S1: Welcome to Hit Parade, a podcast of pop chart history from Slate magazine about the hits from coast to coast. I’m Chris Melaniphy, chart analyst, pop critic and writer of Slate’s Why Is This Song Number One series on today’s show The Holidays are Upon US, which means you are no doubt buried in a snow drift of Christmas music, which, of course, means you are hearing a whole lot of one particular song.
S2: Well, yes, but really I was thinking more of it.
S3: Certainly that song is everywhere, but oh, good gravy. Please make it stop.
S4: All of these songs are definitely omnipresent at this time of year, but statistically speaking, no song in the holiday music canon is more played in the late 2010s than this now standard.
S5: That, of course, is all I want for Christmas is you sung, co-written, co-produced and made immortal by Mariah Carey, one of the top recording artists in Billboard chart history. And as of last week, this became the number one song in America in its 25th anniversary year.
S6: Recorded in 1994, Karis Christmas Chesnut isn’t just the highest charting holiday hit of the 21st century.
S4: It’s the highest charting since 1958, the year of the hot one hundreds birth that Christmas 61 years ago was the last time America’s flagship chart was topped by a holiday song, which, by the way, was a more whimsical dip in the subsequent six decades. The Billboard charts and the ways music fans consumed their music have undergone massive change, and classic holiday hits have only gotten bigger from the old standards that have been selling since the age of 78.
S7: Our p_m_ records.
S8: To newer standards, which are charting better than ever and better digital data, is giving holiday classics the kind of chart presence they probably should have had in the first place.
S9: But no hit in the Christmas canon has had the comeback. Mariah Carey’s has had. How could it?
S4: As a chart phenomenon. All I want for Christmas is you is exceptional, reflecting some very specific millennial changes in how the Billboard charts work.
S1: And again, it’s by Mariah Carey, who is known for setting exceptional charts, records.
S4: Today on Hit Parade, we will take a spin through not only the storied multi-decade chart topping career of Mariah Carey. But also a history of holiday music on the charts and we will explain the unusual confluence of phenomena that has led to Kerry’s Christmas classic ranking as quite possibly the biggest holiday chart performer of all time.
S6: Like so many things in Mariah’s career.
S10: And that’s where your hit parade marches today. The week of. Well, this week, Christmas. Twenty nineteen. It’s rare that this podcast centers itself around a current chart topping hit. But all I want for Christmas is you is very literally a hit. Twenty five years in the making. Let’s walk through the bazaar. Probably unrepeatable set of circumstances that is putting Mariah Carey in the all time chart pantheon.
S4: In the roughly three year history of this podcast, I’ve explained some very arcane billboard chart technicalities and how they have affected the way songs become hits. For example, in our Great War against the single episode, I explained how Hot 100 chart policy in the 1990s prevented certain songs from appearing on the chart. If they weren’t issued as retail singles or in our B-sides episode, How Billboard changed its policy on charting both sides of a 45 p.m. single and in the process gave acts like the Beatles bonus chart topping hits.
S2: Or in our episode about golden age rap.
S8: How sound scan technology gave hip hop a fair shake on the charts and gangsta rap.
S4: Its first major, but possibly none of these chart technicalities is as confusing as trying to explain Billboard’s approach to Christmas music. The Bible of the music industry has never been nearly a century of charting hit songs and albums, had a consistent policy on holiday music that lasted more than a few years. Sometimes Christmas songs were included on the Hot 100, sometimes not holiday hits would chart one year, disappear for a few years, then come back on a different chart. And some of these songs were album cuts not issued as singles. Often they weren’t allowed on the Billboard hit parade at all.
S11: That’s right.
S4: But so while these songs are exceedingly familiar to most Americans at this time of year, explaining how and why they have charted so poorly or not at all is like walking through a thicket of caveats and asterisks. For example, consider this classic.
S12: Darlene Love’s Immortal 1963 recording Christmas Baby Please Come Home never appeared on a Billboard chart in the entire 20th century. It has never cracked the Top 40. And in the 21st century Christmas Baby, Please Come Home only began appearing on the Hot 100 when Billboard very recently started allowing old songs to reappear on the chart. By the way, the Darlene Love songs chart peak to date number 43.
S13: Now, before you get outraged, let’s consider why holiday music is such a hard fit for the charts.
S4: Maybe the problem isn’t the songs or even Billboard’s chart rules, but the very nature of tracking the popularity of seasonal music.
S12: Remember, the Hot 100 and most music charts only reflect popularity.
S4: A week at a time, a typical hot 100 chart run for even a modest hit is a dozen weeks or more. A chart topping smash might spend a dozen weeks in the top 10 alone and months more on the bigger chart. Remember also that holiday music, Christmas music in particular has only a few weeks a year to make its impact a roughly six to eight week window from about early to mid November through the last week of December.
