Don’t Overlook the Potential of “Throw-Away” Projects

Jen Adams here, wishing you a merry Christmas day.

And, even if it’s not a holiday you celebrate, it’s certainly a day that brings unlikely groups of people together in a common spirit.

That was the setting in 1977, when Bing Crosby and David Bowie walked into the studio together to record a Christmas duet for Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas TV special.

Crosby – Mr. White Christmas – was 73 and an established family favorite during the holidays. Bowie, then 30, was his flamboyant opposite … especially in full Ziggy Stardust mode.

In fact, Bowie considered taking on the project to be somewhat of a favor for his mother. She was a huge Bing Crosby fan, and thrilled at the idea of her son recording with him.

So, he nixed the makeup and spangled spandex to present a more subdued version of himself down at the studio. Still, Bowie was a bit recalcitrant about the whole thing.

Writer Buz Kohan, tasked with bringing Bowie and Crosby together for a rendition of The Little Drummer Boy, was certain it was going to be a “throw-away” project … something unlikely to survive past the first playing in public.

Yet, ever the professional, Kohan gave it his best shot. When Bowie balked at doing the traditional “puh-rums” of the drummer boy song in the background of Crosby’s main melody line, he improvised a last-minute solution. He wrote a special “Peace on Earth” line for Bowie to sing as a counterpoint, giving both stars their chance to shine within the piece.

The end result wasn’t hugely popular right off the bat … but it had a certain something and developed a large underground following.

The song lived on through bootlegged albums and mix tapes for years, until RCA released it as a single in 1982.

By then, Crosby had passed away. Bowie was in a different phase of his career entirely, having long forgotten the favor he’d done for his mother by recording a duet with her favorite crooner.

But the song had grown and grown in popularity, and RCA’s single release was just the spark needed to give it the breakthrough it deserved.

Thanks to Kohan’s efforts, instead of a throw-away number, the “odd couple” of music had a hit on their hands. Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth has gone on to become a Christmas staple, particularly abroad, and sold millions of copies over the years.

But it wouldn’t have happened if Kohan, Crosby, or Bowie had decided they were against doing anything with someone so very different than themselves.

Our takeaway? Give unusual combinations a chance. Consider working with someone far outside your normal circle, or someone in a very different field – you never know where it might lead!

After all, it’s often ideas from outside your main area of interest that can give you a fantastic new hook for a promotion … or the insight you need to really beat a control. And, you won’t find these ideas without consciously breaking out of your usual patterns.

So, toward that end, what unusual partnerships have you tried recently? Or, what unique partnerships could you pursue that you may have been shy about until now? Let me know in the comments.

And then tomorrow, we’ll wrap up this holiday week with a special trip through the story behind It’s a Wonderful Life …

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »

Click to Rate:
No ratings yet
Published: December 25, 2014

5 Responses to “Don’t Overlook the Potential of “Throw-Away” Projects”

  1. When in doubt do it anyway is becoming my motto. People hate to admit is that they don't know how to do something. The choir was wonderful as usual. St. James truly needs a once a month choir recital for all of us to hear and listen to. Marg and Tom do a splendid job in their musical leading and performance. My almost 900 poems can be read at www dot poetrysoup dot com under name of jthorn5656 and password of whatissorareas all one word in small letters and www dot story-telling-around-the-world dot com

    Guest (James Thomas Horn)

  2. most unusual cooperative venture is in progress. I am a 70 yr old straight man and my writing partner is a 47 yr old lesbian. We are collaborating on a book "Purple Rose and the Panther", a book exploring the myths, misinformation and real facts about LGBT and straight people.

    Guest (Benito Camarillo)

  3. I've been collaborating with a total opposite for many years. If he likes it, you can almost count on it not being something I am interested in. He loves old black and white westerns, me, the latest comedic romance. He orders cheese burgers with mustard and onions only, I want a hamburger with everything but! But our combination seems to complement one another, because this March it will have been working for thirty years. That's right, my husband and I are total opposites in about every way. sometimes we have to work at it, but it is always worth it!


  4. Wonderful story, Jen! So well researched. Wonderful !!

    Guest (Cyndee)

  5. Dear Jen, I was shocked a little bit - two years ago I was in London and visited the exibition, dedicated to David Bowie's personality and creative life. Thank you for the story - I was deeply touched.


Guest, Add a Comment
Please Note: Your comments will be seen by all visitors.

You are commenting as a guest. If you’re an AWAI Member, Login to myAWAI for easier commenting, email alerts, and more!

(If you don’t yet have an AWAI Member account, you can create one for free.)

This name will appear next to your comment.

Your email is required but will not be displayed.

Text only. Your comment may be trimmed if it exceeds 500 characters.

Type the Shadowed Word
Too hard to read? See a new image | Listen to the letters

Hint: The letters above appear as shadows and spell a real word. If you have trouble reading it, you can use the links to view a new image or listen to the letters being spoken.

(*all fields required)