How do you know it’s Christmas? Look around for decorative fairy lights, gifts wrapped in all shapes and sizes, the warm feeling of being surrounded by remnants of nostalgia, joy – and of course, the sound of Christmas classics.
Unless you’re an absolute Grinch, it’s hard to ignore the festive holiday season thanks to the endless array of Christmas songs you’d hear everywhere you go. By now, you’ve definitely heard Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You playing somewhere recently or at least, have thoughts about adding the song into your Christmas playlist.
Forbes reported that Carey broke three Guinness World Records with All I Want For Christmas Is You for the highest-charting Christmas/New Year holiday song on the Billboard Hot 100 by a solo artist, the most streamed track on Spotify in 24 hours and the most weeks in the UK Singles Top 10 chart for a Christmas song.
The Forbes article also stated that back in December 2018, the song was streamed up to 10.8 million times on Spotify.
All I Want For Christmas Is You was released back in 1994 as a single in Carey’s first Christmas album Merry Christmas. Initially, Carey did not want to release a holiday album as at that time, she felt that it was only something artistes would do at the end of their careers.
Producer Walter Afanasieff, who also co-wrote the song with Carey, told the New York Post that she only agreed to do the album after being heavily persuaded by her then-husband, famed music executive Tommy Motolla.
Just how did the song came to be? Well, Afanasieff told Billboard in an interview that Motolla described how he wanted a Christmas song with both rock 'n’ roll elements and retro music sound from the 1960s.
Afanasieff started playing some rock 'n’ roll on the piano, did some boogie woogie with his hand and that inspired Carey to sing: “I don’t want a lot for Christmas…”.
The whole song was apparently written in only 15 minutes in a simple, straightforward process. Afanasieff believed that’s the reason for the song’s enduring popularity.
“It’s definitely not ‘Swan Lake'. But that’s why it’s so popular, because it’s so simple and palatable!” he told the New York Post.
When the song was recorded in August 1994, Afanasieff said Carey decorated the studio with Christmas trees and lights to help get the team into the mood for the song’s festive theme. Her efforts must have had paid off as for both Carey and Afanasieff, everyday is Christmas after All I Want For Christmas Is You hit the airwaves.
In 2017, The Economist reported that All I Want For Christmas Is You has brought in a whopping US$60 million in royalties since its release.
Gift Of Song
For American songwriter Donald Yetter Gardner, it was innocence that inspired the song All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth, released back in 1948.The idea for the song was conceived in 1947 when Gardner was teaching music at a public elementary school.
He asked the students what they wanted for Christmas. When he heard that most students were giving their answers in a lisped manner, Gardner noticed that it was because most of them were missing one or two front teeth.
That very night, Gardner wrote the song All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth in just 30 minutes, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times.
The song was first performed by Gardner’s students at the school’s Christmas event. Then a woman heard Gardner sang the song at a conference for music teachers and introduced him to her employer at a music company.
In 1948, music group Spike Jones and the City Slickers recorded the song with a voice of a boy with a lisp and well, it became a new Christmas classic.
Who knew that a song inspired by a moment a teacher had with his students would go on to be recorded by the likes of Nat King Cole, George Strait to Michael Buble and Elmo in a television special?
Well, Gardner had no indication: “I was amazed at the way that silly little song was picked up by the whole country,” he said in 1995.
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town is undoubtedly, another “silly little song” that has become a Christmas staple. But there is a sad story behind it. According to website Songwriters Hall Of Fame, Haven Gillespie has just returned from his brother’s funeral when he met his publisher at an office in New York back in 1934.
The publisher wanted Gillespie to write a children’s Christmas song. Despite reportedly not liking the idea, Gillespie left his publisher’s officer, got on the subway and wrote the song on an envelope in just 15 minutes. Talk about commitment.
Then composer J. Fred Coots worked his magic on it and after the song was performed for the first time by comedian Eddie Cantor on television, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town became an instant hit.
The sound of the Santa Claus Is Coming To Town may instantly reminds listeners that the festive season is in the air, but it was not the case for Gillespie as the song brought up memories of his late brother.
“Last Christmas, I Gave You My Heart…”
Yes, Christmas time can be heartbreaking for some. In 1984, pop duo Wham which consist of George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley, released Last Christmas, a break-up anthem for those feeling less than merry during the holiday season.
The song has been covered by the likes of Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Carly Rae Jepsen and Gwen Stefani. Last Christmas also inspired the release of a romantic holiday film of the same name starring Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke and Crazy Rich Asians’ Henry Golding.
Last Christmas was written by Michael in his childhood bedroom on a day Ridgeley described as an “ordinary Sunday” in an article for the Daily Mail. He was then asked to come to the bedroom where Michael played him the introduction and melody for Last Christmas.
Ridgeley said “it was a moment of wonder”. Despite the song’s sad theme, it seemed that Michael never lacked the holiday spirit. A sentimental Ridgeley remembered that Michael would shower his friends with Christmas hampers and he was generous to those who were in need.
Sadly, Christmas time and the song Last Christmas may now have a different meaning to friends and fans of Michael. In the same article for Daily Mail, Ridgeley revealed that he had just texted Michael to wish him “Merry Christmas” before he got the news that his longtime friend had died on Christmas day back in 2016.
Not all Christmas classics could stand the test of time and it’s evident for the duet Baby It’s Cold Outside. The winter-themed playful number has now been deemed problematic in this day and age as the line “say, what’s in this drink?” implied that the female singer in the song is being coerced into an unwanted situation without her consent.
Baby It’s Cold Outside was written in 1944 by Frank Loesser who back then, would only perform the song with his wife Lynn Garland to friends who were partying at his house. When his guests hear the song, they know that it was time to get ready to leave as the party has come to an end.
It was then recorded for the 1949 film Neptune’s Daughter where it was performed by Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban, subsequently becoming a hit Christmas standard. It earned Loesser an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Frank’s daughter Susan told NBC News in 2018 that she was upset at the unfortunate reputation that the song has gained. Susan believed her father, who died in 1969, would be furious to know that a song he wrote had been perceived differently by a whole different generation of listeners.
She hoped that people would understand that the song was written in 1944 where the context was different at the time.
“Flirting was a whole different thing back then. It was 1944 and my father wrote it because when he and my mom had parties where everybody had to have an act to entertain the guests.”
Can Baby It’s Cold Outside be salvaged and make its way back to the Christmas classics standards?
Well, singer-songwriter John Legend has released his cover of the song with Kelly Clarkson as his duet partner. The song has been updated to include lines like “It’s your body, your choice...”, “I want you to say, it’s not up to me…” and “Baby, just go…”.
Legend, in an Instagram post for the song, is seemingly aware of some scrutiny he may get from trying to update a now much-maligned classic.
“A welcome update or ‘PC culture run amok and destroying everything great in the history of music?’ You decide,” he wrote in the caption.
Only time will tell if listeners will warm up to Baby It’s Cold Outside again. Luckily, there are plenty of other songs to choose from and it seems unlikely that listeners will run out of classics for Christmas.
Cover Image: Ann Clifford/DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images
Writer l JEM
I like Pina Colada and getting caught in the rain. Not into yoga. Wait, how does that song go again?