Vision of Love
|"Vision of Love"|
US retail cassette edition; the US CD edition was released for only promotional use
|Single by Mariah Carey|
|from the album Mariah Carey|
|Released||May 15, 1990|
|Mariah Carey singles chronology|
"Vision of Love" is the debut single by American singer-songwriter Mariah Carey. Written by Carey and Ben Margulies, "Vision of Love" was released as the lead single from Carey's self-titled debut album on May 15, 1990. After being featured on Carey's demo tape for Columbia, the song was re-recorded and produced by Rhett Lawrence and Narada Michael Walden. "Vision of Love" features a slow-dance theme tempo and backing vocals sung by Carey herself, and introduces her usage of the whistle register. Lyrically, the song describes both a past and present relationship with a lover: Carey describes the "vision of love" she dreamed of, as well as the present love she feels for him.
The accompanying music video for "Vision of Love" was filmed in April 1990. It features Carey in a large cathedral, where she meditates and sings by a large picture window. "Vision of Love" was performed on several television and award show ceremonies, such as The Arsenio Hall Show, Good Morning America, and the 33rd Annual Grammy Awards. It has been performed at almost every one of Carey's concerts and tours, and is featured on Carey's live album MTV Unplugged (1992) and on many of her compilation albums, Number 1's (1998), Greatest Hits (2001) and The Ballads (2008).
"Vision of Love" received universal acclaim from music critics. While the song's production was typical of late 1980s pop, the vocals were not, being much more showy and expressing a wider range than artists popular at the time such as Paula Abdul and Debbie Gibson. It has been credited with popularizing the use of melisma in contemporary popular music and for inspiring several artists to pursue a music career. The New Yorker named "Vision of Love" the "Magna Carta of melisma" for its and Carey's influence on pop and R&B singers and American Idol contestants. 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." The song topped the singles charts in Canada, New Zealand, and the United States, where it spent four weeks atop the chart.
Background and recording
Throughout 1986, Carey had already begun writing music while in high school. After composing a song with her friend, Gavin Christopher (of "Once You Get Started" fame), Carey met a young drummer and songwriter, Ben Margulies. After initially meeting and becoming friends, the pair began spending time in his father's old studio, writing material and composing new songs. Together, the first song they compiled was titled "Here We Go Around Again." As the year wore on, they had composed seven songs for Carey's demo tape; of them was the rough and unfinished version of "Vision of Love". In an interview with Fred Bronson, Carey described how she met and came to work with Margulies.
"We needed someone to play keyboards for a song I did with Gavin Christopher. We called someone and he couldn't come, so by accident we stumbled on Ben. Ben came to the session, and he can't really play keyboards very well-he's really more of a drummer-but after that day, we kept in touch, and we just sort of clicked as writers.
After meeting Brenda K. Starr and being introduced to Tommy Mottola, the future head of Sony Music Entertainment (as well as Carey's future husband), the song was re-done in a professional studio, with the assistance of two producers. Carey flew to Los Angeles to work with Rhett Lawrence, one of the album's main producers. After hearing the original version of the song, Lawrence described it as having a "'50s sort of shuffle." After Carey agreed to alter the song, Lawrence contemporized its tempo. "Vision of Love" was recorded at the Skyline Studios in New York, and featured Lawrence behind the keyboard, Margulies on the drums, bassist Marcus Miller, drum programmer Ren Klyce and guitarist Jimmy Ripp. Lawrence took Carey's vocals from the original demo version, and used them as background vocals for the song's final version. After adding different instrumentation to the song, Lawrence and Narada Michael Walden produced "Vision of Love."
"Vision of Love" is a pop/R&B love song with gospel and soul influences. It incorporates heavy backup vocals during the song's bridge and features usage of Carey's whistle register and melisma. Author Chris Nickson described the song and its vocals:
"['Vision of Love'] was the perfect introduction to her voice. With an ideal slow-dancing tempo, it still managed to swing, with Mariah's background vocals (herself multi-tracked) answering her lead. On the final chorus, her voice flew towards those trademark high notes before the instruments drop out, leaving Mariah to sing her way out to the tune's climax alone."
