There are some things that just don’t go together. Two like magnetic poles…Felix Unger and Oscar Madison…or (as some argue) pineapple on pizza. By all accounts, these “odd couples” are so called because they inherently clash. They stand in opposition to one another, whether ideologically or physically. Forcibly bringing them together often leads to disaster.
By all accounts, that’s what should happen during a collaboration between a flamboyant British rockstar and a wholesome American crooner. But by God, David Bowie and Bing Crosby defied those odds. Was it a Christmas miracle?
“Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy” was recorded in 1977, just five weeks before the death of Bing Crosby. It was to be aired on a Crosby Christmas special, prefaced by dialogue between the two about their holiday traditions. Bowie’s “Peace on Earth” lyrics, sung in counterpoint to Crosby’s “Little Drummer Boy,” were written specifically for this collaboration. And, in true virtuoso fashion, the recording was sealed after less than an hour of rehearsing.
Of course, you can’t capture lightning in a bottle without getting zapped a few times. For one, Bing Crosby wasn’t actually fond of the “Little Drummer Boy” song. Producers were also worried that he wouldn’t know who David Bowie was; that concern was later found to be a non-issue.
In the years following this encounter, the record became one of Bowie’s highest-charting singles. Which brings us to the following question: is it really fair to assume the worst about a musical pairing before it actually comes together?
I think the moral of the story is that great art can be found in the unlikeliest of places. There really was no good reason to have Bing Crosby sing with David Bowie, but some innovator out there thought it was worth a shot- and we wound up getting a new holiday classic.
This season, I hope all of us find the courage to break boundaries and make important connections with other people…no matter who they are.