ANIMATION SPIN
December 16, 2014 posted by

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” on Vinyl

Charlie Brown is a blockhead, but he did get a nice Christmas special — not only legendary for TV, but for the recording industry as well.

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A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS
Original TV Soundtrack
The Vince Guaraldi Trio
Fantasy Records FANT-5018 (Mono) (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / 1965)

Producer/Arranger: Vince Guaraldi. Choir Director: Barrett Mineah. Engineer: Sol S. Weiss. Running Time: 35 minutes.
Performers: Vince Guaraldi (Piano, Hammond Organ), Jerry Grannell, Colin Bailey (Drums), Fred Marshall, Monty Budwig (Double Bass); St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Children’s Choir.
Songs: “Christmastime is Here” by Vince Guaraldi and Lee Mendelson; “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” by Charles Wesley.
Instrumentals: “Christmastime is Here,” “Skating,” “Christmas is Coming,” “Linus and Lucy” by Vince Guaraldi; “Fur Elise” by Ludwig von Beethoven; “The Christmas Song” by Bob Wells and Mel Torme; “O Tannenbaum” by Ernst Anschutz; “What Child is This?” by Katherine Caldecott Davis.

The triple-platinum success of the soundtrack album to one of (or for many, THE) greatest animated holiday special of all time) must have come as a pleasant surprise to its record label, just as the program itself did for the creative team, the network and sponsors. Few must have realized how A Charlie Brown Christmas would imbed itself into our collective pop culture psyche. The use of jazz music was among the many things that made decision makers nervous.

Vince Guaraldi was already a successful composer/performer, who broke through with “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.” Fantasy Records, a small label founded in 1949 with such jazz performers as Dave Brubeck and Gerry Mulligan, expected this album to do better than average because of its Peanuts tie-in, but it soared to becoming one of the best-selling Christmas albums ever, destined to be forever reissued, repackaged and reinterpreted.

It can also be assumed that, had A Charlie Brown Christmas been highly touted in the industry as a sure-fire vinyl hit, one of the major labels would have snapped it up. Fortunately for the Fantasy label—which also benefitted from the leadership of producer Saul (Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings) Zaentz, who came on in the mid ’50s—the album was a catalog cornerstone that encouraged the sales of other Guaraldi albums. The label was eventually merged with Concord Music in a deal involving legendary TV producer Norman Lear.

Even though it’s not as flashy as other Christmas discs of the period, its low-key feel makes it a great multi-purpose album to play for any number of reasons: as a background for a gathering, a pure listening experience, and a constant source of happiness for Peanuts fans. Many fine Peanuts albums have followed, but this is still the quintessential work (and is actually Guaraldi’s second Peanuts platter, following his A Boy Named Charlie Brown — not to be confused with Columbia’s 1969 feature film soundtrack, this Fantasy release was the underscore of a Schulz documentary).

Purely speculation on my part, but I believe the two sides of this LP were accidentally reversed in its initial release and the mistake has never been corrected. Why wouldn’t the album open with the vocal and close with the instrumental of “Christmastime is Here?” Starting the track list with “O Tannenbaum” puts the lengthy “Christmastime” instrumental right before the vocal. As a music program, the sides seem flipped—but thanks to CDs and digital playlists, one can choose any programming order.

Fantasy/Concord reissued the vinyl and CD many times over. With the new interest in vinyl today, both the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack and Jazz Impressions Boy Named Charlie Brown (its original title) are sold today in vinyl, CD and download. There was even some controversy over a few tracks in the 2006 release (yet apparently leaving side one and two backward bothered no one but me).