"Vision of Love" is set in common time and in the key of C major. Carey's vocal range spans from the low-note of E♭3 to the high whistle note of C7. The song's lyrics and melody were written and composed by Carey, with Margulies, Miller, Klyce and Rip on the instrumentals. Lawrence and Walden produced the song, which heavily deviated from its original version on Carey's demo. Michael Slezak from Entertainment Weekly wrote regarding the song's instrumentation and vocals "From those opening sci-fi-esque synths to that signature dog-whistle high note, Mariah's very first single is inspired: Even folks who object to her trademark vocal excesses are hard-pressed to fault this rousing, gospel-tinged song about finding 'the one that I needed.'"
The song's lyrics have been subject to various interpretations and suggested relationships by critics. Some have noted the relationship between Carey and God, while others point out one with a lover. Carey has yielded to both, while claiming them to have a connection to her childhood and to obstacles encountered while growing up. Michael Slezak wrote "Though it's not clear if she's celebrating a secular love or her relationship with a higher power, this exuberant ballad is a near-religious listening experience." In an interview with Ebony in 1991, Carey spoke of the song's lyrics and success.
"Consider the lyrics: Prayed through the nights / Felt so alone / Suffered from alienation / Carried the weight on my own / Had to be strong / So I believed / And now I know I've succeeded / In finding the place I conceived. Well, just because you are young doesn't mean that you haven't had a hard life. It's been difficult for me, moving around so much, having to grow up by myself, basically on my own, my parents divorced. And I always felt kind of different from everyone else in my neighborhoods. I was a different person – ethnically. And sometimes that can be a problem. If you look a certain way everybody goes, 'White girl,' and I'd go, 'No, that's not what I am.'"
According to Nickson, Carey chose to express her innermost feelings in her songs rather than becoming depressed and bitter throughout the hardships in her life. "You really have to look inside yourself and find your own inner strength, and say, `I'm proud of what I am and who I am, and I'm just going to be myself."
"Vision of Love" received universal acclaim from music critics, who mostly complimented its lyrical content as well as Carey's vocals and use of melisma. Bill Lamb from About.com stated that "echoes of Whitney Houston's influence are evident, but the sheer power and swooping highs are all Mariah's own." He added that "Vision of Love" is "one of the best songs" of the singer's recording career, and "simply one of the most stunning debut releases ever by a pop recording artist." Ashley S. Battel from AllMusic said that it is "memorable". Billboard magazine described it as a "velvety stunner" and a "retro-flavored pop/R&B ballad". Editor Bill Coleman noted further that it "has all the elements necessary to propel newcomer to diva status: infectious melodies, lush instrumentation, and a vocal performance brimming with unbridled power and confidence." In a retrospective review on the album in 2005, Entertainment Weekly called the song "inspired" and complimented Carey's use of the whistle register. Music & Media described it as "a smouldering 'blue-eyed' soul ballad from a new artist with a strong voice." The Network Forty commented, "When this one comes on the air, you better stand clear of your speakers. Her voice will blow you away!" In 2006, Sasha Frere-Jones from The New Yorker named the song "the Magna Carta of melisma" for both the song's and Carey's influence on pop and R&B singers and American Idol contestants. Orlando Sentinel described it as a "1950s-styled ballad". People noted that Carey's "tone and clarity" makes it a "mesmerizing" song. 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." Slant Magazine critic Rich Juzwiak, wrote, "I think ["Vision of Love"] was a vision of the future world of American Idol." In a separate review from Slant, he wrote, "The last half of "Vision Of Love" (starting with the belted bridge) is a series of crescendos that get so intense that another Mariah has to step in to keep up the momentum." Also Juzwiak complimented the usage of the whistle register in the song, "And then there's the whistle note. And then there's the final vocal run that's more like a roller-coaster track. If you think these aren't climaxes, she proves you wrong with her denouement, the way the last word, "be," sort of wanes into an "mm hmm hmm."
In the United States, "Vision of Love" entered the US Billboard Hot 100 at #73 during the week of June 2, 1990, and reached the chart's summit nine weeks later. The song remained atop the chart for four consecutive weeks, and was ranked sixth on the Hot 100 year-end chart. After four weeks at number one, it fell to number eight, and spent seven weeks lingering in the top ten. It also topped the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs for two weeks and Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks for three weeks. In October 2019, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certified the song platinum, denoting shipments of over 1,000,000 units. In Canada, "Vision of Love" entered the Canadian RPM Singles Chart at number 75, during the week of July 7, 1990. In its eighth week on the chart, the song reached number one and remained on the chart a total of 17 weeks. "Vision of Love" finished eighth on the Top 100 Hit Tracks of 1990. "Vision of Love" entered the Australian Singles Chart at number 67 during the week of August 5, 1990. It peaked at number nine, and spent a total of 19 weeks in the top 100. The Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) certified the song gold, denoting shipments of over 35,000 units.
