Mariah Carey’s Christmas Hit Song: How It Became a Holiday Classic
Mariah Carey’s fourth studio album and first holiday record, Merry Christmas (1994), has the song “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” Afanasieff and Carey wrote and produced the song. It was released by Columbia Records on October 29, 1994, as the album’s lead single. The song is a fast-paced love song with synthesizers, bell chimes, and background voices. It has been praised by critics.
The New Yorker called it one of the few worthy modern additions to the holiday canon. The song has become a Christmas classic, and every December it gets a lot more famous.
The song did really well when it first came out. In the US, it peaked at number six on the Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary chart. In the UK and Japan, it reached number two. Now that more people stream music, the single is famous again. It hits number one in over 40 countries and is back on the charts every year in the weeks before Christmas. This is partly because it is added to many popular holiday mixes.
There were 25 years between when the song came out and when it became number one in the US and 26 years between when it became number one in the UK. With 16 million copies sold around the world, the song is one of the most well-known digital tracks of all time. The song was picked by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry in 2023.
After Carey’s record Music Box did well in 1993, she started working on new projects with her managers at Columbia Records. These included her husband at the time, Tommy Mottola, who was in charge of Columbia’s parent company, Sony Music Entertainment. The group thought about making a Christmas album, but decided not to because those kinds of records usually come out when an artist’s career is winding down.
For more than four years, Carey has worked with Walter Afanasieff on songs. He said, Back then, there weren’t a lot of artists with Christmas albums. Back then, no one knew anything about it, and there were no new, big Christmas songs.
Mottola kept pushing Carey and Afanasieff to write songs for Merry Christmas, which they did in the middle of 1994. Carey put up Christmas decorations in the house she shared with Mottola because she thought it would help her get into the holiday mood and make her performance seem more real. In August of that year, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” was recorded. It took Carey and Afanasieff 15 minutes to write and arrange the song.
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“All I Want for Christmas Is You” is a fast-paced song with elements of pop, soul, R&B, gospel, dance-pop, and adult contemporary. There were already two original songs written by Carey and Afanasieff by the beginning of August. They were “sad and ballad-y” (“Miss You Most (At Christmas Time)”) and “Gospel-tinged and religious” (“Jesus Born on This Day”).
The third and last original song the two were going to write was going to be based on and sound like a “Phil Spector, old rock ‘n roll, 1960s-sounding Christmas song.”
At the start of the song, celesta plays a sparkling bit of percussion that sounds like an old music box or a fun snow globe. The opening chimes have some things in common with the celesta from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. This is because both pieces use instrumental build-up and gradual layering of musical elements to create a growing sense of excitement for the holiday season.
Carey’s a cappella vocal intro is followed by other holiday percussion sounds, such as happy sleigh bells, celebratory church bells, and “an underlying rhythmic beat that sounds like the loping pace of a horse or reindeer.” These sounds have elements of both religious and secular music, but they don’t lean too far in either way. They give the song a happy, upbeat tone.
There were no changes made for the song when it came out as a single in 1994. In 2000, Carey put the song out again on the market in Japan with a new remix called the So So Def version. There are new lyrics on the remix, which is played over a harder, more urban beat that samples Afrika Bambaataa & the Soulsonic Force’s “Planet Rock.” Jermaine Dupri and Bow Wow also sing on the remix. As an extra track, the remix can be found on Carey’s 2001 album Greatest Hits. There is a video for the So So Def version, but Carey and the hip-hop musicians who play in the song are not in it.
The video is drawn and based on a scene from Carey’s 1999 video for “Heartbreaker.” Carey, Jermaine Dupri, Bow Wow, Luis Miguel (Carey’s boyfriend at the time), Carey’s dog Jack, and Santa Claus all make cameos in the video. During 2009 and 2010, the song was in a music video that went along with ESPN’s and ABC’s Christmas Day coverage of the NBA.
A version made by Carey and Low Sunday called “Mariah’s New Dance Mix” came out in 2009. The original voices from 1994 were put on top of new electronic instruments in the mix. There was good feedback on the remix. Kyle Anderson of MTV wrote that “it’s hard to make something better,” but that the remix “does dress up the song in a disco thump that should make your office Christmas party 28% funkier than it was last year.”Becky Bain of Idolator said the song was catchy.
Merry Christmas II You, Carey’s thirteenth studio album and second holiday album, came out in 2010. It included a new recording of the song. The new version was called “All I Want for Christmas Is You (Extra Festive)” and had re-recorded vocals, stronger drumming, softer bell ringing, and an orchestral opening instead of the slow vocal introduction. Rap-Up’s Steven J. Horowitz said that the new version “sounded just as enjoyable as it did in 1994.” Many people liked the song, but some said it was too much like the original.
Thomas Connor of the Chicago Sun-Times said that the new version “seems to add a few brassy backup singers to the same melody. “Rolling Stone’s Caryn Ganz agreed, saying that the new version made it “hard to figure out what’s ‘extra festive'” about it. Editorial page manager for The National, Dan Hancox, also didn’t think the new version was needed.
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Artist: Mariah Carey
Song: All I Want For Christmas Is You
Released: October 29, 1994
Record label: Columbia Records