Monday, December 22, 2008

Today in Music (1958): Harry Simeone Chorale “The Little Drummer Boy” charted for the first time

The Little Drummer Boy

Harry Simeone Chorale

Writer(s): Harry Simeone, Katherine K. Davis, Henry V. Onorati (see lyrics here)

First Charted: December 19, 1958

Peak: 13 US, 10 CB, 2 GR, 14 HR, 6 AC, 13 UK, 1 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US, -- UK, 25.0 world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 28.03 video, 24.59 streaming

Peace on Earth/The Little Drummer Boy

Bing Crosby & David Bowie

Writer(s): Ian Fraser, Larry Grossman, Alan Kohan, Harry Simeone, Katherine K. Davis, Henry V. Onorati (see lyrics here)

Recorded: September 11, 1977

First Charted: November 27, 1982

Peak: 3 UK, 2 CN, 1 DF (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): -- US, 0.45 UK

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 1.51 video, -- streaming

Awards (Simeone):

Click on award for more details.

Awards (Crosby/Bowie):

About the Song:

In 1941, Katherine Kennicott Davis translated an obscure Czech carol called “Carol of the Drum” into English. SF The song tells a story of a little drummer boy summoned to honor the newborn baby Jesus. Because he can’t afford a gift, he offers his talents on the drum instead. There isn’t actually any Biblical reference to any “such percussion prodigy.” SF A decade later the Austrian Trapp Family Singers (of The Sound of Music fame) covered the song. SFIn 1957, Jack Hollaran arranged the song and recorded it on his 1957 album, Christmas Is A-Comin’. SF

Producer Henry Onorati brought the arrangement to Harry Simeone, who was asked by Twentieth-Century Fox Records in 1958 to make a Christmas album. Simeone was a conductor and arranger from Newark, New Jersey, who had worked on Bing Crosby movies and served as conductor for The Firestone Hour from 1952 to 1959. SF

Onorati was credited on the song, as was Simeone, despite having nothing to do with its writing or composition. WK He recorded it for the album Sing We Now of Christmas. It was released as a single in 1958 and reached #13 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song went on to chart inside the top-40 each Christmas season for the next four years.

The song has been covered many times, perhaps most notably by Bing Crosby. In preparation for his 1977 Merrie Olde Christmas special, he was in London to record a duet of the song with David Bowie who, at 30, was 43 years younger. When Bowie got to the London studio, he said he hated the song and it didn’t suit his voice. The writers came up with a new arrangement within an hour with Bowie singing the words “peace on earth” and other lyrics as a counterpoint to Crosby. SF When Bowie died before the special aired, it kicked interest in the performance into high gear. The song was popularized by MTV in 1981 and released as a single in 1982, reaching #3 in the UK. SF


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First posted 8/13/2022; last updated 12/28/2022.

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