Little Drummer Boycott

I can’t quite bring myself to thank Melanie Bettenelli for bringing the following video to my attention.

In no particular order, my thoughts:

1.  This song should be taken out and shot.

2.  Oh boy, Shane McGowan!  Show us your teeth!  Show us your teeth!

3.  Who are The Priests, now?

4.  I don’t understand people who (apprently) say things like “Catholic priests shouldn’t be associating with that guy — he’s a perv and a drug addict.”  Hey, ever heard of the New Testament?  Sheesh.

5.  Also, music is music.  I don’t understand how people can make aesthetic choices based on the morals of the artist.  Music either sounds good or it doesn’t.  I guess I can see boycotting someone really disgusting because you don’t want them to have your money, but that what pirating is for.  (Oh, I’m just kidding.  Pirating is stealing, and I’m against it, and don’t know how to do it anyway.)

6.  What is it with this song?  “Little drummer boy?”  What little drummer boy?  You played your drums for a newborn?  Par-rum-pa-pum-what? What kind of drum makes that sound?  100% terrible!  There is nothing and no one that can make this song listenable.  My stars.

7.  Who thinks it’s a good idea to put together polished, trained voices with someone whose prodigious talent is from a completely other planet?  It makes everyone sound bad.  It doesn’t blend, it doesn’t make a new sound; it just clashes.  Bleah.  Never understood that.  Like that disastrous combination of Freddie Mercury and David Bowie in “Under Pressure”

–wait, David Bowie?

8.  Oh gosh, this all happened before, didn’t it?

Just because this guy sounds good and that guy sounds good, does not mean they will sound good together.  I guess it’s good that they didn’t ruin a decent song, anyway.

9.  Speaking of ruining something decent.  I’m sorry, is this Lent?  Why are we being punished this way?  It’s not a penitential season, it’s only Advent.

No, it’s NOT even Advent yet.  You know what?  Fine.  As long as it’s The Indeterminate Holiday Season for Singing, here is one of my favorite Shane McGowan songs.

I’m not trying to be a contrarian — I really love this song!  “I could have been someone./Well, so could anyone!”

Well, happy Thanksgiving, or whatever, everyone!


  1. I seriously disliked that Little Drummer Boy television special that our mother made us watch each and every year when I was a boy. D-U-M, dumb.

  2. When I was in second grade the kids who couldn’t behave well enough to have a part in the Christmas play had to sing The Little Drummer Boy. I started out in the play group then was demoted to the singing group. As a result this song has always been associated with punishment for me.

    It was also an experience of the gratuitous gift of the Redemption (offered new life through no merit of my own) when the kid with the lead in the play fell ill the day of the performance and I was called up to take his place. I still had to sing the song, but now it required a quick costume change at the end of the play.

  3. Oh! Ouch! I kind of, sort of liked it.

    I loved your post and then went over to listen to it and to laugh at the human train wreck, and then, I’m like awwww!

    I even like the Bing Crosby/ David Bowie one, but that’s more nostalgia for my early ’80s MTV days. I wince just a little when I watch it now.

    Okay well I’m off to my self help group for Moms Who Listen to High School Musical tunes when no one’s around.

    Have a happy Thankgiving!!

  4. OK, I have to weigh in with the maudlin point of view.

    When I was a little boy, my parents were o n the verge of divorce. Home was hell. I had a, shall we say, fraught relationship with my father.

    The Little Drummer Boy made me, and continues to make me, well up every time it gets to the line “I played my best for him.” Heavy identification.

    Oh, and “Fairytale of New York?” I’m sitting writing this from lower Manhattan, as my Irish wife (really Irish, not just a St.-Paddy-Day drunk) proceeds with divorce.

    I think I need to go get drunk.

      • Thank you. It’s vastly appreciated. Sorry if I deposited something unsavory in the punchbowl at your party.

        I love your blog! Jennifer Fulwiler said you wrote like David Sedaris, and you do. You kill me! In a good way!

        My happy “Fairytale of New York” story: me and a very short female friend went to see The Pogues at Irving Hall. I moshed about with the drunkards (I’m 6’1″ and rather muscular). Then they started up with “Fairytale of New York.” My friend and I started to waltz to it. The drunkards cleared the floor, and we waltzed, all eyes on us. Not well, but alien to the punks that habitually frequent Pogues concerts. They ended, and the place went wild.

