Today is David Bowie Day in our Countdown to Christmas, there are just 349 days remaining. Bowie passed away today at the age of 69.
It is hard not to compare David Bowie to his Christmas duet partner, Bing Crosby today, odd as that is to say. They had nothing and everything in common all at the same time.
But today is not unlike the day that Bing died: everyone is talking about him, many quite shocked at his loss, and almost all speaking in admiration for many years of musical contribution and his prodigious talent.
It would be hard to just end the comparison there. After all, we see Bowie, as we do everything else, through the lens of Christmas. And Bowie has just one Christmas feather in his cap, in contrast to great Christmas contributions of Crosby. But he gave us one eternal Christmas moment and oddly enough it took Bing to pull it off with him.
The clash of generations which seems so polished and normal today was quite the oddity of its time. Crosby and Bowie were polar opposites. While much today will focus on the wild off-stage life of David Bowie it was clearly on full display for Bing Crosby back in 1977. Bowie walked into the studio wearing furs — and Crosby could only look down as the pair prepared to tape what would become an immortal Christmas tune.
The plan was to sing Little Drummer Boy, a song Bowie detested. In fact, he refused to sing it. Over the course of 24 hours a team of songwriters rushed to find something fresh and original and with Bowie came up with Peace on Earth. Bowie liked it and would sing it.
Crosby and Bowie rehearsed it for less than an hour — and then called it good, neither knowing the song would go down in history as a perennial favorite and a holiday staple.
In the television special — shot in England because Bing was on tour there — the coupling of Bowie happened for the simple reason that he lived close to where the production was being taped. Experts now speculate whether Crosby even knew who Bowie was. The whole thing was thrown together because it was about television — and Bing did it every Christmas. With Bing’s theme being “Christmas in England”, Bowie was a good enough fit even though there is nothing in Bowie’s musical pedigree before or after to suggest that he had any interest in Christmas music.
Crosby himself died a month after the special was taped and more than a month before the Christmas special was aired on American television.
It might have been forgotten altogether if the song wasn’t hastily released in 1982 by RCA. The odd pairing of Bowie and Crosby was memorable — and the song resonated even five full years after it was first seen.
It has since been added to countless holiday compilations where the song has endured, much like White Christmas, in the minds of Christmas fans everywhere.