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Friday, December 15 Living

Mariah Carey has replaced Bing Crosby as the musical ruler of Christmas

Mariah Carey had a terrible holiday season last year, making a fool of herself on global television when, in a live broadcast from Times Square, she couldn’t credibly lip synch on “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.”

The response on social media was instantaneous and severe. The pop singer only made things worse when she blamed other people for the show-stopping gaffe. Carey could console herself, however, with the fact that she had won the Christmas song sweepstakes for 2016 with her tune, “All I Want for Christmas is You” once again coming in at No. 1 on the Billboard 100 holiday chart.

Mariah Carey was talking to the Associated Press when she detailed her disastrous New Year's Eve performance and how she felt victimized and vilified. Video provided by Splash TV

Media: MediaOS Video

The infectious song, which Carey wrote with Walter Afanasieff, was an immediate hit upon release in November 1994. With its nostalgic 1960s girl-group sound and timeless lyrics, “All I Want for Christmas is You” has gained ground each year over the past two decades, overshadowing such mainstays as “White Christmas,” by Bing Crosby, and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” by Gene Autry.

The last public royalty figure for the song from four years ago estimated Carey had earned $50 million from the recording since 1994. Assuming the annual income from the tune has only increased since then, the singer-songwriter is pulling down at least a few million dollars each year from the perennial favorite.

Everyone's favorite Christmas anthem, Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas Is You is back on the iTunes Top Song Chart. Buzz60's Djenane Beaulieu (@djenanebeaulieu) reports.

Media: Buzz60

Another Christmas song that has eclipsed the Crosby and Autry records is “Feliz Navidad” written and recorded by longtime Fairfield County resident Jose Feliciano. In a 2013 interview with Billboard, Feliciano said he is still surprised by the “monster” success of the 1970 tune.

The multilingual lyrics are part of the song’s appeal. “If I had left it in Spanish only, then I knew the English stations might not play it, so I decided to write an English lyric, ‘I want to wish you a merry Christmas.’ And then there was no way the stations could lock that song out of the programming,” Feliciano told Billboard. (Last year the song came in fifth on the top 100.)

Our relationship with Christmas music has changed over the past few decades, shifting from hard-copy records and CDs to downloads. While “White Christmas” fell out of the top 10 last year (it came in at 12), the Crosby recording sold 50 million copies during its peak years. The role of radio has lessened over the past decade, as the number of stations playing music has declined, and many listeners have switched to downloads of favorite individual tunes.

The annual holiday season is an occasion for dusting off CD players and pulling out favorite albums from years past. I love the original soundtrack recording of the 1965 Charlie Brown Christmas TV special, with jazz artist Vince Guaraldi’s original music and melancholy covers of traditional tunes. One single from the album, “Christmas Time is Here,” came in at 17 on last year’s Billboard chart.

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I favor jazz interpretations of holiday music, so over the years I have shared copies of the great trumpet player Chris Botti’s “December” and the fabulous compilation album “Jazz to the World” with friends.

Every holiday season, I play a CD from 1996 few people have heard of, “Our Christmas Songs for You,” in which opera singers Kiri Te Kenawa, Thomas Hampson and Roberto Alagna perform solos, duets and trios to the wonderful orchestrations of Broadway legend Jonathan Tunick (who worked on most of the great Stephen Sondheim musicals of the 1970s). The version of “White Christmas” that concludes the album is one of the best I’ve ever heard.

Although there is a core group of Christmas songs popular every year, there are more than a few big hits of yesteryear that are now among the most disliked holiday recordings. Madonna’s once ubiquitous reworking of an old Eartha Kitt song, “Santa Baby,” finds little favor with listeners two decades after it was released.

Those who were around in 1971 will recall the amazing success of “Jingle Bells,” by the Singing Dogs (which was actually the creation of a group of Danish sound engineers). Two polling groups, Edison Media Research and Pinnacle Media Worldwide, which keep track of the rise and fall of Christmas music, reported last year that the tune by the barking pooches is the most hated holiday record of all time.

jmeyers@hearstmediact.com; Twitter: @joesview

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