Little Drummer Boy: Top 5 Takes
Cool covers of a classic Christmas tune
Few Christmas songs inspire musicians more than "Little Drummer Boy" -- written in 1941 by Katherine Davis. Maybe it's because virtually all bands feature drummer boys (or girls) pounding their hearts out daily. Maybe it's the message of music as a legitimate gift, every bit as precious as frankincense & myrrh. Whatever the reason, there's an inherent rock'n'roll quality that's missing -- not that this is a problem -- in other holiday songs.
Here, five favorite takes on Little Drummer Boy.
Bing Crosby and David Bowie, 1977
One of the quirkiest musical duets in Christmas music history -- heck, music history period -- almost didn't happen, but I'm so glad it did. Taped for Crosby's England-themed 1977 holiday TV special, "Little Drummer Boy" was intertwined by producers in the 11th hour with a song called "Peace on Earth" to temper Bowie's reservations about Drummer Boy. (Apparently not all musicians dig the song!) I've forgiven MTV for overplaying this clip during my youth--who could blame 'em? -- and can now enjoy it as a weirdly lovely seasonal treat.
Video: Bing Crosby and David Bowie, Little Drummer Boy
~~~ Watch the video ~~~
Tori Amos, 1994
No drum in this "Drummer Boy"--just Tori Amos and her piano. Recorded live at Steel Town in Baltimore, Amos brings her passionate, playful vocal style to the tune, starting soft but ending with a bang. The track pops from You Sleigh Me--a 1995 alt-Christmas compilation benefiting Hale House--like a spark from a cozy Christmas hearth.
Video: Tori Amos, Little Drummer Boy
Here's a different, much more recent version. Tori's slightly more subdued here and uses an electronic keyboard rather than piano, but it's still fun to watch.
~~~ Watch the video. ~~~
Ray Charles, 1985
The R&B legend takes Drummer Boy on a warm, soulful five-and-a-half-minute ride, punctuated by a zesty horn section and backing vocals. I especially love the laid-back groove at the end, as Ray lays his comments ("You shoulda heard us!") onto the Raelettes' sultry refrain: "Me and my druuum..."
The Dandy Warhols, 1995
Drummer Boy goes power pop with this high-energy version from the brilliant, tragicially hard-to-find indie indie holiday compilation It's a Cool, Cool Christmas (benefiting The Big Issue). The Dandys strip the song of sentiment and add swirly, psychedelic-tinged guitar and vocal harmonies for a perfect antidote to Black Friday mall muzak.
Dandy Warhols Drummer Boy mp3 from Amazon
Low's beautiful nontraditional Christmas album, Christmas, has a well-deserved cult following and is one of my all-time favorite holiday CDs. Slow, spare & haunting, this is not your father's "Drummer Boy." But it fits perfectly with an album that showcases the complex interplay of joy and sadness that Christmas evokes for many of us. On a lighter note, TV watchers might remember Low's "Drummer Boy" from a Gap ad years ago, which paired the song with a slow-motion snowball fight.
DIY Drummer Boy cover?
Create your own version with these Little Drummer Boy lyrics.
Got a favorite version?