B-Sides in the Bins #38 : On A Charlie Brown Christmas by The Vince Guaraldi Trio

"A Charlie Brown Christmas" on my turntable

I made a quick stop in at Half-Price books last Thursday. Sherry needed me to stop at GNC for some flu-fighting stuff on my way home from work, so I took the opportunity to stop in. I saw a couple of interesting pieces in the Rock section that I need to get at some point including The Knack’s Get the Knack, and Isaac Hayes Hot Buttered Soul, but I didn’t want to pick up a bunch of stuff. I walked around to the Jazz section and I was really happy to see A Charlie Brown Christmas in the nearby Children’s section! The cover has no ringwear, but the sleeve was curved which has seemed to cause the printing to separate from the sleeve and wrinkle a bit. No matter, the vinyl is in fantastic shape and with the season upon us, I laid out the $2.98.

A Charlie Brown Christmas is a very important album in my life in that it was the gateway to my appreciation of Jazz music today. I wish I could say that my Jazz listening started with something much more complex like Miles Davis, or Thelonious Monk or even John Coltrane– all of which I listen to today– but it started with the seminal Peanuts Christmas special.

In 1965, the pairing of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” the TV special and Vince Guaraldi was initially met with resistance from executives from the show’s original home at CBS. They felt that Guaraldi’s West Coast Jazz was not a good fit for a children’s TV show. According to the Wikipedia article on Guaraldi, Lee Mendelson– the producer of the show– had heard “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” which was a huge single for Guaraldi and felt that his style was the right fit for the show. In retrospect, it was this innovative decision that lends to the timeless charm of the show and defined popular Christmas music for the generations of people like myself who make it a tradition to watch the delightful show year-after-year. It was the choice of the signature Guaraldi sound that would define all of the Peanuts specials made (sixteen!) until Guaraldi’s untimely death in 1976 shortly after he wrapped up “It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown.” Guaraldi was only 47.

Fantasy Records issued A Charlie Brown Christmas (Fantasy 8431) that same year as the soundtrack to the show and added “The Chrismas Song,” which wasn’t in the special.

In the liner notes for George Winston’s 1982 release December– itself a hallmark of Christmastime music– he says,

“There is a great wealth of traditional and contemporary music to draw from in doing an album for the winter season. These five albums have been very inspirational to me in conceiving of this album for the seasons.”

Of course the first album listed is A Charlie Brown Christmas. I first heard December standing in the Musicland in Dubuque when I was in high school around Christmas and bought it immediately. When I got it home and read the liner notes I took note of the A Charlie Brown Christmas mention. George Winston would go on to record a complete album of Guaraldi compositions called Linus and Lucy: The Music of Vince Guaraldi in 1996.

In 1988, Fantasy finally released A Charlie Brown Christmas on CD (Fantasy FCD-8431). I picked it up a couple of years after that, and that is the version I have on CD today. The 1988 release of the CD and the LP included the song “Greensleeves” which was recorded during the sessions but not included on the original release. In 1997 Fantasy made a Starbucks Exclusive edition which was faithful to the original release by omitting “Greensleeves.”

My pressing of A Charlie Brown Christmas is a 70’s issue. It has a new cover that uses the original illustration, but has a different font and that It has the newer “circle-F” logo on the LP label, but doesn’t have that logo on the front cover– unlike the 1988 release. The front cover has “The Original Sound Track Recording of the CBS Television Special” across the top. This is the same cover that was used in the 1988 remaster (aside from the logo change).

In 2006, Concord Music Group— which has Fantasy Records these days– reissued and remastered A Charlie Brown Christmas and added some bonus tracks in the form of alternate takes of  “Christmas Is Coming,” “The Christmas Song,” “Greensleeves,” and the vocal take of “Christmas Time Is Here.” Unfortunately, during the remastering process they used the wrong takes for “Linus and Lucy” (actually half of a take as the standard “Linus and Lucy” is made of two takes) and “Christmas is Coming.” They initially offered a replacement for people who got the “bad” disc. I think that if I had gotten one of those, I would have kept it! This release also extended some of the original songs that were edited. “O Tannenbaum” was missing the intro, “Christmas Time Is Here (Instrumental)” was missing the last chord of the song, and “Skating” gains an additional ten seconds restoring the bass solo at the end. They also brought the original cover back which gets rid of the “CBS Special” line at the top of the front cover.