S14: And then most folks don’t want to hear any of that music for at least another 10 months. It’s.
S15: Seasonal music is just a hard fit for a pop chart that is designed to track how songs accrue. Their hit stats, to be sure.
S4: Christmas music has long sold well in America, dating back to the era of Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole, but on the American charts. So many factors go into scoring a hit song, not just heavy sales, but weeks of total cultural omnipresence from radio stations to nowadays, streaming services.
S16: Indeed, when we get to the story of Mariah Carey’s Christmas smash, digital music will play a big role.
S4: But first, let’s walk through what I will call the pre Mariah era on the charts. You may be stunned to learn some of the holiday classics that were chart underperformers back in the day.
S7: The King of Rock and Roll. Elvis Presley scored the first chart topping holiday music of the rock era with Elvis’s Christmas album. It remains one of the best selling holiday Opie’s of all time. Certified for sales of 9 million copies in the U.S. alone in December of 1957, Elvis’s Christmas album topped Billboard’s best selling pop L chart. But that was the album chart. Presley’s holiday songs like Blue Christmas and Santa Bring My Baby Back were not issued as forty five PM singles in America at the time, and hence were not eligible to appear on any of Billboard’s singles tracks in 1957.
S4: The magazine had no Hot 100 yet, and so holiday records, if they charted at all, would appear on a range of different charts, tracking best selling singles, most played by disc jockeys, or most played in jukeboxes or in the case of the Drifters classic 1954 cover of White Christmas.
S7: The R&B church where it reached number two on the pop side, the Drifters couldn’t get past number 80 in the early days of rock and roll.
S4: Some Christmas singles did do well in Billboard, even though they had a very short window to peak on the charts.
S17: For example, country crossover star Bobby Helms managed to get as high as number six a couple of weeks after Christmas 1957 with his easygoing rockabilly jingle bell rock, of course. By the time the record peaked in early January 1958, the holiday season was over. The song only charted for six weeks. Total kitschy singles like Jingle Bell Rock worked as both holiday songs and to some extent, novelty records, which, by the way, couldn’t have been hotter in 1958.
S4: But Bobby Helms’s classic was downright stately compared with the goofy non-holiday singles topping the charts that year. To digress for a moment, consider this.
S2: Non-holiday hit from the summer of 1950. The Purple People Eater was a smash for Shab Whouley, who, like Bobby Helms, was another country singer who crossed over to the top charts and reached number one in the summer of 1958. Woolies novelty hit about an imaginary monster use the then novel technology of sped up recording to make wooly sound high pitched and comical.
S18: Wooley had picked up the trick from another 1958 performer who had topped the charts a month, which I was in love with, which I was in love with, which told me what to do.
S1: David Seville was a part time actor and songwriter. His composition Come On A My House had been a hit for Rosemary Clooney back in 1951, and it was Civil who stumbled across the clever trick of singing songs slowly, then speeding up the tape to pitch his voice high. Witchdoctor by David Civil, released under his own name, was a smash in April of 1958, just weeks before Shib Willey’s Purple People Eater.
S4: These two madcap singles sold millions of copies and this wacky sped up vocal fad helps explain what happened to David Seville just six months later and why there was a number one Christmas single in 1958 at all.
S19: The Chipmunks were a brainstorm of David civils months after he had recorded Witchdoctor under his own name. He envisioned three talking, singing rodents named Alvin, Simon and Theodore, a musical trio managed by a human named David Seville, billed to the group name the Chipmunks with David Seville. The single The Chipmunk song Parentheses Christmas Don’t Be Late was a blockbuster during the holiday season of 1958.
S1: It was the fastest selling vinyl 45 of the year, shifting 2.5 million copies in under a month.
S4: The Chipmunk song spent a month at number one on the brand new Hot 100, which had launched just four months earlier. Billboard billed the Hot 100 as the first successful all in one chart combining single sales and radio airplay. SALES and radio remain essential to the chart. To this day, radio in particular is a tempering force on the hot 100. While a single might sell in an explosive burst, radio stations typically take months to determine a song is an enduring hit. Averaging out singles sales and radio airplay turns out to be a good formula for measuring hit songs in a country as vast as America. It’s why the Hot 100 is still our country’s benchmark for hit status 61 years later. But the launch of the Hot 100 only made it harder for Christmas songs to be Top of the Pops. The Chipmunk song was a smash. Mostly because sped up vocal records were a fad in 1958. It’s not actually a very Christmasy song at all. No sleigh bells, no snow. It’s mostly about not being able to wait to receive presence, including a very important hula hoop. The chipmunk song stayed on top deep into January 1959, suggesting that radio stations kept playing it long after Christmas was over. For comparison, let’s consider the 1960 hit Rockin Around the Christmas Tree by Brenda Lee, a song still played heavily at the holidays.
