IS IT A MERRY CHRISTMAS CHARLIE BROWN?
Every year during Christmas time we all pull out our favorite Christmas records. One of those favorites of mine is “A Charlie Brown Christmas” by The Vince Guaraldi Trio. It’s a holiday staple at my house just as it is in many houses that grew up watching the Christmas special on television.
You grew up watching it and now, you continue the novelty by listening to the soundtrack. Back before digital, all you had to do was go to your local record store and buy either the mono or the stereo release of the album you were looking for. It was the same for “A Charlie Brown Christmas”.
It WAS that simple. Not anymore. In 1986 the world saw the first digital release of “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. It has the original 11 track line up with an additional song “What Child Is This”, tacked on to the end of the album and re-named “Greensleeves”. It was released by Fantasy Records and for a short time was the only version you could get. Then in 1988, Fantasy re-released the album again without much change. How wonderful if it were that easy!
In December of 1997, Starbucks decides to release a version of the album as well but only featuring the original 11 tracks and different artwork.
A few years later, Fantasy decided to re-release the album with corrected liner notes as the first CD issue cited Monty Budwig on bass and Colin Bailey on drums when, in fact, it was Fred Marshall on bass and Jerry Granelli on drums for the original 11 tracks. Budwig and Bailey are on the album but they only appear on the bonus track, “Greensleeves”. The notes weren’t the only thing that changed with the 1999 release…the art work was changed as well.
Then in December of 2000, not to be outdone, Hallmark releases a version of the album as well. This seems to be a difficult version to obtain.
Almost three years later, in August of 2003 an SACD was released. In 2005 Monster Music released a DVD version that contained multiple presentations of the album – high def stereo, jazz club, concert hall and theater. The Monster Music package also came accompanied by the original 1986 release but with boosted levels.
The SACD was a straight forward release of the 12 tracks previously released but featuring new mastering and the result being presented in high resolution.
The 2005 Monster Music gets interesting as the 12 tracks on the high definition stereo presentation are NOT the original mixes but rather are remixes from the original three track master tapes. Moreover, the album is presented out of order and contains alternate versions of “Linus & Lucy” and “Christmas Time Is Coming” instead of the original versions.
Still with me?
Ok…then in 2006, Fantasy once again re-releases the album but this time the album is remastered, remixed and presented with different art once again. However, this time around – there was a BIG problem. Apparently the initial releases contained the original take of “Linus & Lucy” which is not the original version as the original version was made from two different takes. “Christmas Is Coming” was entirely different take yet it had the same exact length as the original take. This 2006 release also contained full versions of “O Tannenbaum”, “Christmas Time Is Here (Instrumental)” and “Skating”.
Due to the mistakes, Fantasy pulled all of the remaining stock and re-released the re-release in 2007.
2007 also saw another re-release in a holiday tin set featuring another two CD’s. The version included in the tin is the 2007 fixed re-release of the 2006 re-release.
Keep in mind…this little article only focuses on the full releases of the album and it ignores partial releases.
So…which version do you want to own?
Most audiophiles prefer the original OJC release from 1986 or 1988. These basically contain a flat transfer of the original album BUT it has problems. Apparently the original master tape is damaged due to poor quality tape being used. As a result, the first song on each reel has lost some oxide and the tape has warped. This in turn has caused drop outs on all subsequent releases following the original release on LP.
In order to avoid these problem, you can always get the 2007 release or the Monster Music release which features re-mixes from the original three tracks in order to avoid the tape damage and distortions. However, if you love this album, you will know for sure that these aren’t the original mixes we are all fond of.
Best compromise? Up to you…
My preference...an early original vinyl first pressing or the analogue productions 45RPM remaster done by Steve Hoffman & Kevin Gray.
My digital preference...original OJC first pressing.
The version I play the most...my custom remaster.