I look forward to the holiday season for a few reasons, and one of them is the undeniable joy of watching A Charlie Brown Christmas. It may seem a little silly, what with it available on home video in so many formats and everything, but I faithfully watch the broadcast every year. I have always been a Peanuts fan, and Charlie Brown's difficulties with the commercialization of Christmas is a timeless story. But it is the marvelous soundtrack by the Vince Guaraldi Trio that really puts the special over for me.
Since its original Fantasy Records release in 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas has been one of the best-selling Christmas albums every year. It was first released on CD in 1988, and there have been a few reissues of it in the past 25 years. The definitive version came in 2012, titled A Charlie Brown Christmas (Remastered & Expanded Edition). The remaster by Joe Tarantino was a revelation, as he was able to remove the terrible tape hiss from the original analog recordings without affecting any of the music. It was also "expanded" from 11 tracks to 14.
The Concord Music Group now owns Fantasy and the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas. CMG have been remastering and expanding a number of classic Fantasy jazz titles in the past few years, and I thought that they had issued the ultimate version of this soundtrack in 2012. Not quite. The truly definitive release is the new A Charlie Brown Christmas (Snoopy's Doghouse Edition).
One of my biggest gripes about compact discs was the loss of album cover art. Shrinking the old LP pictures down to the tiny size of a CD seemed like a joke to me. And you could forget about all of the interactive stuff that LPs once boasted. In the heyday of album cover art, during the early '70s, we had things like spinning wheels (Led Zeppelin III), a full newspaper as part of the package (Thick as a Brick - Jethro Tull), and an actual working zipper (Sticky Fingers - Rolling Stones).
Concord have revived this lost art with the packaging of A Charlie Brown Christmas (Snoopy's Doghouse Edition). When you open up the digi-pak, it literally folds out into a replica of Snoopy's doghouse! Not only that, but there are also free-standing cutouts of the Peanuts gang, which can be placed around the doghouse. There may be other CDs out there that you can "play" with, but none that I am aware of. This is truly a thing of beauty. The set also includes a 20-page booklet, which features an essay from Derrick Bang, the author of Vince Guaraldi at the Piano.
The CD itself is the 2012 remastered and expanded edition. The additional three songs are “Greensleeves,” “Great Pumpkin Waltz,” and “Thanksgiving Theme.” The latter two songs are from the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special. If you already own the remastered and expanded edition, then the only attraction to this is the fun packaging. If you do not already have it though, this is the one to get.
Besides Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Christmas is one of the most beloved Christmas shows of all time. So it is likely that just about everyone has heard the music before. What you may not know about though is the six-minute instrumental version of “Christmas Time is Here.” This is the theme of the special, and it utilizes a children’s choir to beautiful effect. As lovely as that is, the purely instrumental version is something else again. I had never heard it, prior to buying the album, and it continues to knock me out every time I hear it.
The whole thing is marvelous, actually. As if I need to sell it any further, let me just mention that the soundtrack was voted in to The Grammy Hall of Fame in 2007, and was added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry in 2012.
There is no denying that the Snoopy's Doghouse Edition of A Charlie Brown Christmas is a cute way to repackage this classic. Cute packaging or not, the soundtrack is filled with some amazing music, and belongs in every home, no matter what form you choose.