12 days of Christmas, Day 7

There isn’t much middle ground with “The Little Drummer Boy.” Either you like it, or you don’t.

It was written in 1941 by composer Katherine Davis, who called it “Carol of the Drum.”

It became a Christmas favorite in 1958, when Harry Simeone, a popular arranger for radio, TV and film, did a new version for a 20th Century Fox record, “Sing We Now Of Christmas.” The song, which he called “The Little Drummer Boy,” was sung by a group he called the Harry Simeone Chorale.

He’d been pitched the song by fellow arranger Henry Onorati, who’d done a version a year earlier with the Jack Halloran Singers. The only problem? Dot Records didn’t get that version out in time for Christmas 1957.

The story behind the song — a poor boy who plays his drum as a gift for the baby Jesus — is timeless. All too often, though, you hear covers that lack a sense of adventure. These don’t.

Obscure early ’70s funk/soul: “Little Drummer Boy,” Lenox Avenue, from the Chess 7-inch 2101, 1970. It’s out of print. (Shared last year by Larry over at Funky 16 Corners.)

Late ’70s dance/salsa: “Little Drummer Boy,” the Salsoul Orchestra, from “Christmas Jollies,” 1976.

Late ’80s drum machines: “The Little Drummer Boy,” Alexander O’Neal, from “My Gift To You,” 1988. It’s out of print but is available digitally.

A guaguanco, a style of rumba: “The Little Drummer Boy,” Brave Combo, from “It’s Christmas, Man!” 1992. Hard to find, but available from the band or digitally.

Sweet, trippy sounds: “Little Drummer Boy,” the Dandy Warhols, from “Fruitcake,” 1997, a Capitol Records promo EP. It’s out of print. (Quite the video for it, though!) They released a different version as a single in 1994.

Sweet, reverent sounds: “Little Drummer Boy.” .38 Special, from “A Wild-Eyed Christmas Night,” 2001. Re-released in 2008 as “The Best of .38 Special: The Christmas Collection,” one of those 20th Century Masters reissues. If you seek it digitally, search for that title instead of the original.

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4 Comments

Filed under Christmas music, December 2010

4 responses to “12 days of Christmas, Day 7

  1. hey nice blog….none of these are working

  2. great post! thanks for sharing all the great old tunes, this year and last. i’ve used your suggestions several times for my annual holiday mixtapes–and i would have otherwise never heard most of them. last year you intro’ed me to edwin hawkins’ white christmas, which is just spectacular. so thanks! i’m doing a bit of an xmas music thing on my blog right now too, fyi. ohbriggsy.wordpress.com. happy holidays and keep up the awesome posts!

  3. For Little Drummer Boy I prefer the Bob Seger version. The Chicago version comes a close 2nd too. It’s a great song… The Bing Crosby/David Bowie duet medley of Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth is also quite enjoyable although strictly speaking I don’t consider it to be the same song as it’s really more of a medley/mash-up (kind of like Will To Power mixing Peter Frampton’s Baby I Love Your Way and Lynnyrd Skynnyrd’s Freebird into one song).

  4. I know more about this than the author does!!

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