S7: To this day.
S9: Brenda LEIGH was the top pop vocalist of the early 1960s, and she was on a major role in 1960, having scored back to back number ones with I’m sorry. And I want to be wanted. But even coming directly off that success, Rockin Around the Christmas Tree was only on the Hot 100 for four weeks and it got no higher than number 14. Even a holiday song as enduring as this one faced an uphill battle to top the hot 100. So Billboard finally changed its policy on holiday music starting in 1963.
S12: The magazine removed holiday records from its pop album and singles charts and launched a Christmas records section with a Christmas albums chart and a Christmas singles chart.
S4: By eliminating non seasonal competition, Billboard readers in the music business had a sense of which holiday records were performing best with retailers and at radio stations.
S2: In that short holiday window, so a 1963 Christmas single like The Beach Boys, Little Saint Nick that likely would have peaked low on the Hot 100.
S4: Wound up a top three hit on the new Christmas singles chart, in particular, singles benefited most from this approach, but the Christmas albums chart would prove vital in 1963, if only for the appearance of one legendary holiday LP. Even on the Christmas list, it peaked at a modest number 13 retailers in 1963 largely regarded it as a flop.
S10: But there are few albums in rock history, let alone holiday music history as influential as a Christmas gift for you from producer Phil Spector. This various artists compilation was a showcase for the stable of acts on Spector’s phillies’ Records, from the Ronettes to the Crystals, Darlene Love to Bobby Socks and all of the tracks featured Spector’s legendary wall of sound production style.
S4: A Christmas Gift for You Changed the sound of 20th century holiday music right down to the way the songs were sung. If you’ve ever wondered how the chorus of the 1930s Standard Santa Claus is coming to town changed from this. To this more syncopated, soulful style.
S10: That was Phil Spector and the Crystals invention.
S4: It was later famously imitated by everyone from the Jackson fan.
S20: To Bruce Springsteen.
S10: None of the tracks on Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift for You were issued as singles in 1963.
S1: Not even the Ronettes ring a ling a ling take on sleigh ride.
S4: Or Darlene Love’s aforementioned Christmas Baby, Please Come Home, a then new song co-written by Spector with legendary songwriters Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry.
S13: Hence, none of these Phil Spector songs charted Billboard under the magazine’s. Rules segregating holiday songs.
S12: They were now ineligible for the hot 100 anyway, the specter stable of singers would only begin to see the extent of their influence in decades to come.
S4: As for what did make the Christmas singles list, the chart gave labels incentive to issue holiday songs as singles, including some former album cuts, making their first appearance on 45 Elvis Presley’s Rock and Roll, Slow Dance, Blue Christmas.
S7: Originally, a track on his 1957 LP was a number one Christmas charts single in 1964.
S4: The Christmas chart also gave a leg up to R&B holiday records, including James Brown’s Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto, a number for Christmas single in 1968, Santa Claus for easy listening perennials like the Carpenters 1970 release Merry Christmas, Darling, a chart topper on the Christmas singles list.
S1: In 1970, 71 and 73.
S13: By 1973, however, the Christmas singles chart was starting to seem limiting.
S4: Superstars like Elton John were issuing very popular holiday singles.
S10: But they were restricted from appearing on the Hot 100. Would these songs have been competitive with mainstream pop fare for an act as big as Elton? Possibly.
S4: Moreover, in England, by 1973, the charts were gripped by the relatively new phenomenon of the U.K. Christmas number one competition. As we discussed in last December’s fitful.
S21: However, as I noted in our U.K. Christmas episode, the British charts were entirely based upon sales of singles, no radio as on the American Hot 100.
S4: So it was comparatively easy for a blockbuster holiday song to top the U.K. pop chart. Billboards first Christmas chart lasted for about a decade. Maybe they should have kept it in the mid 70s when the magazine once again allowed holiday songs to compete on the Hot 100. The results were mixed at best. Slower moving U.S. radio playlists continued to limit the performance of Christmas singles.
S22: So songs as popular as Boney M’s Holiday, Euro Disco Smash, Mary’s Boy Child, a number one blockbuster in the U.K.. Would go no higher.
S4: In America, the number eighty five on the hot 100 billboards shifting Christmas chart policy in the 70s also made it hard to compare apples to apples among holiday hits. For example, three former Beatles issued holiday songs within the decade and their billboard results were a mishmash. In 1971, John Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, issued their peaceful protest song, Happy Christmas War is Over.
S23: And in seventy one, it was only allowed on the Christmas singles chart where it peaked at a very respectable number three, whereas in 1979, when Lennon’s former bandmate Paul McCartney issued his deathless holiday chestnut, Christmas songs were allowed on the Hot 100 again. But Paul’s wonderful Christmas time didn’t make the billboard chart at all.
