Like a lot of people in my age group, I grew up watching the Peanuts cartoon specials. A Charlie Brown Christmas remains a holiday favorite, but there were many others that never quite gained the traction of that classic. We didn’t care, we watched them all. The regular bits of Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown, or the squawking of the adults were always funny. But there was something special about these shows that I did not really understand until I got a little older. That was the music of the great jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi.
I actually recorded A Charlie Brown Christmas on my little cassette recorder one year, just for the soundtrack. Later, when I discovered it was available on LP, it became my first Christmas album. For years, I thought I was all set with Guaraldi’s Peanuts work with that one, until I discovered Peanuts Portraits. It is hard to believe that this collection never existed before, because it is perfect.
Peanuts Portraits is subtitled “The Classic Character Themes,” which is exactly what it is. The classic “Linus And Lucy” kicks things off, as it should, for this is the song most closely associated with the series. As the liner notes point out, the tune is often misidentified as the “Peanuts Theme.”
What really makes Peanuts Portraits special to me are the lesser known pieces such as “Frieda (With The Naturally Curly Hair),” and “Sally’s Blues.” Speaking of the blues, with a character like Charlie Brown, Guaraldi had plenty of opportunity to explore this idiom. “Blue Charlie Brown” and “Charlie’s Blues” are two examples of how he imagined our hero’s inner life.
Schroeder was always an interesting personality to me. He loved Beethoven, and Lucy loved him. I had always wondered what his faux classical theme was, because it was so different than the rest of the Peanuts’ music. Turns out it was modeled on “Minuet In G,” by (who else?) Beethoven. Snoopy’s pal Woodstock came in very late, having been formally introduced to us by name on June 22, 1970. He actually was named after the famous rock festival. “Little Birdie” was Guaraldi’s theme for him, and the song is the only one here to feature a vocal from Vince.
George Winston has long been a Vince Guaraldi fan, having recorded a tribute to him titled Linus And Lucy: The Music Of Vince Guaraldi in 1996. In addition to the nine Vince tracks on Peanuts Portraits, the producers have included two from Winston. The first sees him playing “The Masked Marvel.” This little known character was Snoopy dressed as a masked, caped crusader– who once beat Lucy in a wrist-wrestling match. The finale’ sees Winston doing his version of “Linus And Lucy,” which adds a little piano business midway through, but mainly sticks to the established arrangement.
Except for the annual ritual of A Charlie Brown Christmas, I have not watched a Peanuts special in years. The release of Peanuts Portraits is a great reminder of how good those shows were though, and how integral the music of Vince Guaraldi was to them.