Thirty years ago: A retrospective review of Mariah Carey’s 1990 debut album
On 12th June 1990, a 20 year old Columbia Records hopeful released her self-titled debut album. Her career had already got off to a great start with her debut single, “Vision Of Love”, going to number one in America the previous month, so now her management were seeking to cement that success with her debut long player. Mariah Carey had actually started writing songs three years earlier in high school with her friend Ben Margulies. After a chance meeting with Brenda K. Starr, Mariah was introduced to a then Columbia employee called Tommy Mottola (b.1949) who instantly fell for her voice and in December 1988, signed her up.
The original intention was that Carey and Margulies, who by now had fourteen tracks written, would produce the album themselves, something Columbia were not happy with. So Mariah was ‘forced’ to meet and work with Rhett Lawrence, Narada Michael Walden and the man who would become most associated with her work, Walter Afanasieff. Sixteen months on and the project was complete, with eleven recordings eventually making the final pressing. By the time of the album’s release, Mottolla had been made president at Sony Records and ensured maximum advertising and marketing was afforded his new protege.
So, thirty years on, how does this first entry shape up and how have the tracks stood the ravages of time, compared to Mariah’s more recent output? Let’s see…
1. Vision Of Love
So the world was introduced to Miss Mariah Carey with this very different sounding soul/pop mid-tempo ballad with a beginning that at first listen appears to be a very unknown entity. Where is the going? it builds to a smooth, easy listening number where Miss Carey establishes her commanding voice, even though that’s in itself does not prepare you for what is yet to come! The middle-eight is where the song picks up and turns up the charge as Mariah unleashes the strength in hitting dramatic notes and then…woah!…what was that?! Glass shatters, ears pop! Some singers scream, perhaps to release some inner pain or just because they think it sounds good, Mariah sing-screams, hitting notes I don’t think anyone who hasn’t been kicked in the ‘painful parts’ can! The song isn’t long, just under three and half minutes, but it serves as an entrance. And those in Mariah’s home country clearly wanted something fresh and different, when they sent it all the way to number one that Summer. “Vision of Love” topped the Canadian singles chart as well, although the rest of the world didn’t catch on as enthusiastically as those in mainland America did, with a No.9 placing in the UK and Australia and top twenty positions across Europe.
2. There’s Got To Be A Way
Both the tone and the direction change completely with “There’s Got To Be A Way”, which has its roots clearly laid in gospel territory. The song enlists a whole choir to back Mariah in the final choruses and it makes for a great sing-a-long for everyone (it won’t take you long to pick up the words!). It’s surprising this wasn’t turned into a single globally, particularly in America, where four other tracks were released instead. “There’s Got To Be A Way” was the fourth and final single released in the Spring of 1991 and just in the UK, where it peaked at No.54.
3. I Don’t Wanna Cry
While the UK got “There’s Got To Be A Way”, America, Canada and Australia got “I Don’t Wanna Cry” as the fourth single in 1991, a much more down-tempo ballad with Spanish/Latin tones and a very sombre one at that. A sad tale of lost love in which Mariah repeats again and again how she does not want to cry and that “nothing in the world will ever take is back to where we used to be”. No screaming on this track. It’s just heart-wrenching pain and toil all the way through. “I Don’t Wanna Cry” was another number one in America and a No.2 hit in Canada, although it fared less well in Australia, peaking at No.49.
After plenty of down-tempo tracks, one could be forgiven for thinking this was just an album for romantics. Not so. Crank it up as the superb “Someday” catches fire from the word go. This is Mariah pop stylee and if you like “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”, then you’ll love this song. Mariah lets that ear-pinging scream go off at the end, but it’s entirely necessary and in the heat of the final choruses, will probably make you do the same! Sadly, you probably won’t like the horrifically remixed single version that was released at the beginning of 1991. Although that didn’t deter the US audience buying the single so much that it went to number one. “Someday” fared less well internationally, reaching No.38 in the UK and No.44 in Australia. Should’ve released the album version! Outstanding.
Back to the ballads as “Vanishing” is a gospel-tinged piano ballad sung almost accapella. The song never really takes off, but maybe that’s the point. For me, this song is a big come down from the previous track and it’s just an excuse for Mariah to let off some excess vocal and lung air.
