Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy
|"Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy"|
|Single by David Bowie and Bing Crosby|
|B-side||"Fantastic Voyage" (Bowie)|
|Released||27 November 1982|
|Recorded||11 September 1977|
|Length||4:23 (UK), 2:32 (US)|
|Songwriter(s)||Ian Fraser, Larry Grossman, Alan Kohan / Harry Simeone, K.K. Davis, Henry Onorati|
|David Bowie singles chronology|
|2010 US Reissue|
2010 7" vinyl reissue by Collector's Choice Music
"Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy" is a Christmas song performed by English singer-songwriter David Bowie and American singer Bing Crosby. Recorded on 11 September 1977 at Elstree Studios in London for Crosby's television special Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas, the song features Crosby singing 1941 standard "The Little Drummer Boy" while Bowie sings the counterpoint tune "Peace on Earth", written by the special's musical supervisors Ian Fraser and Larry Grossman, and scriptwriter Alan Kohan, specifically for the collaboration. The duet was one of Crosby's final recordings before his death in October 1977.
Following the special's broadcast during the 1977 holiday season, "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy" went unavailable for many years. It was finally released as a single by RCA Records in November 1982 and was a commercial success, peaking at number three on the UK Singles Chart. It became one of the best-selling singles of Bowie's career, with total estimated sales over 400,000 in the UK alone. The song has since become a Christmas classic in the United States, Canada and United Kingdom and has been referred to by The Washington Post as "one of the most successful duets in Christmas music history".
Background and recording
Although Bowie had done little to promote Low, released in January 1977, he decided to promote "Heroes" (October 1977) extensively. In September 1977, Bowie appeared on Marc Bolan's television series Marc and performed "'Heroes'". Two days later on 11 September, Bowie traveled to ATV's Elstree Studios in London to record an appearance on Crosby's television special Merrie Old Christmas. Bowie's agreement to perform "'Heroes'" on the special was to record a duet with Crosby. Crosby's daughter Mary recalled that Bowie and his then-wife Angie both arrived to the studio wearing full matching makeup and bright red hair. Crosby's son Nathaniel further stated: "It almost didn't happen. I think the producers told him to take the lipstick off and take the earring out. It was just incredible to see the contrast."
The special's musical supervisors, Ian Fraser and Larry Grossman, originally intended the duo to record a straightforward rendition of "The Little Drummer Boy". However, Bowie balked at singing "Little Drummer Boy": "I hate this song. Is there something else I could sing?", Fraser recalled Bowie telling him. Scriptwriter Buz Kohan further stated that Bowie felt "Little Drummer Boy" "wasn't a good showcase for his voice". Startled, Fraser, Grossman, and Kohan found a piano in the studio's basement and wrote "Peace on Earth" as a counterpoint to "Little Drummer Boy" in just over an hour. Regarding the experience, Kohan said, "It all happened rather rapidly. I would say within an hour, we had it written and were able to present it to [Bowie] again." Crosby performed "Little Drummer Boy", while Bowie sang "Peace on Earth", which they reportedly performed after less than an hour of rehearsal. Kohan added that "Bing loved the challenge" of the arrangement, stating he "was able to transform himself without losing any of the Crosby-isms."
Before the duet, Bowie and Crosby act out a dialogue skit, described by Annie Zaleski of Ultimate Classic Rock as "hilariously forced-looking" and by author Peter Doggett as "excruciatingly staged". In the skit, Crosby is an American visiting a British home, and Bowie lives down the street and is looking for a friend. Bowie recognizes Crosby, asking "You're the guy who sings, right?" The pair discuss the holidays and holiday traditions and then proceed to musical subjects, with Bowie remarking that he likes old-timers such as Harry Nilsson. Bowie even quips "We sing the same songs — I even have a go at 'White Christmas'." They then sort through the sheet music on the piano, which Bowie had ostensibly come over to play, and picks out "Little Drummer Boy", describing it as "my son's favorite". Doggett remarks that the duet is performed "very much" in Crosby's style rather than Bowie's.
Bowie's appearance has been described as a "surreal" event, undertaken at a time when he was "actively trying to normalise his career". In 1978, Bowie said of Crosby: "He was fantastic. That old man knew everything about everything. He knew rock and roll backwards, even if he didn't know the music...I'm glad I met him." However, by 1999 he changed his opinion, stating "He was not there at all" and describing Crosby as "look[ing] like a little old orange sitting on a stool." He found the experience to be "bizarre" and stated to having appeared on the show primarily because "I just knew my mother liked him". Kohan was not certain if Crosby knew who Bowie was, but Fraser claimed, "I'm pretty sure he did. Bing was no idiot. If he didn't, his kids sure did." A few days after the taping, Crosby said of Bowie, "clean-cut kid and a real fine asset to the show. He sings well, has a great voice and reads lines well."
