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.