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A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS
Music and Story from the TV Soundtrack
Charlie Brown Records (Buena Vista Records) #3701 (Mono / 12” 33 1/3 RPM LP with Book / 1977 / 21 minutes)

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A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS
A Charlie Brown Read Along Book and Record
Charlie Brown Records (Buena Vista Records) #401 (Mono / 7” 33 1/3 RPM LP with Book / 1977 / 11 minutes)

Producers: Jymn Magon, Lee Mendelson. Writers: Charles M. Schulz, Jymn Magon. Music: Vince Guaraldi. Choir Director: Barrett Mineah.
Voices: Peter Robbins (Charlie Brown), Christopher Shea (Linus), Tracy Stratford (Lucy); Bill Melendez (Snoopy); Ann Altieri (Frieda); Chris Doran (Shermy, Schroeder); Karen Mendelson (Patty); Geoffrey Ornstein (Pig Pen); Kathy Steinberg (Sally).
Additional Dialogue: Arrin Skelley (Charlie Brown); Michelle Muller (Lucy), Daniel Anderson (Linus).
Songs: “Christmastime is Here” by Vince Guaraldi and Lee Mendelson; “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” by Charles Wesley.
Instrumentals: “Christmastime is Here,” “Skating,” “Christmas is Coming,” “Linus and Lucy” by Vince Guaraldi; “Fur Elise” by Ludwig von Beethoven.

You could have knocked over Peanuts fans with a feather when, out of the blue, “The Charlie Brown Record Company” started releasing vinyl treasures based on classic and new Peanuts specials (and one movie, Snoopy Come Home).

The “Company” was actually Disney’s Buena Vista label, where, under the supervision of wunderkind producer Jymn Magon (who had struck MousekeGold with the triple platinum LP, Mickey Mouse Disco) was approaching outside companies to license characters and stories for the revitalized label—including Rankin/Bass specials, the Star Trek and Star Wars movies and such properties as Rainbow Brite and later Alvin and the Chipmunks, Gumby, Garfield and the Get-Along Gang, to name just a few.

The Charlie Brown label releases were a blend of soundtrack elements and supplemental recordings to explain visuals or assist in the editing process. The music tracks existed independently of the dialogue, as did the sound effects, so they could all be used as needed and not necessarily to match the films exactly.

Some of these discs made more use original soundtracks than others. A Charlie Brown Christmas is a good example of such a hybrid. For the new material, the young cast doing Peanuts animation voices in the late ‘70s (heard in 1979’s You’re the Greatest, Charlie Brown) were brought in to augment the tracks on the records. To a Peanuts enthusiast, this is pretty obvious but understandable. Every effort was made to keep the new and original voice tracks as distant as possible to avoid comparisons, but nevertheless many a “Charlie Brown Record” features two actors voicing the same character.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

This process was especially apparent in the 7” little LP book and record version of A Charlie Brown Christmas, in which a greater amount of additional dialogue was necessary to make the record match the book. The LLPs are not simple edits of the LPs, nor are the LPs simple “pick ups” of the soundtracks.

Buena Vista’s Charlie Brown Records line enjoying a long and successful run on store shelves but were eventually eclipsed by home video (which offered the shows themselves) and the shift from vinyl to compact disc.

One interesting postscript: the bright red A Charlie Brown Christmas story album cover can be glimpsed in a few quick shots of Iron Man 3, in an early workshop sequence. Either Tony Stark had the record album as a kid or bought it on eBay. He has great taste in records.

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
Finale Sequence with “O Tannenbaum” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”
The opening of this clip comes from the Buena Vista 7” read-along, in which there are two Lucys and Linuses, as well as Arrin Skelley instead of Peter Robbins as Charlie Brown. The 1977 cast says the final line, then we go to the actual mono 1965 Fantasy album for the “Hark” which includes the last few notes usually faded on TV because of the original Coca-Cola holiday greeting.

10 Comments

  • How come they haven’t restored the last few seconds of the specials? As this shows, a sponserless version of “Harl the Harold Angel Sings” exists.

    Also, can you tell be more about this Gumby book and record album? This liscense title is one I’m not aware about. I’m guessing this was released around the time when the shorts aired on the then recently launched “Disney Channel”.

