The chord that makes Christmas music sound so Christmassy

If you walk around a shopping mall, turn on
the radio, or go to a coffee shop between Thanksgiving and Christmas you’re gonna
hear this song. I don’t want a lot for Christmas That’s Mariah Carey’s 1994 hit “All
I want for Christmas Is You.” It’s one of the most often played Christmas
songs ever. And it happens to be one of the only Christmas
songs written in the last 20 years that has reached the same popularity of the American
Christmas standards that came before it. So, here’s a question: What makes Mariah
Carey’s song sound so incredibly… Christmassy? … aside from those sleigh bells. One of the greatest Christmas albums of all
time is A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector. It was originally released in 1963 to little
fanfare but then it was reissued in 1972. At that point it instantly became a classic. And if you look at Mariah Carey’s song it
is a direct style study of that 1972 Phil Spector Christmas album. The arrangement is just down to a tee. That’s Adam Regusea. He teaches journalism at Mercer University
but studied music and composition. Most directly she’s trying to imitate a
song titled “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” You can hear that so very clearly in how the
intro of both songs are structured. Christmas! Snow’s coming down! I don’t want a lot for Christmas But, if you look a little bit deeper into
Mariah Carey’s song you’ll see another link. One to the best selling song of all time:
1942’s “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin performed by Bing Crosby. And to find that similarity you’ve got to
look at the chords. It’s all in the chords. A chord is 3 or more notes played together. “Christmas (Baby please come home)” that
Phil Spector song, I think that only has 4 chords in it. It’s a 4 chord rock song. There’s a lot more variety of chords used
in “All I want for Christmas is You” and they harken back to a time when popular music
was largely informed by Jazz. A Jazz standard might have 9 different chords
in it and chords of lots of different kinds and flavors. Not just majors and minors but diminished
and augmented and 7ths and 9ths and all that kind of stuff. And there is one very special chord in Mariah
Carey’s song that gives it such a classic sound. It’s no coincidence that that very chord
is also played in “White Christmas.” So this is not going to sound great, I’m
playing it off my iphone. We’re putting both songs in the key of C
for comparison. So Carey starts on a tonic chord. A home chord. Chord one. “I don’t want a lot for Christmas” One seven. “There’s just one thing I need” Four chord. Subdominant chord. “I don’t care about the presents” And here’s the special chord.You could call
it a diminished two seven chord? “Underneath the Christmas tree” “I just want you for my own” So the effect is going from a dominant chord
and kind of melting into this delicious spicy warm little diminished chord. Now if we were to compare that to Irving Berlin’s
“White Christmas” we see an incredibly similar progression culminating that very
very special chord. Irving Berlin starts this phrase with a tonic
chord “Where the tree tops glisten and children
listen” There’s that special chord. “To hear sleigh bells in the snow”
To me the right word is just melting. You know it’s like snow melting by the fire. it’s these Jazzy chords that give Mariah
Carey’s song that kind of classic early 20th century Christmas Jazzy sound. And it’s just the most Christmassy sound in
the world. I don’t know why.

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