Among the many articles celebrating Peanuts 70th anniversary is the Nashville Tennessean telling the story behind Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron. No, not the Charles Schulz comics, rather the Dick Holler/Royal Guardsman song.
From The Tennessean interview with songwriter Dick Holler:
A long time ago, there was a huge hit record called “The Battle of New Orleans”?by Johnny Horton. He was a country and pop singer and it went number one. Three months later, he had a song called ‘Sink the Bismarck’, which went top ten. These were both recapitulations of war time. So, I’m thinking of how I have always been an airplane fanatic and my favorite fighter pilot was Manfred Von Richthofen, the “Red Baron’” I wrote the song about him. No Snoopy. We went down to Cosmo’s in New Orleans and recorded it, and spent all day putting in airplane sounds and machine gun bullets and took it around to every major label. Nobody wanted to put it out, so it sat on the shelf for three years. And then one Sunday, (“Peanuts” creator) Charles Schultz introduced Snoopy flying in the doghouse, being chased by the Red Baron.
…I was paid for six million sales, which mean it probably did about 20.
BH: Wow. I had it, the record. Charles Shultz let you use it though! That surprises me.
DH: Yeah, and he did not want to. Schultz did not like us or our songs. He wouldn’t even give us any artwork until we successfully had four singles and two albums, and finally he let us use artwork and actually drew one cover for us featuring the band and Snoopy. But no, he did not like us at all, even though we sold more records than he did from his Broadway show, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” and all of those albums that Vince Guaraldi put out for the television show. We sold more records than all of those people combined.
While it took a while to get Schulz art on the album, it didn’t take quite that long to get approval for the song, though that okay wasn’t immediate. From REBEAT:
The combination of popular source material and a catchy chorus (“10, 20, 30, 40, 50 or more / the bloody Red Baron was rolling out the score”) seemed guaranteed to be a hit — if they could get Schulz’s permission. But what would happen if the cartoonist wouldn’t give his assent?
As a precaution, Gerhard, Holler, and the Royal Guardsmen recorded a non-trademark infringing version of the song retitled “Squeaky vs. the Black Knight.” While the licensing issues were being straightened out, the “Squeaky” version surprisingly got a decent chunk of regional airplay in Canada — despite the fact that it lacked the familiarity and emotional investment listeners had with Snoopy.
“Snoopy vs. the Red Baron” was a huge hit for the Royal Guardsmen, climbing to #2 in the US, #8 in the UK, and #1 in Canada, where its alternative version had been previously released.
For those interested Music Master Oldies has more background on all the above.
The above July 31, 1966 Sunday page sold for $101,575.00 in 2010.