This is the 5th and final installment in my “Have A Strange Christmas” series where I highlight a strange Christmas record.
For many, the Christmas season just isn’t the same without an annual viewing of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. In the movie, Clark W. Griswold, played by Chevy Chase, plans to surprise his family by using his Christmas bonus to have a large swimming pool installed in their backyard. Unfortunately, instead of a Christmas bonus, Griswold’s stingy boss gives him a year’s subscription to the Jelly of The Month Club (there really is such a thing). His wife’s Cousin Eddie shows up unexpectedly and takes matters into his own hands as only Cousin Eddie could.
The film was based on a short story called “Christmas ’59,” by John Hughes, which was published in a December 1980 issue of National Lampoon magazine. I won’t spoil it for you if you never saw the film, but it’s a very entertaining holiday movie the whole family will enjoy. Good talk, son.
In December of 1989, Christmas Vacation opened at #2 and quickly became #1 at the box office, grossing over $73 million. Initial reviews were mixed (Roger Ebert only gave it 2 stars) but the movie went on to become a holiday classic. Despite its popularity and the great songs used in the film, an official original motion picture soundtrack was never released. Or was it?
The music on the Christmas Vacation CD isn’t strange, but the backstory has created a strange mystery worthy of a Columbo episode. A story on the Internet persists that a limited-edition CD of the soundtrack was released in 1999 for the movie’s 10th Anniversary. As the story goes, Warner Brothers Records teamed up with RedDotNet and Six Flags to sell the CD’s via on-demand kiosks at Six Flags Magic Mountain (where “Wally World” was based for the first “Vacation” film) for one week only. The blank CDs were burned one by one as purchased by customers and the booklets and the rear jewel case perforated inserts were assembled by Six Flags employees. Each CD’s back insert was printed with its own individual serial number, up to 20,000. The story goes on to say that 7,000 of the 20,000 CDs were burned and sold to the public. An interesting tale, but is there any truth to it?
A Hot Seller
I’ll begin my examination with those reported Six Flags sales figures: 7,000 CDs sold in 1 week. That averages out to 1,000 CDs burned per day. If my math is correct, that translates into 125 CDs per hour based on an 8-hour day. That’s quite a run for a CD that was just a movie soundtrack, was never advertised, and was only available at one location for one week. Even if you dismiss those figures as unreliable, it’s pretty certain that thousands of unburned CDs were left over. For them to become available years later, someone would have to burn and assemble all of those leftover blank CDs, warehouse them, and then sell them years later.
Another argument against the Six Flags story: Warner Brothers purchased Six Flags in 1993 and sold it in 1998. During the 5 years they owned the Park, Warner never once made the Christmas Vacation soundtrack CD available. Yet a year after they sold Six Flags, Warner licensed the CD to be sold inside the Park which they no longer owned?
Another Six Flags CD
Not to confuse matters, but I think it’s relevant to point out that the 2003 CD soundtrack of National Lampoon’s Vacation, the first Vacation movie, adopted the exact same story line. Discogs.com notes the CD, called the “Cancelled Passport Edition”, was “manufactured and distributed by RedDotNet in association with Warner Bros. Motion Picture Studios and Six Flags Magic Mountain Theme Park USA. Numbered series of 20,000.” An expired listing on Worthpoint.com added that, “for the last few thousand copies, WB added music from 1985’s ‘European Vacation’ and 1997’s ‘Vegas Vacation’”, neither of which ever made it to CD. Let me make sure I understand this. The kiosks were reprogrammed and the roll of rear artwork was changed out by park employees to add 10 more songs to the track list during the last three or so days the CDs were being sold? Honestly, I find this a little hard to believe. In any event, we now have two CD soundtracks using the same Six Flags cover story.
This raises another issue. If Six Flags had such on-demand CD burning kiosks then one could logically conclude there would be many, many more titles out there that were burned and sold to public. However, I was unable to find a single CD title beyond these two that was born from a Six Flags RedDotNet CD kiosk. Disogs.com lists discographies from other amusement park on-demand kiosks but not Six Flags other than these 2 titles. Surely, Six Flags didn’t install these on-demand CD kiosks for one week each just for two titles and that’s it.
