As is often the case with Christmas music — which boasts so many favorites and so many variations of those favorites – bands really need to set themselves apart when attempting a cover version.
“Little Drummer Boy,” a Christmas classic before I entered the world, is a prime example. Over the years, it’s been covered, re-covered, and covered again. Perhaps the best-known versions are Bing Crosby and David Bowie’s medley of “Little Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth” and Bob Seger’s more recent update.
Given this song’s legendary status, Chicago had their work cut out for them. The band’s interpretation gives “Little Drummer Boy” the respect it deserves by staying faithful enough to the original to keep the song recognizable, yet at the same time putting their own stamp on things.
This cover sets itself apart with tight vocals and a strong, unmistakable Chicago trademark horn chart that most notably pays homage to Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” as the song fades to a close. The vocals also set Chicago’s version apart. Bill Champlin takes the lead on the verses, while fellow band alum Jason Scheff leads the tight harmonies on the choruses. Their voices blend exceptionally well on this track, and provide a nice counterpoint to one another.
Since its original release on 1998’s Chicago XXV: The Christmas Album, this take on “Little Drummer Boy” has grown to become a personal favorite – and, in my opinion, the definitive version of a timeless gem.
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