In 1977, the producers of Bing Crosby’s last Christmas special, Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas, added a counter-melody called “Peace on Earth” to “The Little Drummer Boy” so that David Bowie would sing a duet with Bing on the TV show. (Bowie hated “Drummer Boy,” thus the new song.) Once the song was released officially in the early 1980s, it became a Christmas classic.
Many years earlier, a different counter-melody called “Peace on Earth” was added to a familiar carol – and this one has been largely forgotten. My Christmas Song of the Day for December 14 is an attempt to rescue that beautiful medley from obscurity.
In 1955, Walt Disney released the beloved animated feature Lady and the Tramp. Famed singer Peggy Lee voiced four different characters; she also collaborated with Sonny Burke to write 10 songs that were heard, in whole or in part, during the film. Lee and Burke wrote “Peace on Earth” as a counterpoint to the traditional “Silent Night,” and short snippets are heard twice in the movie. She also recorded a full-length, three-minute version for the 1955 soundtrack album released by Decca Records, her label at the time. A 45 rpm single was supposedly issued in November 1957 as Decca 9-38005, part of Decca’s special 38000 numbering system for promotional and other special-markets releases, but no copy has surfaced.
For the Christmas season of 1963, the two-year-old Reprise Records label decided to release a various-artists collection of new recordings of Christmas songs from its stable of artists. The album, entitled Frank Sinatra and His Friends Want You to Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, was reissued more than once during the 1960s and was sometimes used as a corporate premium, but except for fans of vintage vinyl, it is no longer in the public consciousness.
Perhaps inspired by the 1962 re-release of Lady and the Tramp, Dean Martin chose Peggy Lee’s medley for his contribution to the Reprise album. “Peace on Earth and Silent Night,” as its title appears on the LP, was recorded on August 13, 1963 at Western Recorders in Los Angeles. It started to reappear on compact disc in the early 2000s, but it remains largely ignored and forgotten. Once again, I hope you enjoy this medley as much as I do.