In the first World War, a German pilot named Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen would earn an easier to pronounce nickname, The Red Baron. During his time he shot down 80 planes, the record for that war, as part of a flying unit referred to as the Flying Circus. (No relation to Monty Python.) While controversy exists over who finally brought the dread baron down, I suspect it wasn’t a beagle on a flying doghouse.
In the classic Peanuts strip, Snoopy would often play as an unnamed World War One flying ace, constantly engaged in a rivalry with the Baron, who would also best him. (Even in a dog’s fantasies the Red Baron ruled the clouds.) When the first strip of this reoccurring story came out, a music group called the Royal Guardsmen put out a novelty song entitled Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron, which not only went on to be a hit, but spawned a group of sequel songs by the band. In tonight’s Sing Me A Story, we take a look at the musical battle between the Sopwith Camel and the Fokker triplane.
I usually try to use a version with the lyrics on screen, but the only one I found was impossible to read, so this is from a TV performance, although with the numbers on the screen it appears to be raw, early, or test footage.
The line at the beginning of the song is actual German, translated as “Attention! We will now sing together the story of that pig-headed dog Snoopy and the beloved Red Baron”. The song, released as a single with I Needed You as the B side, did get the band in trouble with United Features Syndicate over the usage. Once the legal wrangling was done, Peanuts creator Charles Schultz allowed the band to make more songs. (And yes, that was the musical cord from The McCoy’s Hang On Sloopy. Lyrics were planned there but dropped because one lawsuit was enough. 😀 ) The second, The Return of the Red Baron, features a rematch between the two.
The third song in the recognized trilogy was produced for Christmas, and I probably used it in a Christmas Spotlight. Snoopy’s Christmas once again took on his foe, this time during the Yuletide festivities.
This could have been based on an actual event in the war. From the Songfacts page on this song:
There really was a Christmas Truce in 1914 between the British and German troops, mainly on the Western Front. Trench warfare had created a bit of a stalemate, and the soldiers were able to communicate with each other. They negotiated a cease-fire and even exchanged small gifts like whiskey, rum, cigars, and chocolates, meeting in “No Man’s Land,” which was the battlefield between the trenches. (thanks, Patrick – Bremen, GA)
While this is the recognized trilogy, there are two more songs along the same lines, that I hadn’t heard of prior to researching this article. Down Behind The Lines has a very different tone musically as Snoopy’s plane is taken down by the Baron and the Ace must glide his plane in hoping to make it to the Allies side before the plane crashes.
We never do learn if he made it, but one of the storylines in the comic did have Snoopy trying to get past the enemy’s side after being shot down. The last song, Snoopy For President has people trying to encourage the World War 1 Flying Ace to run for office.
Of all the songs, only the original and Christmas story ever hit the charts. The first was covered a few times, and I still hear the third one each Christmas on the radio. Occasionally I’ve caught the second one, but the last two are new to me. It’s a good story if your a fan of Snoopy and led to a video game. It’s not too often a song gets a sequel, much less five, so flight helmets off to Guardsmen…and our favorite beagle.
- Charlie Brown and Snoopy: A Brief History (neatorama.com)