Rob and I have posted a number of entries regarding Christmas and the Christmas season in New York. We have spoken about family gatherings, Christmas preparations, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Rockefeller Center and more. Both of us have also spoken about our memories of listening to the memorable Sinatra Christmas album, A Jolly Christmas. For our entire childhood, through adolescence into adulthood and on into today, the songs on this Album WERE Christmas. No Christmas was complete without spending quite a few hours in quiet contemplation listening to Frank croon Christmas images into our minds.
However, there was another song that became a Christmas favorite of ours: Snoopy’s Christmas by the Royal Guardsmen
The Royal Guardsmen hit the music scene with their first hit single about Snoopy and his legendary “dog fights” with the Red Baron in 1966. It was based on the ongoing storyline about the battles between the iconic comic strip dog, “Snoopy” and the legendary World War One flying ace, Baron Manfred von Richthofen, a very real and historical figure. Charles Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts gang, introduced a Snoopy vs. The Red Baron storyline in October of 1965 and Snoopys’ imaginary battles with the invincible Red Baron would continue for several decades.
My brother and I loved the Peanuts comic strip and we followed it religiously. (See Rob’s post Peanuts ) The antics of Snoopy were always one of the favorite parts of this comic strip and we would wait in anticipation for dad to come home with the daily newspaper so we could laugh at the latest predicaments of the Peanuts Gang, especially Snoopy. Many Christmas gifts and birthday gifts from our family were books that were compilations of Schulz’ comic strip, so needless to say, at the height of the British Invasion, when a song about Snoopy and the Red Baron hit, we were hooked. The first song by the Guardsmen was titled, quite simply, Snoopy vs. the Red Baron. It became a frequently played song on WABC and WMCA Radio in New York. Rob and I also quickly secured the record. (a 45, by the way….. just to put the timing of this in perspective.)
We knew every line and sang it continually around the apartment, as we actually considered ourselves pretty good singers.
I remember the lyrics today, especially the opening lines:
After the turn of the century
In the clear blue skies over Germany
Came a roar and a thunder men had never heard
Like the screamin’ sound of a big war bird
Up in the sky, a man in a plane
Baron von Richtofen was his name
Eighty men tried, and eighty men died
Now their buried together on the countryside
Ten , Twenty, thirty, forty,fifty or more
The Bloody Red Baron was rolling up the score
Eighty men died tryin’ to end that spree
Of the Bloody Red Baron of Germany
In the nick of time, a hero arose
A funny looking dog with a big black nose…………
Oh, how many times did we sing and listen to that song! (I bet Rob is singing it right now, as I am…)
So, when the Guardsmen released “Snoopy’s Christmas” in the fall of 1967, it became an instant Christmas classic for us, right up there with Sinatra’s Christmas album. We loved the song but loved the message as well. It told of sworn enemies exhibiting honor, mercy, and civility, to each other during the season that should bring “Peace on Earth and Good Will toward Men”. (This was based on a true incident during the First World War when the Allied troops and German troops declared a self-imposed cease-fire and mingled with each other along the Western Front. It took place on Christmas Eve, 1914)
This song speaks to that Christmas miracle without addressing it directly. Of course, we knew every line and every inflection. We sang it constantly, still convinced that Simon and Garfunkel had nothing on us….
The news had come 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 40 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 know 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
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 my friend!”
The Baron than offered a Holiday toast
And Snoopy our hero, saluted his host
Then with a roar they were both on their way
Each knowing they’d meet on some other day….
Yep, this song is a big-time Christmas memory. A one that simply “feels good” and conjures happiness. A simpler time, perhaps a better time. As I was writing those lyrics, I found myself singing every line. I’m sure I’ll be doing that a few more times between now and Christmas.
Rob, if you’re reading this now,,,,, I offer a Holiday Toast! And, in the words of the Guardsmen….Merry Christmas, My Friend.