David Bowie & Bing Crosby Sing “The Little Drummer Boy” (1977)

We like to bring this chest­nut back from time to time. Watch it, and you’ll know why.

In 1977, just a short month before Bing Cros­by died of a heart attack, the 40s croon­er host­ed David Bowie, the glam rock­er, on his Christ­mas show. The awk­ward­ness of the meet­ing is pal­pa­ble. An old­er, crusty Cros­by had no real famil­iar­i­ty with the younger, androg­y­nous Bowie, and Bowie was­n’t crazy about singing The Lit­tle Drum­mer Boy.

So, short­ly before the show’s tap­ing, a team of writ­ers had to fran­ti­cal­ly retool the song, blend­ing the tra­di­tion­al Christ­mas song with a new­ly-writ­ten tune called Peace on Earth. (You can watch the writ­ers tell the sto­ry, years lat­er, below.) After one hour of rehearsal, the two singers record­ed The Lit­tle Drum­mer Boy/Peace on Earth and made a lit­tle clas­sic. The Wash­ing­ton Post has the back­sto­ry on the strange Bing-Bowie meet­ing. Also find a Will Fer­rell par­o­dy of the meet­ing here. We hope you enjoy revis­it­ing this clip with us. Hap­py hol­i­days to you all.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Bowie’s Top 100 Books

David Bowie’s Fash­ion­able Mug Shot From His 1976 Mar­i­jua­na Bust

The Sto­ry of Zig­gy Star­dust: How David Bowie Cre­at­ed the Char­ac­ter that Made Him Famous

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Comments (15)
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  • JohnE says:

    Enjoy this ver­sion of song… not my favorite that is Bob Seger’s ver­sion but this is right up there at the top.

    The behind the scenes by the Wash­ing­ton post is a nice read too.

    Mer­ry Christ­mas.

  • Jim says:

    Cros­by died on the golf course in Scot­land doing his sec­ond favorite pas­time. His first was enter­tain­ing.

  • Ed McKeown says:

    This is my favorite Christ­mas song of all time. I knew the song was record­ed after an hour of rehearsal although until I saw the sec­ond clip did know the Peace on Earth was remade in the same time frame. That is tru­ly amaz­ing! These were two of the great­est per­form­ers of their eras and I absolute­ly love it.

  • thomas tisdale says:

    can this sng be bought on a cd??? my wife loves this song

  • Dave Turner says:

    I won­der who these two would be equiv­i­lant to today in 2015?

  • mary bruce sondergaard says:

    I have lis­tened to this so many times and I sim­ply love it, what a voice they both had and how well old and young com­bined. Peace on earth is a theme we can repeat now as well as then, this is my favorite christ­mas car­ol.

  • Maureen Smith says:

    I had no idea about the back sto­ry, this duet is amazing.I watch it all the time. Bing Cros­by real­ly let David Bowie shine as he sings Drum­mer Boy beneath his pow­er­ful mes­sage of peace on earth. Every time I hear it, I pray that this dream will fill our hearts thru out the world. Pray for peace and Mer­ry Christ­mas every­body!

  • G Blondheim says:

    To Mr. Bowie,

    Grow­ing up I went to David Bowie con­certs. I dat­ed a guy for a long time that was a Bowie fan and then I mar­ried anoth­er man that was total­ly into Bowie Bowie Bowie.
    I have played this par­tic­u­lar record­ing every year since it was made because I sim­ply love it, it shows a com­bi­na­tion of two beau­ti­ful voic­es (David Bowie’s voice is sim­ply won­der­ful espe­cial­ly com­bin­ing it with Bing Cros­by).
    This year I bumped into this back­ground sto­ry to the song. Thank you to Mr. Bowie’s Moth­er for get­ting her son to do the show and thank you espe­cial­ly to the per­son or peo­ple who in a hour’s time were able to change the song around that pleased Mr. Bowie enough to fol­low through and sing it.
    It is a clas­sic and I would love to own it on CD as well as so many oth­er peo­ple I know.
    Mr. Bowie and Mr. Cros­by you have brought this Moth­er great joy for hav­ing per­formed this song, it sim­ply brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it.

    A David Bowie Fan

  • Jeffrey says:


  • Caroline Seckel says:

    I think today’s equiv­a­lent is Tony Ben­nett and Lady GaGa.

  • Robin says:

    This clas­sic song warms my heart through and through

  • Mark says:

    I’ve loved this song and arrange­ment since I first heard it decades ago. I was thrilled when my son cre­at­ed a piano jazz arrange­ment for this. He must have been lis­ten­ing as a child! lol


  • Billie Britton says:

    What an amaz­ing sto­ry, always loved this song…

  • Dale Murphy says:

    Thanks to the peo­ple who redid the song and to those 2 great icon­ic enter­tain­ers for being the true pro­fes­sion­als and bring­ing the song to life. Tru­ly a clas­sic that has and will span the decades. I hear it and tear up not only because it is a great mes­sage, but done by those men who are no longer here with us. We all are still blessed by what they did for human­i­ty and the beau­ti­ful music that we still get to expe­ri­ence. My glass is up to you gen­tle­men and to say Thanks.

  • Dave says:

    I was 10 when this song came out. It has been a fix­ture around the hol­i­days for me for over 40 years.

    Every time I hear it for the first time of the sea­son, it takes me back to my youth, with Christ­mas at my grand­par­ents house, large fam­i­ly meals and great fun. Amaz­ing, idyl­lic mem­o­ries.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.