December 20th, 2012

krazy koati

When the Baron cried out, ``Merry Christmas, mein Freund!''

This is going to get back to Christmas albums. I promise.

In 1966 the Royal Guardsmen recorded ``Snoopy Vs The Red Baron'' and did quite well for a novelty tune, even if all their proceeds were turned over to United Feature Syndicate after the stunningly foreseeable lawsuit. But Charles Schulz let them go on to record a couple more Snoopy tunes, including, ``Snoopy's Christmas'', depicting a Christmas Truce between the World War I Flying Ace and the Red Baron. It's not so famous as the original; it's one of those tunes designed to catch you by surprise as background music in the store.

Still, it's the right sort of song for a children's album: reasonably peppy, upbeat I suppose if you ignore the whole Great War going around it, and it features Snoopy. Children's record companies would go for that, and Peter Pan records did. So we thought this might explain one of our Christmas albums, titled ``Snoopy's Christmas'', featuring a cheerily drawn Santa in a World War I-era prop plane tossing a candy cane that bonks the Red Baron on the head, letting an Allied pilot land safely in front of the snow-covered church below. It's full of chipper little tunes like ``Snoopy's Christmas'' or ``Jingle, The Christmas Mouse'' which is totally not ``Chrissy, The Christmas Mouse'' as it's a less sensible song, or ``Donner and Blitzen'' which explains why the two reindeer weren't named Percival.

Except that it's not. The record, from Tinkerbell Records, had no credits besides that of the guy who drew the cover art on it; the label doesn't give any hint to its origins past that they hail from Newark; and, well, what the heck? Why does this exist, and how?

A diligent yet strangely anonymous researcher with a Google Sites page found a pile of explanation which manages to only make it more mysterious. The first point: Tinkerbell Records was an imprint of Peter Pan Records, logically enough, all in various lines of music-for-tots. Peter Pan Records still exists, by the way, and is apparently trying to get at least some of their back catalogue on the Internet, which should be good for getting those ``I can't have imagined this song that haunted my childhood'' demons exorcised.

But now the mysterious part: our record, released 1973, was a re-release of the 1969 ``Snoopy's Christmas'' release, with new cover art, originally on the Diplomat label. But the 1969 release wasn't the first ``Snoopy's Christmas'' that the Peter Pan publishing conglomerate came out with: they'd also released a ``Snoopy's Christmas'' in 1968, with a different set of songs (apart from the title track), with similar cover art. Let's unpack that: having achieved apparently some success with ``Snoopy's Christmas'' in 1968, they released a different album with the exact same name and similar art the next year, with nothing but the fine print to indicate to parents that this is not just buying again the same album they bought last year.

It gets no less confusing in 1970, when Peter Pan released another ``Snoopy's Christmas'', with again nearly all new songs, yet similar cover art, and a couple songs about a dog named ``Sloopy'' which maybe was an attempt at hiding from United Feature Syndicate, badly. They also had a cover of ``Yellow Submarine'' called ``Sloopyville Special''. In 1972, they rereleased another ``Snoopy's Christmas'' with same catalog number and credited artist (the ``Peppermint Kandy Kids'') as the 1970 version, but with new songs and re-recording ``Snoopy's Christmas''. It's fashionable to think everyone before you were born was an idiot, but man, I could market a Christmas album better than that before I was born. For example: ``Snoopy's Christmas 2'' would be a step up.

The 1973 release, the one we have, is a reissue of the 1969 version, with new cover art. Easy enough. In 1977, though, they released a new version of the 1972 ``Snoopy's Christmas'' --- with the same catalog number, and cover art --- but the songs were re-recorded and reordered with some filler dialogue to make a connected narrative out of things because why not. In 1981, they rereleased the 1977 version but in a different label color.

We never imagined this simple trifle could get so involved.

Trivia: Kabul surrendered to the British in July 1839, during the First Afghan War, without a shot being fired, after the city was surrounded. Source: The Great Game: The Struggle For Empire In Central Asia, Peter Hopkirk.

Currently Reading: Trenton: A Novel, John P Calu, David A Hart. This is a locally-published-I-bet half-historical novel, partly set around the time of the Revolution, partly set in the present day as the location of Revolutionary War scrip might be the key to saving a late-colonial tavern. Calu and Hart really did a lot of research, and poured it into every page, to the point I've read textbooks that go into less historical detail. Also they get at least the parts of Trenton I'm familiar with scrupulously right, notably, they mentioned the name of the used book store where I bought this novel (although since they wrote it and I bought it the store's moved around the corner). It's an odd experience. Also the various shenanigans given to the fictional mayor here are amusing given that Trenton and neighboring Hamilton are enjoying a staggering array of problems holding on to a mayor, any mayor, even if he's under indictment. I mean more indictment than usual.