Cover Versions: The Little Drummer Boy

Seeing as though it’s Christmastime, and also seeing as though it’s been a while since we did one of these Cover Versions posts, and seeing as though we’ve run across a few really well-done renditions of one of the better Christmas songs around, we thought we’d drop this one on you.

Not that you can’t get enough Christmas music on the radio – but let’s face it, if you listened to music on the radio you wouldn’t be spending your time on a political blog…now, would you?

As a prelude, we need to go back to the beginning. And at the beginning, the song wasn’t known as The Little Drummer Boy. Originally, it was known as The Carol Of The Drum, and there was a traditional Czech Christmas carol similar to it. But an American composer, Katherine Kennicott Davis, published a version of the Czech song in 1941 as material for girls’ choirs.

And there it sat until an Austrian singing group, the Von Trapp Singers, picked it up and made a recording out of it in 1955…

Three years later, the Harry Simeone Chorale first recorded a cover of the song, and this is the version most people associate with the “original” performance of it in pop culture…

The Simeone version wasn’t released until November of 1958 – but it nevertheless hit No. 13 on the Billboard chart for that year. Not bad for a Christmas song.

At that point, pretty much everybody was in on the game.

First up was the Jack Halloran Singers, with a version we couldn’t find a recording of, on a 1957 Christmas album. And after Simeone made the song a hit, the Ray Conniff Singers popped out a version as part of a medley of Christmas songs in 1962.

And then, also in 1962, came Bing Crosby…

Once Crosby got into the game, The Little Drummer Boy became part of the American Christmas. It has been ever since.

Just a few of the greats who’ve covered it include Johnny Cash…

Johnny Mathis…

Andy Williams…

The Supremes…

The Jackson Five…

…and Bob Seger.

Of course, the version many people think is the best ever recorded was the 1977 duet Crosby and David Bowie did – if for no other reason than you can’t get a whole lot odder couple than Crosby and Bowie, but mostly because when you put those two voices together it’s magic…

Since the early 1980’s most of the covers of the song have been intended as humor or vanity projects. When the people covering The Little Drummer Boy include RuPaul, Grace Jones, New Kids On The Block and Ringo Starr, you know you’re in something of a lull.

Lately, though, TLDB is beginning to make a comeback of sorts.

The Blind Boys of Alabama teamed up with Michael Franti for a fairly interesting take on the song…

Josh Groban’s version bings a little Andy Williams back with a more modern arrangement…

Shaggy cut a Jamaican version…

Here’s a 2009 version by the Christian rock band The Almost we thought was pretty good…

But two versions of very recent vintage caught our eye. At the end of November, the a capella band Pentatonix put out a version which blew us away…

And for sheer grandiosity and effort, you really can’t beat the version released this week by the Prestonwood Baptist mega-church in Dallas – complete with neon-clad dancers and guy wires…

Why The Little Drummer Boy? Well, mostly because it’s a beautiful song. It has great rhythm, the melody moves people and it lends itself well to both deep baritones and high sopranos.

But the lyrics might be the most meaningful to regular people of all. It’s a great message – those of us who don’t have much in the way of material possessions can still contribute, can still be counted and still matter. We can all produce something wonderful.

What a terrific sentiment for the season. Little wonder that The Little Drummer Boy has caught on as it has over the 72 years it’s been around.

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