Snoopy, Peanuts, and the Red Baron
Snoopy and the whole Peanuts gang were big in the 1960s. There were the holiday specials that we all know and love. There were the daily comics in the newspapers and the book. I had a poseable plastic Snoopy toy that came with all sorts of clothes and accessories. By 1967, there was even a Broadway musical based on the characters.
In 1966, a pop group named the Royal Guardsmen put out a single called Snoopy vs the Red Baron. It was a novelty song based around the epic battles between the fictional beagle, Snoopy, on his Sopwith Camel (a non-fictional WWI airplane) and the Red Baron. The infamous Red Baron, also known as Baron Manfred von Richthofen, was Germany’s most famous flying ace.
Baron Richthofen began the war in a cavalry regiment, but when the trenches made horses obsolete, he eventually scored a transfer to the new Feldflieger Abteilung (Flying Squadron). He only flew for two years, from 1916 to his death at the age of 26 in 1918. During that time, he took out 80 Allied pilots. Though he is closely associated with the Fokker Triplane, he only had 19 of his total kills in that plane. He started painting his planes red in 1917, and this is why he became known as the Red Baron.
In the Peanuts comic strip, the beagle Snoopy often fantasized about being a WWI flying ace with his doghouse as a Sopwith Camel. (When I was a kid, I didn’t realize that the Sopwith Camel was an American WWI plane. I thought it was a Snoopwith Camel.) Naturally, Snoopy took as his arch nemesis the Red Baron. Even though Snoopy tried so hard to shoot down the Baron, he was the one always shot down, leaving Snoopy beside his smoking doghouse, shaking a puppy fist into the air: “Curse you, Red Baron!”
The Royal Guardsmen are an American band that started out as the Posmen but changed their name when the British Invasion of The Beatles and the Mersey Beat Sound came across the Pond. (Paul Revere and the Raiders was another band that tried to capitalize on the British Invasion.) The Royal Guardsmenrecorded several albums and had a few small hits, but they really hit it big with Snoopy vs the Red Baron. And in the way of the world, they continued to record Snoopy-related songs. “Snoopy for President,” “The Smallest Astronaut” (it’s Snoopy), and even “Snoopy vs Osama” are among many others.
My favorite is “Snoopy’s Christmas.” It tells the story of Snoopy going up on Christmas Eve to take out the Red Baron. As usual, he is shot down, but as he lands his plane, the bells ring out Christmas Day. The Baron lands his plane nearby and comes up with a bottle of champagne and he toasts in the day with the startled Snoopy.
I was 6 when “Snoopy’s Christmas” came out. Mom and Dad had just gotten a new stereo, and my big brother, Hal, had been given their old one. That meant that I had my first record player, because Hal gave me his old one. It was not a stereo player, only having one speaker. You could buy the same album, one version in mono for the players with only one speaker, or you could buy the stereo version designed for two speakers. My first album was a Christmas compilation album, and the first song on side A was “Snoopy’s Christmas.” I played through the whole album a couple of times, but it didn’t take me long to realize that my favorite song on it was “Snoopy’s Christmas.” So, I played that song. Over and over again. For a couple of hours. (Keep in mind I was only 6. And there were no video games, no internet. There were only three channels on TV!)
Somehow, Mom tuned out the song. But I drove my 15-year old brother crazy. He begged Mom to make me turn it off. She refused. (One of the few times she did not do what Hal wanted. He was her favorite. It was ok, though, because I was Dad’s favorite.) Finally, Hal came to my room to broker an epic deal. He gave me three Monkees albums and one Paul Revere and the Raiders album on the understanding that I never play “Snoopy’s Christmas” when he was in the house. I ended that day with even more albums, because Mom went through all the mono albums that they had been replacing with the stereo versions and gave the mono ones to me. I started the day with one album and ended it with an embarrassment of riches.
And Hal never heard “Snoopy’s Chistmas” again.
I’ll be posting some versions of this song every day on my Minnich Music Facebook page, so visit there to hear them! If you have any stories about “Snoopy’s Christmas,” let me know in the comments section, I’d love to hear from you.
I’ll be posting roughly once a week with a new song. I’m trying to make the songs seasonal, but I can make exceptions. So, if there’s a song that you’d like some background on, or questions about what it means, let me know.
Until next time!