Mannheim Steamroller is one of the most popular Christmas groups ever. There’s no way you can make it through the holiday season without hearing at least one of their songs. They started rolling their way through the music scene in 1975 with the release of Fresh Aire. Their jazzy, progressive style of rock was unique at the time. However, it wasn’t until 1984 (five albums later) that founder/mastermind Chip Davis decided to take the group down a more festive route, by tackling a bunch of Christmas classics. Their first effort, naturally titled Christmas, was a rocking success. It was the first of their albums to crack the Billboard charts, reaching no. 50 on their weekly 200. The release of holiday music launched the band to greater heights than any of their original work, even though it was just as wonderful. Christmas has gone on to sell a staggering 6 million plus copies in the U.S.
Once the group picked up steam, they just couldn’t be stopped. Their second Christmas album – A Fresh Aire Christmas – did just as well. This 1988 masterpiece took the already classic “Carol Of The Bells” and gave it a more modern, electronic sound. This was perfect for the 80s. Nestled toward the end of the album, directly after this song, is a beautiful little number called “Traditions Of Christmas”. Much like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, it’s a track that can be easy to overlook. But, as we’ve learned from Charlie and the gang, no Christmas tradition, regardless of its size or popularity, should ever be ignored or dismissed. The soft use of keyboards and strings in this song give the listener a comfy, pleasant feeling, like a crackling fire on a snowy night. It’s the type of instrumental that somehow tells you everything will be alright. However, it wasn’t until this fine piece of music was re-released in 2004 that it really lived up to its name.
Mannheim’s compilation album Christmas Celebration features excellent updated versions of yule tide favorites from their previous records. The track that stands out the most is “Traditions Of Christmas”. They breathed new life into the song by having the talented Lynn Dee Mueller lay vocals over the already cheerful melody. The lyrics do a fantastic job of capturing just about every memorable image or feeling a person can have around the holidays. Stories, songs, family, blessings, affection . . . all the things that matter the most. You name it, it’s there. Her passionate vocals help paint a picture that belongs on a Christmas card:
“Candlelight in churches / starlight on the mountains / Smell of pine in houses / wood smoke in the air.”
If that isn’t the most perfect, peaceful holiday scene, then I don’t know what is. The power of Mannheim’s music lies in their ability to reinvent holiday songs in a way that is both extravagant and fun. In many ways, their songs are a breath of fresh aire (pun intended). They touch our souls. They bring us happiness during the long winter’s cold. They do all of this by paying close attention to the immense value of Christmas traditions:
“When traditions are so special / they make your heart so warm, dear / they give you soft, kind feelings / that make you realize that the world needs our affection.”
Those who considers themselves a lover of all things Christmas will eat this song up, like Santa devouring cookies on Christmas Eve. “Traditions Of Christmas” ends profoundly with the line:
“Christmas has a spirit / that keeps us so alive”.
This is remarkably true. The world is so crazy sometimes that we need this holiday. If this song doesn’t put you in the Christmas mood, no song will. It is a message to everyone. A message of love and unity. In it is a glimmer of hope. A glimmer that is always there, but shines the absolute brightest on Christmas.
Author: Written by Alan Ritch for the PA Christmas & Gift Show