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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Royal Guardsmen: from the Red Baron to RFK to Osama bin Ladin

This piece really is the logical follow-up to my Tom Clay mention, and Fred Hembeck's reply. To some degree.

Somehow, in my youth, I owned one album by the Royal Guardsmen. Yeah, yeah, the group that did all of those Snoopy songs. I don't remember buying it, so maybe someone bought me "The Return of the Red Baron", which had the distinction of being the only one of the four albums they put out that the time that didn't have the dog from Peanuts on the cover.

Actually, by that time, I had become slightly annoyed with the Snoopy-fication of the newspaper strip, so maybe that's how that particular LP ended up in the collection. Or maybe it's that the group had the same initials as I do, I don't know.

It was an OK album. But it had one song "Wednesday", a/k/a "Any Wednesday", that I really liked. It had lovely harmonies. You can hear about 30 seconds of it here. Also, it fit my day of the week collection:
Friday on My Mind- the Easybeats
Another Saturday Night - Sam Cooke
Sunday Will Never Be The Same - Spanky and Our Gang
Monday, Monday - the Mamas and the Papas
Ruby Tuesday - the Rolling Stones
(I didn't have a Thursday song. Actually, I wrote a Thursday song. It was terrible. And off topic.)

Like most of their non-Snoopy songs, "Wednesday" stiffed on the charts, getting up to #98. I like it so much that I went to iTunes to buy it. Alas, only some Snoopy song there.

So after the failure, and in spite of the Florida band's resistance, their producers got them ANOTHER Snoopy song. I got this description in an e-mail dashed off by Grand Comics Database board member, and more specifically in this context, FoF (Friend of Fred), Mike Catron:

Laurie Records released "Snoopy for President", which started out with a spoken word introduction of a German-accented newscaster (the Red Baron himself) announcing the candidates for President in the United States during that primary season, among them, of course, "Kennedy".

As this site notes, the song was released mere days before RFK's assassination. (It also describes the record label's off-again, on-again relationship with Peanuts creator Charles Schulz.) OK, here's something weird. According to my Billboard bible, Snoopy for President first charted on 7/13/68, a full month AFTER RFK was killed. Of course, it was only on the charts for two weeks and only got to #85, w/ the B-Side, "Behind the Lines" on Laurie 3451. Then, this note: "a slightly different and shorter version issued on Laurie 3541 (A)," which failed to chart. But I wonder if some radio stations switched versions.

This link notes: Laurie 3451 mentioning the candidates for 1968 in the intro; Laurie 3590 in 1972, Laurie 3646 in 1976, both without the spoken word intro.

So they tried to re-release the song for each of the next two Presidential campaigns, but it didn't even bubble under the charts.

Mike Catron recalls: I have no idea whether it was still getting airplay at that point but I continued to listen to my little 45 from time to time and it always made me a little sad to be reminded of such a dark moment -- and the melancholy of what might have been -- on what would have otherwise been a silly little song with an especially uplifting moment at the end.

I was fascinated to find this on the Royal Guardsmen blog:
In 1966 the United States Government was in the mind to send troops to defend the idea of Democracy, in a country divided. The men and women of our armed forces needed understanding from the folks back home, but they didn't get much. They seldom heard good news, the times were turbulent and home was far away. The Royal Guardsmen gave them a song to scramble to.

Seriously, I'd love to hear from any Vietnam-era vet and hear if you thought the antics of Snoopy and the Red Baron were songs to scramble to.

Independently, Mike and I both found a neat little tie-in that relates directly to Fred's piece. Check out this excerpt from an interview with members of the Royal Guardsmen:
ET: I think "Mother, Where's Your Daughter" is one of the best songs you ever recorded.
BILL: That was written for us by Dick Holler. He also wrote "Abraham, Martin, and John", which was originally supposed to go to us. According to Barry, that song was written for us but they reneged and gave it to Dion so Dick Holler wrote "Mother, Where's Your Daughter" for us. It was any attempt to get us away from the Snoopy thing.
BILLY: It was an attempt to pacify us.
BARRY: I liked that one and I think that was an interesting time, too. I'm not really sure about all the politics of it but Laurie Records was pretty fat cat at that time, we had really helped them get back on their feet. I did the original demo of "Abraham, Martin, and John" with Dick Holler and Phil said we could have the song. Two weeks later, I came back down and Dion was doing it. That really broke my heart. We had three years of making lots of money for Laurie and we were hoping we could get out of the bag but it just wasn't going to happen.

The Abraham, Martin & John that Dion did, that Tom Clay and Moms Mabley(!) covered, was supposed to be a Royal Guardsmen song, maybe that non-Snoopy hit they so craved. Since it didn't happen, soon thereafter, the group and the label parted ways, all of which is documented in the article.

