ANIMATION SPIN
November 4, 2014 posted by

The First “Peanuts” Movie Soundtrack Album

Good grief, Charlie Brown! A soundtrack album almost an hour long? FIVE different musical styles? You’re out of your mind, Charlie Brown!

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A BOY NAMED CHARLIE BROWN
Selections from the Soundtrack
Columbia Masterworks OS-3500 (Stereo) (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / 1969)

Producer: John Scott Trotter. Assistant Producer: Vince Guaraldi. Original Music Score: Vince Guaraldi. Conductor: John Scott Trotter. Engineer: Phil Macy. Running Time: 54 minutes.
Songs: “A Boy Named Charlie Brown,” “Failure Face,” “Champion Charlie Brown,” by Rod McKuen; “’I’ Before ‘E’” by John Scott Trotter, Bill Melendez and Al Shean.
Instrumentals: “A Boy Named Charlie Brown,” “Champion Charlie Brown,” by Rod McKuen; “Charlie Brown’s All Stars,” “Blue Charlie Brown,” “Linus and Lucy (Track Titles: Time to Go to School, Found Blanket)” by Vince Guaraldi; Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8 (Sonata Pathétique / Track Title: Do Piano Players Make a Lot of Money?)

In his superb When Magoo Flew: The Rise and Fall of Animation Studio UPA, Adam Abraham quotes John Culhane regarding the key talent that transitioned from UPA to Playhouse Pictures and to Bill Melendez Productions: “Peanuts is a UPA cartoon.”

ABNCB_Flyer-smallLet’s take it a step further and suggest that A Boy Named Charlie Brown is, in a sense, UPA’s first feature since Gay Purr-ee. The feature takes Charlie Brown, Linus and Snoopy out of their familiar surroundings and into a stylized UPA-ish New York City. By 1969, UPA also might have enjoyed the cinematic trend of tinted live-action footage (in Snoopy’s hockey game), split-screen sequences (the baseball game) and especially Schroeder’s extended piano piece that takes the viewer in a completely different creative direction than the rest of the movie.

As the first Lee Mendelson/Bill Melendez production—as well as the first Peanuts feature—A Boy Named Charlie Brown has several distinctions. It’s the only feature that stays focused on Charlie Brown (Snoopy or Peppermint Patty usually take the reins in later features); features Vince Guaraldi’s and Rod McKuen’s music; contains numerous sequences that could just as easily been in TV specials; and has a true-to-the-comic-strip bittersweet ending.

As a cohesive full-length feature, A Boy Named Charlie Brown has the marks of a creative team feeling their way through the challenges—conquering most of them but missing out on a few. The spelling bee plot, taken from a series of strips, is thin by feature film standards, making the film a series of set pieces tied by a slim thread. However, a simple story is very much the classic Schulz style and all the subsequent features moved outside that narrative style, perhaps from necessity.

Both the film and the soundtrack album strive to be all things to all people, and for the most part, succeed. Rather than producing an album of pure music and songs, Columbia’s release contained massive amounts of dialogue, telling the entire story. Because of its length, Columbia had to cut the master with very thin grooves, like a classical album. This makes the overall volume level very low; any scratches or stray vinyl noises are all the more intrusive. Finding a clean copy is quite the treasure hunt (unless Sony releases it digitally, please, please!).

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For the Peanuts fan, this album is a feast because it presents so much in almost an hour of playing time. There is scant narration by Peter Robbins and Glenn Gilger to cover a few visuals and transitions. For music fans, there might be some disappointment that most of the instrumental material is covered by dialogue and sound effects, making one dream of a music-only version of the soundtrack (please, please). The music cuts are also not in film sequence; the opening Cinema Center Films logo and main title versions of “Champion Charlie Brown,” for example, don’t appear until side two. Fortunately, the most recent DVD of A Boy Named Charlie Brown was released in full stereo (thank you), so it is possible to get a little more of the music free from interruption.

The film and the album are also unique in that they combine five different kinds of music. The aforementioned Guaraldi themes played in the piano jazz style, the Beethoven orchestral piece, Rod McKuen’s songs, and John Scott Trotter’s full arrangements of both Guaraldi’s and McKuen’s melodies. There’s even a Guaraldi-style piano rift on McKuen’s “Champion Charlie Brown.” Most of the time, the disparate musical forms make sense in a Peanuts way.

