While foraging though a local record shop's bargain bin recently, I ran across two Billboard compilation CDs from about a generation ago: 1989, to be exact. The first volume of Billboard Greatest Christmas Hits was hardly comprehensive. Covering the years 1935 to 1954, it comprised a mere 10 songs, nine of them instantly recognizable to anyone who's ever spent a December in America: Eartha sings "Santa Baby," Bing sings "White Christmas." (The 10th, "Christmas Island," seems to have fallen out of favor, even though Bob Dylan covered it on his 2009 puzzler Christmas in the Heart.)
The second volume had the same number of songs — including, in ascending order of heinousness, "The Chipmunk Song," "Nuttin' for Christmas," and "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" — but from a survey period almost twice as long, 1955 to the "present" of 1989. Ten songs for 35 years. Nine, actually, because vol. 2 includes a different version of "White Christmas."
If Billboard made a similar compilation of popular Christmas songs written after 1989, what would be on it?
Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You," and that's all. It's at No. 1 on Billboard's Holiday Digital Songs chart this week. At this writing, it's also at No. 1 on the Holiday page of the iTunes Store. But if that irresistible candy cane of a love song, co-written by Carey and Walter Afanasieff, were a candy, uh, man, he'd be old enough to vote now. "All I Want for Christmas Is You" came out in 1994. It is, if anything, more ubiquitous now than it was then. At this time last year, a delightful video of Carey performing the song for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon while Fallon and the Roots and four moppets played and sang along on toy instruments renewed its cachet. When Michael Bublé and CeeLo Green elect to cover the same tune, it can safely be called a standard.