Above is the first video recording of Mariah Carey’s 1994 Christmas classic. Now, a quarter-century later, it is the No. 1 song on the Billboard Top 100. That’s some staying power. What follows is a 2016 post.
This 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 download the song hundreds of thousands of times each year. It’s popular from Australia to Japan to Scandinavia.
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 or Elvis Presley’s Blue Christmas, and certainly more than Wham’s Last Christmas.
Carey still makes holiday appearances where she sings the song, and of course it has been covered by other singers and musical groups. But the version above is the one with the staying power.
In addition to singing, Carey co-wrote All I Want with Walter Afanasieff during an especially productive time in her early career. They collaborated on two other songs for Merry Christmas, her fourth album.
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, including The Hanukkah Song, another holiday number, for KennyG.
Affanasieff is not as famous as Carey, 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 Merry Christmas album. He said neither he nor Carey anticipated the success of their breakout song. Some of his comments:
“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.”
People just keep trying to do things with this song. Michael Buble and Barbra Streisand have a cover, and Lady Antebellum has a ballad version. If you want your school band to perform it, there’s a chart for that. You can find saxophone, French horn and trombone renditions online. For all I know, it’s being performed around now in cities with annual those Tuba Christmas recitals. And there are remixes all over TikTok.
There’s an All I want for Christmas children’s book. A documentary, just about the song, is said to be in the works. Carey’s third video of the number dropped this week.
This song is so infectious it makes me want to sing along and dance whenever I hear it. I don’t see why we can’t have Labor Day or Halloween versions too.