ANIMATION SPIN
April 5, 2016 posted by

Snoopy Battles the Red Baron (and Runs for President) on Records

When “Peanuts” transcended its comic strip roots and became a part of the American scene in the late ’60s, The Royal Guardsmen made him a recording star.

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SNOOPY VS. THE RED BARON / SNOOPY AND HIS FRIENDS
The Royal Guardsmen
Collectables Records (EMI-Capitol Music) COL-CD-2722 (Compact Disc / 2001)
Reissued from Laurie Records LP’s 2038 (1967) & 2042 (1967)

Produced by Gernhard Productions. Recorded at Charles Fuller Productions (Tampa) and Allegro Recording Studios. Engineer: John R. Brumage. 2001 Liner Notes: Robert Schwartz.

Royal Guardsmen: Bill Balough (bass), John Burdett (drums), Chris Nunley (vocals), Tom Richards (guitar), Billy Taylor (organ), Barry Winslow (vocals/guitar).
Speaking Voice: Larry Foster (BBC Announcer, Dabney Crowne, Pierre LeClerc, Stewart Wallaby, Allied Pilot, Col. Percy Devonshire).

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Songs: “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” by Phil Gernhard, Dick Holler; “Liberty Valance” by Burt Bacharach, Hal David); “Bears” by R. Perkins; “Peanut Butter” by Bill Barnum, Martin Cooper, Cliff Goldsmith, Fred Smith; “The Battle of New Orleans” by Jimmy Driftwood; “Baby Let’s Wait” by Pam Sawyer, Laurie Burton; “Bo Diddley,” “Road Runner” by Elias “Bo Diddley” McDaniels; “Sweetmeats Slide” by Chris Nunley, Tom Richards, Barry Winslow; “Alley-Oop” by Dallas Frazier; Li’l Red Riding Hood” by Ron Blackwell; “The Jolly Green Giant” by Don Harris, Dewey Terry, Lynn William Easton; “Return of the Red Baron” by J.L. McCullough, Phil Gernhard, J.Y. McCullough; “Snoopy’s Christmas” by George David Weiss, Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore; “I Say Love!” by Billy Taylor, Barry Winslow; “Down Behind the Lines,” “Sopwith Camel Time,” “It Kinda Looks Like Christmas” by Dick Holler; “So Right (To Be in Love)” by Billy Taylor, Barry Winslow; “Airplane Song (My Airplane)” by Michael Martin Murphy, Owens Castleman.

Spoken Word Segments: “The Story of Snoopy vs. The Red Baron,” “The Story of The Return of the Red Baron,” “The Story of Snoopy’s Christmas” by Phil Gernhard, Dick Holler.

Unlike many novelty groups of the era, The Royal Guardsmen were not really a group of studio singers but real musician/singer/songwriters from the then-rural expanses of Ocala, Florida. In the wake of Charles M. Schulz’ best selling hardcover book, Snoopy and the Red Baron–which combined adventures from Peanuts strips into a short narrative—they made it into a song, and a new Gold Record-winning novelty record was born.

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SnoopyRedBaronBookFor the Snoopy-related songs, the group (predominantly band member Barry Winslow) adopted a straightforward singing style. It can be a bit disconcerting to first-time listeners to discover that the Guardsmen sound somewhat different on their non-Snoopy tunes and are quite versatile both in vocals and instrumentation.

Snoopy and His Friends was the third album for the group, and their most unique. Side One was entirely devoted to their big three hits of the time: “Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron,” “The Return of the Red Baron” and “Snoopy’s Christmas”. Each song was preceded by a clever prologue setting up the historical context of each song. Using fictional characters—all voiced by New York actor Larry Foster. Among Foster’s credits was playing the lead on a James Bond send-up for Colpix Records called “James Blonde, The Man from T.A.N.T.E.” with Marty Brill and Connie Zimet.

As a kid, most of Foster’s dialogue was lost on this writer, only making the songs take longer to play. But while some reissues of the three songs, even on CD, presented them in mono, all of them are in full stereo here. Side Two has a few songs that nod toward the Red Baron theme (“Down Behind the Lines,” “It’s Sopwith Camel Time,” and the aforementioned Airplane Song”), a few original pop tunes and a extra Christmas song, making the album a perennial member of the holiday record racks even though most of the disc has little to do with Christmas.

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GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“The Story of Snoopy vs. The Red Baron”
The CD reissue, for some reason, edits the very beginning of the song, so here is how it sounds on the original vinyl record. Note that the music that cuts out for the “special report” is The Royal Guardsmen’s “Airplane Song.”


THE RETURN OF THE RED BARON / SNOOPY FOR PRESIDENT
The Royal Guardsmen
Collectables Records (EMI-Capitol Music) COL-CD-2722 (Compact Disc / 2001)
Reissued from Laurie Records LP #2039 (1967) & #2046 (1968)

Produced by Gernhard Productions. Arrangers: John Abbott, Dave Mullaney. Recorded at Allegro Recording Studios. Engineer: Bruce Staple. “Snoopy for President” Cover Design from Poster by Hallmark Cards. 2001 Liner Notes: Al Fichera.

