The Peanutsiest!: The Music of “A Charlie Brown Christmas”


This is an update of an article entitled “Play It Again, Charlie Brown”
…which I wrote for the December 2007 issue of
Fourth Coast Entertainment.

If you’re like me, you enjoy watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” each year when it’s on TV. Of course with tapes and now DVDs, anytime can be Charlie Brown Christmastime…altho watching it the old-fashioned broadcast TV way is kind of a tradition, no? But as you’re enjoying it, you’re probably paying more attention to the dialogue and action than you are the music. Then there’s the soundtrack LP…or CD today…grooving on all those familiar Vince Guaraldi Trio tunes without the pictures to distract you.

But all this leads to a disconnect: did you realize that there is a lot of music on the show that isn’t on the LP? And the LP contains some songs you don’t hear, not even for a second, on the TV show? This article will compare the two…

The soundtrack LP was released in early December, 1965 to coincide with the first airing of the show, which was on CBS at 7:30pm, Thursday, Dec. 9, 1965. The album was on Fantasy Records, a jazz label, stereo 85019 (blue label) and mono 5019 (maroon label). Most new LPs were listed in Billboard Magazine when they were announced…more prominent records got a review…but “A Charlie Brown Christmas” got just a listing, nothing more, in the Dec. 4 issue. The TV show was enormously successful, ranking 2nd that week only to “Bonanza” in the Nielsen ratings…Red Skelton came in third.

ACBX

Above, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” thru the years…A is the original release…it’s the only one with pictures of Charles Schulz, Vince Guaraldi, producer Lee Mendelson, and animator Bill Melendez on the back cover. B is the re-issue from 1971, stereo only, renumbered 8431. C is the LP version that accompanied the CD release in the late 1980s…why they needed to redraw the illustration, with a different Xmas tree and Snoopy facing the other way, is beyond me. And D is the very interesting re-mastered 2006 CD, returning to the original artwork…more on that later.

The original LP contained 11 tracks, 3 of which do not appear anywhere on the show…did you ever notice while watching that you never hear “What Child Is This?,” “The Christmas Song,” or “My Little Drum”? No great mystery…they were recorded to flesh out the LP…and even so, it clocks in at a shade under 35 minutes. “My Little Drum” is a re-recording of “Minino Pequero Da Batena,” from Vince’s “From All Sides” album released in early 1965 with Brazilian guitarist Bola Sete. When the CD came out in 1986, a 12th bonus track was added, “Greensleeves,” which is just another version of “What Child Is This?”

Of the 8 soundtrack cuts that do appear on the show, 3 are standards: “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “O Tannenbaum,” and Beethoven’s “Für Elise.” BTW, “für” is the German word for “for”…did you always imagine it had something to do with Elise’s fur-lined bonnet or muff? Yeah, me too. Of the remaining 5 tracks, 4 were written and recorded specifically for the show: “Christmastime Is Here” (vocal and instrumental versions), “Skating,” and my personal favorite “Christmas Is Coming”…which is heard on the show for a grand total of 17 seconds!

But “Lucy and Linus” was another story entirely. In fact, it’s possible you had it in your record collection long before “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was ever even contemplated. It all goes back to 1963, when Lee Mendelson produced a TV documentary entitled “A Man Named Willie Mays.” It got good reviews…Charles Schulz saw it and liked it…and for his next project, Mendelson thought to profile another ballplayer, this time “A Boy Named Charlie Brown”…not to be confused with the theatrical movie of the same name which came out in 1969. Much of this documentary featured live action interviews with Charles Schulz, but it also had several minutes of Peanuts animation.

For that, Mendelson went to Hollywood animator Bill Melendez, who had brought the Peanuts characters to life for a series of Ford Falcon commercials beginning in the fall of 1959…as well as opening scenes for one season of “The Ford Show Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford.” And for music, they hired San Francisco jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi, on the strength of his hit instrumental “Cast your Fate to the Wind.” Guaraldi set right to work, writing and recording 9 pieces, including the jaunty “Linus and Lucy.” What happened next was kind of unusual…no sponsor could be found for the half-hour documentary, and it was never broadcast…altho parts of it were re-used for the 60-minute “Charlie Brown and Charles Schulz” TV documentary in 1969. The original 30-minute special is today available  on DVD from the Charles Schulz Museum on-line.

boy named CB

But altho this documentary never aired as intended, it was considered a pretty big deal…even profiled in a local Bay Area magazine. And Guaraldi’s label, Fantasy Records, wasn’t about to let the music go to waste, and went ahead with issuing a “soundtrack” LP for a TV show that nobody ever saw. It came out in early 1965, getting a nice write-up in Billboard, altho curiously, they think it’s from a “movie.”

abncb

The original pressing E is seen above, front and back. F is the more common re-issue from the 1970s, while G is the LP version that accompanied the CD release in the late 1980s. But for their initial effort, they really went all out…inserted in the gatefold cover were no less than a dozen 8×10 Peanuts drawings…those are illustrated on the back…”suitable for framing” as they always say. What’s really ironic is that this music was ultimately used only sparingly on the 30-minute documentary…some cuts not at all…and “Linus and Lucy” for only 37 seconds, but without it’s trademark opening vamp…it certainly wasn’t yet the theme song it would become.

