The Bing & Bowie Duet: You Be the Judge

Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Posted in category Music

Is the renowned David Bowie-Bing Crosby performance of “The Little Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth” a dazzling and unforgettable performance or a completely bizarre and insufferable episode in TV and music history that should be entirely forgotten? The following passage is from a 2006 Washington Post article on how this duet happened:

One of the most successful duets in Christmas music history — and surely the weirdest — might never have happened if it weren’t for some last-minute musical surgery. David Bowie thought “The Little Drummer Boy” was all wrong for him. So when the producers of Bing Crosby’s Christmas TV special asked Bowie to sing it in 1977, he refused.

Just hours before he was supposed to go before the cameras, though, a team of composers and writers frantically retooled the song. They added another melody and new lyrics as a counterpoint to all those pah-rumpa-pum-pums and called it “Peace on Earth.” Bowie liked it. More important, Bowie sang it.

The result was an epic, and epically bizarre, recording in which David Bowie, the androgynous Ziggy Stardust, joined in song with none other than Mr. “White Christmas” himself, Bing Crosby.

Remember that the TV special did not air until after Bing Crosby died, which was about a month after taping his Christmas special in England and the duet with David Bowie. I remember very vividly watching that Christmas show. I always watched the Christmas specials of Crosby, Andy Williams, Dean Martin, and all of the others of that generation. My mother kept talking about how weird Bowie was, and she kept asking me if he was a homosexual. I was only 14 – so I had no opinion on such matters. At that time I was already a huge Crosby fan, and I had been since childhood. I think the song is touching and unique, and Bing’s baritone is well-set against Bowie’s tenor of his younger years.

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2 Responses to The Bing & Bowie Duet: You Be the Judge

  1. Lisa says:

    December 28th, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    I was recovering from a fever when I saw this post. Innocently I clicked on the link, then wastefully spent the -entire- day watching every youtube clip available on Crosby, everything from Christmas specials to film clips to interviews to documentaries. 

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane. My parents were big fans of Crosby and I remember watching his movies with them on cable. I was 7 (my parents had me late in their years) when he passed away, so it was already old-fashioned to the likes of me, but I was still charmed with the magic.

    My parents are passed on, and since I pretty much ignore radio and tv media these days, Bing Crosby fell completely out of my memory. Amazing that decades later, I can relive those memories and learn pretty much everything about him. And from my sick-bed, I can order a 5-CD collection of his for a measly $12. (Yeah, I can stream the album and have it instantly but I prefer waiting a whole week to have the CDs in my old fashioned hands.)

    I couldn’t help wish I was born 50 years prior. It seems such a wonderful, innocent, idyllic, fairy-tale time. Of course I know it wasn’t. I guess a little glitz, style, glamour could overshadow the depression, war and poverty, at least for a little while. Not like they don’t do the same thing now, media is pretty powerful to shape our mood, outlook, perspective and pry on our emotions, needs and desires. I guess in my feverish state, I longed for that father or grandfather figure to make the hardships of life go away with a dashing smile and beautiful voice.

    I’m with you, the men sound wonderful together. I think it is timeless. I agree with Bowie, desiring peace on earth and teaching our children to care for others. And I agree with Crosby, to give our best to the King in His service. 

  2. Tommy Udo says:

    December 30th, 2013 at 9:33 pm

    I’ve always loved this duet. Crosby was the greatest entertainer, ever, and Bowie blended well with him. It must have been a thrill for the younger singer when he got to work with the master. 

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