Mariah Carey
Mariah Carey (Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for MC)

Mariah Carey’s latest Christmas special premieres on AppleTV+ today, promising the singer’s first and only performance of her new holiday single “Fall in Love at Christmas” with Khalid and Kirk Franklin. The new track, which was released last month, is surprisingly sultry given its seasonal province; jingle bells give way to chimes and bongos. Doubtless, Carey’s legion of devoted fans have been streaming it on repeat for weeks now. But when it comes to the Grammy-winner’s holiday output, nothing has yet surpassed 1994’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.” And I’d be willing to bet that no contemporary Christmas song, by Carey or anyone else, ever will top that Yuletide juggernaut. It is, as many, many others have observed before, among the most perfect holiday tunes ever written or performed.

With all of this in mind, it occurred to me recently that while “All I Want for Christmas Is You” has become a legit indispensable holiday staple, you never hear any of the other tracks from Merry Christmas, the 1994 album on which the track appears. I mean, there are nine other songs on that album, several of which were also singles, and two of which were also written by Carey and producer Walter Afanasieff, the pairing responsible for “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” It suddenly seems really odd that I’ve never heard any of them.

My colleague Shelton Boyd-Griffith, on the other hand, is deeply familiar with Merry Christmas. A self-described “lamb”—the term of art for Carey’s most ardent fans—as a kid, the album was always playing in his household during the holidays. “The magic of this album is that yes, it’s a Christmas album, but it’s such a great genre fusion album,” he explains, “of traditional, R&B, pop, soul, choral, etc. The way Mariah takes a lot of these Christmas staples, like ‘O Holy Night,’ and makes them completely her own—chef’s kiss! It’s an album that feels so warm and joyful. I honestly can’t wait to turn it on each year.”

With that ringing endorsement, I decided to haul out the Christmas lights and immerse myself in the original album’s 10 tracks:

Mariah Carey's <i>Merry Christmas</i>
Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas (Image courtesy of MariahCarey.com)
“Silent Night”

A solid, rousing gospel take on the holiday standard. Excellent showcase for 1994 Carey’s astounding vocal abilities. I quite like the decision to kick the album off with a gentle, reverent moment before rolling into the holly-jolly all-time banger that is “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”

“All I Want for Christmas Is You”

I mean, what more is there to say? The church bells, the sleigh bells, the neo-Wall of Sound production. Actually, it’s funny listening—really listening—to this song that you hear dozens of times just kind of ambiently at the grocery store and on the radio every year. You know, sometimes familiarity can breed contempt. But giving this song the time and attention it deserves? Definitely worth it.

“O Holy Night”

Ok, this is probably really messed up, but I can’t help thinking of Tracey Morgan’s version of this song from 30 Rock. Not that this legit soaring rendition compares in any way. That’s just where my brain goes, unfortunately.

“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”

The original Darlene Love version of this song is probably one of my all-time top 10 Christmas songs. Mariah for sure does it justice, down to once again recreating that Wall of Sound vibe. But I remain an originalist.

“Miss You Most (At Christmas Time)”

Ok, the second of Afanasieff and Carey’s collabs is in an entirely different register compared to “All I Want for Christmas is You.” I have to say, I was very tempted to skip this drippy ballad.

“Joy to the World”

Ooh! No one told me there would be a ’90s house-infused gospel version of “Joy to the World” in my life today! Why is this not a gay anthem? Am literally already adding to my Christmas playlist! Am experiencing actual joy!

“Joy to the World”

I listened to it again!

“Jesus Born on This Day”

Wasn’t sure this was for me at first, but actually quite liked the big orchestral choral moment at the end. V. pretty.

“Santa Clause is Comin’ to Town”

For a second, I thought this was “All I Want For Christmas” again. Have I heard this before? I feel like maybe I have? The arrangement seems familiar. More Wall of Sound production. Literally started tapping my foot. Lolz.

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” / “Gloria (In Excelsis Deo)”

For the record, I’m not a particularly spiritual person, but I do love these two songs, and I really appreciate that Carey and co. kind of just let them speak for themselves. No need to reinvent the wheel here. Just some gorgeous voices singing some gorgeous songs.

“Jesus Oh What a Wonderful Child”

So, as Shelton said, this whole album is quite promiscuous when it comes to genre. But I feel like it really toggles primarily between the Wall of Sound-sound and gospel spirituals. This closing track is definitively the later, and it’s a hell of a showstopper—if that’s an appropriate way to describe a song about Jesus.

thoughts?