  5. What! Under Pressure was priceless, and without it there would be no Ice Ice Baby. I can’t wait for someone to remake that song. You know why they won’t, cuz they’re scared it won’t be as good as the original and everyone will make fun of them.

    Little Drummer Boy reminds me of the Mary Katherine Gallagher SNL skit w/Whitney Houston and Rosie O’Donnell. We watch it every year. That’s really the way that song was meant to be enjoyed.

  6. For some reason, ever since I had kids “Little Drummer Boy” makes me well up…and so does the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Damn hormones!!

    And how can you not like “Under Pressure”? Even if it sounded it awful (which it doesn’t) it’s Bowie and Freddie Freakin’ Mercury. The only thing almost as great is Bowie’s cover of “Dancin’ in the Streets” with Mick Jagger.

    The worst blending of voices I ever heard was when Paul Simon was on tour with Bob Dylan around 2000 and they would attempt to do two or three songs together. Of course, Dylan’s singing voice these days could pretty much ruin any song on its own.

  7. WOW! I love Little Drummer Boy – my favorite version is the Bowie/Crosby and Under Pressure is rock genius! To show that I too am not just a contrarian, I do love Fairytale of New York.
    For me Little Drummer Boy is the ultimate give God what you’ve got song, and as someone who has felt that what I’ve got can’t be worth much to anyone, it makes me cry every time! (I think that the usefulness of drum playing for a baby is moot, when the noted gifts are gold, frankincense and myrrh — not a blanket or dinner to be found!)
    What urks me is that we have 2 radio stations that have played only Christmas music for 2 weeks already!!! Patience people patience. If anything can kill a good Christmas song, it’s hearing it daily for 7 weeks.
    Happy Thanksgiving! I am thankful that there is enough music out there to please everyone. :o)

  8. I have to admit, I love Little Drummer Boy. It always reminds me of Tomie de Paola’s The Clown of God, where the clown juggles for the statue of Christ and Our Lady…it’s all about giving God whatever you can. Even if it’s just a drumbeat. Or a collaborative effort with some priests.

    I do think this is probably the first time I haven’t agreed with one of your posts though, Simcha…kind of makes me want to cry.

  9. I *loathe* the little drummer boy and have never understood how it fits in with Christmas AT ALL.

    Thank you. I will participate in the boycott.

    It will include Sufjan Stevens’ version as well. As much as I love him I just hate that song.

  10. Nothing says Happy Christmas like old marrieds hurling epithets at one another.

    Shane MacGowan could groan unintelligibly over dulcet tones and I would buy it.

    Oh, wait….

  11. I take back what I said about your brother being smart like you. He’s smarter than you, unless he also has your disdain for my favorite Christmas song. If so, you’re both big dumb-heads.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  12. I remember being terribly embarrassed to sing Little Drummer Boy when I was a kid because of that rump-a-pum-pum and it embarrassed me even more to hear grown men sing it.

    But Fairytale of New York is the best ever. I think. Yeah. Ever.

  13. Someone on my elementary school schoolbus was the granddaughter of the gentleman who wrote that song.

    One of my few claims to fame, thanks…along with the fact that our Little Tykes wagon was assembled one Christmas by the guy who was Bruce Springsteen’s drummer on the Folkways album….

  14. I am seriously very happy that no one is home right now…because they’d be looking to have me committed since I am laughing so hard!

    Little Drummer Boy is just one song I can not stomach…no matter who does it….and you’ve nailed the emotions.

    It’s only redeemable aspect is that my father turned purple over seeing his beloved Bing Crosby in the duet with an evil ‘rock-n-roller’….so I can stand that version for about 23 seconds!

  15. Dearest Simcha,

    Okay. My luff for you and your website has now expanded to lerve. You are the best. The very presence of Shane McGowan on a website alongside mention of the Real Presence, cookie crumbs, and NFP; this is the stuff of dreams.

    I can usually only check in sporadically. It’s sort of my treat with a cup of reheated coffee when nothing is actually ringing, beeping, screaming, or bleeding for a second, or, at least, I am willing to pretend nothing is.

    Now, as to the video:
    How? How, my child, can you not just LOVE this, and, were it possible to photoshop in the family Christmas picture and stick the whole business into an envelope, send it to loved ones near and far?

    Brilliant? Surreal? Post-post-post-modern? There’s Shane looking like some cross between Johnny Cash, Rod Stewart, and later Elvis with his arms around three angelic-faced priests, whose complexions could be used to hawk skin cleanser (woops, almost wrote “sin cleanser”)?

