30 Years of ‘Mariah Carey’
June 12, 2020, marked the 30th anniversary of Mariah Carey’s eponymous debut album. As far as debuts are concerned, few are more impressive.
Mariah Carey is impressive not just because it has no skips and offers a range in tempo and style, but also because many of those songs were written by a teenage Mariah — in fact, some were written while she was in high school. As the legend goes, her then-future-husband and then-head of Columbia Records, Tommy Mottola, grabbed her demo tape as she handed it to Jerry Greenberg, then-president of Atlantic Records, and the rest is history. Tommy would end up signing and later marrying — and divorcing — her. There are few Mariah write-ups that don’t include this “Cinderella” story, but what many don’t mention is that the songs on that demo tape would end up being on her debut album. In fact, two of them — “Vision of Love” and “Someday” — would end up being No. 1 singles.
This fun fact is important because it demonstrates that she already had an artistic voice before the label assembled the industry’s finest to assist in making her debut album.
Many have inaccurately described Mariah Carey as an artist who made “pop” until she started collaborating with rappers, but not only is that false, it serves as evidence that “pop” is a vague and often-racialized term. Mariah was only considered “pop” because she was white-passing, but the truth is that her sound has always been decidedly R&B, and few songs on her debut LP could be mistaken as anything else.
Another fun fact: Mariah showed her first inclinations towards hip-hop on her debut album, where she raps on “Prisoner,” the album’s 10th track. Looking back, the Ol’ Dirty Bastard collabo should’ve been a lot less surprising, but unfortunately, she had been placed neatly in the “pop” box .
From gospel to doo-wop to quiet storm, Mariah Carey is a perfect blend of traditional and contemporary R&B sounds, and even though Columbia Records was very much going for Whitney vibes, you will come away knowing that this is an artist with an identity of her own.
All four singles from Mariah Carey — “Vision of Love,” “Love Takes Time,” “Someday” and “I Don’t Wanna Cry” — would reach the summit of the Billboard Hot 100, making her the second act ever (after the Jackson 5) to top the chart with their first four singles. Mariah would end up breaking that record when her fifth single (and first from her sophomore LP), “Emotions,” also tops the chart.
Mariah won Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (for “Vision of Love”) at the Grammys the following year, and the album would go on to sell over 20 million copies worldwide.
Picking a favorite from an album this good can be a challenge, but on Mariah Carey, there is a clear winner: “Alone in Love.” You know an album is good when your favorite song is a deep cut and not one of its four No. 1 singles. Join me in celebrating this classic body of work.