Finding a Snoopy Christmas album from childhood

As a kid, I had inherited the 1967 album “Snoopy & His Friends” by  The Royal Guardsmen (SLP2042) from my sister (to be more accurate, she lost interest in it as she became older). For someone who had already loved the comic strip Peanuts, side one of the album became a favorite of mine, with it’s lengthy and (melo)dramatic musical narrative of Snoopy taking on the Red Baron. The album side consisted of  “The Story Of Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron,” “The Story Of The Return Of The Red Baron” and “The Story Of Snoopy’s Christmas.” It was promoted as a Christmas album but I could enjoy it any time of year. Complete with narration, the songs were extremely fun to listen to …. you were right up there in the skies fighting along side Snoopy. Side two was less interesting. The Snoopy vs. the Red Baron theme drifted in and out as some songs broke from the narrative (i.e., “I Say Love” and “So Right (To Be In Love”), and I just did not care enough about any non-related Snoopy offerings by a band called The Royal Guardsmen.

In fact, at first glance, the way the words were situated on the record cover, The Royal Guardsmen seemed like an afterthought:

Snoopy and His Friends
The Royal Guardsmen

It gave the appearance that this was an album released directly from Peanuts creator/cartoonist Charles Schultz rather than a pop rock group from Florida.

Grant it, Charles Schultz did grant permission of usage of the Snoopy name (for a price, of course) — and also contributed art to the album — but this was strictly the music and creativity of The Royal Guardsmen and their handlers. The mid-1960s was at the height of the Peanuts popularity and picking a theme such as Snoopy was a contrived business move by The Royal Guardsmen’s management and record company (Laurie Records).

I often wondered who these guys were (this was, obviously, way before you could look up information on the internet). The Royal Guardsmen, like other “bubblegum” acts of the era, were portrayed in a very lighthearted way on the album cover. Schultz illustrated the band peering around Snoopy’s red doghouse — “Bill,” “John,” “Chris,” “Tom,” “Barry” and “Billy.” Bill is the only one who takes on a very typical Snoopy facial expression, a caricature shaking his fist at the sky and apparently cursing the Red Baron.

The fact is, The Royal Guardsmen were were only teenagers, barely out of high school, at the time of this third album release. The management team had the Snoopy songs written for them. And the pop songs on side two that I ignored as a child — “I Say Love” and “So Right (To Be In Love)” — were the only things written by the actual band members. The credits Bill Balough (bass), John Burdette (drums), Chris Nunley (vocals), Tom Richards (guitar), Billy Taylor (organ), and Barry Winslow (vocals/guitar) weren’t even listed on the album. Instead of a bio of the band, the liner notes on the back cover had one of the owners of Laurie Records wax poetic about Snoopy’s contribution to society.

I think if one has followed the Peanuts’ comic strip and particularly those segments that deal with Snoopy, one quickly becomes aware that one is reading installments of a fascinating allegory. Snoopy is a very individual dog and has a special meaning to all of us. Like all allegories, the significance of Snoopy really depends upon our own experience. For example — to a child, Snoopy represents everything that a child wants to be in his or her fantasy world … Snoopy is a pilot, Snoopy is a secret agent. He can sit on a limb of a tree and hunch himself over and look like a vulture. He can stalk his prey like a sabre-toothed tiger. He flies his doghouse and calls it his Sopwith Camel. He plays baseball and, of course, battles the Red Baron.

It is the battle with the Red Baron that I think expresses the primary adult philosophy. This battle is the battle between good and evil. Snoopy, of course, representing good and the Red Baron evil. However, the evil that the Red Baron represents is not the evil that really exists in the world today. The evil is a gentle evil and in the battle nobody is supposed to get hurt. In this conflict, many of the simple truths that so often get lost in our hectic civilization come readily to the fore. In its simplicity, this conflict becomes almost a romantic adventure.

Our recording of Snoopy’s Christmas was made with this philosophy in mind. There is an underlying seriousness. Snoopy’s Christmas basically exposes the futility of never-ending conflict. The fact is particularly accentuated at Christmas time.

Side 1 of this LP represents a drama as fanciful as any child’s dream world involving all three of the Snoopy records. It uses the medium of radio when radio didn’t really exist to tell the story. We did this because there is a universality and timelessness represented by Snoopy’s battle against the Red Baron. The battle against evil is yesterday, today, tomorrow and forever.

Robert Schwartz (Laurie Records)

A bit deep for a pop album. And, believe me, as a child, I never thought of reading it. But the point is, the band is not even mentioned!

Unfortunately, The Royal Guardsmen pretty much went down in history as nothing more than a novelty act. And over the years the “Snoopy” vinyl that I had a strong connection to as a kid became misplaced.

However, I recently bought a portable ION turntable to introduce my young boy to vinyl records. “Snoopy & His Friends” immediately came to mind. I found one copy available on eBay (photos above). I won an auction for a VG vinyl LP copy of “Snoopy & His Friends” by  The Royal Guardsmen (SLP2042) for $10.99 (Goldmine’s Records & Prices, 4th Edition, lists a VG copy at $7.50). The album also came with a”Merry Snoopy Christmas” poster attached to the back cover — something I didn’t have with my original album. The vinyl actually turned out to be better than VG (more like VG+). Unfortunately, the front cover was a bit worse quality than advertised, showing more wear than I expected. Yet it was good to own the album again — and, in turn, I hope to get my son listening to it.

And whatever the novelty, “Snoopy & His Friends” is the kind of mainstream pop from the past that registers a lot better than much of the contemporary pop that is on a kid’s iPod today. Forget Katy Perry or Bieber. Long live The Royal Guardsmen! If only Rolling  Stone had put them on the cover!

— Pat Prince

 

The Story Of Snoopy’s Christmas
(Phil Gernhard and Dick Holler)

The news it came out in the First World War
The bloody Red Baron was flying once more
The Allied Command ignored all of its men
And called on Snoopy to do it again

Was the night before Christmas and forty below
When Snoopy went up in search of his foe
He spied the Red Baron and fiercely they fought
With ice on his wings, Snoopy knew he was caught

Christmas bells those Christmas bells
Ring out from the land
Asking peace of all the world
And good will to man

The Baron had Snoopy dead in his sights
He reached for the trigger to pull it up tight
Why he didn’t shoot, well, we’ll never know
Or was it the bells from the village below

{Refrain}
Christmas bells those Christmas bells
Ringing through the land
Bringing peace to all the world
And good will to man

The Baron made Snoopy fly to the Rhine
And forced him to land behind the enemy lines
Snoopy was certain that this was the end
When the Baron cried out “Merry Christmas, mein friend!”

The Baron then offered a holiday toast
And Snoopy our hero saluted his host
And then with a roar they were both on their way
Each knowing they’d meet on some other day

Of course, you can get “Snoopy’s Christmas” on CD but what’s the fun in that?

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