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This Just In ...

Kevin Fischer is a veteran broadcaster, the recipient of over 150 major journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, the Wisconsin Associated Press, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, the Wisconsin Bar Association, and others. He has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for over three decades. A longtime aide to state Senate Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, Kevin can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, "InterCHANGE," on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10, and heard filling in on Newstalk 1130 WISN. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their lovely young daughter, Kyla Audrey, in Franklin.

The Music of Christmas: "Come, they told me....."


EVERY DAY FROM NOVEMBER 30-DECEMBER 24, I AM HIGHLIGHTING A CHRISTMAS SONG AND THE STORY BEHIND IT. PLEASE ENJOY AND MERRY CHRISTMAS!


The Little Drummer Boy was originally a Czech song called, “The Carol of the Drum.” Katherine Davis translated it into English in 1941.

Henry Onorati did some arranging on this song for Jack Halloran in 1957. The Jack Halloran Singers recorded the song, but when Halloran’s record company refused to release it as a single, Onorati gave the song to Harry Simeone. Simeone hired the Jack Halloran Singers to record the now-famous version of this song.

The original version, quite honestly, never did anything for me. Though an obviously wonderful story, the song is bland.

Not so dull was the idea to pair a famous crooner with a rocker in 1977 to sing Drummer Boy and Peace on Earth.

Paul Farhi wrote an article in the Washington Post in 2006 entitled, “Bing and Bowie: An Odd Story of Holiday Harmony.”

One of the most successful duets in Christmas music history -- and surely the weirdest -- might never have happened if it weren't for some last-minute musical surgery. David Bowie thought "The Little Drummer Boy" was all wrong for him. So when the producers of Bing Crosby's Christmas TV special asked Bowie to sing it in 1977, he refused.

Just hours before he was supposed to go before the cameras, though, a team of composers and writers frantically retooled the song. They added another melody and new lyrics as a counterpoint to all those pah-rumpa-pum-pums and called it "Peace on Earth." Bowie liked it. More important, Bowie sang it.

The result was an epic, and epically bizarre, recording in which David Bowie, the androgynous Ziggy Stardust, joined in song with none other than Mr. "White Christmas" himself, Bing Crosby.

In the intervening years, the Bowie-Crosby, "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy," has been transformed from an oddity into a holiday chestnut. You can hear it in heavy rotation on Christmas-music radio stations or see the performance on Internet video sites. First released as a single in 1982, it still sells today -- to add to its quirky afterlife, it's part of an album that's ranked as high as No. 3 on the Canadian charts this month. How did this almost surreal mash-up of the mainstream and the avant-garde, of cardigan-clad '40s-era crooner and glam rocker, happen?
It almost didn't. Bowie, who was 30 at the time, and Crosby, then 73, recorded the duet Sept. 11, 1977, for Crosby's "Merrie Olde Christmas" TV special. A month later, Crosby was dead of a heart attack. The special was broadcast on CBS about a month after his death.

The notion of pairing the resolutely white-bread Crosby with the exquisitely offbeat Bowie apparently was the brainchild of the TV special's producers, Gary Smith and Dwight Hemion, according to Ian Fraser, who co-wrote (with Larry Grossman) the song's music and arranged it.

Crosby was in Great Britain on a concert tour, and the theme of the TV special was Christmas in England. Bowie was one of several British guest stars (the model Twiggy and "Oliver!" star Ron Moody also appeared). Booking Bowie made logistical sense, since the special was taped near his home in London, at the Elstree Studios. As perhaps an added inducement, the producers agreed to air the arty video of Bowie's then-current single, "Heroes" (Crosby introduced it).

It's unclear, however, whether Crosby had any idea who Bowie was. Buz Kohan, who wrote the special and worked with Fraser and Grossman on the music, says he was never sure Crosby knew anything about Bowie's work. Fraser has a slightly different memory: "I'm pretty sure he did [know]. Bing was no idiot. If he didn't, his kids sure did."

Kohan worked some of the intergenerational awkwardness into his script. In a little skit that precedes the singing, Crosby greets Bowie at the door of what looks like Dracula's castle (actually, it's a set that's supposed to be Crosby's rented London home). The conceit is that Bowie is dropping by a friend's house and finds Crosby at home one snowy afternoon.

They banter for a bit and then get around to a piano. Bowie casually picks out a piece of sheet music of "The Little Drummer Boy" and declares, "This is my son's favorite."

The original plan had been for Bowie and Crosby to sing just "Little Drummer Boy." But "David came in and said: 'I hate this song. Is there something else I could sing?' " Fraser said. "We didn't know quite what to do."

Fraser, Kohan and Grossman left the set and found a piano in the studios' basement. In about 75 minutes, they wrote "Peace on Earth," an original tune, and worked out an arrangement that weaved together the two songs. Bowie and Crosby nailed the performance with less than an hour of rehearsal.

And that was almost that. "We never expected to hear about it again," Kohan said.

But after the recording circulated as a bootleg for several years, RCA decided to issue it as a single in 1982. It has since been packaged and repackaged in Christmas compilation albums and released as a DVD.






1) The Music of Christmas: Jingle Bells

2) The Music of Christmas: "I am a fine musician"

3) The Music of Christmas: Mary's Boy Child

4) The Music of Christmas - Elvis Style

5) The Music of Christmas: Rudolph

6) The Music of Christmas: The Fat Man is watching

7)
The Music of Christmas: "Haul out the holly....."

8) The Music of Christmas: Judy Garland

9) The Music of Christmas: A partridge in a pear tree

10) The Music of Christmas: Disney-style

11) The Music of Christmas: "Snowing and blowing up bushels of fun"

12) The Music of Christmas: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

13) The Music of Christmas: Santa Baby

14) The Music of Christmas: The Best Ever?

15) The Music of Christmas....that has nothing to do with Christmas

16) The Music of Christmas: You're a Mean One

17) The Music of Christmas: Southern Gospel's Contribution

18) The Music of Christmas: "Soon It Will Be Christmas Day"

19) The Music of Christmas: And Heaven and Nature Sing

20) The Music of Christmas: "Come, they told me......."

 

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