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  • Cole Haddon

One Surreal Day in 1977: When Bing Crosby Met David Bowie

Every Christmas season, Bing Crosby and David Bowie’s “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy” makes its reappearance, reminding the world yet again of a bizarre, but ultimately magical encounter in 1977 between two of my favorite musical figures. Nothing about what happened during the recording of the “Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas” TV special makes sense even today.

David Bowie, Bing Crosby

Here’s how Scott D. Elinburg described the improbable team-up in 2015, writing for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency:

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles vs. He-Man. My Little Pony vs. Strawberry Shortcake. Barbie vs. Justice League. A tea party with Abraham Lincoln and Cinderella. These are a few of my favorite things.
These “what if?” scenarios are culled from the imagination of children. Because children have no precautions about creating impossible scenarios, they combine disparate objects and people to actualize their visions. Adults are typically terrible at this. But sometimes, just sometimes, they turn the impossible into reality.
In 1977, at the request of absolutely no one, an impossible dream came true.

An impossible dream indeed, at least for me, given the fact that Crosby and Bowie are two of my favorite musical performers of the past century. I own a frightening number of albums from both of them, and Bowie, Bob Dylan, and my creative relationship to their art and lives inspired a significant character in my debut novel PSALMS FOR THE END OF THE WORLD. Toss in the fact that I’m a Christmas fanatic, and it’s fair to say I sit at the center of a very unique Venn diagram of Crosby, Bowie, and Christmas.

David Bowie, Bing Crosby

As the story of the song’s inception goes, Crosby didn’t even know who Bowie was. I’m unconvinced of this, as Crosby had always had a voracious appetite for what was hip. Once upon a time, when he was the biggest movie star in the world (1944 to 1948), you even saw this show up onscreen in his musical numbers. If there was a new trend in music, he found a way to integrate it. Yes, maybe this appetite had waned by his 70s…but, as I said, I’m unconvinced he didn’t have at least a passing knowledge of who Ziggy Stardust and David Bowie, glam rock icon, were.

Likewise, Bowie said afterwards he was barely aware of Crosby’s work, suggesting he couldn’t identify more than a song or two from Crosby. Again, I’m unconvinced of this. Bowie spent the 70s lying to the press to downplay the influence of others on his work, even contradicting himself with impunity because it wouldn’t be until decades later and the advent of the internet that most of us would discover just how well he had manipulated his image in the media.

Now, consider that the duet — this intergenerational cultural mash-up — was never supposed to be a medley of two different songs. But Bowie walked into the taping, and, not a fan of “The Little Drummer Boy” he was meant to perform with Crosby, insisted he sing something else.

Find out what happened next at Medium...

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