Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy

The story behind David Bowie's unlikely duet with legendary crooner Bing Crosby
David Bowie and Bing Crosby sing Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy in 1977


Released: 27 November 1982

B-Side: Fantastic Voyage

Catalogue: RCA BOW 12 / PB 13400 (United Kingdom) / PH-13400 (United States)

Recorded: ATV’s Elstree Studios, London, United Kingdom on 11 September 1977

Length: 4:23 (United Kingdom) / 2:32 (United States)

Composers: Larry Grossman, Ian Fraser, Buz Kohan / Harry Simeone, Henry Onorati, Katherine K. Davis

Production: Frank Konigsberg


The story behind ‘Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy’

David Bowie’s duet of ‘Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy’ with Bing Crosby was recorded at ATV’s Elstree Studios on 11 September 1977 for the fifty-minute television special Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas. Just two days earlier, Bowie had recorded his appearance on Marc Bolan’s Granada TV show Marc. The show was broadcast on Christmas Eve 1977.

“Poor old Bing copped it as well just after I’d done this with him,” Bowie later recalled. “I was getting seriously worried about whether I should appear on TV because everyone I was going on with was kicking it the following week.”

Crosby collapsed and died in Madrid just a month later on 14 October 1977.

As on the Marc show, Bowie performed his new single ‘”Heroes”‘, which featured a superb new vocal and a reprise of his trademark invisible-wall mime. During the show, Crosby answered the doorbell to various celebrity visitors to his festive castle. After a cosy chat about what went on in “the Bowie household at Christmas time”, Bowie invited Crosby to join him in a seasonal duet which he described as “my son’s favourite”.

The story behind the choice of song wasn’t quite so harmonious. The show’s musical supervisors, Ian Fraser and Larry Grossman, originally intended to record a straightforward rendition of ‘Little Drummer Boy’, the popular song adapted from a traditional Czech carol in the 1940s and established as a Yuletide favourite after the huge success of the 1958 recording by the Harry Simeone Chorale. However, as Ian Fraser recalled many years later, “David came in and said, ‘I hate this song. Is there something else I could sing?’ We didn’t know quite what to do.”

Fraser and Grossman found a piano in a basement room at Elstree where, together with the show scriptwriter Buz Kohan, they proceeded to write the original ‘Peace on Earth’ lyrics and counter-melody from scratch in little more than an hour. Bowie and Crosby then nailed their performance in less than an hour. The song reached number three in the UK charts, and has since become a Christmas standard in its own right.

A few days after the taping, Crosby said of Bowie, “clean-cut kid and a real fine asset to the show. He sings well, has a great voice and reads lines well.”

“He was not there at all,” Bowie recalled of Crosby in 1999. “He had the words in front of him. ‘Hi Dave, nice to see ya here…’ And he looked like a little old orange sitting on a stool. He’d been made up very heavily and his skin was a bit pitted, and there was just nobody home at all, you know? It was the most bizarre experience. I didn’t know anything about him. I just knew my mother liked him.”

The duet was released as a Christmas single by RCA five years later on 27 November 1982, arbitrarily placing ‘Fantastic Voyage‘ from the Lodger album on the B-side, a piece of opportunism that did little to improve Bowie’s relationship with his soon-to-be-former record label. The single, which peaked at number three in the UK charts, proved to be one of David Bowie’s fastest selling singles, with sales over 250,000 within its first month and certified silver by the British Phonographic Industry just a month after its release. The single has total estimated sales of 450,000 in the UK, giving Bowie one of his most successful singles.

The song has since appeared on numerous Christmas compilations, although its only official release on a Bowie collection was a limited-edition bonus disc with the American compilation The Singles 1969 To 1993.


The video for ‘Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy’


Listen to the 1958 recording of ‘Little Drummer Boy’ by the Harry Simeone Chorale


‘Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy’ Lyrics

Come they told me
A new born king to see
Our finest gifts we bring

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

Every child must be made aware
Every child must be made to care
Care enough for his fellow man
To give all the love that he can

I pray my wish will come true
For my child and your child too
He’ll 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 / Little Drummer Boy’ Artwork

David Bowie and Bing Crosby - Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy - 1977 - Single Cover

David Bowie and Bing Crosby - Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy - 1977 - Single Reverse