David Bowie & Bing Crosby’s Gorgeous Duet On “Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy”

Now here’s an odd couple for you: Old time star Bing Crosby teamed up with a young David Bowie to sing the gorgeous Christmas song “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy”. After a short comedy skit, the pair deliver a slow burn version of “Little Drummer Boy”, initially singing together before Bowie’s voice soars to take on the lead tenor vocal while Crosby delivers a sonorous baritone part.

At this point in the song, Bowie sings the lyrics from “Peace On Earth” while underneath Crosby sings lyrics from “Little Drummer Boy”, creating a curious mashup that nonetheless sounds totally natural. The pair recorded the song all the way back in 1977. However it’s recently come to public attention thanks to the performance being released this year as part of the Bing Crosby’s Christmas Gems compilation. You can see the pair perform the duet in the video below.

The story of how the collaboration came about is quite a strange one. Bowie, ever the iconoclast, turned up to shoot Crosby’s television special with his wife Angie, with the power couple sporting matching full makeup and bright red hair. Crosby’s son Nathaniel said that the session was almost called off, recalling that “the producers told him to take the lipstick off and take the earring out. It was just incredible to see the contrast.”

Bowie wasn’t done stirring the pot just yet though. Crosby’s musical directors Ian Fraser and Larry Grossman had planned for the pair to sing a straight ahead version of “Little Drummer Boy”. Bowie however had other plans, with Fraser recalling that the star stated the song wasn’t a good showcase for his voice, and quoted Bowie as saying “I hate this song. Is there something else I could sing?” Another Crosby classic is his “White Christmas” duet with Frank Sinatra, which you can watch below.

Faced with Bowie’s refusal, Fraser, Grossman and scriptwriter Buz Kohan then wrote “Peace On Earth” right there in the studio in just over an hour. The new arrangement satisfied Bowie, who then nailed the song with Crosby within an hour. The end result is what you see and hear in the first video above.

This of course was done back in the days of recording straight to tape, so for two singers to take on an entirely new song and record it flawlessly within an hour is a testament to the superb musicianship of both Bowie and Crosby, not to mention the songwriting trio who cooked it all up for them. Kohan said that Crosby enjoyed the challenge of taking on the new arrangement, recalling that “was able to transform himself without losing any of the Crosby-isms.”

“Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy” peaked at number three in the UK and became one of Bowie’s biggest hits. Just a month after the session for the duet, Crosby died following a heart attack. It was quite a number to go out on, as The Washington Post called the song “one of the most successful duets in Christmas music history.”

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