The most unusual, if not jarring, elements are McKuen’s three songs. The title song is a perfect fit in a melancholy, Charlie Brown way. The other two songs, though short, must have been a surprise for Peanuts fans who had never heard the characters sing “book musical” numbers. TV Guide critic Judith Crist was exceptionally cruel in her assessment of the songs—and McKuen’s voice—but her view may have been reflective of McKuen’s “no longer cool” status to most critics in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. Whatever one may think of the songs, the melodies work themselves into the instrumental score very well.

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“’I’ Before ‘E’”
This patter song gets little attention as an original work, yet it’s a nice moment in the film. What’s even more notable is that Melendez and Jay Ward veteran Al Shean are the lyricists, with music by Trotter. The album version is easier on the ears than that of the finished film because there is no “Snoopy Harp.” (These were sold in stores, among the handful merchandise items tied in with the feature. Not too easy on the teeth.)

22 Comments

  • I had a snoopy harp!

  • That was a fun song! YouTube user wileyk209zback uploaded the full soundtrack here if you want a full hour-long listen….
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jLvisLt3uIY
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7DpvOF7-d4

    BTW, do you have a first pressing of the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack? Would you upload a track from your copy of that album when it’s almost Christmas on YouTube if it’s an original pressing? I’m annoyed by all of the reissues of that album throughout the years, the font and lettering on the original (which exists in some CD reissues) has that special feeling. Other pressings from later in the century on vinyl (and the early CD pressings) have a bland font that is too generic.

    But back onto a boy named charlie brown, you’re right about the thinly veiled plot . I know it was part of the strips’ “golden age”, but “Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown” had more suprises.

    • Yes, I do have the original mono Fantasy album. It credits the choir director with is nice too: Barett Mineah. I’ll Spin it next month.

  • About a year or so after its initial release, this film was re-released for Christmas on a double bill with Albert Finney’s “Scrooge.” That was where I first saw it. For some strange reason, non-Disney kids’ films never played in the downtown Seattle area but only in the suburbs, on their initial release. (Thus I missed out on “The Man Called Flintstone” and “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” when they were first released. Didn’t get to see “Flintstone” until I was 24!)

    Rod McKuen was an odd choice to sing the vocal part on the title song. His voice always sounded somewhat grating to me. Mel Torme or James Darren could have given a smoother delivery.

    There is evidence that the film’s creators were aiming toward “high art” in this film–the slightly understated opening, the “Star Spangled Banner” sequence, the Beethoven piece, and several other segments suggest that they are reaching for higher ground than the TV specials could cover. Unfortunately, it makes the film a bit uneven, and the first forty or so minutes are a bit tedious for kids–unless they are diehard fans like I was at age 10. So I think it is definitely fair to say that there was a strong UPA influence. And I also agree that this film was truer to the source material than the sequels that followed. The same could also be said of the TV specials…they gradually lost the “purity” of the four or five earliest ones.

    Never had this album. Now that you have described it, I, too, would welcome a CD release. Are you absolutely sure that the instrumental tracks were never issued on an album? I seem to recall seeing another album of “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” that focused on Vince Guaraldi’s music–but it’s been years and I could be mis-remembering by now. (Most of my knowledge of records of the time is based on “window-shopping” as we didn’t have much money for extras in those days.) Yet I’m about 75% sure that I recall an album that at least featured some of the background music from the film if not the complete score. It may have included other Peanuts music or even non-Peanuts music as well. But then, too, I may be imagining it.

    It’s nice to re-visit and reflect on this enjoyable film. Thanks!

    • Frederick,

      The Boy Named Charlie Brown soundtrack you’ve seen is a different album, from a TV documentary of the same name. It is still available on amazon — and the actual documentary is sold by the Schulz Museum:

      https://shop.schulzmuseum.org/SelectSKU.aspx?skuid=1000401

    • “Jazz Impressions of A Boy Named Charlie Brown” was reissued on vinyl this summer as a 50th anniversary commemoration.
      http://modern-vinyl.com/2014/05/12/reissue-review-vince-guaraldi-trio-jazz-impressions-of-a-boy-named-charlie-brown/

    • That looks real sweet Peter! Have to see if I can find that locally.

