ANIMATION SPIN
February 25, 2014 posted by Greg Ehrbar

It’s The First Two “Peanuts” Albums, Charlie Brown!

Who were the first people to play Charlie Brown and Lucy before the TV specials? Who played the singing Snoopy and Linus before the stage show? Charles M. Schulz was delighted with them all when they premiered on vinyl records.

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PEANUTS
Kaye Ballard and Arthur Siegel
Columbia Records CS-8543 Stereo / CL-1543 Mono (12” 33 1/3 rpm / 1962)
Reissue: Harmony Records (Columbia) HS 11200 Stereo / HL-7400 Mono / 1968)

Adapted from Original Peanuts Comic Strips by Charles M. Schulz.
Producer: John Hammond. Composer/Conductor: Fred Karlin. Cover Artist: Charles M. Schulz. Album Notes: Curtis F. Brown. Running Time: 38 minutes.
Selections: “Introducing Charlie Brown and Lucy,” “Bugs and Birds,” Political Cartoons,” “Playthings,” “Snowflakes and Stars,” “Just Peanuts.”

It’s hard to imagine a world without Peanuts cartoons, stage shows, movies and merchandise, much less a world without Peanuts. But no one had ever performed any of the characters in Charles M. Schulz’s comic strip until Kaye Ballard and Arthur Siegel did. This 1962 album was the very first Peanuts record, ever.

Ballard was (and still is) a singer and comedienne who sang with Spike Jones, starred on Broadway (Life Magazine cover and all) and was the toast of the nightclub circuit of a bygone era of sparkling sophistication. The late Arthur Siegel was her accompanist and best friend, as well as a talented specialty writer, performer and composer (“Love is a Simple Thing”).

Both Siegel and Ballard were huge Peanuts fans, and perhaps without realizing it, were tailor made to play Charlie Brown and Lucy. Ballard was an emotive, empathetic Italian who adored the relentlessly neurotic Siegel, who was a therapist’s dream come true. As part of their nightclub act, they acted out their favorite Peanuts strips. (Ballard tells the whole story in her inimitable way on her audio autobiography, My Life, In My Own Words, With My Own Mouth!.

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Charles M. Schulz was in the audience when the duo performed at San Francisco’s Hungry I. His enthusiasm about hearing his strips done in this way led to being captured in a recording studio be legendary jazz producer John Hammond, who was “instrumental” in the careers of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger George Benson, Billie Holiday and many more. Arthur Siegel had composed songs especially for the record, but he and Ballard were disappointed to learn that an up and coming composer named Fred Karlin was doing the music.

It turned out that Karlin spent three months conceiving one of the most bizarre musical undertakings of its time. In addition to gathering the toys and household objects (for which he provided a humorous itemized list on the original album jacket), the musicians had to be trained to work with unconventional instruments like ashtrays, cans of hair spray, sparklers, building blocks, a rubber ball and a bongo monkey. The oddness of the music makes much more sense when the album notes reveal that Karlin worked with Raymond Scott. Karlin would go on to win an Oscar for the song, “For All We Know” from Lovers and Other Strangers.

To say this Peanuts album sounds strange is an understatement. While it’s kid-friendly, with its overall adult approach to the characters, this is not quite a children’s record. It has jazz powerhouse John Hammond behind it, but it’s not a jazz album. The liner notes frame it as a comedy album (the reissue actually read “Material by Charles Schultz (sic)” as if he were Buddy Sorrell.

When I first got the reissue of this record, it had the added title, “Good Grief, Charlie Brown!” Kaye Ballard was a big primetime star on NBC’s The Mothers-in-Law and Peanuts was reaching a fever pitch in pop culture. But my mom couldn’t stand the weirdness of this LP, so it became, in effect, my “rebellious” equivalent to those Iron Butterfly, Rolling Stones or Frank Zappa records that made so many ‘60s parents, let’s say, less than serene.

I love it. It’s been part of my life for over 40 years. In effect, it’s the original Peanuts play—and a landmark, for its performances and its music, which was imitated and re-purposed over the decades. “Classics On Toys” became a popular series of CD’s and ironically, many of them were licensed to use Peanuts characters on the covers with the voices to introduce the music.

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
Excerpts from Columbia Records’ “Peanuts”

This is an amalgam of the whole album, with familiar Peanuts strips, many of which have been done in various forms since. (I love how Kaye Ballard says “Lit-tale tiny points.”) The opening theme was used in a cat food commercial in 1972. The little musical button that follows Charlie Brown’s “banjo” line is the only time on the entire album in which the orchestra sounds “conventional.”


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YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN
An Original MGM Album Musical
Based on Charles Schulz’ Peanuts
MGM Records – King Leo Series SE-900 Stereo / LE-900 Mono (12” 33 rpm)

Album Released in 1966. Adapted from Original Peanuts Comic Strips by Charles M. Schulz. Producer: Herb Galewitz. Arranger/Conductor: Jay Blackton. Engineering Supervisor: Val Valentin. Engineer: Johnny Cue. Cover Design: Ace Lehman. Cover Art: Charles M. Schulz. Recorded at Capitol Recording Studios, New York. Running Time: 32 minutes.
Cast: Orson Bean (Charlie Brown); Barbara Minkus (Lucy); Bill Hinnant (Snoopy); Clark Gesner (Linus).
Songs: “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” “Doctor Lucy,” My Blanket and Me,” “Snoopy,” “Charlie Brown’s Kite,” The Baseball Game,” Little Known Facts,” “Schroeder,” “Suppertime,” “Happiness,” all music and lyrics by Clark Gesner.

