Strangest duet ever? Aladdin Sane and the Old Groaner perform the wonderful Christmas medley, ‘Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy’, on the 74 year old Bing Crosby’s ‘Merrie Olde Christmas’ TV special filmed on 11 September 1977.
Who thought of this odd match?
In some accounts, David Bowie, improbably, is said to be an admirer of Bing Crosby and Bing, improbably, is said to have called Bowie a ‘clean-cut kid’.
The truth is that Bowie was not touring to support his new album, “Heroes”, and he was seeking TV outlets to promote the video of the title track. Meanwhile, Crosby’s producers were looking for a young star to attract more viewers to Bing’s 42nd consecutive Christmas TV special.
On the show, David and Bing do a brief and best-forgotten lame comedy routine before performing a medley which did not even exist before the show.
The TV special’s musical direction team were accomplished Broadway-style songwriters and very hastily created a brand-new song, ‘Peace On Earth’, in little more than an hour.
The new song was perfect for David’s vocal style. Bowie was satisfied and he and Crosby spent only an hour rehearsing the medley before they recorded it in a mere three takes. Remarkably, the results showed that their voices were surprisingly well matched.
Crosby was to suffer a heart attack the following month before the special was aired. As the situation mirrored what had happened with Marc Bolan, when Marc had died after filming a duet with David that September, some grisly jokes circulated that an appearance with David Bowie was fatal.
Years later, in 1982, the track was released without Bowie’s approval and went to #3 in the British single chart. The song also went on to became a perennial radio holiday favorite in the US, assisted by Bing’s Christmas credentials. Bing has the overall record for the biggest selling single of all time, which happens to be a Christmas song, namely ‘White Christmas’.
David was furious that ‘Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy’ was released at all, but he was also powerless to prevent it as he had no rights over his recorded material at that time.
In recent years, Bowie has relented and the track is once more available on CD and as a download.
While ‘Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy’ may not appeal to the average Williamsburg hipster, it is immensely charming and there is something about the idea of a Christmas Ziggy singing alongside an old generation crooner like Bing which will surely bring a smile to your face.
TV Guide included it as one of “the 25 most memorable musical moments” of 20th century television.