Of note also is the 2006 remastering done by legendary mastering engineers Steve Hoffman and Kevin Grey at AcousTech for Analogue Productions. This was available in a limited (1000 copies)  numbered series of two 180g 45RPM records and is faithful to the original release by not including “Greensleeves.”  A quick search on the ‘net yields none to be had at the moment (although they apparently were available until earlier in December– DRAT!). I’ll have to keep an eye out for one of these. Click Here to see other titles that were and are available from their Fantasy Jazz series of reissues.

The special was aired the night before last on its new home at ABC and even though I own it on DVD, I was transfixed to watch it on TV. One thing I noticed that I’d never noticed before was the song “Skating” is not played during the skating scene in the beginning– it is “Christmas Time Is Here.” I think– like most people who’ve grown up since 1965– the Charlie Brown Christmas special represents the beginning of the holiday season. I usually break out the CD shortly after Thanksgiving (much to my wife’s dismay) to help get into the season. It’s also the ’60’s bebop Jazz sound of A Charlie Brown Christmas that moved me to look for other artists who shared a similar sound like Dave Brubeck and Bill Evans for the piano sound, and Miles Davis’s years on Prestige Records which led me to John Coltrane. Although I listen to other Jazz styles, I tend to come back to this style most often.

A cool find in the used bins in time for the holidays.

Update: Acoustic Sounds found another crate of these in early 2009, and I bought a copy. I traded my 1970’s copy to a friend for an early pressing of Led Zeppelin II.  On Christmas Day 2010, it looks like Acoustic Sounds has these in stock again. Click Here.

Scion A/V’s New Singles: Ghostface Killah, Rhythm Roots All Stars and 45 King (Review)

Back in December, I reviewed an incredible collection of Daptone Records artists that was put out by Toyota/Scion’s Scion A/V record label. Continuing in their pursuit of turning out promotional releases that appeal to their target Scion-driving audience, Scion A/V released three singles in May– all of them hip-hop titles. According to the PR, these releases will become available as downloads as well, but you should be able to pick these up at any events that Scion would participate in like car shows and Hot Import Nights-type events. I assume you can get these at the dealership as well, but I’ve never been to a Scion dealer.

Ghostface Killah vs. Rhythm Roots All-StarsThe first release (SA/V 003-01) is the Ghostface Killah vs. Rhythm Roots All-Stars “Charlie Brown” single. “Charlie Brown” is apparently a previously unreleased track from Ghostface Killah. You can hear the original track apparently produced by MF Doom HERE. Apparently never officially released due to sample clearance issues. Although, apparently it showed up on the “More Fish” EP. So, the track gets a new lease on life by pairing the acapella with L.A. Funksters Rhythm Roots All-Stars. The RRAS is a collection of long-time LA session players and members of the amazing Breakestra.

The track contains a typically fast rap from Ghostface explaining that he’s going to save us from the bleak landscape of hip-hop. The chorus says it all “This is real hip-hop on the line today / It’s worth more than any label or what they pay / I’m gonna save hip-hop because it’s dying away.” RRAS provides sliced and diced bass and horn stabs over the beat to move it. The only bummer with this track is that they had to edit out the profanity. I find the gaps in the rap distracting. But this is where the remixes help out, I think.

Ghostface Killah SA/V 003-02 is the “Charlie Brown” Remixes EP with knob-twiddling by the likes of DJ Mehdi, Yuksek, Orgasmic, and Guns N’ Bombs. I’ve got to hand it to Scion A/V, they really know their underground artists. I hadn’t heard of any of these remixers before this release! Something interesting I found out while researching this review is that Mehdi, Yuksek and Orgasmic are all French producers, and while Guns N’ Bombs are from Cali, they signed to Kitsune, which is a French label.

