celebrity

The not-so-magical story behind Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas Is You.

Mariah Carey became the Queen of Christmas thanks to her phenomenal hit All I Want For Christmas Is You. But in 1993, the singer was reluctant to make a holiday album.

The then-23-year-old had to be convinced by her then-husband and manager Tommy Mottola to follow up her third album with a Christmas record, The Telegraph reports.

Little did she know that the album – well actually, just the one track on it – would earn her a reported US$60 million (AU$84.3 million) and counting in the two decades since its release.

It’s also the 11th best-selling song ever made, YouTube’s most viewed song in December, and was streamed more than 8 million times on Spotify on Christmas Eve alone last year.

Not bad for about an initial hour’s work.

mariah-carey-all-i-want-for-christmas
Mariah Carey and Tommy Mottola the early 1990s. Image: Getty

Mariah eventually agreed to create the album and on 25 December 1993 filmed her first Christmas with Tommy, knowing that it would most likely double as a music video. For which song, they didn't know yet, but it would turn out to be the iconic clip for her biggest hit.

Mariah began recording covers for her Christmas album at the end of the year, but didn't start writing the original songs until US summer the following year.

In August 1994, with Christmas trees and lights in the studio, Mariah sat down with songwriter Walter Afanasieff to write what would become All I Want For Christmas is You.

ADVERTISEMENT

Walter told Billboard in 2014 the song came together easily.

"I started playing some rock 'n roll piano and started boogie woogie-ing my left hand.

"And that inspired Mariah to come up with the melodic (first line) 'I don’t want a lot for Christmas..'.

"And then we started singing and playing around with this rock ‘n roll boogie song, which immediately came out to be the nucleus of what would end up being All I Want For Christmas Is You."

Walter said he was sceptical of the simple melody and vocal ranges - but Mariah stood firm.

 

View this post on Instagram

I know him! #tbt

A post shared by Mariah Carey (@mariahcarey) on

That initially writing took about an hour, he said, - and after a few weeks of back and forth tweaking - the song was complete and ready to record.

But if you're imagining the song was recorded with a live big-band in the studio just like it sounds, you'd be wrong.

Walter confessed the "huge secret" in 2013 that the "entire song is just me at the computer", according to the Telegraph.

ADVERTISEMENT

"The only other thing real is the vocals. The little bell thing? That’s me. Then it goes into the programmed piano. It’s all computers," he said.

He told Business Insider that the attempt to record the song with a live band failed, so they went back to the studio to record Mariah's vocals and set them to Walter's computer arrangement.

Despite Mariah Carey being apparently not that enthused about the record initially, she turned up her festive spirit when promoting the song and album after its release on November 1 1994.

"I made this album because I love Christmas-time, it’s my favourite time of the year," she said at the time. Which, true or not at the time, is surely the way she looks at the holiday thanks to the the success the song has brought her.

While the song didn't top the charts initially, it's had long-lived success, which Walter thinks is down in part to its can't-get-it-out-of-you-head catchy melody.

It's so well-loved that Mariah has been able to capitalise on its success with holiday TV specials, and Christmas-themed tours, and even an animated movie.

Last year, a computer-animated DVD movie named after the song was released. It follows a young Mariah and her mission to receive a puppy for Christmas.

The song has officially been covered by almost 20 artists over the years (though we have no doubt it appears on almost every amateur band's setlist at Christmas time if they've got the vocal range for it), perhaps best by Olvia Olson as a 10-year-old in Christmas classic Love Actually.

But no one has been able to make the song their own - 'All I Want For Christmas Is You' belongs to Mariah Carey.

00:00 / ???