This fall, Craft Recordings will celebrate Halloween with a collectible, pumpkin-shaped vinyl album featuring Vince Guaraldi’s evocative music from It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Pressed on orange wax, the 45-RPM LP features 17 selections from the 1966 animated TV special, including the timeless “Linus and Lucy,” “The Great Pumpkin Waltz,” and the ghoulish “Graveyard Theme.” Available for pre-order today and in stores on September 17th, the festive reissue also includes liner notes from PEANUTS historian Derrick Bang, plus a 2018 introduction from the late producer Lee Mendelson, who oversaw It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, among many other PEANUTS specials.
By the time that Vince Guaraldi entered the studio to score It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, he was well into a highly successful creative partnership with Lee Mendelson and the PEANUTS franchise. Just two years earlier, Mendelson had commissioned the Bay Area jazz artist to score a TV documentary about Charles M. Schulz, who created the popular PEANUTS comic strip. While the film, A Boy Named Charlie Brown, never aired, the duo reconvened a year later for A Charlie Brown Christmas. The animated special was an instant hit—as was its best-selling soundtrack. In June 1966, they followed with Charlie Brown’s All-Stars!, while It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was slated for October.
The score for the Halloween special was recorded just weeks ahead of its airdate at Desilu’s Gower Street Studio in Hollywood. The pianist was accompanied by his trio sidemen—bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Colin Bailey—with additional instrumentation by an incredible lineup of talent, including Emmanuel “Mannie” Klein on trumpet, John Gray on guitar, and Ronald Lang on woodwinds.
While the music for the first two specials was managed entirely by Guaraldi, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown marked a new era in PEANUTS specials. This time, the seasoned composer, arranger, and conductor John Scott Trotter—best known for a three-decade run as Bing Crosby’s music director—was brought in to oversee the entire scoring process. As Derrick Bang notes, “the first two PEANUTS specials had been a learning process for all concerned…Trotter brought order to chaos.”
What didn’t change from the last two productions was the quality of Guaraldi’s spirited cues, which brought beloved characters like Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Sally, Lucy, Linus, and Schroeder to life. Underscoring much of the film is the sophisticated “Great Pumpkin Waltz” theme, inspired by Linus’ wholehearted belief in the supernatural squash. Ominous selections like “Breathless” create moody textures, while more whimsical tracks like “The Red Baron” add lightness.
“By this point, Guaraldi had a strong sense of how music could—and should—be employed to maximize the viewing audience’s emotional response,” explains Bang. “Guaraldi emphatically established the PEANUTS ‘musical personality’ with this third outing, and all subsequent prime-time specials owed much to the groovin’ atmosphere that is so prevalent in Great Pumpkin.”
Mendelson adds, “Vince’s score carries the gang with the autumn leaves, through the scary and cold Halloween night. This music comforts the indomitable faith of Linus, still waiting for his hero since 1966—forever in our ears, hearts, and memories.”
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown debuted on October 27, 1966, and captured an astonishing 49 percent of the audience share, meaning that nearly half of the TV-watching population was tuned into the PEANUTS special. Tying with Bonanza for first place, the special proved to be even more successful than the debut broadcast of A Charlie Brown Christmas. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was also a critical success and earned a well-deserved Emmy nod the following year.
Unlike its yuletide predecessor, the soundtrack to It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown wasn’t initially made available. While select tracks were added to compilations over the decades, a comprehensive collection of music from It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown wasn’t released until 2018.
Vince Guaraldi, meanwhile, scored a total of 15 PEANUTS specials over his lifetime, with 1976’s It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown being his final project. Hours after completing the score, the 47-year-old suffered a sudden heart attack. Although a palpable void was felt for years after his death, Guaraldi left behind a vibrant—and enduring—catalog of music, while his work with PEANUTS introduced generations of children to jazz. His most popular title, A Charlie Brown Christmas, remains one of the best-selling holiday releases of all time and has the rare distinction of being one of only two jazz albums to be certified 4x platinum by the RIAA.