    • Besides the re-release vinyl of A Boy Named Charlie Brown Soundtrack,Concord/Fantasy had a limted edition 45 of “Linus & Lucy”/ b/w “Oh,Good Grief” available last Record Store Day/Black Friday.Pressed on gold colored vinyl.The sleeve uses artwork from the Christmas special,but,as most ‘toon buffs know,both tracks are not Christmas-centric (except on your neighborhood 24/7 Christmas music format radio station,which plays L&L with such frequency it must have performed as Jesus was actually born). There are lots of leftovers,so paying more than $10.00 is a ripoff.
      A note about the 50th Anniversary Edition of the LP.New copies were pressed on colored vinyl.As much trouble as Concord did to reproduce the original LP(gatefold,95% of original artwork cover,restored 8X10 lithos), this was never pressed on colored vinyl.Fantasy stopped using colored vinyl(usually red for mono and blue for stereo,with matching paper labels) around 1962.ABNCB came out end of 1964.Also,Concord chose orange as the new color even though yellow or goldwould have made more sense to commemorate a 50th anniversary.

  • Just makes me think “wack English language!” So many “exceptions”, “special cases”, etc. to remember; that little ditty would probably scramble a nervous spelling bee contestant’s memory even more! (Many other languages, like especially the Romance languages, are nowhere near like this).

    I always wonder, has the term “jew’s” been dropped off of “harp” as politicaly incorrect, now? That’s what I remember it being called in the book.

    • <i"Just makes me think “wack English language!” So many “exceptions”, “special cases”, etc. to remember; that little ditty would probably scramble a nervous spelling bee contestant’s memory even more! (Many other languages, like especially the Romance languages, are nowhere near like this)."

      Given this film was seen in many other countries, I often wondered how did this scene play out, did they leave it alone, cut it out or tried to dub over it, it’s rather interesting I guess from a US standpoint (and for someone how got A’s all the time in spelling class).

      I always wonder, has the term “jew’s” been dropped off of “harp” as politicaly incorrect, now? That’s what I remember it being called in the book.

      I’m sure it has, though a few times I’ve heard it as “Jaw Harp” too.

  • Excellent work again, Greg! This was always one of my favorite feature films, but I hadn’t heard the soundtrack album until now. Tip of the cap to PARAMOUNTCARTOONS for the full YouTube links!

  • By 1969, UPA also might have enjoyed the cinematic trend of tinted live-action footage (in Snoopy’s hockey game), split-screen sequences (the baseball game) and especially Schroeder’s extended piano piece that takes the viewer in a completely different creative direction than the rest of the movie.

    Those were the parts of the film I watched over and over. This is certainly what I would want in m Peanuts film I suppose. In some way, I consider 1969 the true height of Peanuts as an entity itself, especially after 20 years of planting itself among pop culture through it’s presence in the papers, it’s merchandising opportunities, it’s TV specials, leading to the release of this first film. After this, it just kinda teetered out slowly.

    Because of its length, Columbia had to cut the master with very thin grooves, like a classical album. This makes the overall volume level very low; any scratches or stray vinyl noises are all the more intrusive. Finding a clean copy is quite the treasure hunt (unless Sony releases it digitally, please, please!).

    Found a decent copy myself once on eBay I thought sounded OK, but it is pretty noticable.

    “For music fans, there might be some disappointment that most of the instrumental material is covered by dialogue and sound effects, making one dream of a music-only version of the soundtrack (please, please).”

    At least the second film got an all-music LP release (though I kinda wish some of the tracks were longer than heard in the film).

    Fortunately, the most recent DVD of A Boy Named Charlie Brown was released in full stereo (thank you), so it is possible to get a little more of the music free from interruption.

    Heck the DVD release also restores one moment found on this record that otherwise got removed from later TV/home video releases concerning Lucy’s “emotional outlet” during Charlie’s session (though not going into the “instant replay” of it). It was always odd how it was removed though I’ve often been told it was plainly to add on more commercial time (CBS owning the film outright and all).

    The album version is easier on the ears than that of the finished film because there is no “Snoopy Harp.” (These were sold in stores, among the handful merchandise items tied in with the feature. Not too easy on the teeth.)

    And to this day, they’re still sold as “Snoopy’s Harp”, touting a 45 year old feature the product was featured in. Not bad for such an obscure item.

