Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas You’ is one of but a few stand out Christmas songs to have come out since the 1960s, and certainly the only lasting addition to the holiday cannon to be produced in most of our lifetimes. It’s iconic. Magical. It conjures up scenes from Love Actually, that masterpiece of modern cinema, and has been covered to the North Pole and back by everyone from Cee Lo Green to Kylie Minogue and Mumford & Sons. As of 2013, it had reportedly earned £33 million in royalties.
We all know the track – but what some readers may not know is that Carey released two further versions of the song, each more festive than the last, in the intervening years since the original’s 1994 release. I was unaware of this too. Here, I will give my verdict on each, and decide if the addition of superlative seasonal statements can really a better song make.
‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’
I would’ve though it would difficult to improve on perfection, or at least that level put forward in this track. Despite coming out at the very dawning of the 90s pop era, just months after Boyzone and Boyz II Men were topping the charts, Carey’s original track managed to embody contemporary stylings without rooting itself too deeply in the music of the decade. In that respect is a very well produced record – it hasn’t ‘aged’, and its remained a great song that seems throughly belonging in the now despite being 21. It is out of place neither with the 60s classics of the season, nor with whatever Top 40 tracks they slide into radio airplay to dilute the concentration of Christmas. With Carey’s powerful vocals balanced by instrumentation just jingle bell-y enough to let you know its a Christmas song without hitting you over the head with it, it’s a well crafted piece that has firmly deserved its place in as timeless classic. 8/10.
‘All I Want For Christmas Is You (Extra Festive)’
Recorded in 2010 for her second Christmas album – creatively entitled Merry Christmas II – this track tried to up the ante and just plain failed. You read the title and think, yeah, I could get behind this. But when that charming twinkle of notes that open the track are gone, replaced by what I think are meant to be church bells? I see what she’s going for, but it falls flat for me. While the original slotted so neatly into Love Actually, it wasn’t actually made for it. This feels like it was meant to be played during some montage scene in The Holiday, in the cute country village all covered with snow where Cameron Diaz learns the true meaning of Christmas (answer: cute guys). There’s too much pomp and circumstance, all these swelling orchestral notes for no good reason. Then, 30 seconds in, boom, the original song starts. Almost unedited, if sped up a little bit. Not a lot. Just enough to be annoying. Like someone trying to get a song past Youtube’s copyright detector. 3/10.
‘All I Want For Christmas Is You (SuperFestive!)’
Now you just know she’s taking the piss. Yes, that is the correct spacing and punctuation from the actual title. It sounds like some sort of magical girl anime/manga title. This version was recorded as a duet with Justin Bieber, for his 2011 album Under The Mistletoe. Now, say what you want about Bieber – I definitely do – but his ‘Mistletoe’ is probably one of the few other pop songs that have made it close to become modern Christmas classics. It’s not a patch on Carey, of course, and coming second in a race behind Usain Bolt doesn’t exactly mean you finished all that close to him, but – definitely props for effort. There are worse choices for a a Christmas-pop dream-team.
And there are (probably) worse songs.
Okay, yeah, the first 20 seconds are sort of painful. It’s like they are both singing in the shower, or warming up their voices, without hearing what the other one is doing. At least it covers up the rom-com swelling orchestrals, which have clung on from the Extra Festive version. But from there on out things start looking up. Carey is given room to do her thing and performs the first verse almost exactly as in the original, with just a hint more of the promised festivity in the form of extra sleigh bells. But then Bieber takes the second verse before they alternate on the last, and it’s really not that bad. I appreciate that’s hardly a glowing review, but the poor guy’s vocal range isn’t exactly on her level and he does a decent of moving it down and making it accessible. I’d definitely feel more comfortable singing his arrangement than hers. He does a lovely little warble on the ‘all I want for Christmas is you’ bit, too, which is obviously the all important crux of the song. It might be more autotuned than ‘My Jeans’, but it’s true to the spirit of the original.
Both of their dancing is awful, though. Far more painful to watch than to listen to. Hence, 5/10.
You can’t improve on perfection. But Mariah Carey has certainly tried.