A week after taping his appearance for Marc, Marc Bolan died in a car crash. A month after recording "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy", Crosby died of a heart attack on 14 October. Biographer David Buckley writes: "In a rather macabre coincidence, Bowie had symbolically administered the last rites to both performers and the eras they represented." Bowie later commented on the coincidence, stating "I was getting seriously worried about whether I should appear on TV because everyone I was going on with was kicking it the following week."
In the United States, Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas aired on 30 November 1977 on CBS, while in the United Kingdom, the special aired on 24 December 1977 on ITV. According to biographer Chris O'Leary, there was never a plan to release "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy" and as such, the original 16-track master tape of the recording was erased. Kohan later stated, "We never expected to hear about it again." The song was available for some years as a bootleg single backed with "'Heroes'". In 1982, RCA Records issued the recording as an official single; due to the erasure of the master tape, the label had to use an on-line mix, where Bowie and Crosby's vocals were picked up by a boom microphone. The single was released in November 1982, with the catalog number RCA BOW 12. The label arbitrarily placed the Lodger track "Fantastic Voyage" as the B-side. Bowie was unhappy with this move, which further soured his already strained relationship with RCA, and he left the label soon after.
The single debuted on the UK Singles Chart in November 1982, and climbed to position number three on the chart. However, the single failed to chart in the US. The single proved to be one of Bowie's fastest-selling singles, having sales over 250,000 within its first month and being certified silver by the British Phonographic Industry one month after its release. The single has total estimated sales of 445,424 in the UK, giving Bowie one of his most successful singles. It has since become a perennial on British Christmas compilation albums, with the TV sequence also a regular on UK nostalgia shows.
In the United States and Canada, "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy" became a staple on radio stations during the Christmas season. On 14 November 1995, Oglio Records released a special multimedia CD single of "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy" which contained both the standard full-length audio version and the full-length music video of the footage from the 1977 Christmas special accessible via CD-ROM drives.
On 9 November 2010, Collector's Choice Music released a 7-inch vinyl edition of "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy" on red-colored vinyl in the United States. The flip-side of the single contained a Bing Crosby/Ella Fitzgerald duet of the song "White Christmas", recorded in 1953. The single was limited to 2,000 copies.
7": RCA / BOW 12 (UK)
- "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy" (David Bowie, Larry Grossman, Ian Fraser, Buz Kohan / Katherine K. Davis, Henry Onorati, Harry Simeone) – 4:23
- "Fantastic Voyage" (David Bowie) – 2:55
According to biographer Chris O'Leary:
Charts and certifications
David Bowie & Bing Crosby version
In 2008, Welsh radio presenter Aled Jones and Sir Terry Wogan recorded the song as part of BBC's Children in Need 2008 fundraising campaign. As well as featuring the cover of "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy", the single release includes covers of "Swinging on a Star", "Puff, the Magic Dragon", and "Right Said Fred", respectively performed by Clare Teal, Sally "Traffic" Boazman and the Storys, and Mark Radcliffe. Warner Music Group released the track on 8 December 2008, with Jones and Wogan credited as "Bandaged", and the cover was championed on Chris Evans Drivetime by host Chris Evans, who deemed the song "magnificent". Evans' support allowed the cover to reach number three on the UK Singles Chart, matching the peak of the original.
Appearances in popular culture
- In December 2010, a number of comedians paired to perform or parody the song and video, including Jack Black and Jason Segel for College Humor; Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly for Funny or Die; Black again with Jimmy Fallon on the latter's Late Night talk show; and Paul F. Tompkins with David 'Gruber' Allen.
- Jimmy Fallon and Ricky Gervais performed a portion of the song on the 9 December 2014 episode of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon during the skit "Lip Flip". Fallon sang Bowie's part with Gervais taking Crosby's part.
- This version of the song is the most-reported one to take out people in the Little Drummer Boy Challenge according to organiser Michael Alan Peck.
- Nemetz, Dave (26 November 2014). "The Story Behind Bowie and Bing's Offbeat Christmas Classic [Video]". Yahoo!. Archived from the original on 24 December 2020. Retrieved 13 November 2016.
