To mark the 60th anniversary of the Peanuts’ debut as a newspaper comic strip in October 1950, another half-baked compilation dedicated to Vince Guaraldi’s brilliant music for the animated TV series was thrown together. This one, though, actually seems like a good idea, focusing on music that Guaraldi wrote for most of the specific characters of the cartoon series.
But at 36 minutes, it’s a surprisingly brief presentation and only nine of the 11 tracks (or 27 minutes) are Guaraldi’s music for or from the Peanuts. Compilation producer Bill Belmont added two (quite good) covers from George Winston’s lovely 1996 tribute album Linus and Lucy: The Music of Vince Guaraldi (“The Masked Marvel,” “Linus And Lucy) for some reason.
As good an idea as it is, it still sounds forced and, surprisingly, unfocused.
Featured here, of course, is the umpteenth inclusion of “Linus and Lucy,” written in 1963 for the unaired special A Boy Named Charlie Brown (and included on the 1964 album of that name) but first heard by TV viewers as part of the perennial A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965, and also heard on the many variations of that classic album).
Peanuts Portraits also includes two previously-unreleased outtakes from the album A Boy Named Charlie Brown, the beautifully lengthy “Frieda (With The Naturally Curly Hair)” that allows the composer and his trio to stretch out quite nicely and the solo piano alternate take of “Schroeder,” based on Beethoven’s Minuet in G. Neither of these alternate versions appear on the currently available CD of A Boy Named Charlie Brown.
Good ‘ol Charlie Brown is represented here by Guaraldi’s “Blue Charlie Brown,” which was first heard on the 1964 album A Boy Named Charlie Brown but not heard in a Peanuts TV special until 1968’s He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown.
The variation of the theme heard here under this title (it’s called “It’s A Mystery, Charlie Brown” on the 2008 D&D CD Vince Guaraldi and the Lost Cues from the Charlie Brown Television Specials – Volume 2) features Guaraldi on Fender Rhodes and overdubbing a beautifully bluesy guitar solo on top. It was probably recorded in late 1973. The compilation also includes a variation of the “Blue Charlie Brown” theme called here “Charlie’s Blues” with Guaraldi again on Fender Rhodes, probably recorded around the same time and apparently for the February 1, 1974, showing of It’s A Mystery, Charlie Brown.
The strangely skeletal take on the wonderful “Peppermint Patty” here is vastly different than the versions heard on Oh, Good Grief! (Warner Bros., 1968) and Vince Guaraldi and the Lost Cues from the Charlie Brown Television Specials (D&D, 2006) and seems most like a rehearsal tape that wasn’t meant to be heard.
But the highly worthwhile “Little Birdie” (for Woodstock), with a Mose Allison-like vocal from Vince Guaraldi himself, comes right from the compilation Vince Guaraldi and the Lost Cues from the Charlie Brown Television Specials while the excellent “Joe Cool” (for Snoopy) comes from Vince Guaraldi and the Lost Cues from the Charlie Brown Television Specials – Volume 2 (D&D, 2008) – even though two better versions are heard on the earlier D&D set (why has no one successfully revived “Joe Cool”?).
Peanuts Portraits is programmed rather oddly and doesn’t sound either as cohesive or as comprehensive as it ought to. Indeed the music was recorded between (possibly) 1964 and (probably) 1974 for a variety of different purposes in a variety of different contexts, so a little bit more thought and planning might have been necessary for such an ambitious project.
It all looks beautiful, however, with many wonderful recreations of Charles Schulz’s marvelous illustrations littered throughout the good-looking package. The un-credited designer did a terrifically nice job with the attractive layout.
And Derrick Bang, co-host of FiveCentsPlease.org, a repository of news information, history and trivia about the Peanuts and Charles Schulz, provides a witty and insightful set of liner notes that might help music completists overlook the sloppily compiled, misleading and mostly inaccurate credits provided on the sleeve.
As usual, Vince Guaraldi deserves better, much better, than this.