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What's in the Aire: Mannheim Steamroller's Christmas Discography, Ranked

Real Steam-heads know.

Photo via Mannheim Steamroller

If you ask me, the holiday season started on September 15, 1984, and it hasn’t stopped since. That’s when Mannheim Steamroller released Christmas, the first festive album from Chip Davis’s synth-driven crew. Thirty years have passed, and the group has given us a murderer’s row of Christmas hits and yuletide bangers since then.

Whenever I’m at a mall or grocery store during the holidays and they’re playing Bing Crosby, Michel Bublé, or some other weak-ass “Christmas music,” I can always spot the Steam-heads. We’re the ones with our noise-canceling headphones on, blasting Christmas Symphony, A Fresh Aire Christmas, or one of the many other Mannheim Steamroller classics from the MP3 players clipped to our belts.


Sorry if you don’t “get it,” but we know that there’s two types of Christmas music: Steamroller and everything else. (Trans-Siberian Orchestra is pretty cool, too).

To celebrate 30 years of Mannheim Steamroller Christmases, I have ranked their albums below. (NOTE: These are original albums ONLY; no compilations or best ofs. If you got a problem with it, get the hell out of my face and go listen to Dave Koz or some other shit).

11. The Christmas Angel

Christmas Angel features old Steamroller compositions, which are good. However, spoken word vocals are laid on top of these tracks, which is bad. There’s a terrible rap version of “Good King Wenceslas” that haters loved to cite as proof that the group had gotten out of touch. To be fair, the album came out during the post-Biggie and Tupac hip-hop vacuum of 1998, and no one was really producing any noteworthy hip-hop tracks at the time.

10. Christmas Song

This is the most MIDI-sounding of all Mannheim Steamroller’s albums and it is certainly not their best effort. Steamroller co-founder Jackson Berkey didn’t work on 2007's Christmas Song, and it shows. It’s too heavy on the vocals, which are provided by Olivia Newton-John and Johnny Mathis, and it is almost completely devoid of the marrow-shaking synth that Steam-heads come to expect.

9. Christmasville

Another vocal-heavy album, 2008's Christmasville is, in part, an ode to Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It has a few good tunes (“Messengers of Christmas” packs some heat), but seems geared for children, not grown-and-sexy Steamroller die-hards. Leave this for the young ones and save the high-proof stuff for after they go to bed.


8. My Little Christmas Tree

Another one for the kids, but 1997's My Little Christmas Tree is one with more synth dreamscapes than Christmasville. “Above the Northern Lights” might trigger some gnarly ASMR in your children if they have the right amount of Christmas spirit and if your sound system is up-to-snuff.

7. Christmas Live

First things first: God, I wish I was there. Jackson Berkeley tears up the keyboard, Ron Cooley dominates the strings, crowd-favorite Arnie Roth grips it and rips it on the violin, Roxanne Layton grooves on percussion, and Chip Davis does his Chip Davis thing and flies this Steamroller to the North Pole and back like a goddamned madman.

However, I’m a little confused by the setlist for this 1997 release. Starting with “Angels We Have Heard On High” is dope, but where’s “Deck The Halls”? The rock version of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” brings the house down, but it would’ve been nice to chew on an extended cut. I’m probably just jealous because I wasn’t there, though.

6. Christmas in the Aire

Seven years passed between A Fresh Aire Christmas and 1995’s Christmas in the Aire, and the result is a mature, more subdued Mannheim Steamroller. This one is good to put on early in the season before you build up to the heavier shit.

5. Christmas Extrodinaire

Christmas Extrodinaire is very similar to Christmas in the Aire. I have this one ranked higher because of the inclusion of “Fum Fum Fum,” a track that’ll peel the paint off your nutcracker.


4. Christmas Symphony

Ya’ll crazy for this one. 2011's Christmas Symphony was recorded with members Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, and be sure to put this album on if your fireplace goes out because those cats bring the HEAT.

3. 30/40

What did this achieve? Oh, not much—30/40 just capped off three decades of Christmas dominance and solidified Mannheim Steamroller’s G.O.A.T. status. There was nothing more satisfying than seeing the haters have to shut their damn mouths after 30/40 dropped this year, and I hope the album plays at their funerals. “Chocolate Fudge” is a standout track on this festive LP.

2. Christmas

The original, and where it all began. Released in 1984, its first track, “Deck the Halls,” is a classic synth banger. The Spanish guitars in “Coventry Carol” harken back to “Classical Gas” and Davis’s work with Fresh Aire, and “Good King Wenceslas” should still be a club hit.

It’s also where we first heard both versions of “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen.” The original is a classic “Greensleeves”-esque baroque ditty that would be a dope single on most Christmas albums, but Mannheim Steamroller drops the extended “Rock” version right after it in a move that’s still rattling holiday reveler’s cerebral cortexes to this day.

1. A Fresh Aire Christmas

The second Mannheim Steamroller Christmas album, released in 1988, lands at the number one spot, and it’s a close call. It edges Christmas because it has “Carol of the Bells,” which is, without a doubt, the darkest and most sinister Christmas jam ever laid down. Perfect for bumping in the whip as you cruise the cold city streets, “Carol of the Bells” puts A Fresh Aire Christmas over the top.

Turn all the lights off in your house except for the Christmas tree, fireplace, any electric nativity scenes or miniature holiday villages, pour a tall glass of ‘nog, and play this album at full volume. It can still make your brain melt out of your skull and drip through your nostrils. Merry Christmas.

Nick Greene is the ultimate Steam-head. Follow him on Twitter.