Sorry, Christmas music purists.
Also sorry if that made you feel old.
“All I Want For Christmas Is You” was the lead track on Mariah’s Christmas album, the appropriately titled Merry Christmas, (the MC was stylized just like Mariah’s name because her design team are geniuses). The record was released early in Carey’s career (between Music Box and Daydream, classic albums in their own right) taking advantage of the young singer’s growing fan base and the need for contemporary holiday music. The album featured a mix of original music and classic holiday songs showcasing her distinctive vocal dexterity, urban credibility and blossoming relevance in the music world. Mariah was ushering in a new age of pop sensibility to what could have been a very stale holiday pop music market. There are only so many variations of “White Christmas” one can take before completely losing their minds.
Perhaps what made the album stand out at the time was that very few, if any, new holiday music was being released outside of the standard holiday classics. Band Aid’s “Do They Know it’s Christmas” was released in 1984, Wham’s “Last Christmas” was released in 1986, and Run DMC’s “Christmas In Hollis” was released in 1987. The arrival of Merry Christmas meant a whole new generation of music lovers would have music that reflected their sound and the sound of the holiday season.
Here, in a nutshell, is the All I Want For Christmas Is You formula:
Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”
Brenda Lee’s “Rocking Around The Christmas Tree”
Run DMC’s “Christmas In Hollis”
The song follows the tried and true pop formula of a great chorus, simple melody and playfulness that one expects from an era that was focused on having a great time with music. It draws from a deep well of central themes presented in other holiday classics, creating a potent mix of holiday cheer.
AIWFCIS features the trappings of a traditional Christmas song —the jingling bells and carolers— but what absolutely sells it is the fact that it really just tells the story of a girl who just wants some love for Christmas. Even if one were to remove the parts mentioning Christmas (all I want for Easter, Graduation, Autumnal Equinox) it would still be a song about wanting someone or something to be yours. Think about this: when the song was first released, it was at the height of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers fever, so that song could’ve easily been about getting all five Rangers, a Mega Morpher, the official costume (red ranger, of course) and the Megazord for Christmas. It’s about the things we desire most being fulfilled because of the magic that the holiday season inspires. As soon as you hear it, it automatically felt like Christmas and that’s really what you want from a great holiday song.
Maybe it’s just the way Mariah sings it, the way producer Walter Afanasieff arranged the melody, maybe it’s just that we got sick of listening to the same old same old, but the song captures a bright spot in what can sometimes be a trying part of the year. You could be stressed out, angry, unemployed, miserable, or alone, but something about that melody immediately brings you to a better place, even for a little while. It’s the universal message of promise, of love, of peace that the world really needs that elevates the track above it’s predecessors. That’s not to say “White Christmas” or other holiday fare are terrible songs, but they tend to show their age in comparison to the flexibility found in AIWFCIS.
Still aren’t convinced “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is the best Christmas song ever? Let’s see how it stacks up alongside these other modern holiday offerings.
Ariana Grande “Santa Tell Me”
Even with all her Mariah comparisons, this song just doesn’t quite capture the same magic.
Mariah Carey and Justin Bieber “All I Want For Christmas Is You”
Of course Beiber had to try. He put out a whole Christmas album but most people really only paid attention to this track.
Kelly Clarkson “Underneath The Tree”
Maybe she’s talking about the presents Mariah doesn’t care about because all she wants for Christmas is you?
Taylor Swift “When You Were Mine”
Can’t make a list without Taylor Swift
Find me on the Tweets @invisiblecircus and let’s sing “Carol of The Bells” together.