6. All In Your Mind
I love the start to “All In Your Mind”, it’s so 80’s and feels like it belongs in a film soundtrack, perhaps one of the Beverly Hill Cop films? The song raises the tempo back to where we were two tracks ago and shows just how good Mariah is at other compositions other than ballads. The key changes two-thirds into the song rather unexpectedly and Mariah goes for some more screams, this time actually ‘screaming’ different notes. This is NOT synthesizer or computer generated, but for real!
7. Alone In Love
Another ballad, but a very good one now with “Alone In Love”. Very much in the mold of “Vision Of Love”, it’s soulful with yet another retro 80’s feel to it. I’m guessing this is one of the tracks that Mariah and Margulies wrote some years before, which would account for its sound and style. I cant help but wonder if this would of made a good single of its own merits…?!
8. You Need Me
There’s a ripping guitar rift that starts “You Need Me”, which sounds like it belongs on Celine Dion‘s first English language album, “Unison“. Another slice of mid-late 80’s pop or a Whitney “Queen Of The Night”, two years before that song was written. The second half of this album is definitely more diversified than the first half with plenty to appeal all tastes.
9. Sent From Up Above
And here’s another superb slice of soul-pop in which Mariah’s tone is much more subdued for the most part. Again, it’s of its time, but this has class and on the plus side, it’s a positive song, unlike so many that have gone before it, as Mariah deals with “so much love, in my life”. Good.
Now let’s begin by saying this surely must of been a single and whose error was it this it isn’t? If this had been the lead single, I am sure it would still of been a number one, or even later on instead of too many ballads. I love the 80’s electro-Mariah ‘rap’ the begins and ends this song…”so listen up coz here’s my reaction”! Yeah! This is a standout of the album and to be relegated to nearly the end of it is a crime. As an opener, it would of worked so well and with production from Ric Wake as with “Someday”, these two songs elevate the content of this debut long player to a much higher level. If only…!
11. Love Takes Time
Our introduction to Mariah Carey ends with this tender, gorgeous ballad, that actually, nearly didn’t make the final pressing. It was only at the eleventh hour that Mottola heard the song and fell instantly in love with it, that he insisted that it was included. And he loved it so much, he also insisted that it was released as a single. And so it was. As the second single in fact in December 1990. It followed “Vision Of Love” to the top of the US singles chart, Mariah’s second chart topper from her first two singles released. The song, as with all of her releases, played to a smaller audience globally, reaching No.14 in Australia and No.32 in the UK, while it completely missed the top 40 elsewhere across Europe. “Love Takes Time” is one of the highlights of the album and an appropriate ending, exactly the way she came in.
As with many artists, Mariah Carey’s debut album would be self titled and was released on 12th June 1990, a month after “Vision Of Love” and presumably enough time to allow that song to reach number one and sell by the bucket load. “Mariah Carey” followed suit in her home country, going all the way to the top and becoming the biggest seller of 1991 (US audiences were slow in their appreciation!). The album has, to date, sold over nine million copies there and laid the foundation for everything that Mariah has achieved since.
Worldwide, uptake on “Mariah Carey” was much slower. The album managed a number one placing in Canada, where it has sold 700,000 copies, while elsewhere it wouldn’t shift volumes until way into the 90s’. A top ten placing in Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and the UK later followed, earning Platinum discs in all four countries, while international sales added a further six million to the US figure for a global total of fifteen million. Not bad for a debut and one which would not be exceeded until her 1993 offering, “Music Box”.
“Mariah Carey” is an album of contrasts with many ballads, but there are some gems and some great pop-dance numbers to shake your ‘thang’ to. Why the world outside of The States didn’t initially warm to Ms. Carey is open to debate, but by 1993-94 it seemed with songs like “Hero” and “Without You” (her first UK chart topper) the masses had been converted. And that saw an interest in her back catalogue and the very start of her career, a time when Mariah was less of a diva and more and a naive, young lady, seeking fame and fortune and more importantly, unspoilt by the horrors of showbiz that would eventually befall her.