Royal Guardsmen: Bill Balough (bass), John Burdett (drums), Chris Nunley (vocals), Tom Richards (guitar), Billy Taylor (organ), Barry Winslow (vocals/guitar).

Songs: “Airplane Song (My Airplane)” by Michael Martin Murphy, Owens Castleman; “I’m A Man” by Elias “Bo Diddley” McDaniels; “Any Wednesday” by B. Masona; “Shot Down” by Dick Holler, J.L. McCullough; “I’m Not Gonna Stay” by A. Heller); “So You Want to Be a Rock ’n Roll Star” by Chris Hillman, Roger McGuinn; “The Return of the Red Baron” by J.L. McCullough, Phil Gernhard, J.Y. McCullough; “Gimme Some Lovin’” by Steve Winwood, Muff Winwood, Spencer Davis; “Om” by Tom Richards, Billy Taylor); “Searchin’ for the Good Times” by Bob Stone; “I Need You Girl” by Arthur Resnick, Kris Resnick; “Leaving Me” by Barry Winslow); “Snoopy for President” by Phil Gernhard, Dick Holler, Arnold Lee Shapiro); “Cry Like a Baby” by Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham; “The Letter” by Wayne Carson Thompson; “The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde” by Peter Callander, Mitch Murray; “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” by Jimmy Webb; “Bottle of Wine” by Tom Paxton; “Biplane ‘Evermore’” by Martin Cooper; “Come on Down to My Boat” by Wes Farrell, Jerry Goldstein; “Simon Says” by Elliot Chiprut; “Honey” by Bobby Russell; “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy” by Arthur Resnick and Joey Levine.

SnoopyPresident CDWhile The Royal Guardsmen’s first LP emphasized other popular novelty songs like Sam the Sham’s “Li’l Red Riding Hood” and The Kingsmen’s “Jolly Green Giant,” their second LP, Return of the Red Baron, offered cover versions of hits of the day, like The Box Tops’ “Cry Like a Baby” and Glen Campbell’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” The group was expanding their repertoire as one would expect, since novelty groups have a short shelf life.

But as novelty bands go, The Royal Guardsmen did quite well by the world’s most beloved beagle. “Snoopy’s Christmas” is an undisputed standard at holiday time. “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron” benefitted from numerous cover versions on other recordings, especially children’s labels like Peter Pan—as well as in concert and on TV. When Merv Griffin had his late-night talk show, for one of those “theme shows” that he did so well, he saluted Charles Schulz and Peanuts. One of the highlights was a performance of “Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron” sung and played by Mort Lindsey and His Orchestra. Ooooooooooooooh.

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Snoopy for President”
As each song came along, they established a pattern. This song most exemplifies the “reuse what works” process as it uses the storytelling stanzas of the first Snoopy song and the more melodic approach to the chorus, as in “Snoopy’s Christmas”.

21 Comments

  • Speaking of Peanuts and rock songs, are there any plans of talking about the earlier “Charlie Brown” song anytime soon?

    • I’m not sure that The Coasters song is about the Peanuts Charlie Brown. Always liked the tune, though. But doing a post about pop songs based on cartoon characters (“Speedy Gonzalez,” “Mickey Mouse’s Birthday Party”) is sure a good idea!

    • the whole thing about the Coasters “Charlie Brown” would make a very interesting article indeed. It was and it wasn’t. The song came out long after the strip became famous, and they may have gotten the name from it, but Sparky’s character would NEVER call the english teacher “Daddy-O”.

      AFAIK, it was a subject for debate by children everywhere during the entire decade of the 1960s and even after….

    • Heck, much of what is said in the song I hardly picture Charlie Brown doing at all, which the song paints as the class clown.

  • One thing that I’m still a little unclear about is the specific relationship between The Royal Guardsmen and Sparky & United Features. Did the band initially approach Charles Schulz with their novelty tune, or did The Guardsmen simply release “Snoopy v.s. The Red Baron” in the hope that the cartoonist and his syndicate wouldn’t take significant offense (or legal umbrage)? The Guardsmen’s Snoopy songs were certainly successful; as you note, “Snoopy’s Christmas” still turns up on the radio as a holiday tune. The Sparky-drawn cover for the “Snoopy and his Friends” album, with the caricatures of the band, is pretty endearing, suggesting that Schulz was at least amused by the group’s work. Did Schulz and UFS ultimately take a licensing fee for use of the characters?

    • I’m wondering the same thing, because in the Royal Guardsman’s song Smallest Astronaut, Snoopy is never mentioned by name but the title character is clearly meant to be him.

  • It pains me to note that I used to own the first album and, somehow, the record got waylayed, but I enjoyed the hell out of that album, and I remember the Schultz cover art with the faces of the band members being in black and white. I’ll look up the CD, if it still exists, but I’m sorry that some of the material is cut out. Since it is pop music related, I would have hoped that more recent special editions have come out, but this was something I liked and was a big part of my own Holiday celebrations as a kid!

