A Charlie Brown Christmas is a 1965 studio album by American composer/conductor Vince Guaraldi (later credited to the jazz group the Vince Guaraldi Trio). The album was released in December 1965 in the United States by Fantasy Records. It is the soundtrack to the CBS Christmas television special of the same name. Guaraldi was contacted by television producer Lee Mendelson several years prior to compose music for a documentary on the comic strip Peanuts and its creator, Charles M. Schulz. Although the special went unaired, these selections were released in 1964 as Jazz Impressions of "A Boy Named Charlie Brown". Coca-Cola commissioned a Christmas special based on Peanuts in 1965 and Guaraldi returned to score the special.
A Charlie Brown Christmas features several originals ("Christmas Time Is Here", "Linus and Lucy") as well as covers of well-known Christmas songs ("The Christmas Song", "O Tannenbaum"). The score for the special was largely cut at recording sessions at Glendale, California's Whitney Studio. Much of this material was re-recorded by Guaraldi at three sessions later in the year at Fantasy Recording Studios in San Francisco, alongside a choir of children culled from St. Paul's Episcopal Church in nearby San Rafael. The sessions ran late into the night, with the children rewarded with ice cream afterwards. Bassist Fred Marshall and drummer Jerry Granelli have been credited as performing on the album, although a host of musicians claim to have recorded the album.
Released a week prior to the broadcast premiere of the special, A Charlie Brown Christmas sold well, and became increasingly famous in the ensuing decades. It is among the most popular Christmas albums in the United States, where it has been certified Quadruple Platinum, having shipped at least four million copies. As of November 2014, A Charlie Brown Christmas is the tenth best-selling Christmas/holiday album in the United States during the SoundScan era of music sales tracking (March 1991 – present), having sold 3,410,000 copies according to SoundScan.
The Vince Guaraldi Trio's A Charlie Brown Christmas has been voted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and added to the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry list of "culturally, historically, or aesthetically important" sound recordings.
By the early 1960s, Charles M. Schulz's comic strip Peanuts had become a sensation worldwide. Television producer Lee Mendelson acknowledged the strip's cultural impression and produced a documentary on the subject, titled A Boy Named Charlie Brown. Mendelson, a fan of jazz, heard a song by Vince Guaraldi on the radio not long after completion of his documentary, and contacted the musician to produce music for the special. Guaraldi composed the music for the project, creating an entire piece, "Linus and Lucy", to serve as the theme. Despite the popularity of the strip and acclaim from advertisers, networks were not interested in the special.
By April 1965, Time featured the Peanuts gang on its magazine cover, and plans for an animated half-hour Peanuts Christmas special were commissioned by The Coca-Cola Company. When Coca-Cola commissioned A Charlie Brown Christmas in spring 1965, Guaraldi returned to write the music.
The first instrumentals for the special were recorded by Guaraldi at Glendale, California's Whitney Studio with bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Colin Bailey. Recycling "Linus and Lucy" from the earlier special, Guaraldi completed two new originals for the special, "Skating", and "Christmas Time Is Here". In the weeks preceding the premiere, Mendelson encountered trouble finding a lyricist for Guaraldi's instrumental intro, and penned "Christmas Time Is Here" in "about 15 minutes" on the backside of an envelope.
The special opens and closes with a choir of children, culled from St. Paul's Episcopal Church in San Rafael, performing "Christmas Time Is Here" and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing". One of the singers, Candace Hackett Shively, went on to become an elementary school teacher, and sent a letter of gratitude to Schulz after announcing his retirement in 2000. In the letter, she recalls recording the choir at Fantasy Studios and going out for ice cream afterwards, while also noting that she tells the story to her grade-schoolers each holiday season. The recording sessions were conducted in late autumn 1965, and were cut in three separate sessions over two weeks. They often ran late into the night, resulting in angry parents, some who forbade their children from returning; as a result, numerous new children were present at each session. The children were directed by Barry Mineah, who demanded perfection from the choir. Mendelson and Guaraldi disagreed, desiring the "kids to sound like kids"; they used a slightly off-key version of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" in the final cut. Children were paid five dollars for their participation. In addition, the children recorded dialogue for the special's final scene, in which the crowd of kids shout "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!".
