A Charlie Brown Christmas
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2006, Volume 13, #12
Written by John Metzger
Charles Schulz’s comic strip Peanuts already was seeping into the mainstream purview when television producer Lee Mendelson began working on a documentary about the artist’s life. Nevertheless, it was the animated holiday show A Charlie Brown Christmas that cemented Schulz’s iconic status. Undoubtedly, one of the reasons for the mammoth success of the program — which has been rebroadcast annually since its debut in December 1965 — was the playfully sophisticated music that was supplied by Vince Guaraldi, a struggling pianist from San Francisco, who came to Mendelson’s attention after he landed a surprise hit with his B-side Cast Your Fate to the Wind. Given that Mendelson had been considering Dave Brubeck as an option for scoring his profile of Schulz, the final selection of Guaraldi wasn’t without risk, though it proved to be a remarkably inspired choice.
Blossoming out of the bossa nova beats that he had been exploring, Linus & Lucy, the first tune that Guaraldi composed for Mendelson’s biographical film, became the template for his Peanuts-oriented work. Not surprisingly, it also served as one of the key tracks on the duo’s second collaboration A Charlie Brown Christmas. Other highlights that showcase Guaraldi’s brilliantly intuitive style include the pensive, soft-spoken spirituality of Christmas Time Is Here; the snowflake-conjuring breeziness of Skating; the joyous Christmas Is Coming; and his thoughtful, improvisational journeys through O Tannenbaum and Greensleeves. A quintessential holiday classic, the album only has grown in stature since its release in 1965, and although pop culture purists likely will squawk over the decision to feature unedited recordings over the truncated renditions that appeared on the original vinyl release, the latest incarnation of A Charlie Brown Christmas still manages to retain all of its magical charm. A quartet of alternate takes, such as a bossa nova-inflected variation on Greensleeves, rounds out the newly remastered outing in fine fashion.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box