Not simply another Christmas album

In the age of the single download, Jeff Harford rediscovers the album.

Good grief. Not another Christmas album! Can't you see it's all designed to line someone's pockets? What about the true meaning of Christmas?

These questions are the kind that kept Charlie Brown awake at night. Back in 1965, the animated tale of his struggle with the commercialisation of Christmas and his ongoing battle with depression and self-loathing aired for the first time, changing forever the baby-boomers' experience of the festive season.

A Charlie Brown Christmas was a commercial and critical hit, despite nervousness from CBS executives about its clunky visual style, the halting voice work by its young amateur actors, and its soundtrack. Jazz!

Whose kids were going to want to hear jazz with their cartoon?Charles M. Schultz, the creator of the Peanuts comic strip, could see how it would work. His decision to enlist pianist Vince Guaraldi and his trio to perform the music proved canny and resulted in a soundtrack album that has matched the ongoing popularity of the TV special.

The genius lies in the synchronicity between the themes that Schultz' characters explore and the nuanced elegance of the score. Schultz credits his audience with the ability to recognise pathos and humour in the more sophisticated big-picture questions that run through his work. He also knows that music and movement will captivate even the youngest viewer, no matter what the style.

To Guaraldi's credit, the music stands strongly on its own, though there will forever be a unique joy in watching the Peanuts crew free-form dance to his composition Linus And Lucy, and Snoopy out-skating them all to the strains of Christmastime Is Here. Fluid treatments of O Tannenbaum and Greensleeves are similarly inspired scene-setters that make for a relaxed, easy-listening experience.

Most importantly, Guaraldi's cool lounge vibe creates poignancy and space for reflection, picking up the tempo when needed to match the characters' moments of determination, discovery and celebration.


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