Proof Of Purchase
During the course of my research, out of the 7,000 CDs supposedly burned at Six Flags, or whatever the number is, I was unable to find a single case where someone claimed to have purchased their Christmas Vacation CD from a Six Flags kiosk and could prove it. Without exception, those who said they owned the CD admitted they bought their copy from one website or another, not at Six Flags.
RedDotNet CD kiosks did exit but I was never able to find any information about Six Flags having installed such on-demand kiosks. Yet I had no difficulty finding information about on-demand CD kiosks at Universal and Disney which I’ll address a little later. A New York Times article by Karen Bannan from April of 2000 reported RedDotNet CD kiosks being in Target, Sam Goody, Warehouse Entertainment, and Walt Disney, but no mention whatsoever of Six Flags.
According to billboard.com, in 2004, Warner Music Group inked a deal with Mediaport Entertainment to offer its music via kiosks to be installed in “retail outlets, colleges, military bases and travelers’ waiting areas”. The article made no mention of Warner having previously partnered with RedDotNet at Six Flags.
This Was A Bootleg
There’s clear information on the Internet that goes against the Six Flags story. Web.archive.org lists the CD as a bootleg. An article on yardbarker.com states, “Strangely, in 1999 a purported ‘10th anniversary’ soundtrack started popping up online on various auction sites. The claim was that they had been made to be sold at Six Flags. Ultimately, it proved to be false, as this was a bootleg CD. In fact, one of the songs on the CD was from John Williams’ ‘Home Alone 2: Lost in New York’ score.” There are also comments on the net that say some of the tracks are of inferior sound quality and some of the discs exhibit skipping problems. Incorrect track listings, questionable sound, and playback issues are often telltale signs of a bootleg.
Get A Life
All this begs the question- If the Six Flags story is false and these CDs are bootlegs, why would someone go to all the trouble of making up an elaborate false history about them? What’s the point? Don’t they have anything better to do with their time? Or do they just get off on putting one over on people? In the history of bootleg recordings, I don’t think there’s ever been an instance where someone fabricated a detailed backstory to try to pass off a series of bootleg recordings as legitimate.
One CD that is definitely legitimate is A Hollywood Christmas and it’s the closest you’re going to get to an official Christmas Vacation soundtrack. The CD was released by Time Life Music (24892-D), of all labels, in 2009, and includes Ray Charles’ That Spirit of Christmas which was used in the Christmas Vacation film, as well as Holiday Road by Lindsey Buckingham (which actually wasn’t used in the film). The latter is the only time that song has ever been licensed to another label for inclusion on a CD. But I digress.
For this article, I decided I needed to somehow obtain one of these legendary Six Flags CDs and evaluate it for myself. It turned out I had a much easier time finding copies and obvious bootlegs. One company on Amazon was selling what it described as the Christmas Vacation “official soundtrack” CD starting in 2011, yet the CD didn’t even come in a jewel case or include a booklet. I’d hardly call that “official”.
There was a convincing limited-edition soundtrack CD released down under in 2011 by “MSH Music”. I couldn’t find any information about this Australian record company or any other titles the label released, so I’ve concluded it was a bootleg. Real record companies don’t usually release a single title in a single country limited to 1,000 pressings and then disappear. That’s not what I’d all a successful business model.
I found a company in Florida burning their own “Special Edition” Christmas Vacation soundtrack CD. They say it’s one of their best-selling titles. The track list is somewhat similar to that of the Six Flags CD. As the CD was on sale for less than 14 bucks including shipping, I bought one (link provided at the end). Technically, I bought the jewel case and the artwork since the website says, “You’ll receive a jewel case with custom artwork created for the soundtrack. This is what you are purchasing. The audio recordings contained within are always absolutely free of charge…with no claim to their quality, copyright or ownership being implied.” In the words of Monty Python, “Say no more. Know what I mean? Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.”
