This song, recorded in 1994, may be the catchiest pop/rock Christmas song of all time.
It was released before and included in Mariah Carey’s first Christmas album, “Merry Christmas,” the best-selling Christmas album, worldwide, in history. Even now, people buy several hundred thousand downloads of the song each year.
AIWFC begins with a slow, almost sad recitation of the singer’s disinterest in the holiday and bursts open only at the end of the line, “All I want to for Christmas is you.” Then the musical notes tick up a few tones, the syncopation comes to life and the rest of the song is glorious energy, a particularly effective matching of lyric and score.
If you wander through stores or tune your car radio to a pop station, you will hear the song many times a day all through December. It gets more play than Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas,” Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” and certainly Wham’s “Last Christmas.”
The song has been covered by other pop musicians and groups, rendered as a ballad and even re-recorded with more lush orchestral backup by Carey herself on her second Christmas album. But the first rendition is the one with the staying power.
I do enjoy this song. Every time I hear it, I want to sing along and dance across the room. Obviously I’m not the only one.
Mariah Carey wrote AIWFC during an especially productive time in her early career when she was working with Walter Affanasieff, who co-wrote the song and two others on the Christmas album, which he also produced.
Affanasieff is a Brazilian immigrant with Russian parents and a sixth sense for shaping music that appeals to people. His many film credits include producing “My Heart Will Go On,” the Titanic song that was 1998’s best-selling single. He has composed and orchestrated music for dozens of contemporary musical artists and groups.
Affanasieff is not famous, but his fireplace mantel is crowded with Grammy statuettes and he has left his marks all over the last 40 years of the American songbook.
On the 20th anniversary of the AIWFC release, he was interviewed about the song and the Christmas album generally. He said that neither he nor Carey anticipated the success of the their breakout song.
There are always three different areas that Christmas music goes into: Traditional Christmas songs, fun kiddie songs like “Rudolph” or “Frosty,” and then you have your love songs, which are like “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,” “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” all those kinds of songs. (For the album) we decided to write one of each.
It was always the same sort of system with us. We would write the nucleus of the song, the melody primary music, and then some of the words were there as we finished writing it. That went very quickly ….
(All I Want for Christmas) was very formulaic; not a lot of chord changes. I tried to … put in some special chords that you really don’t hear a lot of, to make it unique and special …. That part of it took maybe an hour, and then I went home.
Then for the next week or two Mariah would call me and say, ‘What do you think about this bit?’ We would talk a little bit until she got the lyrics all nicely coordinated and done. And then we just waited until the sessions began … in the summer of ’94 … and started recording.
And that’s when we first heard her at the microphone singing, and the rest is history.