What secrets place Carey’s Christmas carol among classics

Mariah Carery’s iconic Christmas hit from 1994, “All I Want For Christmas Is You” recently hit 1 billion plays on Spotify. You’d get a few strange looks from anyone if you said you hadn’t ever heard that song. 

But why? Why is it so popular? Why is it that it’s one of the only (somewhat) modern day Christmas songs that has blown up? A lot of the most popular Christmas songs are from the early to mid 20th century like “White Christmas” (1942), “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” (1964) and “Jingle Bell Rock” (1957), so why has this song from 1994 become so popular? What makes it so … Christmassy and gives it a spot on the best Christmas songs playlist along with Bing Crosby and Brenda Lee?

Well, lyrics, of course, but there’s something deeper. Maybe it’s the jingle bells used in the songs. Yes, that definitely has something to do with it, but what I really want to look at are the chords used in “White Christmas” and “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” arguably the most popular Christmas songs of all time. If you don’t know what a chord is, it’s three or more notes brought together. 

Let’s look at “White Christmas.” This song uses some surprising chords such as A, B and C diminished. If you know music, you know that the diminished chords are … not very popular to say the least. However, Irving Berlin, writer of “White Christmas,” puts them to good use right alongside some simpler chords such as Em, G, C, Dm and F. 

Now, amongst this melting pot of chords there are two chords that really stand out: Dm7b5 and Bm7b5. Those are some chords you almost never see. It’s safe to say that “White Christmas” has some very interesting chords. 

Now, let’s look at Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” This song is definitely a bit simpler than “White Christmas” primarily using chords like Cmaj7, F, and … wait a second. We’ve seen this before. It’s Dm7b5. “White Christmas” and “All I Want For Christmas Is You” have the same chord, Dm7b5. 

If you aren’t familiar with this chord, it’s a very warm chord. People will describe it as a chord that kind of melts your insides. Like sitting by a fire or hot cocoa. Is it a coincidence that both “White Christmas” and “All I Want For Christmas Is You” both use this chord? What are the odds that both extremely popular Christmas songs use this extremely rare chord that are from completely different decades. These songs were released 42 years apart. 

  Looking deeper into Mariah Carey’s song, we find out that she has a very similar intro to “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” which Mariah Carey also did a cover of on the same 1994 album that “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is on. There’s no doubt that Mariah Carey took inspiration from “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”, the fast paced percussion leading into the verse. 

So, is it reasonable to say that we’ve discovered that what makes Mariah Carey’s hit song “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is a mix of jingle bells, warm chord progressions and nostalgic intros? I definitely think so.

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