Incidentally, the above website selling this CD states yet another version of the Christmas Vacation soundtrack story: “A soundtrack for the filmNational Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation was released on LP, cassette and CD in 1989. The soundtrack was out-of-print by the mid 1990’s. Since then, there have been several limited-edition print-on-demand CD issues offered at Universal Studios Theme Parks including 10th and 20th Anniversary editions, both of which are also out-of-print.” Wrong! The soundtrack was never officially released in 1989 in any format. It’s true that Universal had CD burning kiosks starting in 1999 (“The Disc Kiosk”), but the selections drew from their back catalog, and Universal didn’t own the rights to the Christmas Vacation soundtrack. Also, there was never a “20th Anniversary Edition” Christmas Vacation soundtrack. This is enough to make the vision of sugar plums dancing in your head explode.
Universal wasn’t the only amusement park burning CDs. According to mousetroop.blogspot.com, Disney had their own on-demand CD burning kiosk system called “Disneyland Forever”, limited to old theme park music, announcements, sound effects, and narration culled from its 40+ year history. The customer selected up to 10 songs (at $2 per track!) from the touch screen kiosk they wanted burned on their CD. The machines could even print the customer’s first name on the cover and on the face of the CD. Disney shut down the service in early 2001. There were also “Wonderland Music Experience” kiosks that operated through 2006 and sold complete Disney CD titles.
You’re Getting Warmer
Themusicshopandmore.com sells a Christmas Vacation CD for $27.98 that looks very close to the Six Flags CD and has all the same tracks, but alas, without a serial number. The site openly admits their CDs are unofficial. There has probably been more bootlegging of this soundtrack than of all the alcohol during prohibition. Will the real Six Flags Christmas Vacation soundtrack CD please stand up?
After keeping a very close eye on discogs, an actual Six Flags Christmas Vacation CD became available from a seller in Romania. I got really excited until I saw the price: $227! GM Chrysler! I wouldn’t pay that even if I had the money.
“An interesting tale, but is there any truth to it?”
Too Legit To Quit
I was feeling like I was on a mission: impossible until I finally tracked down a real Six Flags Christmas Vacation CD in a web shop in Germany of all places. The site sells “Griswold Christmas madness”…Christmas Vacation merchandise like Wally World glass moose mugs, Clark Griswold action figures, Griswold drink coasters, and the coveted Six Flags Christmas Vacation CD. Their website states they were able to secure some of these ultra rare discs thanks to their “long history with the film [industry] and contacts in the USA”. The website repeated the Six Flags story adding, “Park employees had the honorable task of producing the CDs at the burning stations…then the employee removed the perforated cover from a long endless roll, packed everything up and wished the lucky owner of the rarity a nice day.”
The site goes on to say that after the leftover Six Flags Christmas Vacation CDs shipped from the US to this German website, German Customs released the CDs to them after Warner Brothers provided a letter stating the CDs were legit. I contacted the site and asked to see a copy of the letter but my request was denied on the basis that the letter was a private internal document.
Going, Going, Gone
I exchanged numerous emails with someone connected to the website who I’ll keep anonymous, peppering them with questions. By the time I decided to purchase the CD, the price had skyrocketed from $36 to over $60 USD (the regular retail price was shown as $109)! That was a lot better than $227, but I still couldn’t bring myself to drop that kind of dough on a CD, especially being financially challenged. Another week or two passed and the website indicated they were sold out. I had to face the hard reality that I blew what might have been my only chance to buy this rare CD without having to spend megabucks.
More time passed and my curiosity forced me to visit the German site again. Miraculously, they somehow found 20 more copies (“the last 20 brand new with extra high collector’s value”). Despite the “extra high value”, the price had actually dropped to $44. This time I bought one, though the purchase process turned into its own wild adventure since the company only shipped to the UK, Germany, and Switzerland. I was able to enlist the help of a relative who lived in Europe who then forwarded the CD to me. What I won’t go through for my blog. Suspiciously, 3 weeks later the site is still selling “the last 20” CDs and for the same price.
An insert sheet which went into a little more detail about the process accompanied my CD. It was in German but here’s a portion I Google translated: “In the park, park visitors were able to use the RedDotNet Music Kiosk System to select titles or entire soundtracks from the music program and have them burned to CD by park employees on the on-site production machines. The cover inlays ran down from large rolls (hence the perforations and simple printing techniques). The CDs produced without silver dye coating (i.e. without an industrial protective layer – hence the CD burning appearance) and the cover inlays were paired with the jewel case – the soundtrack was ready. Every single soundtrack inlay that rolled off the roll had a unique serial number. 00001 to 20000. The finished soundtrack CDs were handed over to the customer unsealed directly at the kiosk system because ‘sealing technology’ was not provided for on the devices.”