Now let’s suppose you’re watching the show for the 123rd time, and your mind is starting to wander away from the spoken words, which you naturally know by heart. You might notice some music in the background that you never heard on the soundtrack LP, and 3 of these pieces are…you guessed it…from the “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” LP, along with “Linus and Lucy.”

tv1

Heard most often is “Charlie Brown Theme”…in listening for it, I think of  the Woody Woodpecker Song, as its 2-note downward riff resembles the tail end of that bird’s famous laugh. It has the third most “screen time” on the special, behind “Christmastime is Here” and “O Tannenbaum.” You will hear it when Charlie Brown is giving directions for the school play, when Lucy passes out parts, and during the “Christmas Queen” scene. When Frieda and Pigpen discuss their roles, we hear “Frieda (With the Naturally Curly Hair)”…altho not the main theme, but about 40 seconds from the improvisational middle of the cut. And wouldn’t you know, altho written for “A Boy Named Charlie Brown,” “Frieda” is not used in it…and they spell her name wrong to boot! Finally, when Sally is paired up with Linus, it’s 15 seconds of “Happiness Is.”

So when accounting for all the music heard on the TV show, the above diagram is almost there…we are still missing 3 tunes.

There is the jazzy combo number heard while Snoopy is decorating his dog house. When “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was being made, this piece was called “Air Music”…in its entirety, it finally became available on the “Charlie Brown’s Holiday Hits” CD in 1998…only now called “Surfin’ Snoopy.” That’s because this cut is used extensively on the second special, “Charlie Brown’s All-Stars” in June of 1966, and during the first scene when it’s heard, that’s what Snoopy is doing…surfing.

Schroeder’s 3 versions of “Jingle Bells” have yet to surface on any commercial LP or CD. Then we have the snappy music Snoopy dances to on Schroeder’s piano. This was truly the mystery tune…it sounded like one of the breaks from “Linus and Lucy” but didn’t match either of those. The solution came in 2006…purely by accident, as chance would have it.

That was when Fantasy Records released a re-mastered version of the soundtrack…D above. Along with the 11 original tracks, plus the “Greensleeves” bonus from 1986, there were 4 more bonus cuts…and a very glaring mistake: the version of “Linus and Lucy” was not the standard one we’d been accustomed to all these years, heard on both “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” LPs, but a different alternate take. And sure enough, Snoopy’s mystery piano dance music is the 2nd break in this alternate version of “Linus and Lucy”!

Interestingly enough, the first break in this version is also different from that in the common version, and it’s this alternative first break, not the common one, that’s heard on the TV show during the first use of “Linus and Lucy”…the longest scene (46 seconds) of the kids dancing on stage. Fantasy was embarrassed by this error, promised the mistake would be corrected, and purchasers could exchange the “wrong” version of the CD for the “right” one. Maybe some did, but not true Guaraldi and Peanuts aficionados…this was a marvelous and completely unexpected find…solid gold worth holding onto.

tv2

So here we have the most complete source of the music you hear on the TV show. For the casual listener, it’s pretty much the end of the story. But if you’re hardcore…then the story is only just beginning. The actual bits of music used on the TV show are in the business called “cues,” and they are seldom a complete piece, but just small segments, or parts taken from longer segments…and sometimes disparate parts edited together. It is common knowledge among Peanuts cognoscenti that these cues were different recordings than those used for the LP…recorded at different times, at various studios, with Vince enlisting different sidemen on bass and drums.

Thus, if you wanted an LP version of the exact music heard on the show, what’s available would be reduced considerably, as seen here…

tv3

Altho the snippets of “Frieda” and “Happiness Is” used on the show are brief, they are definitely taken from what’s found on the LP “A Boy Named Charlie Brown.” As to “Charlie Brown Theme”…I am so far undecided. From the “A Charlie Brown Christmas” LP, only “Für Elise” and “Hark the Herald Angles Sing” are the same as what’s heard on the show…and maybe “Skating”…again, the jury’s out, the jury being my poor old geezer ear-bones…when I’ve got it figured out, you’ll see it here first! Good grief!

 


4/19/2016 UPDATE…Thanx to help from MK (see comments) I have determined that the TV show indeed uses the LP/CD version of “Skating”…albeit sped up by about 3.5%. Also, the 4 “Charlie Brown Theme” cues used on the show are taken from the “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” LP recording, sped up by about 6%. Text and charts will have to be changed…but outstanding development sez me!

BTW…you might wonder about this change of speed stuff. I am comparing the LP/CD versions (in this case, CD) with the TV show versions from an Australian DVD. MK tells me, and my investigation has confirmed it, that some foreign DVDs (the PAL format) are sped up compared to American DVDs, video cassettes, or something taped directly off the TV. Sure enough, once the DVD music was slowed down, it matched the LP/CD, which would be the version originally used on the show…get it?

1985 20th

Hey, look what Sparky’s got…a screen capture from the special “It’s Your 20th Television Anniversary, Charlie Brown”…broadcast May 14 1985…OK, 7 months early but who’s counting?

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Copyright © 2013 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved

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8 Responses to The Peanutsiest!: The Music of “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

  1. IEC says:

    For years, I’ve been trying to identify the song that’s being played when Snoopy is dancing on the piano. Thank you for solving this mystery!

  2. stolf says:

    that’s what i’m here for…

  3. MK says:

    I don’t know if you still use this blog, but if you do, I actually have a copy of the raw “dubbing-blank” of this special – just music and some sound-effects. It’s identical to the actual version but for all the voice tracks (except the singing) being completely absent – this unfortunately means all the terrible audio editing of the original is made very obvious, but if you’re interested in having a copy for reference, I’m happy to send it to you. 🙂

  4. Doug says:

    Hey, John: Somehow I hadn’t seen this great article previously! Looks like we’ve conducted similar research independently of each other. A couple years ago, Derrick Bang was kind enough to post my second-by-second comparison and analysis of the TV special cues and the tracks on the Guaraldi “Christmas” and “Jazz Impressions of a Boy Named Charlie Brown” LPs, which you might find interesting. The blog entry is at http://impressionsofvince.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-score-whole-score-and-nothing-but.html and my chart is available at http://fivecentsplease.org/dpb/xmascuechart.jpg

    Keep up the cool writing!

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