Christmas slows everything down. The best mulled wine is always so hot that you have no option other than to pause and literally sip at Christmas. Some of the finest, heartaching Christmas songs are so slow you could steer an overladen sleigh between them and still have some room for that portly chap in the red and white. Maybe it’s the reminiscing of the end of the year or the giddy high, but some of those fine yuletide songs are as solemn as they are slow. And none more so than Little Drummer Boy.
Composed by Katherine K. Davis in 1941, its slow, purposeful march provides an uneasy tension and melancholy, a story of a simple drummer boy who can ill afford the” finest gifts” others bring for the “new born king” and instead plays his simple drum, while “the ox and lamb” keep time. It’s a story that reminds us that Christmas doesn’t have to be maximised, full of nuclear reactor decorations and expensive gifts. The spirit of Christmas is the simplest of things.
Of all the Christmas standards it’s Davis’ evocative ode to minimalism that many artists are drawn to reinterpret. Whether that is through the sensuous, sombreness of Low, Misty Blue‘s downtempo Korean pop, Marlene Dietrich’s sultry cabaret or Bing Crosby and David Bowie’s connection of the generations. Yet hardly has it been approached with such intense density as with Lindstrøm’s version, which comes as a bonus disc on the limited edition of Real Life Is No Cool, from Lindstrøm & Christabelle.
Lindstrøm takes that purposeful march and evolves it into a burning, ticking crescendo; 42 minutes 42 seconds of circular motion and cosmic, hypnotic melody. It’s a full 25 minutes before any voices appear – those familiar ‘pa rum pum pum pum’s’ – and when they do they’re slipped into the tune under the ethereal hum of an organ. Lindstrøm’s take on Little Drummer Boy echoes the nature of the Christmas season itself. Slow-burning for maximum enjoyment, while deliciously building to a climax of explosive, thundering drums in the final few minutes.
You can get Lindstrøm and Christabelle’s Real Life Is No Cool from Rough Trade or hear a sample of Little Drummer Boy here. But for Christmas you can have these sublime versions of Little Drummer Boy. All are great, but if you only choose a few start with Misty Blue. Low, Tori Amos, Misty Blue, Jimi Hendrix, Sufjan Stevens and Bing & Dave also crucially let the song swim through them.
There’s a Johnny Cash version out there as well which I’d love to have if you’ve got it.
Little Drummer Boy – Low
Little Drummer Boy – Deerhoof
Little Drummer Boy – Tori Amos
Little Drummer Boy – Misty Blue
Little Drummer Boy – Bright Eyes
Little Drummer Boy – Jim Hendrix
Little Drummer Boy – Greg Laswell
Little Drummer Boy – Sufjan Stevens
Little Drummer Boy – Dandy Warhols
Little Drummer Boy – Bing Crosby & David Bowie
Little Drummer Boy – Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
Little Drummer Boy – Josepth Arthur & the Lonely Astronauts
Little Drummer Boy battles a robot (without Yoshima) (Music by Low)
Tori Amos – Little Drummer Boy
Misty Blue – 여름 궁전 (Not Christmas, but still incredible)