Rod McKuen: A Boy Named Charlie Brown
Composed By: Rod McKuen
Distributed by: Varese Sarabande Records
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Early in 2015, a talented and well-respected artist passed away. In just over eight decades, Rod McKuen amassed a huge résumé of work, which included three dozen books of poetry, published in eleven languages and selling 65 million copies; two hundred albums, including 63 gold and platinum records worldwide and over 1500 songs accounting for over 100 million record sales for artists like Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Madonna, Petula Clark, Johnny Cash, Dusty Springfield, Andy Williams, Johnny Mathis, Barbara Streisand and more.
In June 2015, Varese Sarabande Records released an album in homage to the man and his work entitled Rod McKuen Performs and Conducts All His Songs From A Boy Named Charlie Brown and Selections from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Me Natalie and Joanna. I recently had the opportunity to check out the digital release.
A longtime fan of Peanuts, I thought I had seen every Charlie Brown movie there was to see. Somehow, I must have missed the 1969 film entitled A Boy Named Charlie Brown...or, more likely, I saw it in bits and pieces over the years. That could account for the fact that I didn't recognize a single song created for the film, including Champion Charlie Brown, Failure Face and A Boy Named Charlie Brown. It could also be that I couldn't recognize the songs as they were sung by Rod McKuen - a genius songwriter and composer he may be, but a great singer he is not and these songs were not exactly in the man's pitch.
The music on the album tended towards jazz, though not completely. There was a jazz element that I was used to in Charles M. Schultz animated films, but there was an orchestral sound, too, that I was not ready for. That didn't make the music any less interesting. In fact, it was the score I was more enamored with on this album, rather than the songs. Perhaps if performed by another singer, the songs would have shined, but without a strong singer, the songs fell a bit short.
This album is meant to celebrate Rod McKuen and I don't want to take away from that, but I think McKuen fans would want to hear the music and songs as they were intended to be performed. Thus, sadly, I feel this album falls short of the tribute it was meant to be and can't quite bring myself to recommend it to fans of the man's work.