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The track was originally recorded on 11 September 1977 for Crosby's 1977 television special, Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas. The pair exchanged dialogue about what they do for Christmas before singing the traditional song, "Little Drummer Boy", with a new counterpoint with original lyrics written for the special, "Peace on Earth". Bowie's appearance has been described as a "surreal" event, undertaken at a time that he was "actively trying to normalise his career". He has since recalled that he only appeared on the show because "I just knew my mother liked him." Crosby died just over a month after recording the special, which aired on 30 November 1977.
According to co-writer Ian Fraser, Bowie balked at singing "Little Drummer Boy". "I hate this song. Is there something else I could sing?" Fraser recalls Bowie telling him. Fraser, along with songwriter Larry Grossman and the special's scriptwriter, Buz Kohan, then wrote "Peace on Earth" as a counterpoint to "Little Drummer Boy". Crosby performed "Little Drummer Boy", while Bowie sang the new tune "Peace on Earth".