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The Importance of Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas

C. Michael Bailey By

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Into my heart on air that kills

From yon far country blows:

What are those blue remembered hills,

What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,

I see it shining plain,

The happy highways where I went

And cannot come again.
—A.E. Houseman, A Shropshire Lad (1896)

Vince Guaraldi-A Charlie Brown Christmas width=Vince Guaraldi

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Concord Music Group

2012 (1988)

Is it possible that we could need yet another reissue of the A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack?

In a word: Absolutely.

There need be no more evidence than the "controversy" surrounding Concord Music Group's 2006 remaster of the recording. It seems that Concord's sonic updating of the original 1965 LP and subsequent 1986, 1988 (with the addition of "Greensleeves" as a bonus track) and 1997 "Starbuck's Exclusive Edition" (sans said "Greensleeves") CDs in 2006 used different takes and edits of the songs to the tune of two compilation "mistakes" and three programming differences with the original television special:

Mistakes:

  • Track 4, "Linus and Lucy": The original LP (and previous CDs) performance was an anastomosis of two different takes. For the 2006 remix and remaster, a single complete take was used in its entirety; a 25-second section of the previously unreleased part of the take (beginning at 1 minute 54 seconds) is heard in the television special at 17 minutes, 11 seconds into the program.


  • Track 9, "Christmas Is Coming": The original LP (and previous CDs) performance and the version on the 2006 remaster are entirely different takes.


  • Programming Differences:

    • Track 1, "O Tannenbaum": The original LP performance had the introduction to the song cut off; while the new 2006 reissue has the intro included.


    • Track 5, "Christmas Time Is Here (instrumental)": The original LP performance fades at the coda almost losing the last chord; the 2006 reissue intentionally includes the last chord in its entirety.


    • Track 7, "Skating": The original LP performance fades during the bass solo; while the 2006 reissue presents the complete song.


    • The reaction was immediate and strong. Letters to the Editor, Internet posts on Amazon and CDUniverse's web sites and letters to Concord expressed shock and dismay for the apparently shabby programming of the 2006 reissue. Could this possibly be nothing more than cultural minutiae not worthy of discussion? Perhaps. But an entire generation, namely the late Baby Boomers-those individuals born between 1955 and 1964-had been watching closely. And listening. This generation has been noted for its savant-like dedication to its cultural icons, specifically music. Expanding this notion, this A Charlie Brown Christmas "controversy" was an overt manifestation of how seriously we value both our youth and memories of it as seen through the peerless lens of popular culture.

      The music of this television special and of the released LP is a static Constant; it is the same every time the show is watched or the soundtrack heard, and has been for nearly 50 years. These performances do not change and there are those who can detect a single note's difference between what was experienced in 1965 and what is presented in 2006, and cry foul as a result. This cry was so loud, Concord offered return terms for the reissue. This is, indeed serious business: do not mess with the cultural canonical once it has been established, particularly with the Baby Boomers, perhaps the last generation to have an intact cultural memory.

      Holiday music and tradition, themselves self-exist as a canon-sacred, slow to evolve and impossible to reduce. It is a body of music and ritual so closely associated with the holidays that it becomes as much a part of recognition as the smell of pumpkin pie and roast turkey wafting from an open door in Fall. Hear the first notes of "Linus and Lucy" and we are immediately in the holiday spirit as if we heard "White Christmas" or "Messiah." The only thing that can compare is your mom's voice telling you to come in for dinner.

      For a piece of music to become part of the holiday vernacular, it requires a true act of cultural acceptance. For the longest time only sacred music was part of this vernacular. Christmas Carols (or noels) from the sixth-through-twentieth centuries, mainly in Europe and the New World, made the cut. These include Corde natus ex Parentis (Of the Father's love begotten), by the Fifth-Century Spanish poet Prudentius, to the African-American Spiritual "Go Tell It On the Mountain" (compiled in 1865) to Christina Rossetti's poem In the Bleak Midwinter, set to music by Gustav Holst, and the African-American Spiritual "Go Tell It On the Mountain" (compiled in 1865) in the early twentieth century. And these are just the sacred pieces.

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