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By this point in the anniversary season, you’ve acceptable heard Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” abundant times to aftermost you 10 Christmases. In 2014, Adam Ragusea argued that Carey’s anniversary basic is the only Christmas song accounting in the aftermost half-century worthy of admittance in the Abundant American Songbook. The aboriginal is reprinted below.
Mariah Carey is not accepting a actual amusing Christmas. Her in-progress annulment from Nick Cannon has angry both animal and time-consuming, a actuality that People letters led anon to the added big season-spoiling accident in her life. Afterwards reportedly spending hours on the buzz with her attorneys a brace of weeks ago, the accompanist accustomed at Rockefeller Center terrifyingly backward to sing her signature anniversary tune, “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” on animate TV.
Perhaps due to abridgement of countdown time, Carey was clumsy to aftermath abounding of the acute addendum of the song that abatement in her “head voice,” the changeable annals akin to the macho falsetto. Her achievement was evocative of watching Larry Holmes beating out Muhammad Ali during the abundant boxer’s brash 1980 improvement attempt. Sylvester Stallone, who was in appearance for the fight, abundantly said it was “like watching an dissection on a man who’s still alive.”
The able-bodied affinity may be decidedly apt, admitting battle is absolutely the amiss sport. Elite singers tend to be added like gymnasts—even the best aren’t able of breeding the best admirable feats of their youth. The adverse fate of all choir is that they’re never afresh as adolescent as they are on the day they almanac their bigger hit. Jon Bon Jovi almost had the ambit for “Livin’ on a Prayer” aback he cut it in 1986, so it’s not hasty that he hasn’t stood a adventitious in any consecutive performances.
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Those pop ability Grinches who’ve been cogent shamefully unseasonal schadenfreude over Carey’s bomb would do able-bodied to bethink two things: 1) Mimi sings bigger on her affliction day than 99.9 percent of all bodies who’ve anytime lived; 2) She is the co-author, forth with longtime assistant Walter Afanasieff, of the alone Christmas song accounting in the aftermost half-century aces of admittance in the Abundant American Songbook.
Sure, there are added abundant avant-garde anniversary songs—my admired is apparently The Waitresses’ 1981 post-punk archetypal “Christmas Wrapping.” But I adjure the Songbook specifically.
The song sounds like it could accept been accounting in the ’40s and bound in a Brill Building safe.
Before the bedrock ’n’ cycle era, accepted songs had a lot added in accepted with jazz. Composers such as Ralph Blane (“Have Yourself a Amusing Little Christmas,” 1943), Mel Tormé (“The Christmas Song,” frequently accepted as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,” 1944), and Jule Styne (“Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!,” 1945) all brought the affluent harmonic palette of applesauce to the pop tunes and Broadway and Hollywood agreeable numbers that comprise the assize of 1920s-’50s songs condoning as Abundant American.
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Rock ’n’ cycle songs (and the consecutive pop songs afflicted by the genre) may alone accommodate three or four chords, anniversary ambit usually actuality aloof a above or a minor—the two ambit “flavors” akin to amber and vanilla. In contrast, a tune from the Songbook ability use a Baskin-Robbins boutique abounding of chords and ambit flavors—7ths and 9ths, bisected and absolutely diminished, assorted inversions, and more. The melodies that assignment over such chords tend to accommodate a lot of bright addendum (the atramentous addendum on the piano aback arena in the key of C major).
These almost alien harmonies—particularly the beneath chords—are generally acclimated by added avant-garde songwriters to get a “classic” sound. For instance, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” includes some addendum in its choral genitalia that I anticipate are advised to anamnesis the harmonic cant of those 1940s Christmas standards.
But Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” does added than cautiously arm-twist memories of Judy Garland and Nat King Cole’s Christmases gone by. It sounds added like it could accept been accounting in that era and bound in a Brill Building safe that wasn’t absurd afresh until 1994, aback Carey bare a new song for her Christmas album. But it wasn’t, of course. Carey and Afanasieff wrote it themselves.
I calculation at atomic 13 audible chords at assignment in “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” consistent in a sumptuously bright melody. The song additionally includes what I accede the best Christmassy ambit of all—a accessory subdominant, or “iv,” ambit with an added 6, beneath the words “underneath the Christmas tree,” amid added places. (You ability additionally assay it as a half-diminished “ii” 7th chord, but either estimation seems accurate.)
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The aforementioned ambit is found, in a altered key and inversion, in Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas”—on the band “children accept to apprehend sleigh accretion in the snow,” accurately beneath the chat listen, amid added spots. In both songs the ambit comes anon afterwards a above subdominant chord, giving the aftereffect of a “bright” above subdominant that you ability say “sighs” or “melts” into a “dark” accessory subdominant acicular with a “spicy” added accent (the added 6), afore the songs achieve aback into their tonic, or “home,” chords.
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In apparent English, it’s a ambit arrangement that sounds “cozy.” Carey’s song includes lots of added major-to-minor or beneath sequences that accomplish a guy feel like he’s snuggled by the fire, aloof aback from the war, with a mulled cider in one duke and his added arm about Rosie the Riveter, accessible to alpha a babyish bang on Christmas Eve 1945.
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I should say I’m talking actuality alone about the song’s harmonic content. The way those harmonies are articulate with rhythms, instrumentation, and delivery is fatigued beeline from body and R&B music that wouldn’t be affected until a decade or two afterwards my little postwar scenario. In fact, that’s addition acumen why “All I Want for Christmas Is You” makes us so happy—it reminds us of the abundant ’60s and ’70s Motown covers of prewar Christmas classics, such as the Jackson 5’s bopping adaptation of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” or Stevie Wonder’s blithesome account of “The Christmas Song.” Carey’s song gives us a bifold attempt of mid-20th-century nostalgia.
Mariah Carey ability not still accept the Olympic gold medal-winning articulation that she had in her 20s, but songs can aftermost forever, and in the case of “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” I doubtable it will. Even as I write, it has already afresh nestled into a accustomed abode at the top of Billboard’s anniversary chart.
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