Over at The Hits Just Keep Comin’, JB notes the reaction of listeners to Mannheim Steamroller’s A Fresh Aire Christmas during a stint DJing at an easy listening station in the late ’80s.
(“You wouldn’t think that the elevator-music audience would use language like we heard on the telephone.”)
I remember A Fresh Aire Christmas being released for the holidays in 1988. I was a junior in college and it was my second Christmas working in a record store, having earned the gig as seasonal, part-time help the year before.
Our manager prodded us to mix in some holiday music to little avail until our assistant manager discovered Mannheim Steamroller’s collection of seasonal music that was whiter than the whitest of white Christmases.
His repeated playing of the stuff drove most of us to a murderous rage.
He was a dimunitive graduate student studying French and had floppy hair and long fingernails. He would stroke his goatee, yammering in a language none of us spoke and then, invariably, launch into an impassioned argument with himself on why Quebec should secede from Canada.
(this diatribe was delivered, unfortunately, in English not that we cared whether Quebec remained part of Canada or not)
In truth, most of us wanted to murder him year ’round, but that December he truly risked death each time he put on A Fresh Aire Christmas.
Here are four songs from albums I recall we favored that holiday season…
Traveling Wilburys – Handle With Care
from Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 (1988)
The one word that always comes to mind when I think of The Wilburys is charming. That first record was one that you just wanted to spend time with.
(it actually seemed to ease any tensions amongst the staff when we’d play it in the store…is it even possible to contemplate bludgeoning a co-worker while listening to Nelson, Otis, Lefty, Lucky, and Charlie T. Jr?)
Not that there wasn’t a bit of melancholy around the record with the death of Roy Orbison – Lefty – that December just as the album was becoming a a must-have. And the gorgeous Handle Me With Care is a bit wistful (though not defeated).
Let’s Active – Every Dog Has His Day
from Every Dog Has His Day (1988)
Actually, I doubt that we played Let’s Active in the store. The jangly, Southern power-pop trio never got beyond cult status and a little play on college radio and middle-of-the-night MTV.
I knew a couple of the band’s songs and I certainly knew guitarist Mitch Easter for his production credits including R.E.M.’s Murmur and Reckoning. Years later, I’d realize that I’d grown up with the band’s original drummer
Steve Earle – Copperhead Road
from Copperhead Road (1988)
One of the first celebrities I encountered in the large record store where I worked post-college was Steve Earle. It was pleasant but a bit strange as he came through the doors ten minutes before closing with the lights down, the music off, and us ushering the remaining customers out the door.
He politely asked me if we had his new album, a live set wonderfully titled Shut Up And Die Like An Aviator. As we walked through the dimly-lit aisles to the E section, he lamented that his label hadn’t given him a copy.
The rest of the conversation is long forgotten, though I do remember him seeming to be geniunely appreciative as I handed him the CD and told him how much a lot of the staff dug the record.
“You should make sure they get you a copy.”
Three years earlier, we were digging the tale of the ganja-growing Vietnam vet in Copperhead Road in that college store.
Jane’s Addiction – Mountain Song
from Nothing’s Shocking (1988)
I can’t hear Jane’s Addiction without thinking of my late dog and how he would spring to attention whenever he heard the dog barking at the beginning of their song Been Caught Stealing.
Mountain Song appeared on their full-length debut, though, and it was the first thing I’d ever heard by the iconic alternative rock band. My buddy Streuss threw the song on while I was hanging out with him during his shift DJing on our college radio station and we were duly impressed with the avalanche of sound.