffed namesake, Teddy proves to be a comforter when he relocates the lost pup and presents him as a seeing-eye dog to his blind friend.

"Teddy Bear" (1993)
by G-Wiz
I wanna be your teddy bear
I'll take you anywhere
Let me make love tonight
I wanna be your teddy bear

If you remember the '90s hip-hop group G-Wiz at all, you probably remember their sole hit, "Teddy Bear," from their one and only album, Naughty Bits. The song borrows Elvis' sentiment of "(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear," though it's hard to imagine him singing lyrics like "'Cause deep inside I know you're horny."

Like Little Richard's "Ready Teddy" ramped up to the max, this teddy bear has officially gone from child's toy to sex toy. The song deserves props, though, for being the only one to mention the bear's namesake: "Come on run teddy, Teddy Roosevelt."

That same year, Barney (the purple dinosaur) restored Teddy's innocence with the sweet, if not slightly antisocial, "Me and My Teddy": "I got lots of friends out there and they're lots of fun, But they're not my teddy bear, he's my favorite one."

"The Return (Of the Velvet Teddy Bear)" (2006)
by Ruben Studdard
You can let your hair down, you can let yourself go
Cause I came back to let you know that
It's the return, it's the return of your velvet teddy bear

When you pulled their strings, teddy bears used to say things like, "Hi, I'm Teddy. Wanna play?" not "There's a lot of things I wanna show you, most things you never knew I could do." That's what happens when you christen an R&B singer "The Velvet Teddy Bear." Ruben Studdard earned the nickname from Gladys Knight for his cuddly physique during his victorious run on the second season of American Idol in 2003.

"It means more than just size, it's about the texture of the sound of my voice, so I'm glad to be called 'The Velvet Teddy Bear,'" he told Parade.

Pretty sure what he wants to "whisper in ya ear" doesn't have anything to do with the texture of his voice, though. The song was included on his third album, The Return.

Also in 2006, Minneapolis rapper P.O.S issued a warning with "Teddy Bear and a Tazer," one of the few "Teddy" songs that is far from cuddly:

Stay out the dark
Forever sleepin' with a teddy bear
And a tazer
Givin' ya cuts
Like a 6-pack of Bic razors

"Teddy Bear" (2012)
by Cheryl Cole
Oh baby you're my Teddy bear, uh yeah, uh yeah
It took a little while to find
But I'm so damn glad you're mine

Cheryl Cole found a new toy. It's probably not "The Velvet Teddy Bear," but it sounds a lot like him: "I like the way you say that I'm your lady, I love the way you say I'm hot," Cheryl purrs.

She got in the mood for this slow jam, which she co-wrote with producer Jim Beanz, with a fast food feast that included Oreos, Pinkberry frozen yogurt, and In and Out burgers. If you think her low vocals sound sexy, she attributes it to intestinal distress brought on by the burgers.

"You have to use your stomach when you sing. If it's digesting, it's not a happy place to be," she told BBC News.

That's certainly not the way the Teddy Bears have their picnic.
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Comments: 1

  • Bob Tarte from Lowell, Michigan UsaReally great post of bear songs. I enjoyed the insights into the songs. Thanks so much.
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