Things you didn't know about Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas is You! Behind the Christmas Hits
What song had the longest journey ever to become #1? It's Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas is You.
#BehindTheChristmasHits is Presented by Pizza Pizza!
It was 1993 and Mariah’s then husband and head of her record company, Tommy Mottola, began strategizing with his team about her next career move. To everyone’s surprise, they decided a Christmas album was the way to go. Mariah couldn’t understand why. Her most recent album, Music Box, had been her biggest success yet - the album sold more than 28 million copies worldwide. An album of Christmas standards felt like a project for way further down the road and not for someone who had only been a pop star for about 3 years.
She thought they were way off with this, but the idea eventually tapped into something that had been present in Mariah since she was a child. Her Christmas spirit. Mariah LOVES Christmas. Something she credits her mom for in those early years. Mariah eventually came around, but instead of just doing covers of familiar songs, Mariah wanted to write something new, and now suddenly, the record label was nervous... but you try telling Mariah Carey “no".
Tommy Mottola wanted something more uptempo – something “rock and roll” like Phil Spector did with Darlene Love and the Ronettes back in 1963.
Mariah has said her true of love of Christmas comes from the hope that’s in the holiday. And that’s where the lyrics of this next song would come from. She began to make a list of all the things she had thought of since childhood but then flipped those feelings into lyrics about lost love. It started as a Christmas song that turned into a love song and then back into a Christmas song.
Mariah says she was in her upstate NY home and put on her copy of It’s a Wonderful Life and blasted it through the house. She went into a room where she kept a Casio keyboard. Mariah is very honest about this – she says she’s a terrible piano player, but sometimes happy accidents happen…and one did here. She kind of stumbled on the melody and chord progression and recorded it on a cassette recorder.
Mariah’s account of how the song was written differs from her former songwriting partner, Walter Afanasieff. They had worked together on every album of hers to this point. Mariah told Entertainment Weekly that when she brought the song to Walter, she had already written most of it. Walter says he and Mariah were actually in the room together while he was “plucking it out on the piano.” Walter’s version is that he took care of the melody while Mariah worked out the lyrics. Unfortunately, the two had a falling out over 20 years ago and haven’t spoken since.
When it was recorded in the summer of ‘94, Mariah had every square inch of the studio decorated. Trees, ornaments, candles, lights up on the windows – even the temperature was turned way down.
Mariah wanted the song to feel like something she could’ve grown up listening to – something you couldn’t help but be happy listening to.
No band actually plays on the song. It was entirely constructed on Walter’s computer. The only things that were added were the voices of Mariah & her back-up singers.
It’s rare that a song grows in popularity almost every single year. After it was released on October 28 1994, All I Want for Christmas is You peaked at #13 on the Billboard Hot 100.
On December 16, 2019, it finally reached the top of that chart, setting a record for the longest trip ever to get to #1. It was also the first time a Christmas song has been #1 on the Hot 100 since The Chipmunk Song in 1958. It also became Mariah’s first #1 hit since 2008 and her 19th overall. And it’s the biggest-selling Christmas song on digital platforms ever.
Mariah told the NY Times that after picking it apart for years, she’s finally at a place where she can enjoy it.
As for Walter, despite the falling out with Mariah, he pinches himself every year when the song becomes a hit all over again. “My ex-wives, my children and my grandchildren are enjoying a lot of nice things because of that song.”
Whose version of who wrote what and where is closer to the truth? It probably doesn’t matter – Mariah and Walter share equal song writing credit and unlike some other Christmas classics, no lawsuits have ever been filed over it.
Mariah calls co-writing this song one of her greatest achievements. That’s not hyperbole. Unless you’re old enough to remember Bing Crosby’s White Christmas when it was brand new in 1942 – there isn’t a Christmas song since that’s done what Mariah Carey’s has.
Behind The Christmas Hits is Presented by Pizza Pizza!
Mariah Carey Merry Christmas: Columbia Records 1994