S4: In competing Chart magazine’s Cashbox and record world, McCartney’s single did no better than number 83. Believe it or not, the only former Beatle who scored a Top 40 holiday hit on the Hot 100 in the 1970s was George Harrison.
S24: His now forgotten New Year’s Eve song. Ding dong, ding dong. Cracked the Hot 100 in early January 1975 and peaked at number 36.
S4: In case you’re curious, fourth Beatle Ringo Starr would not record a Christmas album until 1999. Generally on the charts in the 70s and heading into the 80s, Christmas music could only compete if it was by an imperial act at its absolute peak. Like the Eagles in 1978.
S25: Their cover of Charles Brown’s Please Come Home for Christmas. Reached a respectable number 18 on the Hot 100. Or if the song didn’t sound Christmasy at all like Dan fogell is vaguely New Year’s themed story song same old Van Zandt.
S21: A number nine hit that broke during the holiday season of 1980, but didn’t reach its top 10 peak until February 1981.
S4: In 1983, Billboard tried reinstating the Christmas singles chart and once again, songs that would never have posed serious Hot 100 competition were given a leg up. Elmo and Patsy. A husband and wife duo from Kentucky saw their novelty single grandma got run over by a reindeer cross over from country radio to the top of the Billboard Christmas chart.
S10: In this period, Billboard would allow certain superstar holiday singles onto the Hot 100 in 1984 band aids.
S22: Do they know it’s Christmas? Made the big chart given its cast of megastars and strong radio profile?
S12: But as we explained in our charity mega singles edition of Hit Parade, the short holiday window yet again limited the success of Band Aid in America.
S4: It peaked at number 13 in January 1985 and the other blockbuster British holiday hit of 1984.
S10: wham’s perennial last Christmas wasn’t issued as a single in America and didn’t chart in Billboard at all. For the rest of the nineteen eighties, holiday songs were rarities on the charts.
S4: Six years after Band Aid, the boy band New Kids on the BLOCK managed the only U.S. top 10 Christmas single of the decade at the height of their teeny bopper fame.
S10: This one’s for the children managed to break into the winner’s circle in the closing weeks of 1989. Although it did originate on the New Kids seasonal LP Merry Merry Christmas. The pillowy ballad didn’t seem holiday themed at all.
S4: Most of the new 80s Christmas classics were album cuts that didn’t chart the 1987 Special Olympics charity LP, a very special Christmas produced a slew of superstar tracks that became perennials, including U2’s Take on Darlene Love’s classic.
S5: Run-D.M.C. is original composition.
S26: Now Rapp’s holiday standard Christmas in Hollis and Whitney Houston’s roof raising gospel take on.
S4: Do you hear what I hear? A staple on R&B radio.
S25: In a way, Whitney Houston pointed the direction that not only holiday music, but all of mainstream pop would go in the next decade, and she foreshadowed the career of the woman who would dominate the 1990s. When we come back, the top vocalist of the 90s had so many hits. Her Christmas classic was at first an afterthought.
S4: It would be ironic if generations from now the most remembered recording by Mariah Carey was a Christmas record, because almost 30 years ago, Carey racked up a catalogue of hits unparalleled in chart history, and her streak began when the 1990s were just months old.
S25: Vision of Love Carries debut single topped both the Hot 100 and R&B chart simultaneously in the summer of 1990. Reportedly, Sony Music had signed the multi octave singer out of hopes that they would replicate competing label Arista Records blockbuster 80s success with power diva Whitney Houston.
S2: But Kerry emerged from Houston’s shadow and distinguished herself almost immediately.
S4: For one thing, she was both a singer and a songwriter, taking a co-writing credit on virtually all of her hits, including all four number ones on her self-titled debut album.
S10: For another thing, Carey possessed an acrobatic voice that was both impressive and distinct from Houston’s gospel trained instrument.
S28: The media made much in the early 90s of Carrie’s five octave range, including her so-called whistle.
S10: It is rare for a singer to begin a career with what might be called an imperial phase, but possibly no artist had a more auspicious unveiling than Mariah Carey. From the summer of 1990 through the fall of 1991, five straight Kerry songs. Her first five single releases all reached number one on the Hot 100. Vision of Love.
S25: Love takes time. Someday I Don’t Want to Cry.
S29: And emotions.
S10: She became the only artist in chart history to launch a career with five.
S4: No one’s beating a mark set in 1970 by the Jackson 5 who launched their career with four. Mariah’s opening quintet of chart toppers was only a warm up for most of the 90s. Everything Carrie touched turned to platinum.
S12: Whether she was covering the Jackson 5 on the MTV franchise Unplugged.
S25: Or singing inspirational power anthems like Hero A Number One at Christmas of 1993.
