The Story of... 'All I Want for Christmas is You' by Mariah Carey

15 December 2018, 18:34

Mariah Carey
Picture: Columbia

By Tom Eames

It's perhaps the most popular Christmas song of the past 30 years, and feels as if it was written decades before.

Mariah Carey's festive anthem is on top of many people's favourite Christmas song lists, but who wrote it and how did it become such a classic over the years?

Here's all the facts you need to know:

  1. Who wrote 'All I Want for Christmas Is You'?

    Walter Afanasieff in 2017
    Walter Afanasieff in 2017. Picture: Getty

    Mariah Carey wrote the song, alongside her songwriting partner Walter Afanasieff.

    After the success of her 1993 best-selling album Music Box, Carey and her team at Columbia Records thought of ideas for future projects. Her then-husband, Tommy Mottola, head of Columbia's label Sony Music Entertainment, came up with the idea of doing a Christmas album.

    However, there were fears that it would not be wise to release 'holiday' music at the peak of her career, as it was usually the kind of project to undertake towards the end of a musician's waning career.

    Afanasieff later said: "Back then, you didn't have a lot of artists with Christmas albums. It wasn't a known science at all back then, and there was nobody who did new, big Christmas songs.

    "So we were going to release it as kind of an everyday, 'Hey, you know, we're putting out a Christmas album. No big deal.'"

    'All I Want for Christmas Is You' was recorded in August 1994, and took 15 minutes to compose.

    Carey began decorating the home she shared with Mottola in New York with Christmas ornaments. By doing this, she said she felt she could capture the essence of what she was singing about.

    The songwriting couple came up the chords, structure and melody for the song in just a quarter of an hour: "It's definitely not 'Swan Lake'," said Afanasieff. "But that's why it's so popular — because it's so simple and palatable!".

  2. What inspired the song?

    Speaking in 1994, Carey said: "It's very traditional, old-fashioned Christmas. It's very retro, kind of '60s."

    Afanasieff said it was inspired by producer Phil Spector's 'Wall of Sound' technique from the 1960s.

    "A lush bed of keyboards, reminiscent of a small-scale Wall of Sound, cushions the song's cheery rhythms, while a soulful vocal chorus adds robust oohs, tension-creating counter-melodies, and festive harmonies.

    "Most notably, however, the song's jaunty piano chords and melody keep the song merrily bouncing along."

    Critics have also compared the song's style to The Beach Boys, Judy Garland, Nat King Cole, The Jackson 5 and Stevie Wonder.

  3. Who else appeared on the song?

    Most of the music on the track was actually programmed on a computer by Walter Afanasieff, who produced the bass, drums, keyboard, and festive sound effects.

    Dann Huff played guitar, and Carey was backed up on vocals by Melonie Daniels and the sisters Kelly and Shanrae Price.

  4. How did it perform in the charts and how many copies has it sold?

    In the US, the song didn't chart in the main Hot 100, as it ineligible because it was not released commercially as a single.

    Rules were changed by the 2000s, allowing it to chart on downloads and streams. It reached a brand new peak in December 2018, climbing to number 7.

    In the UK, it was a Christmas number two in 1994, behind East 17's 'Stay Another Day'.

    However, since downloads and later streams were included, it has re-entered the top 40 every year since 2007. It once again peaked at number two in 2017.

    With global sales of over 16 million copies, the song is Carey's biggest international hit, and the 11th best selling single of all time. As of 2017, the song has earned $60 million in royalties.

  5. Who has covered it?

    In 2010, Mariah Carey released a new version called 'Extra Festive' from her second holiday album Merry Christmas II You. A year later, she recorded a duet version with Justin Bieber for his album Under the Mistletoe.

    Other covers include:

    - Shania Twain
    - Michael Bublé
    - Lady Antebellum (above)
    - Miley Cyrus
    - John Mayer
    - Ariana Grande
    - Cee Lo Green
    - Indina Menzel
    - Ingrid Michaelson

  6. It inspired a book and movie

    A children's picture book inspired by and featuring the lyrics from the song was published in November 2015.

    The All I Want For Christmas Is You book is about the story of a Mariah-type little girl, whose greatest Christmas wish is for a new puppy.

    In 2017, an animated film based on the song was also released.