In the Netherlands, the song entered the singles chart at number 99, during the week of July 14. It spent a total of 17 weeks in the chart, spending two weeks at its peak position of number eight. "Vision of Love" entered the French Singles Chart at number 39 on November 11, 1990. It peaked at number 25, spending two weeks at the position and a total of 14 on the chart. In Ireland, the song peaked at number ten, and spent six weeks in the singles chart. "Vision of Love" topped the chart in New Zealand, spending two consecutive weeks atop the singles chart. After fluctuating for 24 weeks in the chart, the song was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand (RIANZ), denoting shipments of over 7,500 units. In the United Kingdom, the song entered the UK Singles Chart at number 74, during the week of August 4, 1990. "Vision of Love" peaked at number nine in its seventh week, and spent a total of 12 weeks in the chart. According to Official Charts Company, sales in the UK are estimated at 198,000 combined sales.
After completing the album, Sony hired Bojan Bazelli to direct the song's music video. After filming the video's first version, record label executives felt the result was sub-par in comparison to the quality of the music. They scrapped the first video and re-filmed it with director Andy Morahan, changing the plot, scenery and imagery. After word got out of the two videos, a Sony employee spoke to the press about Carey, saying how "the special treatment really upset" him. He felt they treated Carey differently from how they would another artist signed to the label, and that they viewed her as a higher priority. He also claimed that Carey was the reason they re-filmed, "they spend $200,000 on a video and Mariah doesn't like it. No big deal." Another employee estimated the figure of both videos at over $450,000. After the reports were made, Don Ienner, the president of Sony, refuted the claims, calling them "total bullshit" although admitting, "If we're going to take the time and effort that we did with Mariah, on every level, then we're going to image her the right way. If it costs a few extra dollars to make a splash in terms of the right imaging, you go ahead and do it."
The video takes place in a large cathedral-like room, with large winding staircases on each side. Throughout the video, the scenery changes several times from a cloudy and sunny day, to a glowing sunset. These time shifts are seen through a large carved window in the cathedral. The video begins with Carey's hair in long golden curls, and her wearing a skin-tight black jumper. She sits on the large ledge by the window, staring into the different colors in the sky. As the video progresses, Carey is joined by a small black cat, which accompanies her as she meditates on the large stairwell. After the song's second verse, a large microphone is seen in the middle of the room, where scenes of Carey singing and standing on the window's ledge interchange. The last scenes show Carey staring out into the meadow, smiling. According to author Chris Nickson, during the scenes of Carey by the large window, it is "obvious" that she is praying to God and connecting to her creator. He felt that alongside the song's lyrics of faith and prayer, the video's moments of meditation truly went "hand in hand."
Serving as her debut single, Carey performed "Vision of Love" on several live television and award show appearances, both stateside and throughout Europe. Carey's first live performance of the song was on The Arsenio Hall Show, where she was joined on stage by the Billie T. Scott Ensemble, a trio of male background vocalists. Additionally, she sang it during a televised appearance at New York City's TATU Club, where she also gave a live rendition of Ben E. King's "Don't Play That Song (You Lied)". As part of a live segment and interview, Carey appeared on Good Morning America in July 1990, where she gave a live performance of the song. In the further months, Carey performed the song live on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Oprah Winfrey Show, the 33rd Annual Grammy Awards, and "Saturday Night Live". In Europe, Carey performed "Vision of Love" on Wogan in the United Kingdom, and Sacrée Soirée and Le Monde Est A Vous in France. In 1992, Carey performed the song on MTV Unplugged. It was released on her EP and home video that same year, as MTV Unplugged and MTV Unplugged +3 respectively. In July 1993, Carey recorded a live concert performance at Proctor's Theatre which included "Vision of Love". It was taped and released as Here Is Mariah Carey in December 1993. Additionally, the song was part of a four-song set-list on BET's Blueprint, where Carey performed in July 2005.