S10: It was around this time that Sony Music encouraged Carrie to consider recording an actual Christmas album by her own telling.
S29: Mariah was skeptical. She perceived Holiday l.A.P.D. As the sort of thing aging stars did later in their careers. But the label particularly carries then husband, Sony Music executive Tommy Mottola convinced her it would burnish her stature as a vocalist.
S10: So Carey and frequent collaborator, songwriter and producer Walter often RCF went into the studio, ironically, in the hot summer of 1994 to record a holiday disc. Like most holiday albums, Mariah’s C.D., simply titled Merry Christmas would feature her takes on hymns and pop standards.
S4: She even took on the most famous original composition from Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift for You.
S16: Darlene Loves Christmas, baby, please come home. But Karis Bulldust Marsh to Phil Spector wasn’t her. Darlene Love. Cover.
S4: It was one of the handful of original songs on the album, a song that she and Walter often RCF wrote in The Style of Spector that very impressively sounded like it could have come straight off that 1963 LP.
S5: The stories surrounding the creation of All I Want for Christmas is you are a Rashomon tale. The full details of which are beyond the scope of this podcast Carry and often RCF themselves have differing takes on the song’s genesis, though to this day they share equally in the songwriting royalties. Often RCF came up with what he called the boogie woogie piano chords that sounded like early rock and roll and called back to the girl group era.
S10: But the indelible melody was largely Kerry’s creation, a sturdy, familiar chord progression that she reportedly came up with in less than 15 minutes. She also came up with the heartfelt, earnest lyrics about wanting nothing more than a lover’s devotion at the holiday season. All I want for Christmas is you became the standout track on Kerry’s Merry Christmas album. Sony shot a video of the song with Kerry cavorting in the snow and issued it in October 1994, the same month the C.D. reached music stores. And this is where the tangled chart History of All I Want for Christmas is you begins. Sony elected not to issue. All I want for Christmas is you as a retail single at the time. This was simply cold business logic, as I explained in our Great War against the single episode of Hit Parade. The music industry in the 1990s was gradually phasing out the single in an effort to encourage full length c.D album purchases. This was still a bit odd for a Mariah Carey song as a pop chart dominator. She normally issued her hits as singles. But for Sony, not issuing this holiday song as a single was common sense. Remember, for the prior four decades, most holiday songs from Brenda Lee’s to Band-Aids under-perform on the Hot 100. Why break Mariah’s streak of chart topping hits? And why not encourage music buyers of 1994 to buy the Merry Christmas C.D.? So because it was not a retail single and under chart rules at the time could not appear on the Hot 100. The only chart Mariah’s new holiday track appeared on in the holiday season of 1994 and 95 was Billboard’s radio songs chart on that chart. It peaked at number twelve.
S30: Impressive for a Christmas song, competing with non-holiday songs by the likes of current hitmakers TLC, Brandy and Boyz to Men. As for the album, in its first year, Karis Merry Christmas was certified triple platinum. And like so many holiday kelpies from Frank Sinatra to Ella Fitzgerald to Kenny G.
S25: Carrie and her label expected the album to become a regular selling holiday perennial. It has since been certified sex toppled platinum.
S29: This could have been the end of the. All I want for Christmas is you story. Mariah moved on in her record breaking career. If anything, she moved away from pop and deeper into R&B and even hip hop. Her 1995 chart topper Fantasy was built out of a sample of the Tom-Tom Club breakbeat hit Genius of Love, and its memorable remix featured Wu-Tang Clan rapper Old Dirty Bastard.
S25: After this success, Carey also went on to set a storied hot 100 record, her late 1995 hit One Sweet Day, pairing her with premier 90’s R&B vocal troupe Boyz Two Men spent a stunning 16 weeks at number one on the hotline.
S4: It was a benchmark that would not be defeated for 23 years until Lil Nas X’s old town road spent 19 weeks on top in twenty nineteen, even into the late 90s. Carrie seemed to hold the key to the top of the charts.
S10: Whether it was with the critically acclaimed Number One, Always Be My Baby.
S25: For the following year, a collaboration with then hot producer Sean Puff Daddy Combs on the number one hit, Honey.
S29: But cracks in Kerry’s bullet proof chart success began to show toward the end of the decade. Her divorce from Sonys, Tommy Mottola and her shift toward hip hop and R&B shook the foundations of her sturdy hit making apparatus. In 1998, a heavily hyped duet with her vocal diva, contemporary and forebear Whitney Houston called When You Believe Under-performed on the charts peaking at number fifteen.
S4: Carey bounced back in 1999 and scored a couple more number ones, including the Jay Z collaboration and Fantasy Sound Alike A Heartbreaker.
S29: The charts move toward teen pop in the era of Britney Spears and N Sync posed a tangible threat to Carrie’s chart reign when her 2001 movie Glitter flopped and its soundtrack produced only one short lived top 10 hit Loverboy.
