Sitting atop the Billboard Hot 100 this week is a song which took a quarter-century to reach that peak: Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” The song achieved a couple of milestones with that ranking: it now holds the record for the longest time between a song’s debut and its reaching the top of the charts, and it’s the first Christmas song to reach the peak in 60 years since The Chipmunks did it in 1959. Before this new milestone for Carey’s tune, the song and the album of its origin, Merry Christmas, recently received an expanded 2-CD 25th Anniversary edition from Columbia Records and Legacy Recordings.
Merry Christmas was originally released in November 1994 and was Mariah Carey’s fourth studio album. It was at the height of her popularity and came between two smash-hit albums: 1993’s Music Box and 1995’s Daydream. At the time, a Christmas album was seen a surprise and a departure for the singer. But as with nearly everything she touched at the time, the effort turned to gold (and platinum on the charts).
Carey teamed with producers Walter Afanasieff and Loris Holland for the album which featured seven traditional holiday tunes and three originals. Carey and Afanasieff co-wrote all three. The most well-known of these is of course “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” The joyful tune has proven to be one of the rare Christmas songs of more modern vintage which has entered the standard holiday repertoire and received numerous cover versions over the years (including a lovely, languid take this year from Melissa Manchester and Dave Koz). Most Christmas songs of the non-hymn/carol variety found on artists’ yuletide albums typically come from the 1940s-1960s. The number goes down in the decades following and from the 1990s on, there are only a handful which could be argued for as true standards of the genre; “All I Want” is by far the most significant. Aside from the varied covers, it has also been a chart mainstay every year since its release, culminating in its new No. 1 peak. The success of the song has proven to be a bit of a cottage industry for Carey with a book, animated film, and rumored live-action film all being spawned. But at the end of the day, its popularity owes to the fact that is simply a great song that captures a warm holiday sentiment.
“All I Want For Christmas Is You” tends to overshadow the rest of Merry Christmas but the rest of the album is enjoyable. While the other two originals, “Miss You Most (At Christmas Time)” and “Jesus Born on This Day,” weren’t instant classics, they are fine yuletide treats. The album dated to the period before Carey began adding more hip-hop elements to her music, and the production leaned on pop-gospel flavor. The traditional carols and hymns were treated in a reverent manner (including “Silent Night” and “O Holy Night”). Her covers of “Christmas Baby (Please Come Home)” and “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town” proved to be spirited fun. An eleventh track, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” has been added at the end of the original sequence. It originally appeared on international editions of the album back in 1994.
Disc 2 of the expanded editions rounds up various odds and ends from over the years. Most excitingly are the six never-before-released live renditions recorded in December 1994 at The Cathedral of St. John The Divine. This charity event was the first time that Carey performed the songs live. While the sound has a slight echo in spots (undoubtedly due to the location) and the arrangements hew as close as they can to the studio versions, it is still very interesting to hear Carey cover these songs live so close to their original release. The other previously unreleased tracks are two versions of the newly-recorded “Sugar Plum Fairy Introlude” in standard and a cappella styles. Their addition is fine but their short length makes one wish they had been more fully realized.
The bonus disc continues with five tracks that make a short “greatest hits” of Mariah’s follow-up holiday projects. In 2010, she released a second full-length holiday album, Merry Christmas II You. Two Carey-written original tracks have been chosen for inclusion here: “Oh Santa!” which was a No. 1 Adult Contemporary single and “Christmas Time Is In The Air Again” which saw the singer/songwriter team with Broadway’s Marc Shaiman (Hairspray, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) . A third original from the sequel album, “When Christmas Comes,” was re-recorded as a duet with John Legend in 2011, which is the version picked for inclusion here. In 2017, Carey re-teamed with Shaiman to contribute “The Star” to the Nativity-themed animated film of the same name. The tune was nominated for a Golden Globe. That same year, she co-wrote another original, “Lil Snowman,” for inclusion in the animated film based on “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” These songs make a fine complement to the original album and also show some of the ways Carey’s songwriting and production have changed over the years while still having the joyful feel of the first album.
The remaining bonus tracks are various remixes from the over the years. You’ll find two “Joy To The World” remixes from a contemporary 12″ single, an “Anniversary Mix” of “Santa Claus in Comin’ To Town” first featured on a 2005 DualDisc (remember those?) edition of the album and two remixes of “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” The first is from a 2000 re-release of the song in Japan called the “So So Def” Mix, featuring new vocals from Jermaine Dupri and Bow Wow. The second is the “Mariah’s New Dance Mix Extended 2009” version from a digital single commemorating the 15th anniversary of the album. While none of these are essential, it is good from a collector’s standpoint to gather up some of these odds and ends. The remastering was done by Mark Wilder at Battery Studios and is tastefully done. [The Japan-only edition of the 2-CD set has an additional, exclusive bonus of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” live at the Tokyo Dome.]
Legacy’s 2-CD set is housed in a reflective digipak featuring photos from the album cover shoot. There are two inserts included. A 16-page booklet contains an opening note from Mariah, lyrics to the original album and credits. A second, seven-panel fold-out is included which features a timeline of notable achievements of the album and “All I Want For Christmas.” The timeline makes note of several versions of songs from the album from over the years which were not included here such as a new version of “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town” and more versions of “All I Want For Christmas Is You.”
Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” has become a phenomenon in the 25 years since it has been released. This new 2-CD set of the Merry Christmas album it is from is a worthy collection of the Christmas legacy of Carey which fans should not hesitate to pick up.
A CD single of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is also available today with four tracks including an exclusive version of “Hero” live from The Cathedral of St. John the Divine. It can be pre-ordered from Amazon U.S.!