“A Charlie Brown Christmas” Review: Still the Best Christmas Album 60 Years Later?


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A photo of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” The short, wilted tree symbolizes the depression that can often come with holiday festivities & commercialism, one of the main themes of the film.

A Charlie Brown Christmas | Length: 40:25

In 1964, Coca-Cola commissioned a bold new marketing campaign: a 25-minute Christmas special featuring beloved American characters from Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts” comic strip. So began the production of the animated film, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. Little did any of the producers know, this Cola ad would go on to become not only one of the most beloved holiday films of all time, but also spawn the greatest Christmas album of all time.

Initially, pianist Dave Brubeck of “Time Out” fame was set to compose and record the film’s soundtrack. However, due to scheduling issues, Brubeck recommended a lesser known pianist for the job named Vince Guaraldi. With his trio consisting of himself, bassist Fred Marshall, and drummer Jerry Granelli, he began work on the album.

What sets “A Charlie Brown Christmas” apart from other famous Christmas albums is that it works not only as a collection of festive tunes, but also as a jazz album so catchy that many of the songs are now considered standards among jazz musicians. For example, the most famous piece from the trio, “Linus and Lucy”, is a catchy and memorable tune that includes a samba and swing section for soloing. In the setting of a Christmas movie, the song fits perfectly, but one could also imagine listening to it by itself. In fact, the piece is considered a standard in the jazz industry, even being included in the Real Book, a collection of lead sheets for famous pieces.

Vince Guaraldi wasn’t the greatest pianist ever—he didn’t have the musical phrasing of Bill Evans, or the recognition of Duke Ellington. However, Guaraldi excelled particularly in one area: composition. The track, “Skating”, is a perfect example of this. While it follows a classic waltz rhythm, the tempo is too quick to dance to; this is built upon further when the chorus is introduced, with a speedy descending eighth note melody followed by slower, ascending major chords. With the harmony that accents the offbeat of count one instead of two, the song doesn’t have the right feel for dancing. However, it perfectly compliments the feeling of gliding along ice.

Many fans of the film watch it yearly for comfort and nostalgia, and the soundtrack certainly plays a big part in that. What makes the album different from other Christmas tunes such as Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas is You”, or classic tunes like, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, is its mood. Charlie Brown isn’t the type of character to cheerily sing along to Christmas classics. The film follows his struggle with depression during the festive season. At its core, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, reminds listeners why Charlie Brown is such a beloved character—there’s a little bit of him that everyone can relate to.