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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy

The last couple of days have been quite hard on a lot of people.  I still am in disbelief over what has happened, and I am sure that millions all over the world are still grieving.  If you haven’t already, do take the time to look at the piece that I wrote yesterday.  The title is “How Do You Mend A Broken Heart?”

For today, I want to go back to a more normal schedule for the blog.  We are right in the middle of The Pop Culture Addict’s Advent Calendar, and I think that part of the grieving process is finding a way to continue living our lives as best we can.  We’ll never forget what happened, nor will we forget the names of those who lost their lives that fateful morning, but at the same time, we can’t live our lives in fear.  We all have to find a way to deal with our pain in our own ways, and if I can offer up a blog entry that makes people smile, laugh, or just find out something that they might not have known in the world of pop culture, then maybe I’m doing some good.

So, let’s begin Day #16 with the weekly Sunday Jukebox entry.  As I have done for the last couple of weeks, this entry is Christmas themed.  And today’s song was performed by what could be called the most unexpected and odd duet that modern pop music has ever seen. 

And yet, it worked.  It worked brilliantly.

In the world of pop music, there have been some interesting collaborations over the years, each one seemingly paired up for shock value.  Some examples over the last thirty years include the following...

(Wow...after watching that KLF video, I must make a note to myself to feature that song in a future entry.  It’s so bad, it’s too good to pass up!)

And, then there’s this collaboration, which was released thirty-five years ago...

ARTIST:  David Bowie and Bing Crosby
SONG:  Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy
ALBUM:  Bowie: The Singles 1969-1993
DATE RELEASED:  November 30, 1977*

There are a couple of things that I want to explain about this song before I talk about how this collaboration came about.  First, you might have noticed that I have put a star beside the date of release.  That’s because the song was first heard on this particular date on a Christmas special that aired in both the United States and the United Kingdom.  The actual song release was not pressed until five years later in November 1982.  The song was released in the UK shortly before the 1982 Christmas season, and quickly reached #3 on the UK charts that year, setting the stage for the huge release of David Bowie’s 1983 album “Let’s Dance”.

TRIVIA:  Did you know that the UK version of this song is almost twice as long as the one released in the USA?

So, how did the collaboration between David Bowie and Bing Crosby come to happen?

I mean, if you were to go back in time to the year 1977 and tell people that David Bowie and Bing Crosby were going to perform a duet together, they would probably have given you a clueless look or laughed in your face in disbelief.  After all, both men were as different as night and day.

David Bowie (a.k.a. Ziggy Stardust) was known for his androgynous style (at least in his early days), frequently pushed the button with his songs, and worked hard to become one of the most well-known and respected male vocalists in the United Kingdom.

Bing Crosby was far more conservative in appearance than David Bowie was.  His claim to fame was the wildly popular “White Christmas”, which broke records all over the fact, he is estimated to have sold half a billion records during his career!

To pair both of them up for a recording of a Christmas song seemed like a rather goofy idea, especially since Bowie’s style of music and performing seemingly clashed with the more traditional approach that Crosby was known for.

And yet that’s exactly what happened when David Bowie was asked to appear on Bing’s upcoming holiday special, “Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas”, set to air just in time for Christmas 1977.

The performance between Bing and David was recorded, like most Christmas songs at the time, on a warm, September day...September 11, 1977, to be exact.  And, as you saw in the video, the segment opened with David dropping by Bing’s house from down the road (!!) and the two of them sharing their holiday traditions. 

What you might not have been aware of was the fact that despite their on-screen rapport with each other, David Bowie was a bit apprehensive about performing a duet with Bing.  He later admitted in an interview years later that the only reason that Bowie agreed to guest star on Bing Crosby’s holiday special was because his mother was a fan.  At the same time, there was some speculation that Bing Crosby had no idea who David Bowie even was!  Of course, re-watching the video again, if Bing really was clueless about whom David Bowie was, he certainly did not appear to show it!

The song that both Bowie and Crosby performed was a medley of sorts.  Initially, both men are singing the classic Christmas carol, “The Little Drummer Boy”, which was first recorded in 1941.  But as the second verse begins, David starts singing the original composition entitled “Peace on Earth”, written by the songwriting team of Ian Fraser, Larry Grossman, and Alan Kohan.  Bing continued to sing “Little Drummer Boy”, creating a harmony that worked incredibly well. 

It was a collaboration that on paper looked ridiculous...but seeing it on screen and hearing both of them singing just made the song even more magical. 

TRIVIA:  Of course, some of the magic might be taken away when I tell you that David Bowie actually despised singing “Little Drummer Boy”, and wanted to sing something else, hence the reason for the creation of the lyrics for “Peace on Earth”.

Although, I’m sure that nowadays, David Bowie can probably look back on this performance and be proud of it, because it was such a big hit in the United Kingdom...but I think that the performance also holds another special meaning for Bowie.

David Bowie would end up being the very last person that Bing Crosby would ever sing with again.

Just a little over a month after the two got together and performed that song for Bing’s Christmas special, Bing Crosby passed away on October 14, 1977 from a heart attack sustained while he was playing golf.

Bing Crosby was seventy-four years old.

The Christmas special aired posthumously, on November 30, 1977, on CBS, and fans watched as he sang with David Bowie in the special, not realizing that this duet was one of his final performances ever.

It’s been thirty-five years since Bing Crosby died, and yet his legacy continues to live on.  “White Christmas” is still widely popular today, and even the duet that he did with David Bowie all those years ago is still a regular staple on radio stations every December.

And that is the story of a collaboration that seemed a bit peculiar on the outside, but ended up being sweet music to everybody’s ears.

Coming up tomorrow, it’s Day 17...and in the Monday Matinee, we’ll see how a cap wearing Southern gentleman helps save Christmas for the people of Orlando, Florida.  Know what I mean, Vern?

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