Tuesday, March 03, 2009
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!