Over the holidays, we're looking back at some classic Christmas albums taking some track by track and just digging on others.
There are seminal moments in the life of a child and it is not uncommon that some of them involve holidays, Christmas in particular. There's a comfort as a child that comes from the certainty of a holiday each year that promises hope and joy and presents. And, with it, just as sure as Lucy Van Pelt yanks that football away when he tries to kick it, Charlie Brown is back with his classic Christmas special.
To this day, being children of the '80s, we are still surprised when we see Chuck Shultz' comic re-imagined on TV and it isn't still being sponsored by Dolly Madison. Such is the indelible mark that show left on us: We even remember the commercials.
Yes, A Charlie Brown Christmas is as much a part of holiday pop culture as 24 hours of A Christmas Story on TNT. But, it isn't just the show that makes it so iconic. It's the music.
The show originally aired in 1965 on CBS and executives at the network hated the theme of the show, the use of regular kids instead of child actors for the voiceover work and, most especially of all, they hated the music. They thought jazz was too sophisticated and esoteric for a kids' program.
Over 50 years later, the show is one of the most beloved of all time and the album is a Christmas and jazz music classic. As is often the case, the experts were wrong.
There have been a handful of different variations on the original including a controversial 2006 remastering effort that added bonus tracks not associated with the show. The original actually omits several songs from the show, but it is clearly the best version. In addition to classics like "The Christmas Song" and "O Tannenbaum," the album includes the original "Christmastime is Here" (in both vocal and instrumental form) and the wonderful instrumental "Skating."
In retrospect, it was pretty bold of the show's creators to go with such sophisticated music for a children's holiday special. The simple elegance of the piano/upright/drums trio is generally reserved for cocktail parties and hotel lounges. The sometimes complex melodies and bop rhythms seem almost counter to the simplicity of a cartoon.
But the slapstick of Bugs Bunny was delivered over orchestral sophistication of classical music, so maybe it isn't quite as big a stretch as those execs believed.
And, considering the depth of the story and the realism brought through the children doing the voiceovers, the cool, sparse trio arrangements seem perfect in hindsight. Thankfully for us, the show's creators got their way and we are left with this brilliant music. As one of our friends summed up, "It isn't Christmas without Charlie Brown."
Check out previous classic Christmas album recaps: