About the Song:
In less than five years, Mariah Carey had arguably established herself as the biggest pop star on the planet. She’d released three albums and a live EP that were all multi-platinum sellers. She’d also reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 eight times. In 1994, she released a Christmas album which became her third chart-topper and eventually racked up worldwide sales of 15 million.
At the time, Christmas albums were viewed as releases in the twilight of an artist’s career so management at Columbia Records was hesitant about the idea. Walter Afanasieff, a frequent collaborator with Carey, said “Back then you didn’t have a lot of artists with Christmas albums. It wasn’t a known science…nobody…did new, big Christmas song.” WK However, Tommy Mottola, head of Columbia’s parent lable Sony Music Entertainment and Carey’s then-husband, was insistent.
The album’s first single was “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” a song written by Carey and Afanasieff in 15 minutes. WK As he said, “it was very formulaic, not a lot of chord changes.” WK She said, “It’s very traditional, old-fashioned Christmas. It’s very retro, kind of ‘60s.” WK They wanted something in the style of Phil Spector’s girl group productions in the 1960s like Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” SF Lyrically, Mariah “is not concerned about all the paraphernalia of Christmas – she just wants to be with her man.” SF “There’s something special about…a modern superstar who could probably buy up the North Pole but just wants to be with her special someone for the holiday.” SF
It would become a “new, big Christmas song,” one that would become the biggest selling song of Mariah’s career – although not right away. When “All I Want for Christmas Is You” was first released in 1994, it reached #12 on the Billboard airplay chart but was not eligible for the Hot 100 because it lacked a physical single release. The “uptemp love song” WK became a perennial favorite, charting year after year.
In 2019 – a quarter century after its initial release – “All I Want” topped the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time, thanks to some rule changes through the years. That gave it the record for the longest trip to reach #1. WK It topped the charts again in 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023. In America, this is easily the most successful post-1963 Christmas song. SF In 2020, it hit #1 on the UK charts – 26 years after its initial release – and in its 70th week in the top 40. SF
Annie Zaleski of The A.V. Club said the ambuity in being able to tie the song to a certain era was the reason for its enduring appeal. WK The New Yorker’s Sasha Frere-Jones called it “one of the few worthy modern additions to the holiday canon.” WK Slate’s Adam Ragusea said it was “the only Christmas song written in the last half-century worthy of inclusion in the Great American Songbook.” WK
First posted 4/16/2023.
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