“The Winner Takes It All” was the first single off ABBA’s Super Trouper album. It paints a vivid picture of the aftermath of a breakup. ABBA isn’t known for the depth of their lyrics (what the hell is “Super Trouper” about anyways?), so it’s interesting how detailed this song is. They find an inventive way of comparing a relationship to a game. “The winner takes it all/The loser’s standing small/Besides the victory/That’s her destiny”.
The music is beautiful, going between a soft piano arrangement and a midtempo beat. It makes you sad and reflective, but you want to dance too. The vocals are also great. My favorite part is Angetha’s soaring “alllllll” on the last verse.
“Winner” went to #1 in several countries. It was the group’s last top ten song in the US, which is odd considering there were strong follow up singles like “Lay All Your Love on Me”. Those people who didn’t get ABBA were the real losers.
On this last day of October, I thought of a melancholy Barry Manilow song. He has a few of those, but “When October Goes” is most appropriate for today. The song was included on Barry’s 1984 album 2:00 AM Paradise Café. It’s sad and wistful as well as touching and beautiful. Like the other songs on the album, “October” was recorded live in one take. The simple stripped-down nature of the recording adds to the feeling of track. I also hate to see October go (really, this month flew by), but I enjoy this Manilow moment.
In 1995, Mariah Carey released Daydream, one of the best albums of her career. It’s certainly in my top 3 for her. The record is a fantastic mix of pop, ballads, and midtempo r&b. She also creeped into the hip-hop world with a certain remix. Critics praised her new work and fans rushed to buy it. The album went platinum ten times over and spawned three #1 singles. Let’s take a look back.
12. When I Saw You
A simple ballad. But basic for Mariah is still infinitely better than most singers at their best.
11. Open Arms
Standard cover of Journey’s classic song. My arms are halfway open for it.
A throwback to a 50s or 60s sound, but with Mariah’s signature tone. I could almost hear this playing in the background of an old Sandra Dee movie.
9. Daydream Interlude (Sweet Fantasy Dub Mix)
She takes us to the club with this hypnotic interlude, giving us a brief moment to dance it out.
8. Long Ago
Midtempo 90s r&b in a nutshell. She flows easily over this bass line.
7. Melt Away
The ballad sister of Long Ago. She wrote it with Babyface, producing a smooth jam
6. One Sweet Day
The longest running consecutive #1 (16 weeks) up until 2019. Mariah partnered with Boys II Men on this track about losing a loved one. It’s equally sad and beautiful. My favorite part is the run-filled back and forth between Mariah and Wanya.
5. I Am Free
With a title like “I Am Free” you wouldn’t think this was a love song. Mariah writes about being a prisoner locked inside herself until someone came into her life and freed her with their love. It’s a hopeful message captured with soaring high notes.
4. Underneath the Stars
A pretty melody matched with some of the best layered vocals. It makes you imagine first-time love on a starry summer night.
3. Looking In
One of her most introspective songs where she lays out all of her raw emotions. “She smiles through a thousand tears and harbors adolescent fears. She dreams of all that she could never be She wades in insecurity.” It’s quietly powerful and heartbreaking.
2. Always Be My Baby
A fan favorite that never gets old. ABMB marked the beginning of a long history of collaborations between Mariah and producer Jermaine Dupri. They know how to make the hits that become the soundtrack to our lives.
The first track off the album, as well as the first single by a female artist to debut at #1 on the Billboard 100. Her ninth #1 overall. She’s backed by an infectious sample of the Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love”. Then she flipped it with the remix featuring Ol’ Dirty Bastard. At the time, putting a mainstream pop singer with a rapper seemed crazy. But Mariah grew up loving hip hop. These days every female pop star does a song featuring a rap artist. I’m not saying Mariah invented this “hip-pop” genre. But I’m not not saying it either. In any case, Fantasy gave us the iconic lyric “Me and Mariah go back like babies with pacifiers”. It doesn’t get any sweeter than that.
As I mentioned one post earlier, Mya’s “Case of the Ex” went to #2 on the Billboard 100. What kept it from reaching #1? Destiny’s Child’s “Independent Women”. Beyonce, Kelly, and Michelle stomped on Mya’s chart-topping dreams with this hit. The group recorded the track for the 2000 movie adaptation of Charlie’s Angels. Coincidentally, DC had just downsized to a trio, matching up with the Angels. Ironically, they had kicked out a Farrah.
