“Lights, please … ” – “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and the Music of Vince Guaraldi

A Charlie Brown Christmas - Title Card

The animated TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas made its debut on December 9th, 1965 on CBS.

The special was atypical for most cartoons at the time because of its contemplative message, its use of real children (some of whom were too young to read) to voice the characters as opposed to adult voice actors and its LACK of use of a laugh track. (Peanuts creator Charles Schulz refused to allow one saying he wanted to “let the people at home enjoy the show at their own speed, in their own way.”)

A Charlie Brown Christmas - cast

A Charlie Brown Christmas was also noteworthy for its holiday-infused jazz soundtrack created by musician/composer Vince Guaraldi.

Jazz musician/composer Vince Guaraldi

Jazz musician/composer Vince Guaraldi

Guaraldi became involved with the Peanuts before the start of production for the Christmas special. Producer Lee Mendelson heard Guaraldi’s 1963 radio hit “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” while traveling by taxi on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and initially commissioned Guaraldi write a jazz soundtrack for a television documentary about Charles Schulz called A Boy Named Charlie Brown that wound up never being broadcast. According to Mendelson, the first performance of “Linus & Lucy” occurred over the phone during the production of the documentary. Fortunately, the Christmas special allowed the piece to find a home.

Peanuts characters dance to Guaraldi's iconic "Linus & Lucy"

Peanuts characters dance to Guaraldi’s iconic “Linus & Lucy”

The jazz soundtrack to the special was initially a hard sell, both to Charles Schulz (who was not much of a jazz fan at the time) and to the network since jazz had never been used in an animated special before. Despite Schulz’s initial feelings about jazz, he pushed for Guaraldi’s music to be included because he believed it created a perfect “bubbly, childlike tone” for the show.

Interestingly, the song “Christmas Time Is Here” was something of a happy accident. According to Lee Mendelson: “For the Christmas Show, [Vince] wrote an original melody that wasn’t in the documentary. It was a beautiful melody that opened the scene where the kids are skating. When we looked at the final cut, it seemed to me to be very slow. I said, ‘Let me see if I can find some lyricists to put some words to it.’ I couldn’t find anybody. I sat down at my kitchen table and in 10 minutes I wrote a poem called ‘Christmas Time Is Here’ to the melody. I wrote all the words down, handed it to Vince, and said, ‘Find a choir of kids to sing this.’ He had been working with a choir to do a jazz mass in San Francisco. He rushed them all together, about two days later. So that whole thing was written and recorded in about over a two-day period and then rushed into the final mix [of the special].” The song has gone on to become a holiday standard and has been covered by many artists including Tony Bennett and Diana Krall.

In fact, it is hard to imagine the holiday season in the US now without the beloved special and its music!

Charlie Brown Christmas album art

Univeristy of Richmond students, faculty and staff can stream the soundtrack to the special by logging into the Alexander Street press database to which the library subscribes. They can also access Guaraldi’s Grace Cathedral Jazz Mass (which also celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015) as well as several of Guaraldi’s other albums.

Grace Cathedral concert

A Charlie Brown Christmas has become the second longest running animated Christmas special of all time (behind 1964’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer) and the soundtrack album was added to the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry in 2011.


The Parsons Music Library has a special display about A Charlie Brown Christmas and Vince Guaraldi that you can visit through the end of the year — come check it out!

“There Are Places I’ll Remember …” – The Beatles’ Rubber Soul turns 50

The Beatles - Rubber Soul

Rubber Soul is the sixth album released by the Beatles. It was issued in the UK on December 3rd, 1965, fifty years ago. (And was released in an altered form in the US on December 6th, 1965.) The album was the first album the Beatles recorded during a continuous period (between October 12th and November 15th, 1965) instead of being recorded piecemeal between tour gigs. This gave the band an opportunity to craft an album that was a more cohesive and introspective unit. Rubber Soul‘s 14 songs (11 composed by John Lennon & Paul McCartney, 2 composed by George Harrison and 1 written by Lennon, McCartney and Ringo Starr) are stylistically diverse, incorporating elements of R&B, folk rock, pop, soul and psychedelia. It is also the first Beatles album to NOT include any cover songs (i.e., songs orignally written and recorded by other artists).

Rubber Soul was unique for many reasons. The Beatles were beginning to experiment with lyrics that were not necessarily about boy-girl romance and are more lyrically sophisticated than songs like “She Loves You“. “Nowhere Man” isn’t about romance at all — a first on a Beatles album.

The group also experiments with incorporating unusual instruments (for the time) and sounds onto the album. George Harrison’s use of the sitar on Lennon’s “Norwegian Wood” helped to spark a musical craze for Indian instruments in pop music. Other “world music” influences are evident in the jazzy French style of McCartney’s “Michelle” and a Greek flavored accompaniment on Lennon’s “Girl” (with acoustic guitars standing in for bouzoukis). “In My Life” features an instrumental bridge with a Bach-like passage played on piano, but sped up to sound like a harpsichord.

The Beatles’ willingness to experiment in the studio was a feature of their work that would continue to develop by leaps and bounds over their next couple of albums. The spirit of experimentation even extended to the album cover itself, which featured a distorted image of the Fab 4 and, unlike most pop albums of the time, did NOT feature the name of the band on the front cover.

Rubber Soul remains a fulfilling album to listen to and to quote music critic Walter Everett, “was made more to be thought about than danced to, and this began a far-reaching trend.”

Spider Sounds: Mumford & Sons “Babel”

Editor’s note: This week “Listening In” is inaugurating a new feature called Spider Sounds. We’re inviting members of the University of Richmond community to share their thoughts about CDs (or other items in the Parsons Music Library’s collection). The links included will take you to the library catalog record for the item in question. Our first post comes from James, one of the library’s student workers. Thanks, James!



Mumford & Sons - Babel

2012: In the spirit of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” British rock band MUMFORD & SONS released BABEL, three years after their multi-platinum debut album, SIGH NO MORE. Now, I’d be lying if I said BABEL didn’t sound a lot like its predecessor, but there’s something about that signature “Mumford” sound that my ears crave.

Rustic, pure and clean. Think Hemingway, Teddy Roosevelt, and Ron Swanson gathered ‘round, singing campfire songs in the woods. It’s no accident – there is a formula for this. The recipe calls for raspy, powerful vocals with acoustic guitar, intimate lyrics, a banjo, and not much else – a minimalist arrangement enough to break your heart and put hair on your chest at the same time.

Luckily for you, we’ve got BABEL right here at Parsons Music Library. So if you need a break from EDM or plugging away on the clarinet – not that there’s anything wrong with that! – come by and check out the unadulterated musical stylings of Mumford & Sons.