Friday, October 26, 2012

Lee Mendelson, lyricist

Director/producer Lee Mendelson deserves oodles of credit for creating what became the Peanuts television empire; he also had the genius to gather a four-man team that included Charles M. Schulz, Bill Melendez and Vince Guaraldi. Everything started with Schulz, of course, who scripted the early 30-minute specials that featured his characters. Melendez and his crew animated Charlie Brown and the gang; Guaraldi and his fellow musicians supplied the swing in everybody's step. Mendelson officially served as director and producer.

And, on a few occasions, he turned into a songwriter.

The most famous example, and the tale oft-told by Mendelson himself, refers to A Charlie Brown Christmas and the song it made famous: "Christmas Time Is Here."

To quote a brief passage from my book:

As late summer [1965] segued to early autumn, the Peanuts Christmas special was coming together; a rough cut, set to Guaraldi's music, opened on Charlie Brown and his friends skating on a frozen pond, as snowflakes gently flurried about them. But although Mendelson liked the music employed behind the action — Guaraldi's "Christmas Time Is Here" — he felt the scene lacked something.

"The opening song was an instrumental," Mendelson recalled. "I felt we should get some lyrics, and some voices. We couldn't find anybody to write the lyrics, and I called all my Hollywood friends who were songwriters. But nobody took the assignment, so I sat down, and in about 10 minutes wrote the words to 'Christmas Time Is Here' on an envelope.

"I sure wish I still had that envelope!"

Ask folks to cite Peanuts songs that include lyrics, and you'll get a very short list: "Christmas Time Is Here," "Joe Cool" and "Little Birdie." Guaraldi himself wrote the words for the latter two. But Peanuts fans with very good memories can add another song: the title theme to You're in Love Charlie Brown, the fourth Peanuts special, which debuted June 12, 1967. The show's title theme, a lyrical, slightly woeful waltz, reflects Charlie Brown's hopeless yearning for the never-seen Little Red-Haired Girl.

Mendelson, no doubt encouraged by the success he'd had with "Christmas Time Is Here," penned some brief lyrics for this title theme, which are heard as the show's credits appear:

Poor little Charlie Brown,
Don't let love bring you down.
You'll have your day,
She'll come your way;
She'll take away your frown.
Poor little Charlie Brown.

At least ... I thought they were brief.

Well, in fairness, that's all we ever heard. That's all anybody ever knew about.

But that's not all Mendelson wrote.

Guaraldi's tune continues far longer than those six lines; it therefore stands to reason that Mendelson might have written lyrics for the entire composition, although I doubt anybody ever made that assumption. Thanks to some digging at the U.S. Library of Congress, and a related search of the U.S. Copyright Office, the full story — or, rather, the full song — has come to light.

(Truly, I love this sort of discovery!)

Herewith, then, Lee Mendelson's full lyrics to "You're in Love, Charlie Brown," accompanied by one of the actual manuscript pages that was filed with the Copyright Office. Note the twin bylines: "V. Guaraldi + L. Mendelson." Note also the hilarious doodle of — I'm guessing — Charlie Brown's head!

Poor little Charlie Brown,
Don't let love bring you down.
You'll have your day,
She'll come your way;
She'll take away your frown.

Poor little Charlie Brown,
Don't let your hopes all drown.
You'll have your day,
She'll come your way;
You're in love, Charlie Brown.

She's a sweet Little Red-Haired Girl,
Who's nice as she can be.
All she needs is a little boy
Who's just as perfect as she.

Poor little Charlie Brown,
Always ends up a clown.
Who would love you?
No one! That's who!
Why don't you just leave town.

Poor little Charlie Brown,
No one could love that frown.
Who would love you?
No one! That's who!
Your face is too darned round.

Ouch! Those two final choruses are killers, aren't they? 

Perhaps that's why we never got to hear them in the show...

One last little oddity: Various DVDs of this Peanuts special include the six brief lines as indicated above. The English audio soundtrack included with the Warners 1960s collection DVD, however (and rather strangely!), features a different sixth line: You're in love, Charlie Brown ... which you'll note is the final line of the second stanza. It's therefore possible that at least the entire second stanza was recorded during production, but then left unused.


Catholic San Francisco runs an occasional feature titled "Cemetery Corner," which marks the 125th anniversary of Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery in Colma, California. The entry in a recent issue (October 19, 2012) is a nice little tribute to Guaraldi, and includes an excellent photo of his grave marker (sharpest photo I've seen of it, in fact). Check it out here.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

'Christmas' comes early this year

Fantasy's newly remastered edition of A Charlie Brown Christmas arrives in stores today, just in time to take advantage of the holiday shopping season. (Halloween? Thanksgiving? What are they?)

Quoting from Concord's press release:

The 2012 Remastered & Expanded Edition CD will feature the original 1965 recording, newly remastered with 24-bit technology from the original analog stereo master tapes. It also contains three holiday bonus tracks that did not appear on the original LP: “Greensleeves,” “Thanksgiving Theme” and “Great Pumpkin Waltz.” The digi package includes a 20-page booklet featuring memorable Peanuts character images from the beloved A Charlie Brown Christmas television special.

I've seen the booklet, and Rachel Gutek's package design is, indeed, fabulous. I was pleased, once again, to be asked for a new set of liner notes, and my friends at Concord were kind enough to use the entire essay, even though it ran longer than originally requested ... which probably is why the booklet is 20 pages, and not 12 or 16. (Hey, I've never been known for brevity.)

As I observe, in part, in those liner notes:

Analog-to-digital conversion has gotten a lot better since this album debuted on CD in 1988, as a side-by-side listening comparison will reveal. The ubiquitous background hum, so notorious due to the Spartan conditions of Fantasy's recording studio, is less intrusive; this is particularly evident when the young members of San Rafael's St. Paul's Church Choir — standing in for all of Charlie Brown's friends — croon the melody line and then sing "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing." The album's overall dynamics are more crisp, the individual elements and instruments more "alive," better conveying a sense that we're in the same room as the musicians.

You'll notice the most vibrant difference, throughout, on the contributions by bassists Monty Budwig and Fred Marshall. Guaraldi's piano — at once more detailed and warmer than the somewhat brittle sounding original CD reissue — sits better in the mix. This draws greater attention to the equally superlative work by the sidemen; you'll hear marvelous bass riffs that have been all but buried until now.

And here's a bonus: For those who love the sound and look of old-style LPs, Fantasy also will issue a new pressing of this album on green vinyl. This is an affectionate nod to Fantasy's early days, when owners Max and Soul Weiss — having named their company after the popular science-fiction pulp magazine — would produce records in unusual colors: green, red and blue translucent vinyl. The initial pressings of Guaraldi's early Fantasy LPs followed this pattern: usually red vinyl for the monaural version, and blue vinyl for stereo. I don't believe Fantasy ever granted Guaraldi a green LP, back in the day, so Concord deserves credit both for reviving this tradition, and giving it a holiday vibe.

Be advised, however: LP lacquer cutting from an analog master (LP) and digital remastering (CD) are two different things. The contents of this new green vinyl LP do not, as a result, reflect the newly remastered CD discussed above. This LP has been pressed from George Horn's 1988 master (which does include the extra version of "Greensleeves").

No doubt you've purchased this album at least once before, and perhaps two or three times. But really, it isn't possible to have too many copies ... particularly when this new one sounds so grand.


As a reminder to Northern California Guaraldi fans, I'll be joining pianist and recording star David Benoit at Santa Rosa's Charles M. Schulz Museum at 4 p.m. Saturday, November 3. David and I will present a musical and descriptive journey through Guaraldi's life and career, stopping at numerous tuneful highlights along the way. This event will be included with the price of museum admission, and it will be followed by a light reception. Check out the museum's web calendar for additional details.