“Women” focuses on capable self-sufficient ladies who can buy their own shoes, cars, and houses. They don’t need any men to do it for them. A strong message backed by DC’s smooth vocals and the Trackmasters’ slick production. My favorite moment is the breakdown where the ladies harmonize perfectly. It makes you want to throw your hands up at them for sure.
It’s after midnight and she’s on your phone. Saying come over cause she’s all alone. I could tell it was your ex by your tone.
From the opening lines you know “Case of the Ex” is about a trifling chick. In this case, Mya’s boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend. She came out of nowhere and is showing inappropriate interest in Mya’s man. Reaching out to him at odd hours normally reserved for booty calls.
Now what it is that she wants? Tell me what is it that she needs? Did she hear about the brand-new Benz that you just bought for me?
Her goal is to breakup Mya’s relationship. She’s probably pissed that she didn’t get a new car when she was dating the guy. Jealousy is a motivator.
Cause y’all didn’t have no kids. Didn’t share no mutual friends.
Further proof that he shouldn’t be messing with this girl. They have nothing holding them together. Hang up the phone, dude.
And you told me that she turned trick when y’all broke up in ’96.
My favorite lyric. Hats off to whoever thought of rhyming trick with ’96. I love how much of a shade-fest “Ex” is. Mya drags this chick, verbally, for a good four minutes. Add in that da-da-da-da-da-da-dum beat and you have a great track.
“Case of the Ex” went to number #2 on the Billboard chart in 2000 and became one of Mya’s most popular singles. There was also the fierce video where she breaks it down in the desert while wearing studded denim. Very hot indeed.
Back in 1990, Mariah Carey made her debut with her self-titled album. Up until then, she was a backup singer in NYC looking for a big break. That came when she met Tommy Mattola, the president of Sony, and signed to his record label. Contrary to the Svengali narrative, Mattola didn’t create Mariah. Most of the material for that first album came from a demo tape that she had made in high school, she wrote her own songs, and her incredible singing wasn’t taught. She was a powerhouse of her own making. Here are Mariah Carey’s 11 tracks.
11. You Need Me
You know what you don’t need on the album? This song. It’s overproduced and boring.
10. Sent from Up Above
Only slightly better than YNM, but still “eh”. It sounds very early 90s and not in a good way.
9. All in Your Mind
The best moment on this one is the whistle note staccato at the end.
8. All Alone in Love
AAIL is one of those songs you’d hear on a “quiet storm” radio night. Smooth and easy.
7. There’s Got to Be a Way
A song with a message that still needs to be heard today. Mariah sings about overcoming racial inequality and bigotry.
This is a fun dance/r&b track with some electric guitar thrown in. She even raps. You wouldn’t think it would work and yet somehow it does.
5. I Don’t Wanna Cry
The fourth single off the album and probably the most overlooked. It’s not as flashy as the others. However, it’s a beautiful heartbreaking song that deserved to go to the top of the charts.
4. Love Takes Time
The album was already finished and mastered when Mariah wrote LTT. She intended it for her next record, but the executives at Sony loved it and insisted she include it on MC instead. It’s another pretty breakup ballad. Her specialty.
For her third single, Mariah switched it up and put out an up-tempo new jack swing track. Over a very danceable beat she tells her ex that he’s going to regret letting her going and he’ll come crawling back someday. She knows her worth. Then she takes it home with an amazing high note. Where’s he going to find another girl that can do all that?
A very close 2nd to the top track here. Vanishing is the deep album cut that many fans point to as their favorite. It’s so simple yet so rich with the piano and her vocal runs that seem to go on forever.
1. Vison of Love
The song that introduced Mariah to the world quickly established her signature style. In 3 1/2 minutes she goes from incredible low notes to the highest of highs. It’s the definition of vocal gymnastics. Throw in a timeless melody and you have a hit. The fact that there was nothing like it out there at the time definitely contributed to its success. That uniqueness inspired Beyonce, Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson, and countless other singers. Mariah’s vision completely changed the music scene.
Iconic musician Stevie Wonder turns 70 today. He’s definitely one of those artists who created the soundtrack to our lives. I first discovered him in the 80s with “I Just Called to Say I Love You”. The song, from the movie The Woman in Red, was everywhere in 1984. It topped several Billboard charts and won the Oscar for Best Original Song. People, including me, just love Stevie.
