David Bowie Bing Crosby

David Bowie Bing CrosbyStrangest 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’.

David Bowie Bing CrosbyThe 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.

David Bowie Bing CrosbyWhen David learned that he would have to perform ‘Little Drummer Boy’, he refused to do so as he hated the song and it was unsuited for his voice.

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.

David Bowie Bing Crosby 008They also created a clever arrangement which wove ‘Peace On Earth’ and ‘Little Drummer Boy’ into a new medley.

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.

David Bowie Bing Crosby Single CoverYears 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.

David Bowie Bing Crosby Single Cover BCritics scathingly sneered that the duet was a stage in presenting Bowie as an ‘all-round entertainer’.

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.

Magical.

TV Guide included it as one of “the 25 most memorable musical moments” of 20th century television.

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6 Responses to David Bowie Bing Crosby

  1. yink says:

    Lovely arrangement and great to read the back story. Certainly their voices worked well together and they seem to share similarly elfen ears! lol

  2. I remember watching this on TV when it was first broadcast: it was a tense experience. My parents were out somewhere and it was touch and go whether they’d get home before the show ended. Because I knew my Dad’s dislike of David Bowie would outweigh his fondness for the old crooner, and the TV would be switched off even before he took his coat off! Thanks for the Memory, as Bing himself once sang! I never knew David Bowie didn’t like the song Little Drummer Boy: as a child it was one of my favourites. Cheers!

    • You weren’t alone. Before the song begins, David says, “… this is my son’s favorite”, referring to ‘Little Drummer Boy’. But David himself hated it.

      As for your dad’s views, this song kinda spanned the ‘generation gap’, but the pre-war generation weren’t likely to approve of Bowie.

      I’m always interested to read about how fans first experienced songs and albums. Thanks for commenting.

  3. leiulf says:

    I posted this video last month along with a complete transcript of David’s 1997 conversation with Conan O’brien on this topic. It is more tongue in cheek than informational, but it still is an interesting read. David confirms Buz Kohan’s recollection that Bing “didn’t know who I was” and “couldn’t remember my name”. I remember purchasing the bootleg single released on blue vinyl shortly after the show, being particularly impressed with the up front synthesizers present in the re-mix of “heroes” that was used. I also did an extensive post on the making of the Eno/Bowie Tryptych, complete with a link to Toni Visconti’s significant contribution. His recollection of recording Fripps solo is fascinating.

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