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Week in Rock History: David Bowie and Bing Crosby Share a Strange Duet

Plus: George Harrison dies and Pink Floyd's pig takes a joyride

November 28, 2011 12:25 PM ET
david bowie bing crosby 1977
David Bowie and Bing Crosby perform during the TV special, 'Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas.'
CBS Photo Archive/Courtesy of Getty Images

This week in rock history, Pink Floyd’s inflatable pig went on a joyride, David Bowie and Bing Crosby shared a bizarre holiday duet, Neil Young’s record label sued him, George Harrison passed away and Joey Ramone was immortalized next to CBGBs. 

December 3, 1976: Pink Floyd’s inflatable pig terrorizes British skies
The striking cover of Pink Floyd’s tenth album, 1977’s Animals, pictured a gigantic inflatable pig tethered above a power station – an inversely surreal image for the record’s pointed critique of British government and social politics. However, the swine took on an additional dimension when it broke free from its tethers and floated free across British airspace.

The 40-foot pig, which was designed by Roger Waters, began its day moored to Battersea Power Station in South London. A trained sharp-shooter was on set to deflate the pig if it broke free during those windy days; however, he was not present on the second day of shooting, when the pig did indeed break free of its ropes; it sped off within seconds, reaching a height of 18,000 feet and interrupting air travel to the extent that Heathrow Airport was forced to delay flights.

Later that night, the pig eventually lost stream and landed, fittingly, in a farm; Pink Floyd’s team recovered it there (presumably after they stopped laughing). They floated a similar one above Battersea in 2011, on the 35th anniversary of its fateful flight.

November 30, 1977: Bing Crosby's final Christmas special airs, featuring David Bowie
When David Bowie appeared on Bing Crosby’s 42nd and final Christmas special, it was his attempt to make his arty career more mainstream, more normal. Instead, the glam-rocker's duet with the legendary crooner Crosby resulted in one of the strangest moments of both of their careers.

In September of 1977, Bowie taped his only appearance on Crosby’s family-friendly Christmas variety show; the pair sang two songs, "Little Drummer Boy" and "Peace on Earth." They reportedly spent less than an hour rehearsing both songs – during which Bowie reportedly begged in vain to sing anything besides "Little Drummer Boy" – and on camera, Bowie followed up the duet with a largely impromptu take on his own "Heroes."

Bowie and Crosby’s "Little Drummer Boy" has become an enduring cult classic due to the pair’s bizarre on-screen chemistry: saccharine and straight-laced, replete with banter about John Lennon and fleeting expressions of consternation crossing the Thin White Duke’s face. Sadly, Crosby died one month after filming, but the single has been a staple of British holiday radio ever since.

December 1, 1983: Geffen sues Neil Young, claiming his records are not commercial
When Neil Young released Everybody’s Rockin’ in 1983, the record was unusual but not out of step for the talented musician. The collection of retro pop and rockabilly tunes had virtually nothing in common stylistically with his more recent releases, which had veered from Americana/country to New Wave-influenced pop. Yet while Young’s esoteric interests may have thrilled his loyal fans, it only enraged his record label, Geffen.

In 1983, Geffen sued Young for $3 million, claiming that Everybody’s Rockin’ was not commercially viable and "musically uncharacteristic of [his] previous recordings." It was a truly bizarre legal case – Young was being sued for, essentially, not sounding like himself, and he shot back with a $21 million countersuit that claimed a breach of contract by Geffen (who had promised no creative control over his music when he signed with them).

Young won the battle; Geffen withdrew amidst costly and humiliating public scrutiny. Young later told The Los Angeles Times about the debacle, "They thought I was all over the map and didn't understand why I was out there playing country, although to me it sounded like B.B. King more than country…All my music comes from all music. I'm not country, I'm not rock & roll, I'm just me, and all these things are what I like."

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