In 2001, Mariah Carey suffered a series of career setbacks. She had a well-publicized breakdown. Her movie, Glitter, bombed and the accompanying soundtrack went down with it. Plus, she was dropped by her record label after just being signed. It was a bleak period. She tried to bounce back the next year with a new album, but that failed to take off as well. People in the music industry wrote her off and said she’d never recover. They were wrong. In 2005, Mariah released The Emancipation of Mimi and everything turned around. It sold 10 million records and won three Grammys. For the album’s 15th anniversary, we’re celebrating this momentous (Mariah loves a moment) album by raking its fourteen tracks.
14. To the Floor
There’s not really a bad song on Mimi, but To the Floor comes close. It doesn’t make me want to rush to the dance floor and Nelly’s weak rap is forgettable.
13. Mine Again
The problem with Mine Again is that it’s very shouty. I like when Mariah sings in full voice, but it sounds likes she’s trying to project across a football stadium here. Dial it back, sister.
12. One and Only
A sluggish sleepy track. The best thing about it is Twista. He kicks things up a notch with his crazy fast flow.
11. Joy Ride
She hits a fantastic extended note at the end of the song that is a joy ride in itself.
10. Stay the Night
Mariah worked with Kanye West (back when he was tolerable) for the first time with this track. Her voice and his production style are a nice match.
9. How I Wish You Only Knew
This could have appeared on a Diana Ross album in the 70s. The live band, background vocals, and spoken word mid-song are very much of that era.
8. Your Girl
Another one that sounds like a throwback, this time to girl groups of the 60s. But it’s modern at the same time.
7. Say Somethin’
Mariah and The Neptunes are a good combo. Throw in Snoop Dogg and you have a party. It feels like a fresh evolution of her sound.
6. Fly Like a Bird
I always enjoy when Mariah goes gospel. Here she sings an inspirational ballad with a full choir and an appearance from her minister. She brought the whole church to the studio.
5. Get Your Number
After years apart Mariah reunited with Jermaine Dupri, her longtime friend and collaborator, on this album. The results were great songs like Get Your Number. It’s a fun and flirty track that makes good use of an 80s sample from the British group, Imagination. Oh, damn.
4. It’s Like That
Mariah announced her return with this cool party single, moving away from the stress and drama of the last few years. There’s also a great shady line, “Them chickens is ash and I’m lotion”. Who wouldn’t want to be lotion?
A beautifully written song about trying to move on after a breakup while still feeling crushed. From the opening verse, “Ever since you left me, I’ve been trying to hide the pain. Painting on a smile with lipstick, putting on a big charade,” you’re caught up in the sadness with her.
2. Shake It Off
Mariah sings about shaking off her cheating boyfriend here. She’s packing up her Louis Vuitton and moving on. It makes you wanna bounce and not just because Jermaine tells you to in the opening.
1. We Belong Together
This is one of her best. Period. A lush midtempo song that never ages. It cemented her comeback by going to #1 (her sweet 16th) and staying there for 14 weeks. Billboard named it the Song of the Decade and the naysayers learned you should never count Mariah out.
After the initial success of Mimi, the record label re-released it with a couple of new songs and remixes. The standout being Don’t Forget About Us. It was similar to WBT, but amazing in its own right. So much so, that it went to number one on the charts (her 17th if you’re keeping track).
In 1978, Rose Royce came out with “Wishing on a Star”, the third single off their album Full Bloom. The ballad wasn’t a big hit for them, but the r&b group had many other memorable singles, like “Car Wash”. Flash forward to 1992, when the appropriately named The Cover Girls released their cover of “Star”. It went to #9 on the Billboard 100 and was the 49th biggest single of the year.
Each version of the song is a product of its time. Rose Royce’s original is a soulful 70s ballad with lead singer Gwen Dickey’s rich vocals and the live band accompanying her. The Cover Girls’ rendition is very produced, which was common in the 90s. It also has more sass.
I actually heard TCG’s “Star” first when I was growing up. I distinctly remember it playing in the background of an episode of Beverly Hills 90210, so it feels closer to my nostalgic heart. But if I have to pick the best version of the song, I’ll go with Rose Royce. Gwen’s voice is better and I like RR’s subtly.
Mariah Carey isn’t a fan of birthdays so instead she chooses to celebrate anniversaries. Why? Because she’s a diva and she can. In honor of the occasion, here’s the video for a classic MC track, “Honey”. Wouldn’t we all like to dive into a pool, race away on a jet ski, and do a little dance number with a bunch of sailors right about now? Happy Anniversary!