S31: It appeared that the chart era of Mariah Carey was over during promotion for the movie.
S29: She suffered a highly publicized emotional breakdown and she entered an unexpectedly cold, early oughts period where her singles began to miss the Top 40.
S25: Entire. It would take Kerry almost half a decade to comeback from her chart follow.
S4: But in the meantime, the rules underpinning Billboard’s charts were changing and so was the chart trajectory of holiday music.
S25: As I explained in the Great War against the single episode, Billboard changed its rules at the end of 1998 to allow non-retail songs album cuts to appear on the Hot 100 for the first time within the first year of this rule change. Some holiday album cuts that would previously have been ineligible were allowed on the chart. This Christmas song by the then hot boy band 98 Degrees called This Gift scraped the top half of the hot 100 thanks to this rule change.
S5: Perhaps most remarkably, for one week during the holiday season of 1999 and 2000, Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas Is You, which was still an album cut, not a retail single, made its debut on the Hot 100 at position. Wait for it. No. Eighty three.
S4: It was remarkable for appearing on the chart at all, an indication of how beloved the song was five years later, even when it was not being actively promoted.
S10: And this would not be the last time a billboard rule change would help Mariah’s holiday song.
S4: Other industry trends were also beginning to help holiday music at this time by the early 2000s. Many adult, contemporary or AC radio stations would switch to an all Christmas music format every November and December. Christmas songs began regularly topping Billboard’s AC chart and getting a boost on the hot 100 tracks that would never have been chart hits in the 80s or 90s like classically trained vocalists Josh Groban with his AC radio dominating recording of the Him O Holy Night.
S29: Then came one of the most epical changes to the music business in a generation. The launch of Apple’s i-Tunes music store, which inaugurated the era of legal downloadable music. What was revolutionary about Apple’s downloads store when it opened for business in 2003 was that it finally made it possible to acquire album cuts songs that had never been singles in the first place. Like Stairway to Heaven for the Price of 99 cents. And what were Americans buying in 2003 for a buck a song?
S5: Just weeks after Billboard began tracking downloads sales in 2003, Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is you debut on their hot digital tracks chart. It eventually rose into that charts Top 10, the highest ranking digital track. That was not a current single. This was the song’s first appearance in the top 10 of any billboard chart. What was also remarkable was that in 2003, Carrie was not a major current hit making artist.
S32: In fact, if it hadn’t been for her guest appearance that year on a number three hit by rapper Busta Rhymes. Mommy, listen. Carrie would have gone more than three years without a single Top 40 hit.
S4: And yet her Christmas single sold steadily as a download during the holiday seasons of both 2003 and 2004. During these years, all I want for Christmas is you. Was the main thing keeping Carrie not only on the holiday hit parade, but in the goodwill and good graces of the music buying public. Who knows?
S25: It may even have contributed to Mariah Carey making one of the most remarkable comebacks in pop history. The epic torch song We Belong Together spent 14 weeks at number one on the Hot 100. In 2005, it was Billboard’s top hit of that year. A turnaround in Carrie’s fortunes that no one, including her, saw coming. The biggest single from Carrie’s multi-platinum album, The Emancipation of Moeny. We Belong Together, was embraced by the public not only as a sturdy ballad, but as a meta narrative about Kerry’s perseverance after her early aughts breakdown and her years spent in the chart wilderness suddenly and unexpectedly.
S29: Mariah Carey was a chart titan again five years earlier when her amazing run of 90s singles had petered out.
S4: She had amassed fifteen number one singles, the most of any female artist, and among all artists, Carrie’s list of number ones put her in third place in chart history, behind only Elvis Presley, who had 17 pop chart toppers, and the Beatles who had twenty number.
S10: With We Belong Together.
S25: Carrie began moving up in the record books again. It was her 16th number one, and she followed it just three months later with her 17th.
S33: Don’t forget about us now.
S5: And two years after that touched my body became her 18th hot 100 leader that put her past Elvis as the solo artist with the most number ones in Billboard pop chart history.
S12: Mariah’s second wave of chart conquering hits was shorter than her first wave in the 1990s.
S4: By 2009, her singles were once again falling short on the charts. In an era of younger pop dominators like Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus. But Carrie’s comeback had already been exceptional. Seven more Top 40 hits in the second half of the aughts, including three number ones. If Carrie never scored a number one hit again, she would be firmly enshrined in the record books.
S10: But there was this song of hers that kept coming back from 2005 through 2010 each year like clockwork.