    Though a tad unrelated, Rod McKuen also put out an album featuring his three songs from the film as well (though I haven’t listened to my copy yet, I suppose these are different recordings altogether).
    http://www.mckuen.com/flights/060100.htm

    • “Those were the parts of the film I watched over and over. This is certainly what I would want in m Peanuts film I suppose. In some way, I consider 1969 the true height of Peanuts as an entity itself, especially after 20 years of planting itself among pop culture through it’s presence in the papers, it’s merchandising opportunities, it’s TV specials, leading to the release of this first film. After this, it just kinda teetered out slowly.”

      I would rather slightly disagree as I still thought the strip was good to the end, though I do agree with Schaltz himself as the strip was “milder” during it’s final decade.

  • Looks like someone was close to release a CD of the music to this film a decade back to the project fell through due to the usual legal red tape issues. He bothered spoiling his readers with the track listing anyway…
    http://impressionsofvince.blogspot.com/2012/06/soundtrack-that-almost-was.html

  • Deleted scenes, if anybody can run them down:

    In an animation class in the early 70s, a guest speaker showed what I think was a studio sample reel, to be shown to ad agencies and other potential clients. It included some bizarre clippings from “Boy Named Charlie Brown”:

    — A complete alternate version of “Failure Face”, full of “After You’re Gone” surrealism. Charlie Brown running on a rubbery sidewalk and momentarily becoming a statue of a hero on a horse before it all collapses under him. The song is in the movie, but the staging is simple and earthbound.

    — Linus, on the bus to New York, has a nightmare about becoming half-fish and later an ostrich while a demonic Charlie Brown puts his blanket through a meat grinder, producing little blanket monsters. Very weird colors.

    If memory serves, the speaker said something about the sequences being removed/replaced because Schulz vetoed them. There was another sequence I thought was from BNCB, but probably wasn’t: a Hubleyesque thing with two kids playing and turning into various creatures, all from one angle against a white background.

    • You reminded me of a short I saw on a PBS series (I think it was an animation retrospective hosted by Kermit the Frog and Jean Marsh). The film is called “Rainbow Bear,” a surreal piece made around the time of A Boy Named Charlie Brown. Found it on YouTube!

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-51eN1MWkY

    • Actually, it was Jean Marsh and Grover.

    • There was another sequence I thought was from BNCB, but probably wasn’t: a Hubleyesque thing with two kids playing and turning into various creatures, all from one angle against a white background.

      Sounds a little like “Windy Day” to me.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cit6iUEEdyo

    • It was a little like Windy Day, but wasn’t. As close as my remaining gray cells can recall, it was two boys doing something like a “Oh yeah? Well, you’re a [name of creature]” routine.

  • Serge Gainsbourg did the french version of the main song : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCL6qrUCrmc

  • Notice the trailer lets you know that it isn’t just Sally in the film,it’s Sally Brown,as well as Lucy VanPelt.What a relief to Peanuts fans that it was indeed Ms. Brown & Ms.VanPelt they would see and not,err,Sally Bowles or Lucille Ball.
    Any guesses for the voiceover on the trailer?I know the experts are here.Sounds very familiar-a then-current 1969 guy which I think did some General Foods spots(e.g.-Maxwell House with the Baja Marimba Band).
    I,too,have longed for a music only CD,if only to hear this version of “Skating” in its entirety without the hockey game nonsense and the ability to skip over anything with Rod McKuen musical Hallmark cards kee rap.LPs tend to be trashed as this was treated as a “kiddie record”(indeed,I lost my original copy to my kids,along with the Atlantic/TV special(oddly enough,sponsored by Hallmark)of You’re A Good man,Charlie Brown and the story/LP of A Charlie Brown Christmas,but know that Peanuts played a part of their growing up(my first born pretty much learned to read at two years old from Peanuts collections.)
    I was entering college when this film was released,I found it difficult to find anyone my age to see it with but conned my little brother.I was a little embarrased by some of the stuff,but the “world didn’t end today” ending was something you didn’t see in many films,at least of the era and not in kiddie fare.No sugar coating of Charlie’s screw up,but bouncing out of the hopelessness hole after a brief pity party.”Life goes on” is a lesson anyone would need to hear somewhere in their lives-the earlier, the better.

  • I remember there was a fantastic version of Skating (from A Charlie Brown Christmas ) done by a full orchestra in the movie but it wasn’t listed on the original soundtrack. It was during the scene where Snoopy looking for Linus’s lost blanket discovered the ice rink at Rockefeller Plaza and decided to go skating with a awesome background footage of Hockey players in action in the middle of the skating sequence .

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