"Vision of Love" was performed on several of Carey's tours and concert shows. It was first featured on her Music Box Tour, her first full-length stateside tour. For the song's performances, Carey donned a large black trench coat, with matching pants and leather boots. She featured her signature curly locks, and was joined by Trey Lorenz, Melonie Daniels and Kelly Price. On her 1996 Daydream World Tour, Carey once again included the song on the tour's set-list. During her shows at the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan, Carey donned a long black gown, with teased up straightened hair and a matching head-band. For the European leg on the tour, Carey wore a long white gown, and was joined by additional background vocalists. Carey included the song on her set-list for her Butterfly World Tour (1998), where she once again featured the same trio of supporting singers. For the show's performances, she donned a sheer and beige mini-dress, with long and wavy golden hair. Additionally, she wore a cream-colored long-sleeve sheer sweater with matching high-heeled sandals. "Vision of Love" was included on Carey's Rainbow World Tour in 2000, as well as the Charmbracelet World Tour: An Intimate Evening with Mariah Carey (2002–03), The Elusive Chanteuse Show (2014) and Caution World Tour (2019). During The Adventures of Mimi Tour in 2006, Carey performed the song at select shows. For the performances of the song, she donned a long yellow cocktail gown and black Christian Louboutin pumps. Once again Lorenz was featured on stage, however with the addition of two different female back-up singers, MaryAnn and Sherry Tatum. Carey also performed the song at the 2015 Billboard Music Awards along with Infinity to promote her number 1 To Infinity album. Carey also included the song in her Las Vegas residency, Mariah Carey Number 1's, a chronicle of her 18 US number 1 hits. The song was first in the chronological setlist, and for the performance Carey donned a black sequined gown, and her signature curls. Carey also included the song during the first two legs of her Las Vegas residency, The Butterfly Returns (2018).
"Vision of Love" was nominated for three Grammy Awards at the 33rd annual ceremony, held on February 20, 1991: Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, winning the latter. Additionally, the song received the Soul Train Music Award for Best R&B/Soul Single, Female and a Song of the Year Award at the BMI Pop Awards. Devon Powers from Popmatters has stated during the release of Carey's Greatest Hits album that "Mariah's Greatest Hits moves chronologically through that remarkable career, beginning with “Vision of Love”, the 1990 single that introduced the singer to instant stardom. Still, after so many years and songs, it's by far among her best, if not the best—a simple testament to the incredible pipes that gave her a permanent place in pop cultural memory." Powers added that "From its first moments, the song demands to be legendary—a gong crash smolders low as Mariah's gospel-inspired vocals hum confidently, grandly."
VH1 named "Vision of Love" the 14th greatest song of the 1990s. About.com ranked it fourth on its top ten pop hits of 1990 list and 28th on its top 100 pop songs of the 1990s list. Entertainment Weekly included it on their "10 Great (and 10 Grating) Karaoke Songs" list as a grating karaoke song, saying: "You cannot do this song. Seriously. Tackling this lung-crusher might seem like a fun challenge, but three minutes, five octaves, and one 10-second note later, you will realize that you did not conquer 'Vision of Love.' 'Vision of Love' conquered you." USA Today critic Elysa Gardner picked "Vision of Love" as one of the most intriguing tracks, saying that it is still Mariah's best song. T. Field and a research team discovered that "Vision of Love" is one of the songs that has physiological and biochemical effects on depressed female adolescents. R&B singer Beyoncé said that she began doing vocal "runs" after listening to "Vision of Love" for the first time. Similarly, pop singers Rihanna and Christina Aguilera cited the song and Carey as big influences in her career as a singer. In an interview during the early stages of her career, Aguilera said "I've totally looked up to Mariah since 'Vision of Love' came out." Kelly Clarkson also cited "Vision of Love" as an influence on her singing career after performing the song on her first choir solo performance as a kid.
Track listing and formats
Credits and personnel
Credits adapted from the Mariah Carey liner notes.
- Songwriting – Mariah Carey, Ben Margulies
- Production – Rhett Lawrence, Narada Michael Walden
- Instruments and programming – Rhett Lawrence, Jimmy Ripp
- Recording – Rhett Lawrence
- Audio engineering – Narada Michael Walden
- Background vocals – Mariah Carey
- Programming – Ben Margulies, Marcus Miller, Ren Klyce
- Mixing – Rhett Lawrence, Narada Michael Walden
Certifications and sales
|New Zealand (RMNZ)||Gold||5,000*|
|United States (RIAA)||Platinum||1,000,000|
*sales figures based on certification alone
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