12/20/2010

I’m taking a break from my usual DFHC format and again turning the blog over to a guest columnist, in this case…ME! This is an article about the jazzy music from A Charlie Brown Christmas, and it originally appeared in “Fourth Coast Entertainment” Dec. 2007. Since a digital copy no longer exists, I’m going to retype it, with some edits and updates from the original. And at http://thewholething.podbean.com, you’ll find some accompanying audio…cool how you can do that now, huh?


As you’re enjoying A Charlie Brown Christmas each year, you’re no doubt paying more attention to the dialogue and the story than the music. And perhaps like me, you also like listening to the soundtrack LP, without the pictures to distract you. But this leads to a disconnect: there is music on the show that isn’t on the record and vice versa, and today we’ll compare the two.

First the soundtrack album…issued to coincide with the first airing of the TV special on Dec. 9, 1965,  it contained 11 tracks, 3 of which appear nowhere on the show. What Child Is This?, The Christmas Song, and My Little Drum were recorded to flesh out the album. In fact,  My Little Drum is a re-recording of Vince Guaraldi’s jazzy interpretation of “The Little Drummer Boy,” done as “Minino Pequero Da Batena” with Brazilian guitarist Bola Sete on an LP called From All Sides they made earlier in 1965. When the soundtrack LP come out on CD in 1988, a 12th track was added to both CD and LP versions, Greensleeves, an alternate take of What Child Is This, and again not used on TV.

The soundtrack cuts that do appear on the show include 3 standards: Hark the Herald Angels Sing, O Tannenbaum, and Beethoven’s Für Elise. (Funny, that always made me think of a fur-lined muff or bonnet Elise used in the Winter, but “für,” note that Umlaut, is the German word for “for.”) Of the remaining 4 songs, only 3 were written for the special: Christmastime Is Here, Skating, and my personal favorite Christmas Is Coming, which good as it is, is only heard on the show for a mere 17 seconds! Also, it’s interesting to note that Skating is not used for the skating scene, but the snow-flake eating scene. What would soon become the Peanuts Theme, Linus and Lucy, actually dates from an earlier animated project that never saw the light of day.

In 1963, Lee Mendelson produced a documentary for TV titled A Man Named Willie Mays. It got good ratings, Charles Schulz saw it and liked it, and for his next project Mendelson decided to profile another ballplayer: A Boy Named Charlie Brown. This live-action documentary featured several minutes of Peanuts animation, and for that Mendelson turned to Bill Melendez, who had done the Peanuts Ford Falcon commercials and the animated credits to the Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, beginning in the Fall of 1959.

For music, Mendelson signed on jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi, after hearing his hit “Cast Your Fate To the Wind” on the radio. For the documentary, Vince wrote and recorded 9 pieces, including Linus and Lucy, and they were released in early 1963 as Jazz Impressions of a Boy Named Charlie Brown, despite the fact that the documentary was never broadcast…they were unable to secure a sponsor. Parts of this 30-minute show were used in 1969 for the hour-long tribute Charlie Brown and Charles Schulz, and the original program is now available on DVD online from the Charles Schulz Museum. No Peanuts fan should be without it! The Jazz Impressions LP is now available as A Boy Named Charlie Brown, not to be confused with the movie soundtrack of the same same, so watch what you’re buying…

Ironically enough, Linus and Lucy is heard only briefly during the documentary, and even then without the signature left-hand vamp. And the connection to A Charlie Brown Christmas doesn’t stop there, because…

3 of the A Boy Named Charlie Brown cuts are used in the background on A Charlie Brown Christmas, altho they chose not to include them on the soundtrack LP, substituting instead the 3 non-show tracks mentioned above. Heard most often, in fact it has the third most “screen time” after Christmastime Is Here and O Tannenbaum, is the one called Charlie Brown Theme…for example, you’ll hear it when Charlie Brown is giving directions for the school play. When he talks to Freda, Freda (With the Naturally Curly Hair) is heard briefly, naturally. And when Sally is paired with Linus, it’s Happiness Is. And again, while these 3 were written and recorded for the unaired documentary, only Happiness Is made it to the finished product. Go figure….an embarrassment of riches, I guess.

Several other pieces you’ll hear on the TV special are not on the soundtrack. The most memorable perhaps is that jazzy combo number heard when Snoopy is decorating his doghouse. On the cue-sheets for the show, this was called Air Music. When the second Peanuts special, Charlie Brown’s All-Stars, used this music extensively, it was renamed Surfin’ Snoopy, since that’s what he’s doing in the first scene that uses it, and it’s under this title it was finally released in 1998 on a CD called Charlie Brown’s Holiday Hits. Then there’s the funny “Jingle Bells” that Schroeder plays 3 ways for Lucy. And finally, the snappy snippet we hear when Snoopy dances on Schroeder’s piano. It always sounded to me like a break from Linus and Lucy, but doesn’t match either of the 2 breaks in the soundtrack version. The mystery was solved in 2006…accidentally!

That year Fantasy Records released a remastered soundtrack CD, complete with 4 bonus cuts. But the version of Linus and Lucy it had was not the common one, but an alternate take, included purely by mistake. And sure enough, it contains the mystery Snoopy dance music! Fantasy apologized for the error, and offered those who purchased the CD an exchange for the correct one…yeah, right! This was an unexpected treat for Peanuts music collectors, and I sure didn’t send mine back! In fact, you can hear my mash-up of Linus and Lucy…with all 3 breaks instead of the normal 2…at  thewholething.podbean.com. I’ve also included Surfin’ Snoopy and My Little Drum, original Brazilian style. BTW, the best resource on the net for everything Peanuts is far and away fivecentsplease.org…Derek Bang is da man! Play it again, Charlie Brown…and bliss out…

Wicked Ballsy


The story told after the fact was that the producers of A Charlie Brown Christmas, its network CBS, the sponsor Coca Cola, and even Charles Schulz himself were all worried the show would flop. Which is not to say they didn’t promote the pajeezuz out of it. Here’s an article, not a paid advertisement but a feature article, from TV Guide, Dec. 4-10, 1965, drawn by Sparky himself, and illustrating a sequence obviously NOT in the actual show. Notice the “wash” effect instead of solid colors…

of all the shameless plugs in the world, these are the shameless pluggiest….

Podcasts at http://stolfpod.podbean.com and   http://thewholething.podbean.com

Daily blogs at http://stolf.wordpress.com and  https://deepfriedhoodsiecups.wordpress.com

More bloggage at http://travelingcyst.blogspot.com and  http://www.examiner.com/retro-pop-culture-in-watertown/mark-john-astolfi

Resume and audio samples at http://home.rr.com/mastolfi

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