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Mariah Carey (album)

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Mariah Carey
A curly-haired young brunette woman with black straps around her shoulders. "MARIAH CAREY" on the top of the image, uppercased.
Studio album by Mariah Carey
Released June 12, 1990
Recorded December 1988—March 1990 at the Skyline Studios New York City, NY, Cove City Studios, Glen Cove, NY; May 1990, Tarpan Studios, San Rafael, CA
Length 46:44
Label Columbia
Producer Mariah Carey, Rhett Lawrence, Ric Wake For Wake Productions, Narada Michael Walden For Perfection Light Productions, Ben Margulies, Walter Afanasieff
Mariah Carey chronology
Mariah Carey
Singles from Mariah Carey
  1. "Vision of Love"
    Released: May 15, 1990
  2. "Love Takes Time"
    Released: September 11, 1990
  3. "Someday"
    Released: November 13, 1990
  4. "I Don't Wanna Cry"
    Released: April 25, 1991
  5. "There's Got to Be a Way"
    Released: May 6, 1991

Mariah Carey is the self-titled debut studio album by American singer-songwriter Mariah Carey, released on June 12, 1990 by Columbia Records. Its music incorporates a range of contemporary genres with a mix of slow ballads and dance tracks. Originally, Carey wrote four songs with Ben Margulies, which solely constituted her demo tape. While altered and partially re-sung after being signed to Columbia, all four songs made the final cut for the album. Aside from Margulies, Carey worked with a range of professional writers and producers, all of whom were hired by Columbia CEO, Tommy Mottola. Mariah Carey featured production and writing from Rhett Lawrence, Ric Wake and Narada Michael Walden, all of whom were top record producers at the time. Together with Carey, they conceived the album and reconstructed her original demo tape.

Upon release, the album received generally positive reviews from music critics, who complimented Carey's voice and technique, as well as the album's content. It became a commercial success as well, topping the Billboard 200 album chart for eleven consecutive weeks. Mariah Carey was certified nine-times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), denoting shipments of nine million copies in the United States. The album experienced similar success in Canada, where it topped the charts and was certified seven-times platinum. Mariah Carey fared well in other worldwide territories, reaching the top ten in the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and United Kingdom. Worldwide, the album has sold 15 million copies.

Five singles were released from the album, four of which became number-one hits on the Hot 100. "Vision of Love" was chosen as the album's lead single, topping the charts in Canada, New Zealand, and the United States. The song was critically lauded, and was regarded as one of the strongest debut singles by a female singer. The album's second single, "Love Takes Time" was also well received and peaked the charts in Canada and the US. With the following two singles, "Someday" and "I Don't Wanna Cry" reaching number one in the US, Carey became the first artist since The Jackson 5 to have their first four singles top the charts in the United States.


In 1988, an 18-year-old Carey moved out of her mother's house in Long Island, and into a small apartment in Manhattan.[1] She had a demo tape consisting of four songs, which she had written during her high school years with Ben Margulies.[1] As 1988 unfolded, Carey, still without a record deal, struggled to draw the attention of record executives in New York. While working several jobs, she continued writing and producing music with Margulies, making changes and additions to the demo.[2] After months of difficulty, Carey met with singer Brenda K. Starr, and soon began singing back-up for her.[2] Eventually, Starr began hearing what she described as "glimpses" of Carey's voice throughout sessions, and noticed her "gifted voice".[3] She realized Carey was capable of achieving success, but only needed help to break through into mainstream music.[3]

"I really didn't want to do it, but I said its gotta be better than what I'm doing now. So I went to the audition, and Brenda was such a great person."

—Carey, on auditioning for her position as back-up with Starr[2]

One night, Starr took Carey to a record industry gala, attempting to convince a record label executive to listen her demo.[4] Jerry L. Greenberg, president of Atlantic Records took notice of her.[4] As Carey handed him the record, Tommy Mottola quickly grabbed the tape, insisting that he would deal with "the project".[4] As Mottola got into his limousine later that evening, he played Carey's demo and quickly realized the talent that he had just discovered. He quickly returned to the event, but a discouraged Carey had already left.[4]

"For this particular time, she is my number one priority. We don't look at her as a dance-pop artist. We look at her as a franchise."

