David Bowie’s collaboration with Bing Crosby on ‘Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth’ is one of the weirdest things that you’ll ever watch. However, despite the strange meeting of these two resoundingly different worlds, the duet somehow manages to melt the heart.
Despite the atrocious acting on show from both Bowie and Crosby, all is forgotten by the time that the duo begins to harmonise together, an effort which makes up for the dreadfully poor skit. The unlikely pairing filmed their gloriously weird yet entirely enjoyable collaboration for Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas special in 1977, which was aired on CBS over the festive period. It’s a strange spectacle to watch back and, in truth, Bowie looks somewhat uncomfortable at the beginning of his appearance but that soon changes once the pair start singing.
Rather than hosting a traditional festive special in which Crosby would welcome an array of guests to share a conventional Christmas conversation followed by a performance, CBS added a cringeworthy twist to the programme. To shoehorn Bowie into the special, they created a diabolical storyline which revolved around Crosby being invited to spend the holiday season with a recently acquainted long-lost relative in England and their neighbour, you guessed it, was a certain Mr Bowie.
The special would also prove to be Crosby’s final ever TV performance, the singer tragically passing away just a matter of weeks after the recording after suffering a heart attack. Collaborating with Bowie, merging two different generations the name of Christmas, is an almost perfect way for Crosby to have his last hurrah.
Bowie’s cameo starts with him popping by to see his neighbour because the Thin White Duke had an agreement with Crosby’s long-lost relative to come by whenever he pleases to play the piano. This then sparks some amiable chitter chatter about Christmas songs and, before you know it, the pair are huddled around the piano delivering a beautiful but bizarre mash-up of ‘Little Drummer Boy’ and their own festive song ‘Peace On Earth’.
What makes Bowie’s decision to take part in such an odd programme even more difficult to comprehend is the timing. It’s 1977, Bowie is fully engaged in his avant-garde Berlin period and singing Christmas songs with Bing Crosby is about as far away as you can get from making experimental records with Tony Visconti. That unpredictable nature is what made Bowie such a charming character, he did whatever he fancied and that didn’t mean always taking the most fashionable route.
Crosby’s children, Mary and Nathaniel, remembered the day in vivid detail with Billboard in 2014: “It almost didn’t happen,” Nathaniel recounted. “I think the producers told him to take the lipstick off and take the earring out. It was just incredible to see the contrast.”
Mary Crosby then added: “They sat at the piano and David was a little nervous. Dad realised David was this amazing musician, and David realised Dad was an amazing musician. You could see them both collectively relax and then magic was made.”
On paper, this duet should have been utterly disastrous and yes, the acting during the skit is beyond woeful but, actually, there’s an innocent charm to it. It would even become a surprise commercial hit five years later when the track somehow charted at number three in the UK Christmas Chart in 1982. As the decades have passed, ‘Little Drummer Boy/ Peace On Earth’ has become a left-field Christmas classic and, with each listen, still manages to evoke that special festive feeling.