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Music Musings: Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You”

By Paulo Camacho

It’s one of the most successful songs, by one of the most successful recording artists, in modern music history. Interestingly enough, it seems only appropriate to play it around one particular time of year — for good reason. And as soon as you hear that opening line, the tune is almost instantly recognizable:

“I don’t want a lot for Christmas …”

The holiday season, for many radio listeners, is a time to look forward to endless Christmas songs. One in particular — Mariah Carey’s soulful Yuletide hit, “All I Want For Christmas Is You” — has received a plethora of airtime over the past two decades. It is now considered the most-downloaded holiday single of all time. Recorded for her 1994 holiday album “Merry Christmas” as its lead single, “All I Want For Christmas Is You” went on to peak at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in Adult Contemporary music, and became a holiday classic with each subsequent re-release.

For such a famous song, come some interesting facts. Here are a few that I’ve dug up about this classic ballad that you may enjoy:

Mariah Carey originally didn’t want to record the song. For such a popular track in the annals of music history, one would think that it was something anyone would jump at the chance to sing — especially for someone with the growing popularity (at the time) as Mariah Carey. That was not the case for one Mrs. Mariah, when the opportunity was first presented to her.

According to her then-husband, Sony Music executive Tommy Mottola in his memoir Hitmaker: The Man and His Music, Carey expressed concerns over the compilation of a Christmas album in general. She was worried that recording songs like “All I Want” would be a PR hit to her hip-hop image. She was famously quoted, when seeing her “Merry Christmas” album cover for the first time, as saying the following:

“What are you trying to do, turn me into Connie Francis?”

The song’s co-writer wasn’t in love with it, either. Co-writer Walter Afanasieff had written megahits for Carey in the past — “One Sweet Day” and “Hero,” among them — so, in writing a song as catchy and fun as “All I Want For Christmas Is You”, one would assume he thought that this was another banger in the making, right? According to the man, himself, he was genuinely turned off by the fact that the piece was too simple. After all, as he put it:

“It’s a very simple arrangement. In fact, it’s so simple that at the time I thought it was overly simple and I really didn’t like it. Music people know: ‘bah bah bah bah bah bah bah bah’… it’s almost a practice interval.”

He did admit, however, that it was likely that simplicity — one so “easily palatable” for the music-loving public — that made it so popular.

Any other preconceived notion you might have about the song’s creation is false. Believe it or not, “All I Want For Christmas Is You” wasn’t some “perfect Christmas tune” created in a lab, slaving hours on end, by the world’s best songwriters in the heart of the holiday season; snow falling outside the studio’s windows, with Mariah and Co. huddled together drinking hot apple cider with the orchestra during recording sessions.

As a matter of fact, the song was created in a mere 15 minutes, by Carey and Afanasieff, on one hot summer day in August of 1994. In the time it takes to save you 15 percent or more on car insurance (#NotASponsor), two people came up with one of the catchiest Christmas songs of all time. And because it was recorded in August, Carey reportedly brought in Christmas lights into the studio in order to get in the holiday mood. And, as for that background “orchestra”? It didn’t exist — the music was all done on Afanasieff studio computer. The only “real” things you hear on the track are Carey and her backup singers.

This isn’t the first “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” Interestingly enough, there was another song by the same name, performed by Vince Vance & The Valiants, released as a single in 1989. And don’t think that Carey & Afanasieff ripped them off or anything — after all, the concept of “wanting someone for Christmas” isn’t an original idea. In any case, the 1990 version — featuring lead vocals by Lisa Layne — reflect a more mellow Country sound. Check it out for yourself — it’s worth a listen.

It’s also a hit with goats. In 2010, a goat farmer found that playing the hit classic for his goats increased milk production by 20 percent. In contrast, playing those same goats music by Alvin & The Chipmunks ground milk production to a standstill. Go figure.