Budding young composer Clark Gesner just wanted to write some songs about his favorite comic strip, Peanuts. Then he was convinced to make a demo for Charles M. Schulz, who loved them. All he wanted to do was see them come alive on a record album. In 1966, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown was released—simply as a musical for records—on MGM’s children’s label, King Leo.

The album didn’t set the world on fire, but it did spur producer Arthur Whitelaw to get the concept mounted into a stage show. Using selected Peanuts comics instead of a formal script, the show came together using the first ten songs with a few longer sequences (“The Book Report,” “Glee Club Rehearsal”). The show was an Off-Broadway smash and not a year has passed since that several productions of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown hasn’t been produced in schools, community theaters—and that’s not counting two TV adaptations and a Broadway revival.

GoodMan-Back-285It’s interesting to listen to Clark Gesner singing his heart out as Linus, with absolutely no idea how much would spring from these ten songs. It’s a Cinderella story incongruous to Charlie Brown’s ongoing setbacks. It’s also interesting to note how Gesner’s songs would seldom, if ever, be so lavishly orchestrated than on this album.
Jay Blackton was no less than the musical director of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! His arrangements for this album have the grandeur of an Academy Awards ceremony. Even the Peanuts movies never sounded this lush.

Popular actor/humorist Orson Bean (The Twilight Zone, The Hobbit) was a welcome presence to audiences of the ‘60s and ‘70s, mostly as a game show panelist and glib, clever talk show guest. He does a marvelous job as the first singing Charlie Brown ever. Barbara Minkus, a talented comic actress who became very visible in those Love American Style vignettes, usually making a “Debbie Downer” expression after being insulted by Stuart Margolin or Bill Callaway—but I recall her most fondly as Miss Gittle on Chuck Jones’ short lived children’s series Curiosity Shop.

I am sure, though, that even Tony winner Roger Bart, as well as Don Potter, Teddy Kempner and other outstanding actors who have played Snoopy would concede the dog-dish crowd to the original stage and record Snoopy: Bill Hinnant. Brother (and sound alike) to another fine actor, Skip Hinnant, (Fritz The Cat, The Electric Company, The Easter Bunny is Comin’ To Town), Bill made it seem perfectly logical for a grown man to become a cartoon dog without a theme park-style costume.

Considering what theatrical history followed this particular album, it sure would be nice to see it remastered and reissued, perhaps by a company specializing in theatrical cast albums. As John Adams sang in 1776, “Doesn’t anybody hear me?”

(click album gatefold below to enlarge and read)
GoodMan-gatefold-small


GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Happiness”

This song is already emotionally moving, mostly rendered in a simple, unassuming way. Wait ‘til you hear it Star Wars-style. Sure it’s much ado about finding your skate key, as if Charlie Brown and the gang have donned their dirndls and are crossing the Alps on their way to Switzerland. But it’s just so big and beautiful, it gives me chills of joy.

14 Comments

  • “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” was re-released, remastered in 2000 and has several bonus tracks…

    • Wow! Didn’t see it on amazon or eBay, but I’ll keep searching.

    • The one reissued in 2000 was the one from 1967 with Gary Burghoff as Charlie Brown. I have that CD. :)

    • I don’t suppose we’ll ever see the MGM original get released at all. I loved this take on the songs myself with an orchestra doing it as a musical you could only imagine!

  • LOVE the artwork on these albums, my favorite Schulz period. Linus has yellow hair! Who knew?

  • Thanks for sharing this, I had never heard the 1962 album. Charlie Brown and Lucy speaking with adult voices sound weird, though. Of course, this was before the first animated special in 1965, where the Peanuts gang ‘official’ voices, performed by real kids, were established.
    And if you allow me a slight correction, when it says”…as if Charlie Brown and the gang have donned their dirndls…”, it should be pointed that dirndls are typical Austrian dresses FOR WOMEN; Lucy and the other girls might don their dindls, but Charlie and the boys should don their lederhosen!

    • My mistake. I dirndled where I should have hosen.

  • Playhouse Pictures had been animating the Peanuts characters since 1959 for the Ford Motor Company. In those films they used real children to do the voices. Bill Melendez and Lee Mendleson basically worked behind Ade Woolery’s back, taking Peanuts and several key staffers away from Playhouse. That’s a bit of Peanuts history that has been swept under the carpet, since it puts an unpleasant spin on the Charlie Brown Christmas special.

    • By golly, you’re right. I just looked one up on YouTube. I guess the thing to say would be that these records were the first time adults played the characters, at least commercially.

  • • I like the excerpt from the Ballard/Siegel album. For some reason, hearing adults reading Charlie Brown and Lucy’s dialogue reminds me of Nichols & May.
    • Fred Karlin wasn’t the only one who attempted to make music with non-instruments. For years, Pink Floyd struggled to make an album called Household Objects (which would have been the source of all the music) before abandoning the project. The story is here: http://www.classicrockmagazine.com/features/the-lost-pink-floyd-album/
    • I can’t get the “Happiness” song to play.

    • Mark – “Happiness” should play now. Try it again.

  • That first album is really interesting. I didn’t even know it existed. The music is so bizarre, especially for that time…but the dialog and the deliveries of Ballard and Siegel are hysterical. They were laugh-out loud funny to me ; the post that cited Nichols and May was dead on ( the queen bug/ jelly bean part is particularly good) Thank you for showcasing these two albums.

  • Spotted Bean at my local movie theater a few months back – you’re a good man, Orson Bean!
    And for the record, I have always thought that using children’s voices was a mistake. Schulz’s artistry was a lot bigger than that.

  • I produced the MGM King Leo LP of Clark Gesner’s work with Orson Bean. Later there were two recordings of the off Broadway show. One was a live performance recording which was never released (I may have a copy) and a studio recording which was released.

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