The True Story Behind Mariah Carey's 'All I Want For Christmas'
Def Jam/"All I Want For Christmas Is You"
Mariah Carey's "Merry Christmas" album was first released November 1, 1994. It's been the No. 1 Christmas song in the U.S. practically since its inception.
Anyone capable of croaking out a note these days now puts out Christmas records. We are oversaturated with them, and they come and go with barely a whimper.
You can think of some the reasons why — banalization, cannibalization — but it may simple be because every year for the past 19 years, a juggernaut has blown them all away : “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” by Mariah Carey.
We wanted to learn more about what went into creating something so utterly dominant, so we called up Walter Afanasieff, who co-wrote the song.
Carey is obviously the star of "Want," but Afanasieff composed all the music. By the time the song came around, Afanasieff had already been Carey’s main songwriting partner for five years. He was also a driving force behind the two hit singles immediately preceding “Want,” “Hero” and “Without You”.
Recording a Christmas album was basically unheard of in 1994, Asafanieff says, and a bit of a risk. Back then, top 40 Christmas songs in the U.S. had practically died out, having been deemed too sleepy for Gen-X’ers.
But Carey had entered the height of her powers, and things were going so well that they figured they could get away with it. Plus, Afanasieff says, Carey just loves Christmas, both for its festive and religious trappings.
So in June of 1994, they started writing songs for a Christmas album. C arey had Christmas lights and decorations strung up to set the mood. There would be three singles, and thanks to some nudging from Tommy Mottola, Carey's Bronx-born husband and impresario, one of them was going to be a more upbeat, propulsive number in the mode of Phil Spector’s '60s Brill Building pop sound. Indeed, the song in many ways resembles the Spector/Darlene Love hit "Baby Please Come Home."
With that directive in mind, Afanasieff says he’d come up with a basic chord structure when he and Carey sat down at a piano to write the tune at the house she was renting with Mottola in the Hamptons.
Initially, Afanasieff admits, he blanched at where Carey took the vocal melody.
"My first reaction was, 'That sounds like someone doing voice scales…Are you sure that's what you want?’ "
But Carey was adamant, and after a few hours, they had the main elements of the song.
"She would sing a melody and I would do a chord change…it was almost like a game of ping-pong, back and forth, until we had it."