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Music / Mannheim Steamroller

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Mannheim Steamroller is an American musical group founded by instrumentalist Chip Davis. When Davis moved to Omaha, Nebraska, he started off writing jingles for the Bozell & Jacobs advertising agency; he formed Mannheim Steamroller in 1974 as an exploration of a fusion between classical and contemporary modern music, releasing a series of Fresh Aire albums. The group didn't gain major fame until 1984, when it released Mannheim Steamroller Christmas in September, which went six times platinum in the United States by 2004 and kicked off a revival of contemporary Christmas music.

The band's music contains examples of:

  • Ballet: Concert performances of "Mere Image," from Fresh Aire III, included a filmed performance of a ballet dancer acting out the song's thematic arc of birth to death.
  • Christmas Songs: Has become well-known from the mid-80's onward for their Christmas music, which sold several albums, regularly got radio play during the holidays and also became a regular fixture in retail spaces.
  • Concept Album: The Fresh Aire albums started as loosely themed albums that, by the later titles, solidified into full-blown concept pieces:
    • Fresh Aire I: Spring
    • Fresh Aire II: Fall
    • Fresh Aire III: Summer
    • Fresh Aire IV: Winter
    • Fresh Aire V: A trip to the moon, inspired by Johannes Kepler's The Dream
    • Fresh Aire VI: Greek mythology
    • Fresh Aire 7: The number 7
    • Fresh Aire 8: Infinity
  • Genre Mashup: The group's signature sound is melding of classical and modern musical forms and instruments, which Davis has described as "18th century rock and roll." Today, the sound is seen as a precursor to New Age music. This gets reflected in several of their Christmas songs, such as "Fum, Fum, Fum" and "Masters In This Hall", which would start out sounding either medieval or early Renaissance before undergoing a Song Style Shift into more contemporary rock. (Interestingly, this was inspired by their treatment of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" in which the two versions were separate tracks; the mid-music shift took a few years to become a thing.)
  • Instrumentals: A lot of their output were new age instrumentals as well as Christmas music, though on occasion there would be a vocal appearance.
  • Punny Name: A few Fresh Aire song titles are pun-based:
    • "Pass the Keg (Lia)" is a passacaglia.
    • "Saras Band" is a sarabande.
    • The name of Chip Davis' record label, American Gramaphone, is a takeoff on the storied German classical label Deutsche Grammophon.
    • The band's name is a takeoff on a classical music technique called the Mannheim roller.
  • Special Guest: There have been occasional vocal appearances in their albums, including Johnny Mathis and Olivia Newton-John. The 2003 album American Spirit was a collaboration with C. W. McCall, for whom Davis wrote music during the singer's 1970s heyday.