Don Ienner, president of Columbia Records, on his plans for working with Carey[5]

After a week of tracking her down through Starr's management, Mottola got in touch with Carey and brought her over to Columbia Records.[4] After meeting with Carey and her mother Patricia for the first time, Mottola said, "When I heard and saw Mariah, there was absolutely no doubt that she was in every way destined for super-stardom." After a few brief meetings, Carey was signed to Columbia in December 1988.[4]

Mottola had assumed the top position at Sony, the parent label of Columbia, and began taking the company through various stages of change.[4] One he felt was very important for the label's success was to discover a young and very talented female vocalist, to rival Whitney Houston from Arista Records, or a pop star to match Madonna, who was signed to Sire Records at the time.[4] He felt that Carey represented both. Mottola's confidence in Carey led him to hire a range of talented and well-known musicians and songwriters to assist with Carey's demo, as well as to create new material. Among them were Ric Wake, Narada Michael Walden and Rhett Lawrence.[4]

Recording and composition[edit]

A sample of the song, featuring the yearning lyrics and tempo Carey incorporated with Walden.

A sample of the song, featuring the vocal flip Carey described as a highlight during the album's recording.

Problems playing these files? See media help.

"When we met she was 17 years old and I was 24. We worked together for a three-year period developing most of the songs on the first album. She had the ability just to hear things in the air and to start developing songs out of them. Often I would sit down and start playing something, and from the feel of a chord, she would start singing melody lines and coming up with a concept."

—Ben Margulies, about his collaboration with Carey[6]

Carey and Ben Margulies began writing prior to Carey's signing, and had composed over fourteen songs; seven of which earned a place on the album.[1] Originally, Carey and Margulies planned to produce the entire album as well, an idea her label did not permit.[1] On the album, Carey worked with a range of producers and writers, including from Ben Margulies, Rhett Lawrence, Narada Michael Walden, Ric Wake and Walter Afanasieff; the latter would continue working extensively working with Carey on future projects.[1] As production for the album began, Carey worked with Walden in New York, where they produced "I Don't Wanna Cry". While he described Carey as "very shy," he noted how professional she was for someone her age.[7] Additionally, Carey wrote "There's Got to Be a Way" during her first recording session with Wake.[8] During the session, they wrote four songs, but they only produced the latter song for the album. After flying to New York and working with Carey, Walden was astonished by her voice.[8] Together, they collaborated on transforming many of the demo's songs into more commercial recordings, which took place in Tarpan Studios in San Rafael, California.[9] For her work with Lawrence, Carey traveled to New York once again. In the studio, she presented him with the demo of "Vision of Love" which she had written with Margulies years prior. Lawrence saw "potential" in the song, but he did not think much of it in its early stages.[9] He described the song's sound as having a "fifties sort of shuffle".[9] According to Lawrence, Carey needed a more contemporary sound, so they met in the studio alongside Margulies and producer Chris Toland. They added a new arrangement to the original chord progression, while Carey changed the song's melody and key. Afterwards, Margulies added few drum notes to the arrangement, including additional guitar and bass notes.[9]

"I was using my upper register...what happened was at the end of it, I did these vocal flips. When I was doing it, my voice split and went into a harmony. If you hear it, it splits. I was saying, 'Get rid of that,' but everyone was saying 'No way, we're keeping that'."

—Carey, on the high notes she hit while experimenting with her voice in the studio[10]

When Carey worked with Walden on "I Don't Wanna Cry", they worked on several other songs.[9] Together, they decided to "slow down the tempo" and create a "crying type of ballad," one which according to him, featured a direct inspiration from gospel genres.[9] After they completed the song, Lawrence noted how much of a perfectionist Carey was. He said that after finishing the song, she returned to the studio the following week, all in order to correct "one line" that troubled her.[9] As one of the four original songs she gave to Mottola, "Someday" became Wake's favorite from the start, "I loved that song right from the beginning...Then Mariah called me one day and said 'I'd love to do it if you want to do it.' It was great, I'm glad she called me."[11] During its recording, Carey revealed how the song came into existence. She had been working on the demo with Margulies in his studio.[11] As he began playing different notes on the electric keyboard, Carey directed him on the chord changes, while providing the chorus, lyrics and melody.[11] In "All in Your Mind", Carey does a great vocal performance, doing staccatos up to F7.[12] According to the artist, her voice "split" while doing those ornaments.[10] While she thought to remove it from the song's recording, Wake and Walden were very impressed by the vocal flips, claiming that it would fit in perfectly.[10]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3.5/5 stars[13]
Billboard (Positive)[14]
Entertainment Weekly B−[15]
Q 4/5 stars[16]
Robert Christgau (C)[17]
Rolling Stone 3/5 stars[18]

