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Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Casual Critic — The Vince Guaraldi Trio's A Charlie Brown Christmas

Living in the Philadelphia area, we have not one, but two, radio stations playing Christmas music 24 hours a day this time of year. One of them started before Thanksgiving. I like Christmas music just fine, but playing it 24 hours a day starting before Thanksgiving is a bit insane. By the time the holiday rolls around, one more “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” might set off a riot abused radio listeners.

Nonetheless, if you’ve managed to avoid being inundated with the holiday spirit, it does help to have some Christmas tunes handy. Besides, there’s a few songs I think we’re all legally obligated to hear at least once a year.

A few years ago, after learning how to convert CDs to mp3 files, I loaded a bunch of Christmas albums onto my hard drive. It’s the only type of music that allows you to admit you own a Barry Manilow album. His Because It's Christmas, which includes a fun duet with K.T. Oslin of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and a unique version of “Silent Night,” subtitled “I Guess There Ain’t No Santa Claus,” isn’t bad. The Time-Life Treasury of Christmas series has plenty of the stand-byes, as does something called Happy Holidays Volume 32 and The Ultimate Christmas Album.

But, so far, every year A Charlie Brown Christmas stands out as my favorite. One of the best things about the album is that it has a lot of the classics without any celebrities trying to make “Drummer Boy” or “Joy to the World” a top 40 hit for a month. Until I sat down to write this review I didn’t even know the album is credited to the Vince Guaraldi Trio, and that is a great part of the album. You can really just enjoy the songs. There’s even a few all-music versions of songs like “Oh, Holy Night” and “O Tannenbaum” that are perfect to have on in the background at a dinner or party. “Christmas Time Is Here” is on the album as both a musical and vocal.

Of course, listening to the album will bring back memories of watching the CBS special A Charlie Brown Christmas, which first aired 40 years ago this year. You may not recognize some of the titles — “Linus and Lucy,” “Skating,” and others — but they will certainly ring a bell, and are worth listening to as part of your Christmas collection.

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