    • Hi Nic,
      Buena Vista released a GUMBY GREEN ALBUM on CD and these cassette read-alongs:
      290-DC Gumby: Castle in the Clouds
      291-DC Gumby: A Wild West Adventure
      Tele-Story adapted actual Gumby episodes for several read along cassettes, including:
      STC-75 The Witty Witch
      STC-76 The Golden Gosling
      STC-77 Gumby Crosses the Delaware
      STC-78 Son of Liberty

    • How come they haven’t restored the last few seconds of the specials? As this shows, a sponserless version of “Harl the Harold Angel Sings” exists.

      That always bugged me too, you’d think by this point it wouldn’t be a bad idea to simply use the original studio recording and fix up that little bit at all. They’ve had a good 30-40 years to do that.

      Also, can you tell be more about this Gumby book and record album? This liscense title is one I’m not aware about. I’m guessing this was released around the time when the shorts aired on the then recently launched “Disney Channel”.

      Those same episodes were also syndicated to local stations through ZIV International, which was later acquired by Lorimar TV.

  • Bravo, bravo, well done!

    • Thanks very much. After all, you requested it! Glad it was what you hoped for.

  • It can also be assumed that, had A Charlie Brown Christmas been highly touted in the industry as a sure-fire vinyl hit, one of the major labels would have snapped it up. Fortunately for the Fantasy label—which also benefitted from the leadership of producer Saul (Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings) Zaentz, who came on in the mid ’50s—the album was a catalog cornerstone that encouraged the sales of other Guaraldi albums. The label was eventually merged with Concord Music in a deal involving legendary TV producer Norman Lear.

    At least the label managed to survive being bought out by someone bigger along the way, they stayed pretty independent (though it did pick up a few other labels along the way like Specialty, Stax and Verve. Interestingly you didn’t mention one big group for the label, Credence Clearwater Revival, it doesn’t matter really.

    I do remember having the read along version of A Charlie Brown Christmas, but since I probably didn’t see it quite as often as I didn’t have it on tape yet as a kid, I didn’t recognize the shift in those voices.

    • Concord doesn’t own Verve,Universal Music does.Universal also distributes Concord and,at least in the physical versions of the catalog(CD &vinyl)Concord is indeed beholden to Universal to do its dirty work.
      Also,CCR should be mentioned with Fantasy’s history,’cause basically without CCD,no Fantasy,buting Milestone,Prestige and the rest.Also,as CCR co-founder John Fogerty would explain,Saul Zaentz was no altar boy in deceiving artists and controlling publishing rights.There is a reason why Fogerty,after staying away from recording precisely beacuse of Zaentz,wrote Zanz Kant Danz (aka Vanz Kant Danz)& Mr. Greed from John’s Warner Bros.years..Zaentz sold his interest in Fantasy and John returned.

  • In fairness to Concord,they re-pressed the corrected CD and replaced early buyers without having to foreiting the incorrect copies and did so in a speedy fashion.The pre-2006 CD before that actually sounds a bit better to these ears and can sometimes be found cheap.Also,Madacy put together a tin of three Concord/Fantasy holdings:The 2006 CBC soundtrack,Holiday Hits,a collection of Guaraldi tracks used for CBC and other Peanuts specials,and a $mooth jazz comp of Peanuts material.The tin used to be a bargain,so watch online dealers who have upped the price.The tin is an embossed version of the original LP cover and now houses all of my Guaraldi holdings in Case Logic sleeves.Way cool!.
    Last year Fantasy released a gold colored 45 of Linus & Lucy b/w Oh,Good Grief for 2013’s Record Store Day Black Friday..I’ve seen sealed copies around for under ten bucks.
    Add to all of this there is an audiophile version,playing at 45RPM(but on 12″ discs).Sold out,but if you find one online and have the bucks,this is supposed to be magic.
    And for completists,know that Newbury Comics,a Mass. based music dealer,had exclusive vinyl pressings of CBC on colored vinyl:half red,half whitemade up this year.

  • Okay.. I have the LP/Story book “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. 1977 Syndicate. “Not released for Broadcast” is marked on the label on the LP. What did/does this mean?

    • It means that it would be illegal to play the record on the radio; just as DVDs say “For Home Use Only.”

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