Happy Holidays! Since it’s the first year of my blog, and since it’s the last year for my Annual Holiday Show (TONIGHT!!; 12.25.2016) on my little 20-year-old 80s radio program, STUCK IN THE 80s (on WMPG community radio in Portland, Maine), I wanted to present to you THE 31 DAYS OF 80s XMAS SONGS, or, 31 of my favorite 80s holiday musical treats.
Thank you so much for reading this first year of my blog, especially the holiday treasures that comprised THE 31 DAYS OF 80s XMAS SONGS. Xmas has long not my favorite time of year, but these songs help get me through and then some every holiday season.
The song for Day 31 of THE 31 DAYS OF 80s XMAS SONGS is my all-time favorite holiday song – “Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy” by David Bowie and Bing Crosby, included in the 1977 holiday special, BING CROSBY’S MERRIE OLDE CHRISTMAS.
I was 10 going on 11 for Xmas 1977, and it was a time where I wasn’t really into music (that would happen in 1979), and I don’t remember anything else about that Bing Crosby variety holiday show, but I’ll never forget the one thing I do remember – “Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy.”
It’s hard to believe now, but that famous duet almost never happened. When the producers of the show asked David Bowie to sing “Little Drummer Boy” with Bing Crosby, he said no. David said, “I hate this song. Is there something else I could sing?” Of this news, one of the show’s songwriters, Ian Fraser said, “We didn’t quite know what to do.”
From there, Ian Fraser got together with the show’s other songwriter, Larry Grossman, and the show’s scriptwriter, Buz Kohan, and wrote “Peace On Earth” for David Bowie as a counterpoint piece to Bing’s version of “Little Drummer Boy.”
With less than an hour of rehearsal, Bowie and Bing performed the song, and it was magical. It was also my first exposure to David Bowie (and my whole family’s, I believe; in 1977, we just had the one TV set in the house). After the show’s taping, Bing said David Bowie was a “clean-cut kid and a real fine asset to the show. He sings well, has a great voice and reads lines well.” David later admitted that he only appeared on the show because “I just knew my mother liked him.” David also performed his then-new hit, “Heroes,” on the show, but, for some reason, I don’t remember it.
For five years, “Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy” was only available as a bootleg single, but in late November 1982, David’s label at the time, RCA Records, released an official single version of the holiday gem, replete with all the dialogue from the show. By 1982, David Bowie’s relationship with RCA (his label since 1971’s HUNKY DORY album) was already seriously strained and he was not happy with the record label releasing that song. He left the label soon thereafter.
Despite David’s unhappiness about the release of “Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy” as a single, it performed very well, reaching No. 6 in Ireland and Norway, and No. 12 in Sweden. In the U.K., it reached No. 3 and was certified Silver.
In 1995, I was elated when retro label Oglio Records released the single version on their holiday compilation, THE EDGE OF CHRISTMAS, but also as a stand-alone CD single, with both the single version and the full-length version from the Bing Crosby special. And, with it being a few years before the Interweb really took off, there was also a CD-ROM of the video from the 1977 show.
BING CROSBY’S MERRIE OLDE CHRISTMAS was filmed on September 11, 1977. Nearly five weeks after filming the special (and a month-and-a-half before the special aired), Bing Crosby sadly died of a heart attack at the age of 73. And now, David Bowie’s gone too. But, as I’ve been told before, I was lucky enough to be on the same planet as David Bowie for almost 50 years. And that’s pretty damn cool.
“Peace on Earth, can it be / Years from now, perhaps we’ll see / See the day of glory / See the day when men of good will / Live in peace, live in peace again / Peace on Earth, can it be / Can it be…”
Peace on Earth – can it be? I’d truly love to think so…
“It’s a pretty thing, isn’t it…”