First up is Mehdi who took the whole acapella vocals from the track but also adds Sewdish female MC Mapei to it giving Ghostface a duet of sorts. The production is a stripped-down Electro 808 plus new bass line that really provides more melody to the track than the Rhythm Roots All-Stars did.

Yuksek is up next who transforms the track to a Garage-style with dirty synths and a slamming 1-2 beat. He mostly used the chorus otherwise it’s a completely new track, really.

Orgasmic is also known as the producer for French Hip-hop act TTC. His remix which harkens back to the late 80’s and early 90’s club music. DJ Orgasmic also kept all of the vocals on this acidhouse-ish version. This one is my favorite out of all of the mixes on this EP.

The last remix by Guns N’ Bombs is a big beat dub with 4-on-the-floor. It reminds me of Roni Size or a bit like The Chemical Brothers. I really dig the fun analog synth break they included.

45 KingThe third single (SA/V 003-03) features 45 King. 45 King aka “DJ Mark the 45 King” is the producer of a lot of groundbreaking Hip-Hop work including “Stan” by Eminem and “Hard Knock Life” by Jay-Z. As high-visibility as those tracks were, I’m surprised I hadn’t heard of him. Looking over his Wikipedia article, one gets a sense of his career and how important he is to the scene.

So, this EP acts as an introduction and an update for 45 King. It is comprised of 8 tracks– actually four tracks of 45 King production and four tracks of remixes of those.

The first track is “Roof” and utilizes MC Wale, who we saw on the Scion Sampler 19 remix track of The Budos Band song “Chicago Falcon (Washington Square Lads Remix).” 45 King’s production hangs a simple guitar loop around the lyrics and you’re left with the hook “This is how we wind it down the line” stuck in your head long after the song stops. The remix is done by DJ Ayres and picks up the beat as well as speeds up the lyrics while adorning the mix with bongo, bass and maracas. Although Ayres removes the chorus hook from the song, it ends up being a real toe-tapper and an improvement over the original.

The next track is appropriately titled “Strings” and also features Wale on the vocals. Light beat with a string quartet loop floats the lyrics. The remix by Brooklin producer Inflagranti strips the track of the string quartet and– I’m pretty sure– inserts the guitars from “Love Is Like Oxygen” by Sweet and speeds it up a bit.

Tracks 5 and 6 are based on the classic “The 900 Number” which effectively brought fame to 45 King in 1987. In this “2K8” version, we have the original squonky sax and beat used in the original, which was sampled from Marva Whitney’s “Unwind Yourself.” On the mic is Pase Rock. DJ Eli Escobar returns with the same sample but flips it to a four-on-the floor beat and adds analog synth for his take on the track.

The last two tracks feature MC 4th Pyramid on the track “P-Y-R-A-M-I-D” in a funky bravado tale. 45 King brings the classic acapella from “Sissy Strut” by the Meters to really cement the tune. I have a bit of a distraction with this song in that I keep expecting to hear “The Magic Number” by De La Soul from 3 Feet High and Rising which used this sample as well. DJ Sammy Bananas (what a great handle!) flips this with a chunky stomp-and-clap beat and switches the focus to the “P-Y-R-A-M-I-D” lyric by distorting and slicing it up and creating a building pressure with it. I dig the synth line in his version.

So, Scion is doing themselves and the music community a service by matching up established artists with up-and-comers. I think the best part of reviewing these releases is that they don’t come with much of a guide, so I end up doing a bunch of googling and finding out about the artists who work on them. Find these releases when you can!

For a limited time, Scion is allowing free downloads of the Ghostface Killah Remix EP and the 45 King one. Don’t sleep on these! Do yourself a favor and follow all of the links I made in this review to learn more about all of these very talented producers as well.