Saturday, August 20, 2022

The ghost of Christmas past

Sit back, folks. This post has been a long time coming, and what follows is detailed. 

It's also huge.

I was prompted to finally finish this research after noting — with pleasure — the enthusiastic and rapidly expanding chatter in several audio forums, regarding the just-announced release of the 5-disc mega-set of music from A Charlie Brown Christmas. I've also seen a few probing questions, and received a few e-mails on the same subject, regarding what is and isn't included in the set, and (in a few cases) lamenting the apparent absence of tracks such as "Air Music" (aka "Surfin' Snoopy"), "Charlie Brown Theme" and a few others.

Allow me to clarify such issues, while (hopefully) finally putting some theories and speculations to bed.

To repeat the essential details of Craft Recordings' press release, and my previous post, the prize items within this mega-set are five complete studio recording sessions — full alternate song versions, blown takes, false starts and occasional chatter between the musicians — taking place between September 17 and October 28, 1965, which produced the bulk of the Fantasy soundtrack album. This music must be distinguished, in at least some cases, from the music that was used in the TV special itself, which almost certainly involved cherry-picking cues from other (different) recording sessions, very likely involving different sidemen. (Remember, four sets of sidemen have claimed to be involved with this TV score and/or album, and — because Fantasy kept such poor records — it's impossible to positively state who laid down what, and when, and whether it was used, and where. So let's not go there.)

Let's instead start with the bombshell, a detail already known to some of you, but not all:

The version of A Charlie Brown Christmas that we've all been watching for decades, whether via TV reruns, VHS tapes, DVDs, Blu-rays or streaming options, is not what viewers saw on December 9, 1965.

At some point — likely in the spring or summer of 1966, prior to the special's repeat that December — Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez went back and "spiffed up" the show.

The changes are significant: brief new animated scenes, a bit of new dialogue here and there, tightened or lengthened scene edits, and so forth. All of those will be discussed at another time, in a future blog post. For the moment, I'm focusing solely on how the music changed.

Because yes: It changed quite a lot.

Thanks to a copy of the original 1965 broadcast that I came across a few years ago, I've been able to compare it with what we possess in our home libraries. I suspect some of you will be quite surprised.

The jiggling and shuffling of the familiar Charlie Brown Christmas cues aside, the most notable change, post-1965, is the inclusion of four more pieces of music. Three of them — "Charlie Brown Theme," "Happiness Theme" and "Frieda (with the Naturally Curly Hair)" — originally were written and recorded for the never-aired 1963 documentary, A Boy Named Charlie Brown.

The key detail is the fourth new tune: an unexpected appearance of "Air Music."

A savvy fellow fan named Ryan suggested that "Air Music" might have been "borrowed" from what Guaraldi wrote for Charlie Brown's All-Stars, which went into production in early 1966, and debuted June 8 that year. Ryan gets top marks: A close examination of the versions in Christmas and All-Stars, via digital overlay, reveals that they are indeed the same piece of music. "Air Music" is first heard at length about 9 minutes into All-Stars, when Snoopy grabs a surf board and crashes Linus' wading pool (hence the new cue name, "Surfin' Snoopy").

And the clincher?

Guaraldi's copyright deposit for "Air Music," filed with the U.S. Library of Congress, is dated May 20, 1966, which is consistent with its debut in All-Stars.

With respect to the other three songs — "Charlie Brown Theme," "Happiness Theme" and "Frieda (with the Naturally Curly Hair)" — digital overlay confirms that they're identical extracts from the versions on the album Jazz Impressions of A Boy Named Charlie Brown.

Ergo, questions are moot, regarding the possible discovery of additional instrumental Charlie Brown Christmas studio sessions — containing some or all of these four songs — because they never were part of the original show.

(That said, we are missing the two additional vocal sessions with the young members of the St. Paul's Church Choir, which produced "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" and "My Little Drum." Hopefully, they'll surface at some point.)

********

Here, then, is the definitive cue list for the 1965 BROADCAST VERSION:

(While I've tried to be as precise as possible, with respect to timing, please don't shoot me over a difference of a second or two, here or there; that can be attributed to many things, including the equipment on which the special is watched.)

-0:12 – 0:00 — Three-tone CBS logo, followed by the announcement “CBS presents this program in color”

0:00 – 2:25 — “Christmas Time Is Here” (vocal), as the kids skate, which segues into an instrumental interlude as Charlie Brown and Linus chat at the fence, and then segues back to the vocal version as we return to the kids skating, then fades out as the choir repeats the line “Christmas Time … Christmas Time,” when the Coca-Cola sign is revealed.

