We’re back to the theme of Famous Duets, and this is another odd couple, although probably not as odd as Bowie and Crosby other than it features two singers with very different styles — and one of them was even parodied in the SNL but from last Thursday.
I’m referring to Michael Bublé and Rod Stewart, who recorded a little ditty called Winter Wonderland for Bublé’s NBC holiday special in 2012, “Home for the Holidays.” It’s one of those generic Christmas carols that has somehow become more associated with shopping than anything else.
The song itself was written in 1934 and, while not intended as a Christmas song, ultimately became one. The lyricist, Richard B. Smith, wrote the words while being treated for tuberculosis in, of all places, Scranton, Pennsylvania. (Yeah, nod to fans of the U.S. version of The Office, but to me it’s the city that my mother grew up two suburbs down from, via Wilkes-Barre to Kingston.) Anyway, he was inspired to write it after seeing a town’s central park covered in snow, so it was quite literal.
Also notable here: The song was written as a duet for a couple — presumably, 1934 just assumed a man and a woman. In this version, the lyrics implying this remain unchanged and the duo plays it straight, so to speak.
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Continuing our theme of famous duets, here’s one from 1977 — Bing Cosby and David Bowie. This was basically the 70s version of Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett, who did a duet in the 2010s, nearly 40 years later.
But the appearance of these two together in the late 70s must have been mind-blowing for the same reasons that Gaga and Bennett were, and to both ends of the demographic. For older people in the 21st century, they grew up with the music of the latter and only knew the former as some crazy lady who wore dresses made of meat and made provocative music videos. To younger people at the same time, she was a hero who embraced diversity and preached acceptance, while he was just some old random. If they had heard of him, maybe they knew it was because he was famous for that song about San Francisco, but more likely it was because one of their grandparents was a fan.
Ironically, when Bowie and Crosby did their duet, the old fans of Bennet now were the young fans of Bowie, and probably would have perceived this in exactly the same way that kids today saw Gaga and Bennet — to them, Bowie was the trailblazing, gender-blending godfather of glam rock. He was androgynous, possibly even openly bisexual, he wore make-up and sometimes skirts and dresses, and was the antithesis of the “Men are men” ethos of people of Crosby’s generation. To the kids back then, Crosby must have been some cheesy throwback to the humor their parents found cool.
So, again, this dynamic: the older generation suddenly seeing this “scary rockstar freak” performing quite respectfully with someone they grew up admiring, and the younger generation seeing their new idol quietly subvert things by pretending to be a normie on national television.
Or, in other words, there’s a lot going on in this one even if it seems like it’s nothing.
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