The Second Disc

Expanded and Remastered Music News

Review: Vince Guaraldi Trio, “A Charlie Brown Christmas (2012 Remaster)”

with 10 comments

Who buys a reissue?

It’s a question many of us catalogue enthusiasts probably struggle with at one point or another. When I was a younger, more naive music fan in the New Jersey suburbs, my logic was unique but relatively sound: I could pay $13 or so for a classic album I wanted on CD, or I could save up what I earned mowing the family lawn and spend $30 on a version with more material, nicer packaging, all of that. More was always better, in my mind.

Of course, it’s that mindset that’s had me spring for multiple copies of my favorite recordings. To date, I own multiple versions of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Bad, INXS’ Kick, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, John Williams’ E.T. soundtrack – the list goes on. With a new remaster released today, Vince Guaraldi’s legendary A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Original Sound Track Recording of the CBS Television Special (Fantasy FAN-34027) enters the three-peat club. I’m not here to ask why personally, but the “nested doll” nature of reissues has lately become an intriguing issue. Joe and I, and many of our compatriots, have covered great records that have been put out like clockwork, each with something that hasn’t been heard before, but not always carrying over those previously-unheard things.

The first time I heard A Charlie Brown Christmas on CD, I was greeted by one of Vince Guaraldi’s gorgeous, mellifluous piano runs leading into a sprightly rendition of “O Tannenbaum.” What I didn’t realize at the time – a realization that, in fact, I don’t think I properly had the hang of until maybe last Christmas – was that I was hearing it differently from how millions of longtime listeners knew it.

See, the first major CD remaster of this classic holiday LP (Fantasy FCD 30066-2) took a lot of liberties with the original album presentation. Some tracks featured extended master versions, while two of the most famous tracks, “Linus and Lucy” and “Christmas is Coming,” featured entirely alternate takes by mistake. Concord corrected the errors on subsequent pressings, but I never figured out how to parse the differences in pressing. So, last Christmas, I bought a copy of the original 1988 CD pressing (Fantasy FCD 8431-2), which was still in considerable supply, to hear the album as it was meant to be heard.

It’s that arrangement that takes center stage once again on the new remaster. This is, put simply, the Charlie Brown Christmas you remember – and it’s still great. The spring in the step of “O Tannenbaum” is still a kick. “Linus and Lucy,” presented in its familiar guise edited from two takes, is as miraculous as the first time you heard it. And not even a year of cackling over Arrested Development can dilute the melancholic “Christmastime is Here.”

Happily, the remastering by Joe Tarantino definitely improves upon the sonics of that presentation. Much has been made about the characteristic hum heard throughout the recording of the album, and while that is reduced somewhat, what matters more is the general warmth of the remaster over the comparatively brittle tape transfer from the original CD release.

If there is anything perplexing, it’s (once again) the bonus material situation that seems to make many collectors scratch their heads. The four alternate bonus cuts from the 2006 remaster have not carried over to this disc, which instead features the familiar original CD bonus track of “Greensleeves” and two seasonal originals, the flute and trumpet-driven “Great Pumpkin Waltz” and the busy “Thanksgiving Theme.” The latter two will be familiar to any Peanuts fan, but the general audio quality on these four and a half minutes of music (“sourced from poorer monaural masters,” according to Derrick Bang’s light, narrative liner notes) doesn’t stand up to what is heard on the other 13 tracks. We could speculate wildly as to why those four bonus tracks from 2006, or even the “accidental” bonus tracks on the original pressing of that disc, weren’t included on this set – but we won’t…this time.

You may consider yourself crazy to buy another round of A Charlie Brown Christmas, but this new disc really deserves the attention of the holiday music fan – and a spot next to that 2006 remaster, for completeness’ sake. Or, if you’re picking the disc up for the first time, you might want to eschew the version with more music (just this once!) for the original pressing millions the world over still love.

Written by Mike Duquette

October 9, 2012 at 14:30

Posted in News, Reissues, Soundtracks, Vince Guaraldi

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10 Responses

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  1. I believe the first Fantasy CD version came out in 1987 – at least that was my first holiday season in record retail, and I still have that copy.

    WIlliam Schneider, Jr.

    October 9, 2012 at 15:01

    • Somewhere among my tons of Christmas CD’s I have a version of a “Charlie Brown Christmas” that was put out by the US Postal Service – not sure what version it is — I have to give it a listen when I take out my Christmas music the end of this month.

      Rich

      Rich D.

      October 9, 2012 at 20:59

  2. Is there any way to distinguish between the “messed up” Concord reissue from a few years ago, and the corrected one? Any change in catalog number? I’d actually like to get the “messed up” version for the alternate tracks, even if they were included by mistake.

    Don

    October 10, 2012 at 12:19

    • Much to my frustration, I’ve never detected a difference between the two on the packaging – no different part number or anything. I imagine the matrix number for the disc might be different, but I’ve never gotten that far to check – and I’d contacted Concord to ask (ironically enough, I think it was the Christmas before The Second Disc started up) to no avail.

