Of all the Christmas miracles bestowed upon mankind, perhaps none has showcased the sheer majesty of divine power more than when David Bowie and Bing Crosby came together for one fateful night to perform the best, and most unlikely, Christmas duet of the last 2000 years.
The song in question is, of course, “Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth” which was taped as part of Crosby’s 1977 TV Christmas special.
Ever since I first saw the performance as a child I was in awe of the perfect pairing of Bing’s baritone pah-rumpa-pum-pums with Bowie’s gorgeous “Peace on Earth” counterpoint, and I wondered how the duet came about. I imagined Crosby arguing with the producers of the show: “I’m not sharing the spotlight with an androgynous, cross-dressing freak from outer-space. Do you know who I am? I’m Bing Crosby, dammit!”
In actuality, it was Crosby’s idea to have a young pop star as a guest. One of the producers suggested Bowie and the rest is epic music history. Almost.
When Bowie was asked to perform “Little Drummer Boy,” he refused because it didn’t suit his voice well. From Wikipedia:
According to co-writer Ian Fraser, Bowie balked at singing “Little Drummer Boy.” “I hate this song. Is there something else I could sing?” Fraser recalls Bowie telling him. Fraser, along with songwriter Larry Grossman and the special’s scriptwriter, Buz Kohan, then wrote “Peace on Earth” as a counterpoint to “Little Drummer Boy.” Crosby performed “Little Drummer Boy,” while Bowie sang the new tune “Peace on Earth,” which they reportedly performed after less than an hour of rehearsal.
Bowie was an admirer of the great 40’s era crooner, but it is unclear whether Crosby had even heard of Bowie before the shoot. After the taping though, Bing reportedly gave Bowie his number. Talking to a reporter, he said Bowie is “a clean cut kid and a real fine asset to the show. He sings well, has a great voice and reads lines well. He could be a good actor if he wanted.”
“Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth” went on to become a Christmas classic, in heavy rotation on radio stations around the world. Bing Crosby died a month after the show’s airing. David Bowie went on to become a pretty good actor.