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#28: Little Drummer Boy

“Little Drummer Boy,” originally titled “Carol of the Drum,” is based on a traditional Czech carol. In 1957, Henry Onorati arranged the song for a recording by the Jack Halloran Singers, but it was not released in time for Christmas. The next year, Harry Simeone was looking for material to create a Christmas album, and Onorati introduced him to the “Carol of the Drum.” Simeone re-arranged the song, retitled it “The Little Drummer Boy,” and recorded it with the Harry Simeone Chorale on the album Sing We Now of Christmas. The song is the story of a young shepherd boy who joins the procession of the wise men and other humble admirers to the Savior’s manger. When the boy reaches the gathering, others present gifts, but all the boy can afford is his gift of making music on his drum. Over 200 versions of this song in at least seven languages have been written.

In September 1977, an additional track was recorded for Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas television special, performed by Crosby and David Bowie. According to co-writer Ian Fraser, Bowie balked at singing “Little Drummer Boy.” “I hate this song. Is there something else I could sing?” Fraser recalls Bowie telling him. Fraser, along with songwriter Larry Grossman and the special’s scriptwriter, Buz Kohan, then wrote the “Peace on Earth” lyrics as a counterpoint to “Little Drummer Boy.” Crosby performed “Little Drummer Boy,” while Bowie sang the new tune “Peace on Earth,” which they reportedly performed after less than an hour of rehearsal. Crosby never lived to see his performance on television, as he died a month after recording. The show aired in November 1977 on CBS.

Lyrics

Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum
A new born King to see, pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
Rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

So to honor Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
When we come.

Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum
That’s fit to give the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
Rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum,
On my drum?

Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
Rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.

Additional Lyrics

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?

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