The soundtrack for the special was recorded during these sessions, with decisions regarding timing and phrasing determined quickly. Guaraldi brought in bassist Fred Marshall and drummer Jerry Granelli to record the music, and spent time later re-recording earlier tracks, including covers of "The Christmas Song" and "Greensleeves". The eventual LP release credited Guaraldi solely, neglecting to mention the other musicians; Guaraldi was notorious for never keeping records of his session players. Nearly three decades later, in an effort to correct the matter, Fantasy surmised that the recordings with Budwig and Bailey were employed in the special, while Marshall and Granelli recorded the album. Despite this, other individuals have come forward claiming to have recorded the special's music: bassists Eugene Firth and Al Obidinksi, and drummers Paul Distel and Benny Barth. Firth and Distil are noted as performers on a studio-session report Guaraldi filed for the American Federation of Musicians.
A Charlie Brown Christmas first appeared on a Billboard magazine music sales chart on the week of 19 December 1987, when it both debuted and peaked at No. 13 on Billboard's Christmas Albums sales chart. The album charted on Billboard's Christmas Albums chart each Christmas/holiday season from 1988 through 2003, peaking as high as No. 8 in both 2001 and 2002. The album also charted on Billboard's Top Pop Catalog Albums chart during the Christmas/holiday season each year from 1991 through 2003, peaking as high as No. 6 in 2001. In August 2016, A Charlie Brown Christmas was certified four-times Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America for shipment of four million copies in the United States.
A Charlie Brown Christmas was also the tenth best-selling holiday album of 2011, a year that marked the sixth time since 2001 that the album had ranked among the year's top 10 Christmas albums. It was also the ninth best-selling album of 2013. As of November 2014, A Charlie Brown Christmas was the tenth best-selling Christmas/holiday album in the U.S. of the Nielsen SoundScan era of music sales tracking (March 1991 – present), having sold 3,410,000 copies during that period.
Allmusic reviewer Shawn M. Haney called it "joyous and festive meditation for the holiday season," writing, "Guaraldi strings together elegant, enticing arrangements that reflect the spirit and mood of Schulz's work." Pitchfork Media's Dominique Leone called the album's songs "small, observant miracles," remarking, "If there's a muted quality to a lot of this music, it's smiling nonetheless."
The soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas has been considered "one of the most beloved holiday albums recorded." Chris Barton of the Los Angeles Times asserts that the soundtrack introduced jazz to entirely new generation, having been heard by more individuals than the work of the genre's most influential players, including Miles Davis and John Coltrane. The score influenced dozens of young aspiring musicians, among them David Benoit and George Winston. Haney wrote that the record "introduce[d] contemporary jazz to youngsters with grace, charm, and creativity."
A Charlie Brown Christmas was voted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2007. In 2012 the album was added to the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry list of "culturally, historically, or aesthetically important" American sound recordings.Side one
CD bonus tracks
"Greensleeves" (Traditional) – 5:25 (1988, 2006, 2012 CDs)
"Christmas Is Coming" (Alternate Take 1) (Guaraldi) – 4:37 (2006 CD)
"The Christmas Song" (Alternate Take 3) (Tormé, Wells) – 3:53 (2006 CD)
"Greensleeves" (Alternate Take 6) (Traditional) – 5:05 (2006 CD)
"Christmas Time Is Here" (Alternate Vocal Take) (Guaraldi) – 1:34 (2006 CD)
"Great Pumpkin Waltz" (Guaraldi) – 2:29 (2012 CD)
"Thanksgiving Theme" (Guaraldi) – 2:00 (2012 CD)
The Vince Guaraldi Trio
Jerry Granelli – drums
Vince Guaraldi – piano, Hammond organ, arrangement
Fred Marshall – double bass
Colin Bailey – drums on "Greensleeves"
Monty Budwig – double bass on "Greensleeves"
Children's chorus for the songs "Christmas Time Is Here", "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and when the kids all shout "Merry Christmas Charlie Brown" were performed by members of the choir of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in San Rafael, California. Several months before the making of Charlie Brown Christmas this choir was featured on the Vince Guaraldi recording Vince Guaraldi at Grace Cathedral.Original production
Sol S. Weiss – recording engineer (attributed on the back cover, original album pressing)
George Horn – mastering (1986, 1988, 2006 reissues)
Adam Munoz – mixing (2012 reissue)
Joe Tarantino – mastering (2012 reissue)
Stephen Hart – mixing (2006 reissue)
Ralph J. Gleason – liner notes (1988 reissue)
Joel Selvin – liner notes (2006 reissue)
Derrick Bang – liner notes (2012 reissue)