Unless you’ve been living under a rock since Thanksgiving you’ve undoubtedly been hearing Christmas music everywhere you go. And if you’re listening to Christmas music at some point you’re bound to hear Mariah Carey’s classic All I Want for Christmas Is You (1994).
Carey’s song is universally renowned, a Christmas classic. From the slow, heartful intro to the explosion of piano and jingle bells you instantly recognize it’s meant for Christmas. Carey’s voice is beautiful and powerful, but All I Want for Christmas Is You stands out as it’s the only classic Christmas song made within the last thirty years.
Sure, many others have tried to create modern Christmas songs that go down as classics but no one other than Carey has pulled it off. You might consider Snoop Dog’s Christmas in tha Dogg House or Ariana Grande’s Christmas & Chill works of art for the history books, but it’s probably safe to say most don’t.
A quick look at the Billboard Holiday 100, a list ranking the most popular holiday songs right now, has Carey’s song firmly holding the number one spot. When you look at the top songs you quickly notice the most popular songs were performed by singers of days past. Bobby Helm’s Jingle Bell Rock (1957) and Dean Martin’s Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow (1945) are among Carey’s company. In fact, after Carey’s song, the most recent song in the Billboard’s top ten is Wham!’s Last Christmas (1984) which is a full ten years older than All I Want for Christmas Is You.
So why was Carey the only person in the last quarter century to create a Christmas classic? All I Want for Christmas Is You is a careful study of past trends in Christmas classics. Under careful observation you can see Carey’s song pulls popular elements from songs of Christmas past.
Music aficionados will instantly recognize Carey’s song harkens back to works by Phil Spector and Bing Crosby. Most notably, Spector’s Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) (1963) and Bing Crosby’s White Christmas (1942), the bestselling song of all time, share the same chord progression as Carey’s All I Want for Christmas Is You. This is easily recognizable in Carey’s building intro that nearly mirrors Spector’s and once you’ve heard the two songs back-to-back it’s hard to deny their similarity. When you hear Carey you instantly know it’s a Christmas song, and instantly recall Christmas favorites.
Christmas spirit and success are engrained in the musical DNA of Carey’s song, one of the reasons we still listen to it nearly 25 years later. To say All I Want for Christmas Is You is only a success because of borrowed elements would be a disservice to her voice and creativity, but by understanding classic trends and dissecting popular songs Carey created a song that is beautiful, relatable, and immediately communicates it’s Christmas time once again.