- Buckley 2005, p. 272.
- Pegg 2016, p. 391.
- Buckley 2005, p. 282.
- O'Leary 2019, p. 106.
- Buckley 2005, p. 283.
- Pegg 2016, pp. 208–209.
- Associated Press (23 July 2014). "Bing Crosby's Kids Recall Dad's Surprise Duet With David Bowie". Billboard. Archived from the original on 8 November 2020. Retrieved 27 December 2020.
- Zaleski, Annie (30 November 2017). "When David Bowie and Bing Crosby Rang in the Holidays". Ultimate Classic Rock. Archived from the original on 28 November 2020. Retrieved 27 December 2020.
- "Watch an Exclusive Behind-the-Scenes Clip of Bowie's 'Little Drummer Boy'". Rolling Stone. 24 November 2014. Archived from the original on 7 December 2020. Retrieved 27 December 2020.
- Doggett 2012, p. 346.
- Buckley 1999, pp. 327–328.
- Farhi, Paul (20 December 2006). "Bing and Bowie: An Odd Story of Holiday Harmony". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 24 December 2020. Retrieved 13 November 2016.
- "The Accidental Classic". Yuleblog.us. Archived from the original on 8 April 2016. Retrieved 13 November 2016.
- Buckley 2005, pp. 283–284.
- Carr & Murray 1981, p. 117.
- O'Leary 2019, p. 661.
- Pegg 2016, pp. 89, 209.
- "Sorry". Music Week. 6 October 2016. Archived from the original on 15 April 2016. Retrieved 13 November 2016.
- Anderson, Sara (29 October 2010). "Bing Crosby, David Bowie 'The Little Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth' -- New Vinyl". AOL Radio Blog. AOLRadioBlog.com. Retrieved 17 December 2010.
- "100 Greatest Rock & Roll Moments on TV". VH1. Archived from the original on 24 December 2020. Retrieved 18 March 2018.
- Grow, Kory (28 September 2017). "Review: David Bowie's Heroically Experimental Berlin Era Explored in 11-CD Box Set". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 12 November 2020. Retrieved 4 December 2020.
- Gerard, Chris (12 October 2017). "Filtered Through the Prism of David Bowie's Quixotic Mind: 'A New Career in a New Town'". PopMatters. p. 2. Archived from the original on 24 August 2020. Retrieved 4 December 2020.
- "Ultratop.be – David Bowie & Bing Crosby – Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
- "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
- "Norwegiancharts.com – David Bowie & Bing Crosby – Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy". VG-lista. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
- "Swedishcharts.com – David Bowie & Bing Crosby – Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy". Singles Top 100. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
- "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
- "Bing Crosby Chart History (Canadian Digital Songs)". Billboard. Archived from the original on 24 December 2020. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
- "Austriancharts.at – David Bowie & Bing Crosby – Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
- "Official Scottish Singles Sales Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
- "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
- "Official Singles Chart 2008" (PDF). UKChartsPlus. Archived (PDF) from the original on 7 July 2013. Retrieved 27 June 2018.
- "British single certifications – David Bowie & Bing Crosby – Little Drummer Boy". British Phonographic Industry. Select singles in the Format field. Select Silver in the Certification field. Type Little Drummer Boy in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.
- "Terry and Aled drumming up support for BBC Children in Need". BBC. 25 November 2008. Retrieved 28 December 2020.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 24 December 2020. Retrieved 10 December 2020.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- "Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy 2010 (with Jack Black and Jason Segel)". CollegeHumor. Archived from the original on 7 December 2010. Retrieved 8 December 2010.
- "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy with Will Ferrell & John C. Reilly from Owen Burk". Funnyordie.com. 12 December 2010. Retrieved 13 November 2016.
- McGlynn, Katla (22 December 2010). "WATCH: Jack Black Gets Messy Singing Carols With Jimmy Fallon". HuffPost. Archived from the original on 24 December 2020. Retrieved 25 December 2010.
- "The Pod F. Tompkast, EXTRASODE: PFT On Earth/Little Gruber Boy". Pft.libsyn.com/ (Podcast). 25 December 2010. Retrieved 25 December 2010.
- "Fallon "Lip Flip's" With Ricky Gervais". NBC New York. 10 December 2014. Archived from the original on 24 December 2020. Retrieved 13 November 2016.
- "How to play the Little Drummer Boy Challenge". CNN. Archived from the original on 24 December 2020. Retrieved 5 December 2018.
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