Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Mannheim Steamroller - Christmasville

I can explain.

I'm reviewing Christmas albums that were given to as presents last year. So if you're thinking that I went to my local music store of choice and plunked down good money for this CD, guess again.

This was presented to me by one of my wife's aunts at a family gathering last Christmas Eve. As I unwrapped it knowing full well it was a Christmas CD, I began to wonder what new release it could have been.

Harry Connick Jr.? Sheryl Crow? Brian Setzer's umpteenth Christmas album? Aretha Franklin? The Fleshtones? Melissa Etheridge? "Cameo Parkway Holiday Hits"?

When I laid eyes on the green and purple cover and the familiar "American Gramaphone" logo at the bottom of the cover, in an instant I knew. I had to fight back the piercing shriek of terror that was building inside me.

"Ohhhhhhh... wow!" I exclaimed. My wife's aunt was pleased at my reaction. "Their new Christmas CD!" I politely thanked her for the album. I quickly found an exit and as soon as I was out of listening range, I let out a deep breath and curled into the fetal position for several minutes.

On the ride home, my wife looked at me teasingly and asked "well, what Christmas CD did you get?". I stayed silent.

"You got the new Mannheim Steamroller CD." Again I stayed silent. After a long pause, my wife delivered the coup de grâce: "Well, at least it's a CD you don't have in your collection!"

With this CD, I now own six full Mannheim Steamroller Christmas albums. I can explain.

Remarkably, every album was given to me as a gift. Their first four albums (Christmas, Fresh Aire Christmas, Christmas In The Aire, and Christmas Live) were promos I received when I worked for Suncoast Motion Picture Company. The other album (The Christmas Angel) was a present / gag gift from a co-worker who knew how much I "loved" this group.

When Steamroller exploded into the Christmas consciousness in the mid-1980s, Christmas radio then was Bing Crosby, the 1950s Christmas hits (Elvis, Brenda Lee, Bobby Helms), kiddie Christmas songs ("Rudolph", "Frosty"), the Phil Spector Christmas album, and the occasional novelty tune (Cheech & Chong, The Singing Dogs).

No one had heard a synth version of "Deck The Halls" before and it was a breath of "Fresh Aire" (pun intended). As a high-school teen growing up during this time, I actually thought their music was inventive and a shot in the arm for Christmas music in general.

The music buying public took notice and the group began selling Christmas albums at alarming rates. With each new release, the sounds began to meld together, indistinguishable from the last album or even the last song. That didn't stop the record or concert sales and the thirst for more. By the time they released their third album in 1995, the oversaturation had taken its toll on me - I couldn't bear to hear them any further.

To date, Mannheim Steamroller has sold in excess of 30 million records in its lifetime. About 25 million of those have been Christmas albums. TWENTY-FIVE MILLION.

Spin the radio dial every Christmas and their synthesized renditions of Christmas standards are played incessantly. Their Christmas concerts are always sold out, have become family traditions for many, and have appeared on PBS pledge drives throughout the country every December.

"Christmasville" is Mannheim Steamroller's TENTH Christmas album.

My thoughts exactly.

I haven't listened to many of the Steamroller albums in my collection and I haven't listened to this new one. Am I being too harsh? Or am I saving myself unnecessary pain and anguish?

For example, every year I manage to sit down and objectively try to watch from beginning to end the 1963 three-hour plus epic "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World". Some years, I've been able to get through the first 2 hours of the movie before having to turn it off. Other years I barely make it through the first 1/2 hour.

In the case of the Mannheim Steamroller albums, I've tried to listen but can barely get past the first song before ripping it from my boombox. I felt like Superman being exposed to Kryptonite.

There's no middle ground with Steamroller - you either love 'em or hate 'em. I happen to fall in the latter of those two categories and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

Thanks Aunt Kathy for the gift. You shouldn't have. Really!



stubbysfears said...

Wasn't the Cameo Parkway release "digital only"?

Ernie said...

So wait, you don't what's buried under the big "W"? I think there's a certain Simpson's episode that isn't going to make a whole lot of sense to you...

Anonymous said...

I have zero Mannheim Steamroller in my collection. I hate it almost as much as I hate glitter. It is a pox on Christmas music. My friends and family know better than to get me this even as a joke. And how do they keep churning the stuff out...and SELLING it!? I don't get it.

However, you MUST MUST MUST MUST see all of IAMMMMW! One of my favorite movies of all time!

CaptainOT said...

Stubby - Dang it! I thought Amazon had a CD; that's digital download! The CD is going the way of the 8-track.

Ernie - I saw the movie as a kid when my parents watched it on CBS. Many years later, I endured it in a film class and I found I wasn't alone in my contempt.

There is one moment when I laugh out loud in this movie: when Jimmy Durante dies at the beginning of the film, he literally kicks the bucket. Every thing else? Zzzzzz.

King of Jingaling - Mannheim Steamroller is very much like "Mad x 4 World" - you either love it or hate it to extremes and the reason I used the comparison.

What's your favorite part of the film?


jeffrey said...

i continue to enjoy the first two albums. i am new to this blog and have not seen a comprehensive list of your collection. have you posted it? i am abit older 61 and my collection starts with some albums from the forties, fifties and early sixties. my love of christmas music i inherited from my father. over the years i have carefully selected at least one new album every year. my core collection,that i listen to is about 50 albums and my favorite is mantovani's 1958 christmas carols. his overuse of strings 'works' with this music, while being tedious otherwise.

Megan said...

I’m writing from Surfdog Records. Thanks for posting about Brian on your blog, we really appreciate it! We’re gearing up to release a brand new Brian Setzer album this Fall and I’d love to add you on to our e-mail list so we can keep you in the loop. I did not see an e-mail address on your blog. Please send mean e-mail at megan@surfdog.com if you would like to be added to our list!

Tony said...

The first time I heard Steamroller's Christmas music I was lost at the mall while Christmas shopping.

Still feel the same way.