Which brings us to Snoopy vs. Osama, "The new Royal Guardsmen 40th anniversary Snoopy recording." List Price: $3.95. Somewhat ironically, given their disdain for being trapped in Snoopy-land in the 1960s, the song was written by members of the reunited band.

From the Royal Guardsmen blog:
Our guess is when the soldiers heard Snoopy vs. The Red Baron, it became a song to rally around. Today is no different, our fighting men and women have the same needs, even 40 years later. We want to give them what they need in a song. Compassion for the underdog, the feeling of usefulness, confidence and the motivation of success will go a long way in helping morale and lifting tspiritsprits. When you couple it with the American iconic humor of a heroic dog named Snoopy, you can't go wrong. The formula was successful 40 years ago. With a fresh sound, why not today?

You can read the lyrics here. Maybe you can even hear an excerpt, though I cannot. Here's the chorus:
Osama Bin Laden keeps runnin' away
Snoopy's gonna find of these days
And when he does... (and when he does)... ya know we're all gonna sing
Good bye Bin Laden and the end of your terrorist ring.

And the final verse:

Then up ahead.... in a cloud of dust
Stood ol' Bin Laden just lookin' at us
Snoopy smiled and aimed..... then he fired his gun
TAKE THIS Bin Laden now you.... won't have to run

This is NOT the dog to whom the Red Baron said, "Merry Christmas, my friend."

Last word to Mr. Catron, because it pretty much mirrors my own sentiment:
Snoopy vs. Osama I don't get. In the song trilogy (for you it's a trilogy, for me it's a quadra-something), the Red Baron turns out to be a decent guy, even a likeable character. I can't see the same thing happening for Osama Bin Laden...
Bin Laden is just too grim and is current, instead of being a mythologized figure from a previous generation. (This was the era of Enemy Ace and Hogan's Heroes, after all.) Pairing Snoopy with Bin Laden, to me, is just nasty. Very un-Peanuts. Very un-Schulz.

Next time, the Grass Roots! (Kidding, Fred!)


The Royal Guardsmen said...

Snoopy has grown up and pretending Osama is a good guy is not a grown up idea. The maturity of the baby boomers can't be glossed over with a humorous pretend story. The new song is a reflection of the need to get real in order to survive.

Snoopy vs. Osama is written for the military men and women in our armed forces. 40 years ago some of the aircraft carriers used the beginning of the song as the scramble for the flight deck. The Royal Guardsmen wanted to provide the same opportunity today but carriers are not used in the same way as in the Vietnam conflict. Land based activities are the order of the day now, so the song was written about the Bradley tank crew's difficulties and perseverance leading to their success.

To expect cute from a grown up Snoopy, is just wrong. Most of the men and women of our military weren't even born when Snoopy vs. The Red Baron was relevant. The mature Royal Guardsmen think the song of 40 years ago, was cute but a perversion to the reality of war. Osama is truly a nasty individual and nasty is what this song portrays. It is not for children. The only reason it's for sale is because our fans asked for it. It is not available via a record company because material intent was not involved in the production. The song is about the strife, the battle and getting the job done through the determination of an underdog. Not so cute.

I will agree the new song is food for controversy. No one in their right mind wants war, but when put in the line of fire, there are two choices, fight or flight. We choose to fight, others may choose flight. If we had made the choice for flight, the song would have been a different story. We think the real controversy is in the fact, to this point we haven't gotten Osama, yet the song states Snoopy took him out (killed Osama). Are we jumping the gun or is there a reason for Osama's premature demise? The answer is, because Osama is taken out, the song includes hope. By the way, the call to prayer also reflects hope from the Islamic point of view.

The iconic humor of a dog, any dog, represents the dogs of war. On our blog, Snoopy's House, we may have over stated the connection to humor. The song is not humor, Snoopy's connection to iconic humor is, that maybe your point of controversy with the song, not ours.

The Royal Guardsmen enjoyed the early Snoopy songs. This being our last Snoopy song, we had to reflect the 40 years that have passed. Our innocence is gone but our hope is alive.

John Burdett

Frantic Fred said...

Who knew Snoopy got mature all of a sudden? Good grief!

Here's the thing--say what you want about Tom Cruise, Madonna, or Bruce Springsteen, and you'll never hear a peep, but say something about folks with a lot of time on their hands--like the Royal Guardsman, or that extreme magician I saw at stadium rock show two summers back that I later remarked unfavorably about on in my blog--and you're gonna hear from them! The magic of Googling, my friend--it cuts both ways!

OF COURSE Snoopy has grown up and wants to kill Osama--that PERFECTLY makes sense!

Doesn't it?...

Well, keep it to yourself--or the terrorists WIN!!...

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