S29: All I want for Christmas is you would return to Billboard’s digital songs chart, selling hundreds of thousands of digital downloads. In fact, in one of those years, Christmas 2005, the song actually topped that digital chart and went gold, something that could only have happened after i-Tunes. Put the track on sale as a single. But as a song that in industry parlance was considered a recurrent Karis Christmas song was ineligible to return to the Hot 100. Remember I told you at the top of our show that the story of this song is the story of changing chart technicalities. This was yet another long standing billboard rule. Unless an old song was being actively re promoted to radio stations and retailers like, for example, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody in 1992 or the Beatles Twist and Shout in 1986.
S8: Both of which were revived in those years by movies. A song was only allowed one hot 100 chart run that included Christmas songs perennials like Bing Crosby’s White Christmas.
S34: But Billboard would not track these recurrence on the hot 100.
S4: In short, for most of its first two decades, all I want for Christmas is you was a stealth hit in the 90s when it wasn’t a retail single. It was off the hot 100 by the early aughts when album cuts were allowed. It charted once as an airplay song, but only modestly in the era of the download. It was a digital best-seller, but as a recurrent it couldn’t come back to the hot 100. Mariah’s Christmas classic was a smash. Hiding in plain sight. And it was also becoming a standard. And not just its original recording.
S1: Michael boue Bleys Christmas album, his multi-platinum 2011 LP of holiday favorites, included a cover of All I Want for Christmas Is You that made the Hot 100 and topped the Adult Contemporary Chart.
S4: Even Carrie herself got into the act. She rerecorded the track in both 2010 for a sequel holiday album and the following year with a rising teen idol named Justin Bieber.
S12: The Kari Bieber version was not a big hit, peaking on the Hot 100 at a lowly number 86 in 2011, Carrie’s original version was still the ultimate standard.
S4: That same year, Billboard relaunched its Christmas music chart in a new, improved form, employing radio airplay and for the first time in a holiday chart, digital data. They called it holiday songs. It was later expanded and renamed the Holiday 100. And in the holiday charts very first week in December 2011, its number one song was What else? Mariah’s 1994 original edition of All I Want for Christmas Is You.
S10: This rebooted holiday chart included both new and recurrent songs from Bing Crosby to Bobby Helms to Wham!
S29: That distinguished it from the Hot 100, which in 2011 still did not allow old songs. But that was about to change, too. And ironically and sadly, Mariah is former peer and competitor was the impetus for the change and.
S25: When Whitney Houston died in February 2012, her songs flooded the radio airwaves and sold piles of digital singles. Billboard took this sad occasion to make a rule change on the Hot 100. It would now allow recurrent songs to appear on the chart as long as they amassed enough points to make the top 50. According to the magazine’s director of charts, the digital age had changed their calculus.
S35: Quote, The line has blurred between the relevancy of new and older recordings, unquote. What this meant for the late Whitney Houston that week in February 2012 was that three of her songs re-entered the Hot 100, including I Will Always Love You, which cracked the top ten for the first time in nearly two decades.
S36: But the real impact of real change was most keenly felt the following holiday season.
S4: By then, Billboard had also added Spotify data to its chart, and the addition of large scale streaming finally gave a window into the songs that Americans most wanted to consume at the holiday.
S30: That holiday season of 2012, Mariah Carey performed a special live version of All I Want for Christmas Is You with host Jimmy Fallon, house band The Roots and a classroom full of kids. It was part of Fallon’s long running video series of song covers on classroom instruments. This spirited performance spurred another wave of digital downloading and streaming of Mariah’s 1994 classic. Only this time, after the Whitney Houston rule change, the song was eligible for the Hot 100.
S4: It reads Bude on the big chart at number 29 in 2012. All I want for Christmas is you was finally a Top 40 hit. Now, for the first time in Hot 100 history, thanks to digital downloads and streaming chart, followers could see just how popular old holiday perennials were compared with current hits on the same chart. The following year’s holiday season in 2013 Carries Song came back debuting a little higher.
S15: And it was joined on the Hot 100 by other Christmas classics like Nat King Coles, The Christmas Song Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire two years after that in the 2015 holiday season.
S8: Mariah’s Christmas song broke into the charts Top 20, and she was joined on the Hot 100 by Brenda Lee, whose classic Rock and Around the Christmas Tree was back in the Top 40 for the first time in 55 years.
S25: Two years after that Christmas week of 2017, all I want for Christmas is you broke into the top 10.
S4: Streaming was now the single biggest factor on the hot 100. And Christmas playlists from Spotify and Apple Music were fueling more holiday song streams than ever on the Hot 100. Mariah was joined in the Top 40 by recurrent holiday hits by Brenda LEIGH, Nat King Cole, Burl Ives and Andy Williams.
S8: Finally, the week after Christmas 2018, Mariah Carey had the number three song on the Hot 100 and holiday songs took up 16 spots in the Top 40 from Gene Autry to Wham to host say Feliciano, whose 1970 recording Felice Navidad was now a Top 40 hit. Much the way SoundScan technology in 1991 had even the playing field and made it possible for rap songs to top the Hot 100. The addition of downloads and especially streaming to the chart gave holiday music a truly even playing field for the first time.