The album received generally positive reviews from music critics. Ashley S. Battel from Allmusic called the album "extremely impressive" and described the songs as "smooth-sounding ballads and uplifting dance/R&B cuts."[13] Battel concluded her review with "With this collection of songs acting as a springboard for future successes, Carey establishes a strong standard of comparison for other breakthrough artists of this genre."[13] Many critics expressed how Mariah Carey was one of the most impressive debuts of the year, praising its songs, lyrics and Carey's voice and songwriting.

Billboard gave the album a very positive review calling it an "impressive debut," and writing "Carey convincingly seizes many opportunities to display her incredible vocal range on such memorable tracks as the popular 'Vision of Love.'"[14] Rolling Stone gave the album praise writing "Carey debuted with an album of uplifting dance pop and R&B ballads, each song's composition co-credited to Carey and each providing an opportunity to unleash her wide vocal range."[18] American critic Robert Christgau gave the album a mixed review, writing, "She gets too political in her brave, young, idealistic attack on 'war, destitution and sorrow': 'Couldn't we accept each other/Can't we make ourselves aware.' Elsewhere she sticks to what she doesn't know—love.'[17]

Mariah Carey was nominated for the 1991 Grammy Award for Album of the Year, while "Vision of Love" received nominations in the categories of Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. Carey won for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and also received the award for Best New Artist.[3]

Chart performance[edit]

Mariah Carey entered the US Billboard 200 at number 80, and reached the top 20 in its fourth week. The album topped the chart in its 36th week, due to Carey's exposure at the 33rd Annual Grammy Awards, and stayed there for 11 consecutive weeks; to date, it is the longest stay at number one in Carey's career.[19] It remained in the top 20 for 65 weeks and on the Billboard 200 for 113 weeks.[19] Mariah Carey was certified nine-times platinum by the RIAA on December 15, 1999. The album has sold 4,885,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, which began counting sales after January 1, 1991.[20] It became the best-selling album of 1991 in the United States.[21]

In Canada, the album peaked at number one on the Canadian RPM Albums Chart during the week of April 20, 1991.[22] To date, Mariah Carey is certified seven-times platinum by the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA), denoting shipments of 700,000 copies.[23] The album peaked at number six in Australia, where it went double platinum and finished sixth on the ARIA Charts end of 1991 top 50 albums.[24][25] During the week of September 15, 1990, Mariah Carey entered the UK Albums Chart at its peak of number six.[26] After spending 40 weeks fluctuating in the chart, the album was certified platinum by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), denoting shipments of 300,000 copies.[27] As of November 2010, the album has sold 15 million copies worldwide.[28]


A sample of the song, featuring Carey's heavy use of melisma during the song's finale.

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Vision of Love was the first single released from the album and became one of the most popular and critically praised songs of Carey's career.[1] Additionally, "Vision of Love" is credited with bringing the use of melisma to the 1990s and inspiring various future talents. "Vision of Love" was nominated for three 1991 Grammy Awards: Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (which it won), Record of the Year and Song of the Year.[29] The song received the Soul Train Music Award for Best R&B/Soul Single, Female and a Songwriter Award at the BMI Pop Awards.[29] In the United States, it peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, during the week of August 2, 1990, staying atop the chart for four consecutive weeks.[30] "Vision of Love" topped the singles chart in Canada and New Zealand as well, and appeared within the top ten in Australia, Ireland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Aside from its chart success, the song was lauded by music critics. In a retrospective review on the album in 2005, Entertainment Weekly called the song "inspired" and complimented Carey's use of the whistle register in the song.[31] Additionally, Rolling Stone said that "the fluttering strings of notes that decorate songs like 'Vision of Love', inspired the entire American Idol vocal school, for better or worse, and virtually every other female R&B singer since the nineties."[32] Bill Lamb from said that "'Vision of Love' is one of the best songs of Mariah's recording career [...] It is simply one of the most stunning debut releases ever by a pop recording artist."[33]

