Friday, December 18, 2009


Django's 8 Days of Christmas, part two

No list of Greatest Pop-Culture Moments of the 1970s would be complete without mention of Bing Crosby's 1977 "Little Drummer Boy" duet with David Bowie. Afforded scorn and praise, in equal parts, during the the years that've followed, Bing and Bowie's Christmas crooning is something I start watching about the time I finish the last bite of left-over Thanksgiving turkey (I'm in the "praise" camp, you see); and I keep watching right up through the last hour of New Year's Day.

As you'll read below, David Bowie didn't think his vocal chops could shine singing "Little Drummer Boy." So, the producers of Bing Crosby's Christmas special suggested that Bowie should sing "Peace on Earth" while Bing "bum, bum, bum, bummed." The result was a Christmas auditory delight, indeed.

Back when 95 percent of MTV's -- er, Music Television's -- programming was devoted to music, you could count on seeing Bing and Bowie's "Drummer Boy" dozens of times between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Now you gotta go to YouTube to see it. To wit:

From the Bing Crosby Internet Museum:

One of the more surreal moments in pop music history took place Sept. 11, 1977, when the leading American pop star of the first half of the Twentieth Century met and performed with one of the more innovative rock 'n' rollers of the last half of the Century. Bing was in London on a concert tour and to tape his yearly TV Christmas special. It was Bing's idea that he should have as a guest on his TV show a young star. Someone suggested David Bowie. Bing had never heard of Bowie, but his kids had, and so an invitation was sent to the rock star. Bowie, as it turned out, was a secret fan of Der Bingle and jumped at the chance to perform with him.

Bing's idea was that he and Bowie would perform "The Little Drummer Boy" as a duet. Bowie felt the song did not showcase his voice very well, so the writers added "Peace on Earth," which suited Bowie's voice quite well. The two musical spokesmen of different generations met for the first time on the morning of the taping, rehearsed for an hour and finished their duet in only three takes. Bing was impressed with Bowie, and gave him his phone number at the end of the taping. Bing told an interviewer four days later that he considered Bowie "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."

Bing died a month later, and the public did not see their performance until after his death. The duet generated much interest, and was excerpted to become a perennial TV music video, a best-selling 45-rpm single, a computer CD-ROM and a popular video on YouTube. Some viewed the joint performance of Bing and Bowie as a symbol of the end of the intergenerational wars of the 1960s and '70s. In 1999
TV Guide chose the duet as one of the 25 best musical television moments of the century (June 5 issue).

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