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Little Drummer Boy: Top 5 Takes

Updated on December 1, 2014

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.

(photo credit: thefixer cc ~ cropped for shape)

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

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, 1999

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?

Which "Drummer Boy" do you march to?

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    • verymary profile image
      Author

      Mary 4 years ago from Chicago area

      @anonymous: never heard of her (don't get mad!)

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      nicole atkins version is the best and its not even close.

    • AnnounceItFavors profile image

      AnnounceItFavors 5 years ago

      Tori Amos does a beautiful job!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      BONEY M's version BY MILES!!!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      BONEY M's version BY MILES!!!

    • TeacherSerenia profile image

      TeacherSerenia 6 years ago

      I'm curious that you haven't included the Boney M version of the Little Drummer boy. It's a beautiful version complete with a little drummer boy LOL

    • squid-pinkchic18 profile image

      squid-pinkchic18 6 years ago

      Nice lens here! Thanks for sharing.

    • Linda BookLady profile image

      Linda Jo Martin 7 years ago from Post Falls, Idaho, USA

      There was a version with a boy's choir my mom bought when I was a teenager. I still remember how beautiful that was. This is definitely one of my favorite carols!

    • MagpieNest profile image

      MagpieNest 7 years ago

      Yeah it's the Bowie/Bing version for me. I love Tori, but her version didn't come close.

    • ICanCook profile image

      ICanCook 7 years ago

      It's nice listening to different versions of the same song.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      I love the song Little Drummer Boy and would have to agree...David and Bing did a wonderful job with it.

    • The-Java-Gal profile image

      The-Java-Gal 7 years ago

      I'm a Ray Charles fan, but Bing and David are right up there.

    • clouda9 lm profile image

      clouda9 lm 7 years ago

      I happen to love this classic Christmas tune. Gotta say my fave is David Bowie and Bing Cosby - it's phenomenal!