"Love Takes Time" served as the album's second single. The song became Carey's second single to top the singles chart in the United States, and third chart topper in Canada.[34][35] While the song achieved strong success stateside, "Love Takes Time" barely charted inside the top ten in New Zealand and outside the top 20 in Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.[36][37] "Someday" (the album's third single) followed a similar pattern as "Love Takes Time," topping the chart in the US and Canada.[34][38] In Australia, it peaked outside the top 40, and hit number 38 in France and the UK.[39] "I Don't Wanna Cry", the album's fourth single, also topped the charts in the United States.[34] The song became Carey's fourth chart topper in the US, finishing number 25 on Billboard's year-end chart. Aside from peaking at number two in Canada, it charted at number 49 in Australia.[40] A fifth single, "There's Got to Be a Way", was released in the United Kingdom, where it peaked at number fifty-four.[19]


Aside from the heavy marketing and promotional campaign held by Sony Music, Carey performed on several television programs and award ceremonies, stateside and throughout Europe. Carey's first televised appearance was at the 1990 NBA Playoffs where she sang "America the Beautiful".[19] Soon after, she performed "Vision of Love" back-to-back on both The Arsenio Hall Show and The Tonight Show.[19] In September 1990, Carey appeared on Good Morning America where she performed an a cappella version of "Vision of Love," alongside the Billy T. Scott Ensemble.[19] "Vision of Love" was performed on various other American television shows such as the 1991 Grammy Awards and The Oprah Winfrey Show, as well as European programs such as The Veronica Countdown (The Netherlands) and the Wogan Show (United Kingdom). Carey has performed "Vision of Love" on most of her tours, up until her Angels Advocate Tour in 2010, where it remained absent from the set-list.[19]

Promotion for the album continued with Carey's follow up singles. "Love Takes Time" was performed on "The Arsenio Hall Show" as well as Carey's televised performance at "The Tattoo Club."[19] The third single from Mariah Carey, "Someday", was performed at the 1991 American Music Awards which helped it reach number one in the United States. Carey's fourth single "I Don't Wanna Cry", reached the top of the Hot 100 without any immediate promotion, as Carey had not performed the song until her Music Box Tour in 1993.[19] As promotion for Mariah Carey ended, Sony released a fifth single "There's Got to Be a Way", in the UK. Most of the albums singles were performed live throughout Carey's short Music Box Tour. Both "Vision of Love" and "I Don't Wanna Cry" were performed on Carey's Asian and European Daydream World Tour (1996).[19]

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Writer(s) Producer(s) Length
1. "Vision of Love"   Mariah Carey, Ben Margulies Rhett Lawrence, Narada Michael Walden 3:28
2. "There's Got to Be a Way"   Carey, Ric Wake Wake, Walden 4:53
3. "I Don't Wanna Cry"   Carey, Walden Walden 4:48
4. "Someday"   Carey, Margulies Ric Wake 4:08
5. "Vanishing"   Carey, Margulies Carey 4:12
6. "All in Your Mind"   Carey, Margulies Margulies, Wake 4:44
7. "Alone in Love"   Carey, Margulies Lawrence 4:12
8. "You Need Me"   Carey, Lawrence Lawrence 3:51
9. "Sent from Up Above"   Carey, Lawrence Lawrence 4:05
10. "Prisoner"   Carey, Margulies Wake 4:24
11. "Love Takes Time"   Carey, Margulies Walter Afanasieff 3:49




Region Certification Sales/shipments
Australia (ARIA)[24] 2× Platinum 140,000^
Canada (Music Canada)[72] 7× Platinum 700,000^
Japan (RIAJ)[73] 3× Platinum 600,000^
Netherlands (NVPI)[74] Platinum 100,000^
New Zealand (RMNZ)[75] 4× Platinum 60,000^
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[76] Gold 50,000^
Sweden (GLF)[77] Platinum 100,000^
Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)[78] Gold 25,000x
United Kingdom (BPI)[79] Platinum 300,000^
United States (RIAA)[80] 9× Platinum 9,000,000^

^shipments figures based on certification alone
xunspecified figures based on certification alone


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Works cited[edit]