The Secret, Underground History of the ‘Little Drummer Boy’ Game
Some people play a social game where they avoid the Christmas song “Little Drummer Boy”, a song I consider the greatest carol OF ALL TIME. So I went in search the LDB Game’s original inventors to find out why “Little Drummer Boy” — the only Christmas carol that addresses income inequality, a song that extols virtue in poverty, a song that so beautifully and hypnotically builds in ways reminiscent of Ravel’s ‘Bolero’ — has been arbitrarily (or not arbitrarily?) issued unique pariah status among the entire pantheon of generally more-shitty Christmas songs.
I found the inventors of the LDB Game. This is that game’s story.
WARNING: Clicking on the “WATCH [THIS VERSION] OF “LITTLE DRUMMER BOY” links in the photo captions and text below will make you lose the LDB Game if you’re playing. (Except the Patton Oswalt video, that one’s hilarious you should totally watch it. There is no “Little Drummer Boy” music.) But I would proffer that you should click on these links. “Little Drummer Boy” is a magnificent carol with a distinct and special history, much like the history of the game designed to avoid it.
THE HISTORY OF “LITTLE DRUMMER BOY”
There is no basis in Christian scripture that a “Little Drummer Boy” ever existed or visited Baby Jesus. The concept is a totally modern invention, slapped together in 1941 under the name “Carol of the Drum” by songwriter Katherine Kennicott Davis who specialized in school choir music. “Carol of the Drum” was first recorded by the Trapp Family Singers in 1955. Yes, those Trapp Family Singers. The song flopped on mainstream radio, thanks to its inclusion of the lyric “The ox and ass kept time”. Readers of Broke-Ass Stuart can surely appreciate that hilarity!
With the word ‘ass’ changed to ‘lamb’, the Harry Simeone Chorale re-recorded it as “Little Drummer Boy” in 1958 and had a blockbuster. (You should WATCH THE HARRY SIMEONE CHORALE VERSION OF “LITTLE DRUMMER BOY. It’s amazing.) The song made the Top 40 every holiday season from 1958 to 1962. a 5-year streak still unmatched today.
“Little Drummer Boy” was re-popularized in 1977 by the original mashup, the “Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy” duet by out bi-male David Bowie and out racist Bing Crosby. The track also turned up on the magnificent Vince Guaraldi Trio “A Charlie Brown Christmas” album, though it is not played in the “A Charlie Brown Christmas” animated TV special so game players are cool watching that.
THE LDB GAME EMERGES
If you search “Little Drummer Boy game” on Google, the top result you’ll see is LittleDrummerBoy.info, put together by Bay Area local Nelz. Nelz did not invent the LDB Game.
“The reason my site is easy to find is that it isn’t hidden in the Walled Garden of FB [Facebook],“ Nelz told BrokeAssStuart.com. “I did the site in 2010, when I could find no publicly accessible information about it. I basically wrote down what I thought were the most sensical set of rules, pulled out of the conflicting aether of social media. Since then I field 1 or 2 requests a year for rules amendments.”
Since Nelz was not the inventor of the LDB Game, I sought out the proprietor of LittleDrummerBoyChallenge.com who has represented the game in Time magazine and other media outlets. Michael Peck’s website has tremendous crowdsourced databases of how many “LDB” game players win, which version of “LDB” people most often lose to and the locations at which people hear “LDB”. But he’s not the inventor of the game either.
“My wife and I were living in San Francisco, and a friend of ours mentioned that he knew someone who played the game,” Peck told BrokeAssStuart.com. “After I moved to Chicago, my wife came home from a burrito place, complaining that if we were playing that ‘Little Drummer Boy’ game, she’d have lost already since they were already playing holiday music—before Thanksgiving. So I looked around and saw a few Facebook groups and a website and decided to start my own version. I do content strategy, SEO, and social media in my day job, so I thought this would be fun as a side experiment.”
“I figured it would just be our friends and a few of their friends, but it immediately started steadily growing.” Peck said.
“HATE THE DRUM PLAYER, NOT THE GAME” – LONGTIME LDB PLAYER ERIC LARSEN
A broke-ass boy seeking spiritual enlightenment, my quest ultimately led me to the three Berkeley, CA progammers (wise men???) who invented the LDB Game. The idea was spawned over a viewing of the “Christmas at Pee-Wee’s Playhouse” special in 1988 during which Grace Jones performed the number n a video that can be seen above.
“Grace Jones performed the song in a bifurcated bodice in a way that made the whole thing seem as if it were an anthem of sexual perversion,” said a co-creator of the LDB Game who wishes to remain anonymous. “‘She’s right,’ we agreed. ‘It’s the worst of them, ever’.”
“Years later, around 1995-1996, my friend and I were introduced to the game by one of those original players,” longtime player Tony Rotundo said. “One day at work, he said, ‘I’m out of the game,’ or something to that effect, to which we I asked, ‘What game?’ He said, ‘I try not to hear the song ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ for the entire Christmas season, but my friend came over yesterday whistling it, so I’m out.’ After cracking up for a while, we agreed to start playing immediately and emailed about 10 friends. The game has grown from there.”
“I think we started playing the game around 1996,” said longtime LDB Game player Eric Larsen. “If so, that means we’ve been playing the game for exactly a third of the song’s life. How crazy is that?”
“Little Drummer Boy” was most recently popularized in 2013 by a capella group Pentatonix in a version that got more than 70 million YouTube views and peaked at No. 13 on the Billboard charts. The video has nothing to do with Christmas, it’s just five hot young fuckable Millennials doing “LDB” as a contractual obligation with no apparent idea that they are even performing a Christmas song.
The song has the reputation of a “frequently covered” carol, but a recent FiveThirtyEight analysis found that “Little Drummer Boy” is not among the 25 most covered Christmas songs.
I think that “Little Drummer Boy” is the carol you should listen to this holiday season, be you Christian, atheist, Jew or Muslim. It is classically composed, not like a pop song, and has a poignant message about income inequality. But if you’re playing the LDB Game, like a Las Vegas card dealer I will wish you luck while sincerely hoping you lose. Good luck and Merry Christmas,!