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Mitch Albom: All I want for Christmas … is to make that earworm stop

by | Dec 12, 2021 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Every November, she begins her attack. By Thanksgiving she has me surrounded. Come the first of December, she has infiltrated my home. As yuletide approaches, she shadows my every step. She’s in my car. She’s in my office. She’s in my brain.

I am talking about Mariah Carey.

And that song.

Now, I have never met Ms. Carey. She’s probably very nice. But 27 years ago, she and her writing partner, Walter Afanasieff, wrote and recorded a tune called “All I Want for Christmas is You.”

They had no idea the haunting they were unleashing.

That song is everywhere come holiday season. Planet-wide. It jumps out of your radio. It oozes through shopping malls. It backgrounds every airport, rent-a-car office, high-rise elevator and office lobby. Wherever there is a set of speakers, Mariah is blaring out of them.

You cannot shut her out. There is no safe space. You can’t shop or buy a cappuccino without hearing her amazing voice singing that ridiculously catchy melody.

Like the most sophisticated of weapons, her song locates you, locks in on you, and fires. And once it gets in your head?

IT. NEVER. LEAVES.

The plot to take over runs deep

Even sitting here writing this, I’m hearing Mariah start slowly:

“I don’t want a lot for Christmas

There is just one thing I need…”

I try to block it out. I push her sound from my head. But then comes that horn section:

Ba-dum-ba-dump-ba-dump-bum

I shake my cranium. No! Be gone! I lose the horns. But wait. Here comes that high pitched part:

“Make my dream come truuuuue…”

Then the crescendo:

“All I want for Christmassssss…..”

AGGGGH! Make it stop! Dear God in heaven, just make it stop!

By the way, I love the song. That may sound funny. But it’s great. It’s TOO great. It’s beautifully written. It’s beyond Christmassy. The production utilizes everything from sleigh bells to church bells, a hopping horn section, driving percussion, and Phil Spector-like background vocals.

And I didn’t mind hearing it constantly for the first eight or nine years. I even remember loving it in the 2003 movie “Love Actually,” where a 10-year-old actress named Olivia Olson sang it to young drummer named Thomas Brodie-Sangster. He had a crush on her. She didn’t know he existed. Then she points to him as she sings, “All I want for Christmas is…you!” and he melts.

Until she turns and points to everyone in the place.

The scene was touching. It made you smile and cry. Alas, it was all part of a diabolical plot to shove that song permanently inside your eardrums.

Mission accomplished.

Just give her what she wants

By the way, lest you think I am overstating things, the data backs me up. “All I Want for Christmas is You” is one of the best-selling singles of all time in ALL music categories. It is the only holiday song to ever earn the RIAA’s Diamond Award for 10 million copies and streams. Two years ago, 25 years after it was released, it shot to No. 1 on the Billboard Top 100 list. It once set a single day record for Spotify streams at more than 17 million.

Seventeen million times? In a single day?

Actually, that feels low. I feel like I hear it 2 million times a day myself.

What is it about this song? Sure, it’s catchy. But “Jingle Bells” is catchy. Sure, it’s got great production. But every Spector Christmas song (“White Christmas” by Darlene Love, “Frosty the Snowman” by the Ronettes) had great production.

Critics have tried to analyze it. A writer for Slate once wrote it had “at least 13 distinct chords at work, resulting in a sumptuously chromatic melody.” An Atlantic writer called it, “a sort of Hegelian dialectic of Christmastime desire, taking the conflicting notions of abundance and specificity and packaging them neatly into an earworm for the generations.”

Whatever that means. I get the “earworm” part. It’s crawling in my brain right now. I wake up with it. I go to sleep with it. It’s been in McDonald’s commercials. Visa commercials. Coke commercials. An NBA commercial. It’s been covered by Ariana Grande. Miley Cyrus. Michael Bublé.

But it is Mariah Carey herself who leads the charge, every year, in her cute red Santa outfit and beguiling smile. You’d never suspect the addicting army behind her.

They are marching over your front lawn as we speak. Sliding under your door frame, slithering into your pillows, waiting for you to rest your unsuspecting head so they can once again race down your ear canal and find a cozy spot beneath the Christmas tree of your auditory cortex.

Give up. You have no choice. Make her dreams come true. All she wants for Christmas — every waking minute — is you.

Poor Bing Crosby. What was that song he sang again?

Contact Mitch Albom: malbom@freepress.com. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Thursday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.

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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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