October 8, 2018

We got a rock: Craft Recordings releases inferior It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown soundtrack album (Review)

UPDATE:  On August 26, 2022, Craft Recordings will release a new version of the Great Pumpkin soundtrack album, this time taken from the original recording session tapes, completely free of sound effects and with better sound quality.  See this blog post for details.  The comments below apply only to the 2018 version of this album; they do not apply to the 2022 release.  The 2022 reelease is a definite must have!


This week, Craft Recordings (a division of Concord Records) is releasing what they are calling a soundtrack album of Vince Guaraldi's music to It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

The album will be released on CD on Friday, October 12; it's already available as a digital download from iTunes, Amazon, and other digital music stores, and also available on streaming services such as Spotify. A vinyl (LP) version was released on August 30, 2019.

This might sound like exciting news to many Peanuts fans, given the great music Vince Guaraldi (and John Scott Trotter) composed for the classic television special. Unfortunately, it turns out the album is more trick than treat - it disappoints in content, quality, and length, and in my opinion, is best avoided and not worth adding to your collection.

The problems are due to the source used for the album. Unlike the music that appears on other Vince Guaraldi albums - such as A Charlie Brown Christmas and A Boy Named Charlie Brown - the tapes of the original musical recordings for the It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown special are lost and may well no longer exist.

So instead, Craft Recordings has used the "music and effects" track from the special to create this album. Basically, this the exact audio from the television show, just without the dialog.

That means while it does have the background music as it appears in the special, the tracks also have all the sound effects - for example, the thuds and bumps of Linus and Lucy rolling the pumpkin and cutting it up in the opening scene, Snoopy blowing on the leaf and the sound of Charlie Brown charging into and landing in the leaf pile in the next scene, and so on. While most of the tracks are affected to some degree, the worst is "Breathless," the music when Snoopy the WWI Flying Ace imagines he's crossing no man's land. This is one of the soundtrack pieces most requested by fans - but on this release, the subtle music is buried under various gunshots, sirens, and other sounds to give the ambiance of World War I.

(If you want to hear it for yourself, you can play all the actual tracks from this album on YouTube; in particularly, try Breathless.)

The music and effects track is also at least one, if not several, generations removed from the original music recordings, resulting in a noticeable loss of sound quality. While Craft Recordings' engineers have made some effort to remaster and restore the sound, one cannot create a miracle from a weak source, and the limitations show - there is distinct hiss in some tracks, some harshness, and volume fluctuations. The tracks are also all in mono (not stereo).

The final issue is that this new album presents the music exactly as it appears in the special.

Typically, when music is recorded for a television special or a movie, the musicians record longer, full pieces that are then edited down to fit the special as needed. On the Charlie Brown Christmas album, we hear the full music pieces, instead of the shortened versions that play in the background of the show. Unfortunately this isn't the case with the Great Pumpkin album, since the original recording session tapes (apparently) no longer exist.

Using the music as it was edited for the special results in numerous very short cues (many are just 20-30 seconds long), abrupt fades and transitions, and a general choppy feel to the whole thing; it's not a satisfying listening experience just based on this alone. The intrusive sound effects and overall poor audio quality make it even worse.

In fact, the entire album is extremely short: it's only a little over 20 minutes long (as the special itself only runs around 24 minutes). Having to pay full album price for only 20 minutes of music is very poor value. (How short is it?  On the vinyl release, they only used one side of the LP!)  At the very least, Craft Recordings should have combined the album with the release of music from another special.

Nowhere in their press release - or on the album cover, front or back - do Craft Recordings make it clear that customers are getting a music and effects track instead of the original recordings. The Great Pumpkin would not be impressed with their sincerity.

Given that we all love the music from It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, I wish I could give a better report. But this album in no way does that music justice, or provides an enjoyable listen. Releasing it in this form is inexcusable, and Craft Recordings should be ashamed to have done so; it feels like a cash grab on unsuspecting fans. You'd be better off saving your money, and just listening to the audio track of the special itself again.


Backley said...

I was really excited when I saw this album and then I was immediately disappointed. I've had a bootleg with the same cues for a few years now, so to hear the same exact music was upsetting to say the least. Hopefully the original tapes are found someday so we can enjoy "Breathless" in its full glory.

Troxad said...

I love actually owning an official release of this music. I've been listening to a bootleg for years, so I'm happy to have the chance to buy it. I feel they did about the best they could with what they had, but agree that they should have been more upfront about what they were giving us. I know they did communicate what it actually was in responses to tweets and Facebook comments, but the general public will not know that and may be disappointed when they buy it and find out it's not what they were expecting. As for those of us in the loop, who knew what to expect, I don't feel this release is a disappointment.

I love your blog and am happy to see more activity on it. Thanks for sharing this review!

Finder Doug said...

We got a rock indeed. Nice review.

I'm waaaay late to the party, but there's one egregious sin of musical butchery and ignorance on this set that I haven't seen mentioned anywhere, and it's pretty unforgivable: "Graveyard Theme" has been artificially lengthened on the disc by duplicating the the opening bars (approximately twenty seconds of music beginning at the :02 mark) and mixing them in for a second round at about :23 seconds. (In the special, from opening note to the first major owl hoot takes 26 seconds. On the disc, it's 47 seconds. And the identical sound effect placement, including the bats - which appear once in the titles but twice on the CD track - is a horrible tell.)

The decision to fade where the track does is equally annoying, for two reasons: first, it eliminates an additional eight seconds of music that's been broadcast for decades (the segment between the first owl hoot and the double-hoot where the current video version of the opening ends - do a fast fade on that second owl echo, for crying out loud); and second, because Craft apparently did *nothing* to restore the additional seventeen seconds of music that exists (which used to underscore the Coca Cola and Dolly Madison sponsor animation in the titles) despite it being available enough for YouTube users to locate/upload.

I get the master tapes are missing, and sound effects are largely immovable on what does still exist; but puffing up a track by doubling a segment while ignoring an actual, substantial piece of it that DOES exist? That speaks to the low-effort cash-grab this was. That said, I hold out hope the sessions tapes may yet turn up somewhere unexpected.