My Seven Favorite Versions of “Little Drummer Boy”

I love Christmas music. You can check my bona fides on that if you want, or you can just trust me. (Please click the link as it helps with boosting our page views!) One of my favorite Christmas songs is “Little Drummer Boy.” I realize there isn’t a lot of theology in the song, but I feel it presents a beautiful picture of bringing what we have to the feet of Jesus. In the truest sense, we don’t have much to offer, but if we offer what little we have, it’s a sweet perfume to our Lord. I can get behind that theology any day.

One final note before we begin the list. This article is dedicated to a couple of Rambling Ever On contributors: Brandon Atwood and Daniel Speer. Their love and passion for this song was a true inspiration.1 Thanks, guys!

So, in no particular order, here are seven of my favorite versions of “Little Drummer Boy.”


Johnny Cash

I love this version because of how skillfully it retains the essence of the song while still sounding like a Johnny Cash song. Some of the “Pa rum pum pum pums” are gone, yet the song doesn’t feel like it’s missing anything. Cash’s distinct voice is the main draw here, so your mileage may vary depending on what you think about the Man in Black. This version is simple and subdued, a perfect combination for this long-loved classic.


For King and Country

They have a recorded version of “Little Drummer Boy” and it’s good too, but it doesn’t stand up to the live version. While the lyrics speak to a humble offering of music, this interpretation (and a few others as well) pulls out all the stops and revels in the art and creativity found in music. There is a place for contemplative and quiet worship. But, there is also a place for exuberant and energetic praise. The guys from For King and Country wonderfully settle on the latter.


Jennifer Nettles and Idina Menzel

If you are expecting anything subtle or subdued here, you probably don’t know Nettles or Menzel. This version of the song is big, bold, and just the slightest bit ostentatious, but that’s just fine by me. The vocals are what matters and both Nettles and Menzel are fantastic, delivering powerful harmonies and hitting all the right notes.


Bing Crosby and David Bowie

First of all, the intro to the video is just the best. I love the slightly awkward interaction between these two giants of their field. It shouldn’t get any better than that, but it does. When they start singing, their voices blend beautifully, creating a timeless and enchanting song.

Is the setup a little cheesy? Sure. I would contend that cheese factor actually works in its favor, lending it a nostalgic quality. It feels like we have always had this version, sung by these two legends.


Whiteheart

My favorite band and probably my favorite version of the song. I will understand if the late 80s style is not everyone’s favorite, but for me, it still works all these years later. I love that they take the basic structure of the song but unapologetically make it a rock and roll song, with tinkling keyboard, a great guitar tone, some pounding and thrashing on the drums, and sky-high harmonies. Plus, lead singer Rick Florian utterly annihilates this song in a way most other singers simply couldn’t. I get chills every time I hear it.


Future of Forestry

Easily one of my favorite current bands, Future of Forestry has produced a number of amazing Christmas albums. They give just the right blend of faithfulness to the original songs while creating a unique listening experience. Their version of “Little Drummer Boy” is no different. I love that the drums get a place of prominence in the song, which is entirely appropriate. I’ve wondered for some time if For King and Country drew inspiration from the ending of Future of Forestry’s interpretation.


Mercy Me

What I like about this version, besides Bart Millard’s effortless vocals, is that they incorporate a little bit of all the best versions of this song. They do the subdued and gentle stuff well – with the restrained verses and chorus. But, they amp things up towards the end with an original refrain that really helps sell the emotion and power of the song. That segues perfectly into the final verse and then they dial things back again to close the song with a subtle final line, “Then He smiled at me.” Can we hope for a better response from our Lord when we offer him our gifts and praise?


That’s my list…so far. There are many other versions of “Little Drummer Boy” I love, but I don’t want to keep you here all day. I would love to read about your favorite versions of this or any other Christmas song. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, after all, and music is a big part of that.

  1. This is a joke. They don’t like the song at all.
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13 thoughts on “My Seven Favorite Versions of “Little Drummer Boy”

  • December 4, 2020 at 9:31 am
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    I suppose my favorite version is still the first one I heard as a kid by the Harry Simeone Chorale in the late 50s. Many others are beautiful, too.

    Reply
  • December 4, 2020 at 10:11 am
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    You are dead on with your take on the Bing Crosby and David Bowie. I love this version it is beautiful. You couldn’t find two more different personalities and points of view, but it works, and yes, the cheese factor helps. Great take on this song.

    Reply
    • December 4, 2020 at 3:13 pm
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      Thanks, Aaron!

      Reply
  • December 4, 2020 at 3:02 pm
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    Great article as I love this song. I will make it a point to listen to the ones you have mentioned that I have not heard. I have a CD in my Blazer that has 15 different artists doing this song. And yes, I listen to it throughout the year. I would also recommend these: Bob Seeger and the Silver Bullet Band, Kastelruther Spatzen (they lip-sync it on the Youtube version, but I find it very enjoyable to watch anyway), and Jana Mashonee.

    Reply
    • December 4, 2020 at 3:13 pm
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      Checking those out right now!

      Reply
  • December 4, 2020 at 3:24 pm
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    I should have mentioned that the Kastelruther Spatzen version is called, “Der kleine Trommler.”

    Reply
    • December 4, 2020 at 3:31 pm
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      Yeah, I had a tough time figuring out which was the correct song. :)

      Reply
  • December 4, 2020 at 4:37 pm
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    There are four albums that get heavy rotation at Christmas time in the Pointer household. Only four. Four Him’s is the only version we listen to.
    After having watched the live version of For King and Country, there is one more.
    Wow.

    Reply
  • December 6, 2020 at 12:41 pm
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    Great list. For King and Country’s Live version is probably my favorite, although Future of Forestry’s simplicity at the beginning while adding more each stanza is awesome.

    Denver and the Mile High Orchestra have a fun swing-scat version of this song.

    Reply
  • December 10, 2020 at 8:49 am
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    John Mehler from Bow and Arrow is mine.

    Reply
    • December 22, 2020 at 11:52 am
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      I really love the Emmylou Harris and The Temptations versions.

      Reply

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