    Fairytale of New York was the first song I played (pretty sure it was a tape cassette) for my now-husband early in the courting process. Was it a test? Yeah. Not sure what life might be right now if he had gone cold in response.

    As to The Drummer Boy, now hang on there. It’s the Lawrence Welk “Bolero”, cousin to Sting’s “Fields of Barley”. Indeed — imagine a Sting version. For the video, you could just have a repeat loop of one of those back of the car bobblehead tigers, or, better yet, a little lamb. You just can’t single out the poor drummer boy from the other Christmas cookies. Pap, sentimentality, and the ability to wheedle into the narrowest alleyways of your brain — that’s all part of the charm! As to the drumming itself? What — you want some myrrh? Potentially botulistic honey (you know some shepherd left that in the hay)? Camels?

    Simcha — thank you. Steve T. — you and yours are on the prayer list.

  16. Well, whoever said they knew the grandkid of the MAN who wrote it, sorry to mess with your brush with fame, but it was written by Katherine K. Davis, in 1941. Whoever wrote the Wikipedia article about the song agrees with the comparison to the Juggler of Notre Dame, which is what Tomie di Paola based “The Clown of God” on.

    Simcha, Simcha, Simcha. And everyone else, for that matter. How can you not love the poor little drummer boy? There he was, at the manger with the King of Kings, and all he wanted to do was give the little Baby a gift, and he had diddly. Now, one might ask why he didn’t just give Jesus the DRUM instead of playing it for him, but I digress. The little drummer boy gave what he had, and Mary smiled at him. That means she liked it. Or that she liked that he finally quit playing. Whatever. She LIKED it.

    As for Shane MacGowan — who is this guy? Sorry, this is the first I’ve ever heard of him. And he should not sing with the Priests (who are a trio of Irish Priests. You couldn’t tell? ;)) I was loving the Priests, grooving to the “Come, they told me,” and then HE opened is mouth. Why? Why???? Oh, the HUMANITY!

    OTOH, Bing and David were just fine.

    And don’t dis Sting. That man’s a genius.

  17. ScroogeSimcha! I’m a new fan, but how can ya hate on Drummer Boy? Think heart beat, drum beat.

    Although I must say that only fellas with clerical collars on could get away with the travesty that was that video! LOL

  18. I am a huge Pogues fan and I love the Drummer Boy and I like priests. I tried my best to dig this – but the whole thing fails at about 1:35 when it gets all symphonic and stuff.

    Did anyone else notice that the second highest rated comment on youtube was:

    “A great performance and how cute is the drummer boy :O !!!!!!!!!!”

    That gave me the creeps.

    Poor Shane – he looks like death warmed over in this video. I have been to a few recent shows and I am pretty sure that those priests *have* to have their arms around him. He is not so steady on his own.

  19. I’m glad I’m not the only person who blogs about being annoyed by Christmas music! Actually, The Beau and I were just listening to “The Priests” first album on the way back from Thanksgiving with my folks. (It was a random gift from his mom.) Does the fact that they are priests make their sappy warbling more or less excusable?

    To me, the song is now permanently connected with Angela on The Office when she tries to sabotage Pam’s karaoke machine.

  20. Right with you on this one, the song is annoying nonsense.

    But requiring common sense of our novelty Christmas sings is a slippery slope my dear. Sure, the concept of a drummer boy entertaining the baby Jesus may be slightly absurd but, seriously, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer? Aren’t we stretching the boundaries of taste, historic credibility and religious relelvance a little there? Yet it seems to appear on every “fading star sings Christmas Carols for a few bucks” albums that come out about this time every year.

    If we start scowling at small boys with drums, pretty soon we are demanding an exegetical justification for each Christmas carol. Slippery slope.

    PS: “We Three Kings” would pass the test.

  21. I’ve been thinking about this post since you posted it… mostly because Little Drummer Boy seems to be on the radio at least once every half hour. It’s always been one of those songs I could take or leave – – it was just one more “Christmas song”. My mom seemed to have a special liking for it, but that didn’t make me like it any more – or less.
    I must say, however, that almost all Christmas songs are totally fine. The good, the bad, the ugly… they all just hang out together on the radio from Thanksgiving to Christmas – and it all works.
    The only song – songs, actually – that will make me turn the station IMMEDIATELY is anything by an old group called the Ronettes. I detest anything sung – – and by “sung” I mean, “yelled loudly and annoyingly” – – by this group. Bleh bleh bleh! Just wretched!

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