The Accidental Classic
For decades, recording artists in every genre of music have performed Christmas songs. Some stick to the classics while others add their own twist to the most popular carols.
But few interpretations compare to the seemingly odd — yet perfectly paired — “Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy” duet from classic crooner Bing Crosby and British rocker David Bowie, which aired on Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas on this day in 1977.
It almost didn’t happen.
Crosby was in London recording the Christmas special in September 1977. Bowie, who lived in London and whose single “Heroes” had been released that year, was invited to sing because Bing, 73, wanted a young singer on the special.
Crosby and Bowie met for the first time on the morning of the taping, rehearsed for just an hour and recorded the song in just three takes.
A fan of Bing Crosby, Bowie, 30, agreed to record a duet but backed out when he learned that they would be singing “Little Drummer Boy.” Bowie felt that the song wasn’t right for him.
Several writers scrambled to put together an addendum to the duet and thus, “Peace On Earth” was born. Bowie was happy with the song and agreed to perform just hours before he was set to record with Crosby.
Crosby and Bowie met for the first time on the morning of the taping, rehearsed for just an hour and recorded the song in just three takes. The result — a soothingly fine-tuned ballad from Bowie perfectly complimented by Crosby’s rich baritone vocals. While the exchange between the two singers seems slightly awkward at first, their vastly different musical styles blend harmoniously. Truly, it was an unlikely, yet unforgettable match made in music heaven.
Days later, Bing praised Bowie as a “clean-cut kid and a real fine asset to the show. He sings well, has a great voice and reads lines well.”
Sadly, just a month after the special was taped, Bing Crosby died of a massive heart attack on a golf course in Spain.
“[Bowie] sings well, has a great voice and reads lines well.” — Bing Crosby
CBS aired the Christmas special on November 30. Five years later, RCA released “Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy” as a single, and it remains a popular Christmas song in America and England. In 1999, TV Guide hailed it as one of the 25 most memorable musical moments of 20th century television.
“Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy” is a classic Christmas tune that young and old music lovers alike can appreciate together.
For so many reasons, it just doesn’t get much better. An all time classic. It represents so much beyond the performance. The old and the new guard. The “evolution” of culture, art, and music. Boundaries being pushed, morphed, and destroyed. Bowies progressive idea to change the “militaristic song” to contain a “peaceful message” at the end. And as “out there” as Bowie was as an artist, he was STILL as classy as they came. Able to rise to the occasion. To be stylish, yet respectful. To be an entertainer, yet do it with so much heart and soul. I wonder who could even fill these shoes today… …. . . . . .
Two Worlds Collide.
The Masters in their prime:
additional reference: Elizabeth Rementer