in CAT

Vince Guaraldi – A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

In the nearly 10 years we’ve been doing this blog, usually looking for pop culture to write about tied to whatever season we’re going through, I’m not sure how I’ve never done a Classic Album Thursday for this album. But, maybe it’s just the nature of this particular season. You get caught up in end-of-year madness, trying to catch up with movies and music from the year’s past. Meanwhile, you end up scrambling to make sense of the holidays, busy trying to buy whatever things you can to make it seem like you hadn’t been neglecting the people around you the rest of the year.

Meanwhile, every holiday season (for me at least), A Charlie Brown Christmas is a respite from all that. Not only because its music serves as the soundtrack to the classic TV special that places importance on the “true meaning of Christmas” rather than the consumerism that has swallowed up Christmas in the years since its first airing. But also because it offers some quiet introspection in between year-end/Christmas madness. The 2006 reissue CD has always been a perennial presence in my car this time of year, and it’s almost zen-like melancholy always brings a kind of comfort in not having to be jolly every waking moment of the holiday season.

Of course, the presence of Bay Area jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi was kind of an odd one for a children’s Christmas special in 1965. In fact, everything about the Charlie Brown Christmas special feels a little like it was done by the skin of its teeth, and the fact that it came together in such peculiar fashion makes it all the more charming. Guaraldi’s piano motifs are the perfect fit for depressive everykid Charlie Brown, just like it’s the perfect fit for the depressed kid in all of us; who looks at the seemingly happy families and loved ones around them, and can’t help but ask “why am I not as happy as this season wants me to be?”

Which I know, sounds like a dire sentiment, but I think what the Charlie Brown special and this album offers, is a comfort in being sad on Christmas, while also partaking in everything joyous about the season. “Christmas Time Is Here” – written by Guiraldi with lyrics by the special’s producer Lee Mendelson – seems to be the perfect encapsulation of this. The song is (quite literally) about the happiness and cheer inherent in Christmas time, and why it is such a wondrous time to be a kid. And yet, there’s something so blue about it, that you can’t help but radiate a kind of contended sadness while hearing it.

Then there are other Guaraldi originals like “Skating” or “Christmas Is Coming”, that offer both the solemn comfort and the eager anticipation of a kid’s Christmas experience. You even get a little of the Christian-y side of Christmas (because as much as we kid ourselves, it is a religious holiday) with its take on “Little Drummer Boy” and the Peanuts gang’s rendition of “Hark The Herald Angel’s Sing” (aka the song that wakes you out of your eggnog-induced coma while laying around on Christmas morning). Then, of course, there’s “Linus and Lucy”, the iconic Peanuts theme that’s sure to get your toes tapping whatever season it is. Because, hey folks, at the very least, this album will always give you a reason for the season.

Favorite Tracks: “Christmastime Is Here”, “My Little Drum”, “Skating”