    • The beginning of “Snoopy vs The Red Baron” is cut on the “Snoopy and His Friends” album, but it is complete on the first Royal Guardsmen album, which is also on the CD. I should have mentioned that.

  • In the 1914-1918 era when these recordings supposedly take place, news radio broadcasts were still very much a thing of the future and did not exist. The liner notes explained the deliberate use of this anachronism to bring the listener into the World War I setting. This “you are there” approach is very effective. The newscasters talk “around” Snoopy but do not make any direct reference to him, although the effect of Snoopy’s battle against the Red Baron is clearly depicted, especially in Part II after Snoopy has shot the enemy down.

    One strength of this album is that it does NOT talk down to kids. The faux broadcast is made to sound very much like the “real thing” as it might have been if radio had been around in those days. As a kid, I had to listen to the recordings many times over before I really started to “get” it–but that isn’t a bad thing, because it forces one to learn. I learned quite a bit about World War I just from repeated listening. It’s a remarkable achievement, and quite different from anything else having to do with the “Peanuts” comic strip.

    And yes, I, too would like to know more of the history of these songs and how the Royal Guardsmen got involved with Snoopy.

    • What I remember about the song was that it mentioned that the Red Baron’s name was Von Richtoven, Shultz probably knew, but for most of the kiddies, it was just a made up name.

  • United Feature Syndicate and Schulz did indeed sue Laurie Records, the Royal Guardsmen, and songwriters Gernhard and Holler for unauthorized use of Snoopy in the song. They won their case, and took over all publishing royalties from the song. Schulz then apparently granted the other parties permission to produce other Snoopy songs, and created the cover art seen above.

    • Thanks as always, Jeff!

    • While the legal issues were being sorted out, an alternate version was briefly released in Canada as “Squeaky vs. the Black Knight” (“a buck-toothed beaver with a gleam in his eye”)

    • I remember the Royal Guardsmen turning up on a special about “Peanuts”, their Monkees-type antics interlaced with animated footage of Snoopy from an earlier special.

      The relationship I’d like to know more about was Schulz and MAD Magazine. They riffed on his strip pretty heavily; he sent some illustrated fan letters and used Alfred E. Newman as the non-sequitur punchline to a long continuity. Also, he contributed to an early MAD piece where actual strip cartoonists present “strips we’d like to draw”

  • Snoopy’s Christmas is always been a favorite Christmas song to me even though it usually doesn’t get much AirPlay on the radio like the other Christmas tunes (like The Chipmunk Song [Christmas Don’t be Late] or Grandma got run over by a Reindeer and the depressing Christmas Shoes) but it’s fun to listen to!

    • The Snoopy Christmas record gets plenty of airplay in my area on the station that goes Christmas 24/7 at holiday time. So do Grandma (yuck) and Christmas Shoes (ergh.) The Chipmunk Song gets relatively little play, but you can’t escape that hideous little girl who wants a hippopotamus…and whose parents taught her how to sing like a sawed-off Ethel Merman…

  • I had the Peter Pan “Snoopy’s Christmas” LP in the 1969 reissue on Diplomat. (It had the demented Santa flying a biplane as the cover art.) I played the heck out of it at the holidays.

    I was Snoopy-crazy like many of my 6-year-old friends, and actually enjoyed playing that Snoopy board game where you dropped the marbles down the slot at poor cardboard Snoopy on his doghouse.

  • I picked up the reissue cds in 2001. The “head scratcher” here for me was that they didn’t pair up the LPs chronologically. The first cd has the 1st and 3rd albums, while the second cd had their 2nd and 4th albums. Why was that?

    • It may have been an attempt to drum up more sales by tempting obsessive-compulsives to buy both CDs to avoid that horrible gap between the two albums on either CD? I know I’d be tempted to buy for that reason…

  • Original Laurie LP had an attached Snoopy Christmas poster, the deal breaker from the LP being priced under a dollar vs. under ten dollars in used bins.

    Be forewarned that Collectables (aka oldies.com, an outfit out of Philadelphia) has a spotty record of remastering their CDs. Original master tapes?Not a problem to these guys. Just find a clean LP… At least one Amazon review takes the Snoopy reissue to task for just such a practice.

    Maybe Real Gone Records (run by the guy who ran the highly praised Collector’s Choice label before it got gobbled up by a distributor and put to sleep) would have an interest to restoring these recordings, including both mono & stereo. Really, mono is the way to go since it was aimed at AM radio play and recorded with less than state-of-the art equipment back in the day.

  • I was in the US Army National Guard at the same time as John Abott.
    John was the company clerk and a very good guy and worker.
    When the guys asked him what he was working on he said Ding
    Dong the Witch is Dead and no one believed him until the song
    came out. The next one was Snoopy and the Red Baron. Everyone
    was still skeptical but that one also came at as well… Everyone
    became a believer after that.

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