      Concord’s original statement offered to send replacement discs to those who’d bought it, and of course said all copies going forward would have the more “correct” master. What makes that frustrating to me is how unlikely most retailers would go out of their way to get in new stock of these titles; like I noted in the review, you can still get the original CD pressing at any FYE around the holidays. (I think my local Target carried it one year, too, some years after carrying the first expanded edition! The mind boggles…)

      Mike Duquette

      October 10, 2012 at 13:23

  3. So, in your opinion, if I’m happy with my 1988 Fantasy 8431 CD, do I need this?

  4. The 2006 version has much less tape hiss and a brighter top end. I can’t decide which one I like better. Perhaps the best one has characteristics of both. Maybe we will see another remaster!

    Jeff Peck

    December 7, 2012 at 10:18

  5. Many thanks for the good review, Mike. I, too, am the happy owner of all of the digital pressings (including the original and “corrected” 2006 remaster).

    While the original Fantasy release (which the remastered 2012 release re-presents) will always have a certain nostalgic edge, I have to say that, overall, the 2006 remixed and remastered version is the best, in terms of sound quality. It is a significantly more spacious and polished mix, with more clarity and presence for each of the individual instruments. This is probably due to its being *remixed* from the original 3-track masters, whereas the 2012 release is remastered from the original, stereo mixdown of those masters. The added separation and hint of added reverb give the 2006 release a fuller, more pleasing sound, as though it were a more modern recording.

    Of course, to my ears, there are track-specific exceptions: The 1965/1986/2012 version of “Christmas is Coming” is a faster performance, superior to the one used in the “uncorrected” 2006 CD release. Also, I’m not sure that the greater sonic clarity in the 2006 “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” is a good thing: There is some extraneous background noise that is even more noticeable than in the original mix.

    But overall, I’m going to voice a bit of Guaraldi heterodoxy, and express a definite sonic preference for the “controversial” 2006 release (along with gratitude for all of the different versions that are available). My attempts to purchase both versions of that release (with the variant “Linus and Lucy” and “Christmas is Coming” tracks) involved a couple throws of the dice: I kept buying what ended up being multiple copies of the initial, “uncorrected” release. Like you, I am unable to discern any difference in the disc packaging that will allow you to tell whether it’s the original or revised release. However, I finally did find one near-certain way to snag a copy of the later, “corrected” version: In 2007 (several months after Fantasy/Concord “corrected” their masters for subsequent pressings), Madacy licensed and released a tin-box set that included three CDs, including the revised version of the 2006 release. So, if you buy the tin box set or find a CD copy with Madacy 2007 copyright info on the back of the jewel case, you can be pretty sure it’s the “corrected” 2006 release. (At present, you can buy new copies of the tin box from Amazon merchants for $5, which is a steal, as it also includes a copy of “Charlie Brown’s Holiday Hits,” as well as a completely forgettable, non-Guaraldi CD of other artists performing songs from ACBC.)

    Duggadugdug

    December 10, 2012 at 07:38

  6. Many thanks for the good review, Mike. I, too, am the happy owner of all of the digital pressings (including the original and “corrected” 2006 remaster).

    While the original Fantasy release (which the remastered 2012 release re-presents) will always have a certain nostalgic edge, I have to say that, overall, the 2006 remixed and remastered version is the best, in terms of sound quality. It is a significantly more spacious and polished mix, with more clarity and presence for each of the individual instruments. This is probably due to its being *remixed* from the original 3-track masters, whereas the 2012 release is remastered from the original, stereo mixdown of those masters. The added separation and hint of added reverb give the 2006 release a fuller, more pleasing sound, as though it were a more modern recording.

    Of course, to my ears, there are track-specific exceptions: The 1965/1986/2012 version of “Christmas is Coming” is a faster performance, superior to the one used in the “uncorrected” 2006 CD release. Also, I’m not sure that the greater sonic clarity in the 2006 “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” is a good thing: There is some extraneous background noise that is even more noticeable than in the original mix.

    But overall, I’m going to voice a bit of Guaraldi heterodoxy, and express a definite sonic preference for the “controversial” 2006 release (along with gratitude for all of the different versions that are available). My attempts to purchase both versions of that release (with the variant “Linus and Lucy” and “Christmas is Coming” tracks) involved a couple throws of the dice: I kept buying what ended up being multiple copies of the initial, “uncorrected” release. Like you, I am unable to discern any difference in the disc packaging that will allow you to tell whether it’s the original or revised release. However, I finally did find one near-certain way to snag a copy of the later, “corrected” version: In 2007 (several months after Fantasy/Concord “corrected” their masters for subsequent pressings), Madacy licensed and released a tin-box set that included three CDs, including the revised version of the 2006 release. So, if you buy the tin box set or find a CD copy with Madacy 2007 copyright info on the back of the jewel case, you can be pretty sure it’s the “corrected” 2006 release. (At present, you can buy new copies of the tin box from Amazon merchants for $5, which is a steal, as it also includes a copy of “Charlie Brown’s Holiday Hits,” as well as a completely forgettable, non-Guaraldi CD of other artists performing songs from ACBC.)

    danders3

    December 10, 2012 at 07:39


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