The “Last” Great Christmas Song

In 1994, when Sony Music’s CEO, Tommy Mottola, strategized plans to launch his then-wife, Mariah Carey’s career, he suggested that she should compile a Christmas album. Walter Afanasieff, who had co-written Mariah Carey’s songs, had expressed that move would be of jeopardy, particularly when it’s done at the peak of someone’s career. He had added that such a move was usually done at a career that’s about to wane, not otherwise.

But Walter need not worry, as with Carey’s enthusiasm, musical talent and, penchant for festivity coupled with Mottola’s marketing move, they had created the parent album, Merry Christmas. Most of the track are of covers, such as O Holy Night and  Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and the ubiquitous track, All I Want for Christmas is You. It’s not the only song written by Carey, though. Jesus Was Born on This Day and Miss You Most (At Christmas Time) were  underrated ballads written by the songstress herself. Because it was not released as a commercial single, the song was deemed ineligible for charting in the Billboard Hot 100, but since 2005, it had been on the charts re-currently, aptly during Christmas. Today, it has peaked at #6, a feat that is still rising, along with other Christmas classics, amusingly. Possibly, it could be Carey’s 19th chart-topper, beating out Elvis as the solo artist with the most number ones, just one short to The Beatles.

Queen of Christmas

The song was acclaimed by both critics and the public, with the latter making it a standard to play it annually. Carey was dubbed as Queen of Christmas, along with other honorific titles, even before the release of her second Christmas album in 2008. It has become a song of analysis, with universities examining the composition of what makes a Christmas song. It has also been inducted with other Christmas songs, such as Let It Snow by Dean Martin, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree by Brenda Lee and the infamous Jingle Bell Rock by Bobby Helms.

Old-fashioned but Timeless

That being so, why hasn’t any other Christmas song released met the same acclaim as Carey’s?

Some critics went on to claim that she has made the “last” great Christmas song. Most, if not all, Christmas songs that were played before AIWFCIY were made in the early 60s, a huge time gap before the then 24 year-old made the famous song. If anything, the song is old-fashioned, but timeless to it.

The traditional songs listed above have all influenced Carey’s holiday single. Phil Spector was Afanasieff’s inspiration, as well as retro, while Carey’s penchant for Motown music and 60s music both blended to its supreme status.

There have been other Christmas releases, such as Kelly Clarkson’s Christmas album, Wrapped in Red, which was released in 2013. Although it was considered the best-selling holiday album that year, it did not reach the same state of acclaim and popularity as the Queen of Christmas herself. Ariana Grande herself made a song called Santa Tell Me a year later. Though it was fairly popular, Grande’s holiday catalogue was not the cookies and milk song that many would think of. Carly Rae Jepsen did her rendition of Wham!’s Last Christmas, and that song was more well-received that Grande’s overproduced version of the same song.

Analysis For University Subjects

Remember AIWFCIY being an analysis subject for universities? According to Nate Sloane, a musicologist, much of the song’s success was credited to its composition. Sloane stated that the song was done in G major, a key that’s pleasant to most listeners. He added that the suspense incorporated in the song too made the song memorable. From the jingle bells that remind one of snow globes to that glissando-like church bells and Carey’s vocals in acapella at the song’s beginning, the suspense is present. It has a lot of vagueness, because Carey was not penning anybody as a subject, leaving much of the lyrical teases as it is for the mixing.

A Musicianship Like Carey’s

The air of suspense does not just stop there. In the bridge, too, comes a suspense. Listen closely, and you can actually hear Carey’s signature whistle notes in the background. There is a haunting, yet wistful tone when you hear that E♭6 – A6 throughout the climax. It adds to the yearning within the lyrics. Everything just fits, and all of that adds to the exaltation of Christmas. It is a musical rarity to have such musicianship like Carey’s.

Mitchell Kezin, a documentary director, produced a documentary on why other artists have not been able to meet the merit. He commented that referencing cliché Christmas themes was what made other incarnations seem pedestrian. Another aspect to its blandness was how expected the tracks and project seemed to be. When you hear Christmas tracks made by artists today, they all seem predictable, if not calculated. Sifting through Carey’s lyrics in AIWFCIY, the song is more of a love song than your typical Christmas song, with its themes of snow, family, presents, mistletoe, etc. To at least get popularity, covering a classic work is better than making up a song.

While All I Want For Christmas is You is amazing, I highly recommend y’all to listen to Miss You Most (At Christmas Time). Maybe there won’t be a new Christmas song that will be added to the standard, and that is completely fine. As the diva said, “They can’t compete with my merryment.”

By Andreay Jee Khian Fui
Featured image: Official Charts

My taste in music is your face |-/

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