[Intended commercial break]

2:26 – 3:24 — “Christmas Time Is Here” (instrumental), as Charlie Brown checks his mailbox, talks to Violet, and passes Pig-Pen building a snowman. Shortly after Chuck next sees Snoopy chomping bones and reading the newspaper, the music cuts abruptly (and too abruptly: several seconds sooner than it should) to ...

3:25 – 4:22 — “Skating,” as the kids catch snowflakes on their tongues, and throw snowballs at a can on the fence (and no, it emphatically is not a Coca-Cola can, as some have suggested over the years), and then, just as Linus talks about eventually making his blanket into a sports coat, the music cuts abruptly back to ...

4:23 – 6:05 — “Christmas Time Is Here” (instrumental) as Charlie Brown chats with Lucy at her booth; the music cuts abruptly as Charlie Brown shouts “That’s it!” (regarding his fear of everything).

7:01 – 8:35
— “Christmas Time Is Here” (instrumental) fades in just as Lucy says “Real estate,” and continues as Snoopy decorates his doghouse, and also as Sally asks Charlie Brown to write her letter to Santa (a clumsy cue repeat edit, just as they start). Then, just as she says “All I want is my fair share,” the music cuts abruptly to ...

8:36 – 8:52 — “Christmas Is Coming,” as the kids play music and dance on stage, fading abruptly as Lucy says “Our director will be ...”

9:45 – 10:31 — “Linus and Lucy” fades in, just as Charlie Brown says “Pick up the tempo,” and gets louder as the scene cuts back to the dancing on stage (with another clumsy repeat edit), until Chuck yells “Stop the music!”

12:58 – 13:05 — “Linus and Lucy,” as Schroeder sets the mood for the first scene, until Charlie Brown yells, “No, no, no!”

15:01 – 15:16 — “Linus and Lucy,” as Charlie Brown yells, “Places ... action!” and cuts abruptly after he says “That does it!”

16:09 – 16:20 — “Linus and Lucy,” as Charlie Brown and Linus leave the auditorium, and as he says “Christmas Tree” and they head into town, cuts abruptly to ...

16:21 – 17:18 — “O Tannenbaum,” as they reach the tree lot and eventually find the little tree, and then fades out as they leave with the tree, and the scene fades to black.

[Intended commercial break]

17:25 – 17:44 — “Fur Elise,” played by Schroeder, until he stops abruptly and says “Whatddya mean, Beethoven wasn’t so great?”

17:59 – 18:24 — “Linus and Lucy” (swing bridge), played by Schroeder, as Snoopy dances on the piano, music stopping abruptly when he’s glared at.

18:35 – 18:41 — “Fur Elise,” played by Schroeder, until Lucy requests “Jingle Bells.”

18:42 – 19:17 — “Jingle Bells,” three variants, until Lucy yells “That’s it!”

21:39 – 23:23 — “O Tannenbaum,” as Charlie Brown picks up the tree, leaves the auditorium, and the kids follow, continuing as Linus’ voice-over is heard, and Charlie Brown skips down the street, with a jagged edit to repeat the tune as he reaches Snoopy’s doghouse, takes a red ball from the display, and puts it on the tree. The music cuts abruptly, as the tree droops.

23:26 – 23:58 — “O Tannenbaum” resumes, when Charlie Brown leaves the frame after saying “I killed it.” The music cuts abruptly once the little tree is fully decorated.

24:04 – 24:25 — “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” (vocal loo-loo-loo version), stopping abruptly when Charlie Brown returns and yells “What’s going on here?”

24:34 – 25:22 — “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” (vocal with lyrics), continuing through all of the credits, and concluding with the final screen that says “Merry Christmas from the people who bottle Coca Cola.” Fade to black, finish.

25:23 – 25:28 — CBS logo fanfare music.

********

So: No sign of "Air Music." Or "Charlie Brown Theme," "Happiness Theme" or "Frieda (with the Naturally Curly Hair)."

(By the way, I'm well aware that Jazz Impressions of A Boy Named Charlie Brown calls that second track "Happiness Is." It's wrong; the song's copyright registration is "Happiness Theme.")

Nor is that all, as you're about to see.

Here, then, is the definitive cue list for the CURRENT VERSIONS available on home video and streaming:

0:00 – 2:13 — “Christmas Time Is Here” (vocal), as the kids skate, which segues into an instrumental interlude as Charlie Brown and Linus chat at the fence, then segues back to the vocal version as we return to the kids skating, fading abruptly on the show’s title (due to eliminating the Coca Cola sponsorship).

[Intended commercial break]

2:14 – 3:16 — “Christmas Time Is Here” (instrumental), as Charlie Brown checks his mailbox, talks to Violet, passes Pig-Pen building a snowman, and Snoopy chomping bones and reading the newspaper. Then cuts abruptly (and more properly) to ...