By most appearances, my CD fits the Six Flags narrative. My copy has a serial number (5,237), though if 7,000 were sold to the public as the story goes and this CD was “brand new”, I don’t understand how it could have such a low number. The booklet and rear insert appear to be perforated. It’s a CD-R with a bluish tint. The CD label art features 4 small Clark Griswold’s as opposed to a single Clark Griswold. It would seem I had found the Christmas Vacation CD holy grail.
One glaring omission- The photo in the Christmas Vacation soundtrack listing on discogs, which I consider the website of record when it comes to CDs and LPs, shows a black printed number below the CD’s center hole. My CD has no such number.
The Silence Is Deafening
So, it’s time to revisit the questions I posed at the outset. Is the Six Flags story really true or is it just an urban legend? Is the Warner Brothers National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 10th Anniversary soundtrack CD legitimate? Always up for a challenge, I donned my detective’s fedora and contacted both Warner Brothers and Six Flags Magic Mountain in an attempt to once and for all confirm or debunk the Six Flags story and CD (I couldn’t contact RedDotNet, not to be confused with RedDot Networks, because they’re out of business). The film division of Warner Brothers referred me to the Warner Brothers Music Group. I sent them a message every week for 13 straight weeks and they ignored every single one of my messages despite an auto reply stating they’d respond “shortly”. I asked for the contact information for a manager so I could report my experience and that message was also ignored.
After finding their email address, I emailed the Press Department of Warner Music Group every week for 10 weeks and they also ignored all of my messages. How the staff of a major US company can blatantly ignore their responsibilities and still keep their jobs is beyond me. If I ignored customer emails when I was with Como Audio I would’ve been let go in pretty short order. In desperation, I sent a snail mail letter to Warner Brothers in CA but that also received zero response. If the Six Flags Christmas Vacation CD is a bootleg, I don’t get why Warner Brothers wouldn’t be more willing to say so.
I had only slightly better success with Six Flags in Los Angeles. Their Guest Services referred me to their Public Relations Department which, after 3 weeks, finally got back to me with, “We unfortunately do not have any information or details to share regarding this matter. We wish you the best of luck with your story.” I realize we’re talking over 24 years ago, but it would seem to me the Park would have some kind of record of this (a press release, photos, a contract with RedDotNet, sales records, etc.). Of course, there would be no record if it never happened.
ThThThTh…That’s All Folks
I’m not one to give up easily, but I’ve raised the white flag (all 6 of them) on this magical musical mystery tour. You’ll have to make up your own mind about the Six Flags story and the Christmas Vacation soundtrack CD. Regardless of which side you come down on, it certainly makes for a strange Christmas.
Trivia (from www.imdb.com/title/tt0097958/trivia/): “After failing to get the Christmas lights to work one last time, Clark Griswold takes his frustration out on the plastic decorations in the front yard. Chevy Chase actually broke his pinky finger while punching Santa Claus. He resorts to kicking and clubbing the decorations after that. The film kept rolling, and the take was used.”
Trivia: In real life, Randy Quid, who played Cousin Eddie in “Christmas Vacation”, is the third cousin of Gene Autry, who recorded several hit Christmas songs.
Classic lines from Christmas Vacation:
Clark to Cousin Eddie: “Can I refill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere, leave you for dead?”
Clark to Cousin Eddie: “If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn’t be more surprised than I am right now.”
Clark to a sexy female store clerk: “It’s a bit nipply out. I mean nippy out…It wouldn’t be the Christmas shopping season if the stores were any less hooter — hotter than they are.”
Art to Clark: “The little lights are not twinkling.”
Clark to his family: “We’re gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny f***ing Kaye. And when Santa squeezes his fat white a** down that chimney tonight, he’s gonna find the jolliest bunch of a**holes this side of the nuthouse!”
Every word in my articles is 100% written by me. I never use ChatGPT or any AI technology. Ever.
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