S4: By the end of the 2010s, the Christmas music chart Renaissance was fully established and the people had spoken.
S10: Mariah Carey was the queen of Christmas, in addition to getting as high on the hot 100 as number three.
S4: All I want for Christmas is you had utterly dominated Billboard’s holiday songs chart for the entire decade. In fact, here’s some remarkable and fairly hilarious trivia. Billboard brings back holiday songs for five weeks a year, including the three weeks the chart has been back this year. That’s 43 weeks in total from 2011 through 2019, spread across nine holiday seasons. And in these 43 weeks, the entire history of this chart, it has only ever been topped by five songs.
S1: In 2012, it was topped for one week by Justin Bieber’s Mistletoe in 2013 and 2014.
S4: It was top for three weeks by a pair of songs from acapella superstars Pentatonix, their remake of The Little Drummer Boy Don’t Worry, Drummer Boy Challengers.
S22: I’m not going to play that song right now. And their cover of the contemporary Christian song. Mary, did you know?
S4: In 2015, for just one week, Ariana Grande days Santa.
S37: Tell me who’s on top.
S29: And oh, yeah, for the other thirty eight weeks. Mariah Carey’s All I want for Christmas is you.
S10: This holiday chart, it’s basically the Mariah chart, but that’s holiday songs, which is limited to seasonal music. What about the big chart, the Hot 100, which Carrie topped 18 times between 1990 and 2008 going into the holiday season of 2019? The question in chart nerd land was could all I want for Christmas is you give Mariah that elusive 19th.
S4: Number one hit. What would it take? Well, it so happens that this year is also the 25th anniversary of both the song and the Merry Christmas album. And Team Mariah left nothing to chance.
S25: Mariah Carey is Christmas in 2019 alone.
S4: Mariah Carey has released a slew of anniversary Christmas product, a deluxe reissue of the Merry Christmas LP, a new version of the. All I Want for Christmas Music video with outtakes from the original 1994 video of vintage live video of Carrie’s singing the song at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
S21: By the way, views of these new videos count for the Hot 100.
S4: A new release of the song as a physical single for the first time on c.D and even cassette. Billboard counts these sales for the chart, too. And even a new mini documentary from Amazon Music entirely about the song.
S10: I was trying to do my own version of the wall of Sound. Those background vocal parts that become almost the lead in short.
S29: Wherever and whenever you are experiencing holiday music in 2019, you are hearing Mariah Carey and this campaign worked here at Hit Parade. We’ve been planning this Mariah centric Christmas themed episode all year. Since last December. And we thought there might be some suspense over whether all I want for Christmas is you would reach number one. Well, we were wrong last week as this episode was being recorded. All I want for Christmas is you was declared the new number one song in the USA more than two weeks before the end of the 2010s.
S12: And Mariah Carey had her 19th number one hit, just one shy of the Beatles.
S10: It’s easy to be cynical about the D-Day like campaign that gave Kerry the newest number one.
S25: Indeed, critics have long complained. From the moment Mariah Carey debuted in 1990 that her success seemed fore ordained by the music industrial complex.
S2: As I often say on this podcast, hit making is both an art and a science.
S29: A combination of inspiration, public affection and raw commerce. But there are things you can’t fabricate as a singer. Mariah Carey came by her talent naturally as a songwriter.
S5: Her instinctual knack for a hook is hard to deny.
S25: And now that the charts fully reveal which holiday songs are most consumed by Americans. We can better define the fullness of the Christmas canon.
S22: Over 25 years, the chart data has been clear whenever Americans were given the opportunity to buy, to request, to stream, to consume, all I want for Christmas is you. They took it. It’s no mean feat to write a new holiday standard and carries songs. Sounded instantly familiar. The first time everyone heard it. Mariah Carey is number one in America. In December twenty nineteen. Because all the evidence shows we love her song. And now. Well, pardon the cliche, but that wish of hers. Yeah. You know what we did? I hope you enjoyed this episode of Hit Parade. My producer is Justin D, right. And we had help this episode from Ahsha Saluda and Rosemary Bellson. June Thomas is the senior managing producer and Gabriel Roth, the editorial director of Slate podcasts. Check out their roster of shows at Slate.com. Slash podcasts. You can subscribe to hit parade wherever you get your podcasts. In addition to finding it in the sleep culture, FT. If you’re subscribing on Apple podcasts, please rate and review us while you’re there. It helps other listeners find the show. Thanks for listening. And I look forward to leading the hit parade. Back your way. Until then, make your wish come true and keep on marching on the one. I’m Chris Mindthat.