3:17 – 4:10 — “Skating,” as the kids catch snowflakes on their tongues, and throw snowballs at a can on the fence, and then, just as Linus talks about eventually making his blanket into a sports coat, the music cuts abruptly back to ...

4:11 – 5:55 — “Christmas Time Is Here” (instrumental), as Charlie Brown chats with Lucy at her booth; the music then fades gently as Charlie Brown shouts “That’s it!”

6:49 – 7:27 — “Air Music" (aka “Surfin’ Snoopy”) opens smartly just as Lucy says “Real estate,” and continues as Snoopy decorates his doghouse, then cuts abruptly to ...

7:28 – 8:24 — “Christmas Time Is Here” (instrumental), when Sally asks Charlie Brown to write her letter to Santa. Then, just as she says, “All I want is my fair share,” the music cuts abruptly to ...

8:25 – 8:42 — “Christmas Is Coming,” as the kids play music and dance on stage, fading as Lucy says, “Quiet everybody!”

9:06 – 9:35 — “Charlie Brown Theme,” as Chuck gives his director’s instructions. As he says “Pick up the tempo,” the music cuts abruptly to ...

9:36 – 10:21 — “Linus and Lucy,” as Chuck finishes his speech, and the scene returns to the kids dancing on stage, until he yells “Stop the music!”

10:25 – 10:59 — “Charlie Brown Theme” fades in, as Lucy hands out script assignments, with the cue stopping when she reaches Snoopy.

11:45 – 12:42 — “Charlie Brown Theme” resumes, after Snoopy kisses Lucy, and she hands a script to Linus. The cue continues until Charlie Brown says “Let’s have quiet.”

12:49 – 12:57 — “Linus and Lucy,” just as Schroeder “sets the mood for the first scene,” and fades after Charlie Brown says “No, no, no!”

12:59 – 13:39 — “Frieda (with the Naturally Curly Hair),” as Charlie Brown talks about Pig-Pen to Frieda, and then the music fades.

13:45 – 14:00
— “Happiness Theme,” right after Charlie Brown says “She’s going to be your wife,” and fades abruptly as Lucy says “Lunch break!”

14:10 – 14:46 — “Charlie Brown Theme” resumes as Chuck says, “There’s no time for foolishness,” and continues during the subsequent chat with Lucy about her being the Christmas Queen, and fades after Chuck says, “Oh, good grief.”

14:53 – 15:07 — “Linus and Lucy,” right after Chuck says “Action!” and then cuts abruptly after he says “That does it!”

16:00 – 16:11 — “Linus and Lucy,” as Charlie Brown and Linus leave the auditorium, and as he says “Christmas tree” and they head into town, cuts abruptly to ...

16:12 – 17:09 — “O Tannenbaum,” as they reach the tree lot and eventually find the little tree. The music stops right after Chuck picks up the tree, and needles fall. Chuck and Linus walk off camera in silence, as the scene fades to black.

[Intended commercial break]

17:20 – 17:39 — “Fur Elise,” played by Schroeder, until he stops abruptly and says, “Whaddya mean, Beethoven wasn’t so great?”

17:54 – 18:19 — “Linus and Lucy” (swing bridge), played by Schroeder, as Snoopy dances on the piano, music stopping abruptly when he’s glared at.

18:30 – 18:36 — “Fur Elise” played by Schroeder, until Lucy requests “Jingle Bells.”

18:37 – 19:12 — “Jingle Bells,” three variants, until Lucy yells “That’s it!”

19:13 – 19:55 — “Christmas Time Is Here” (instrumental), as Chuck and Linus return with the tree, continuing until all the kids laugh at Charlie Brown.

21:34 – 22:55 — “O Tannenbaum,” as Charlie Brown picks up the tree, leaves the auditorium, and the kids follow, continuing as Linus’ voice-over is heard, and finally fading as Charlie Brown skips down the street. Fade to black.

[Intended commercial break]

22:56 – 23:20 — “O Tannenbaum,” as Charlie Brown sees that Snoopy has won first prize, and he takes the red ball from the display, and puts it on the tree. The music cuts abruptly when the tree droops.

23:25 – 24:04 — “O Tannenbaum,” with the music resuming as Charlie Brown leaves the frame, and the kids decorate the tree, until Lucy says, “He really did get a nice tree,” and then cuts abruptly to ...

24:05 – 24:26 — “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” (vocal loo-loo-loo version), stopping abruptly when Charlie Brown returns and yells “What’s going on here”?”

24:38 – 25:22 — “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” (vocal with lyrics), which continues through all the credits until fading too soon — before the song concludes — to avoid the Coca Cola sponsorship spot. 

********

So, despite what you may have heard, history can be re-written.

With this out of the way, let's all sit back and await the release of that mega-set!


No comments: