This week, Mariah Carey broke Elvis's record to become the solo artist with the most #1 hits--18--and second only to the 20 #1 hits from the Beatles in terms of overall artists with the most #1s in the rock era. Here's a rundown of all 18 of her chart toppers:
1. Vision of Love (4 weeks, August 1990)
Mariah Carey's first single, which went on to become her first #1, remains, in my opinion, one of her best. The dramatic ballad perfectly showcases her vocal prowess. The song went on to snag Grammy nominations for best record and song of the year, and won Carey one of her first two Grammys, Best Female Pop Vocal (the other being Best New Artist). "Vision of Love's" parent album, Mariah Carey, was also nominated for Album of the Year. Unlike other big pop artists of the time, such as Madonna or Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey's success (once she got a record deal and released material) was instantaneous. The video isn't that great. Given that she was an unknown quantity at the time, its expectedly simple. Although Wikipedia says they spent money on it, it looks pretty cheap to me. I remember seeing it on VH1, but the video itself was not a hit. The tight black outfit she wore in it was her signature look at the time.
2. Love Takes Time (3 weeks, November 1990)
"Love Takes Time" was another ballad for Carey, and her second consecutive #1, although it almost wasn't, as the song was a last minute addition to Mariah Carey. I remember friends liking this single better than "Vision of Love," although I never did. The video, like "Vision of Love," also wasn't very interesting--B&W Mariah on a beach.
3. Someday (2 weeks, March 1991)
Another personal favorite. After two ballads, it was nice to hear something upbeat from Carey, and "Someday" easily became her third #1 hit. Given the more up-tempo track and youthful targeting of the video, it was around this time that Carey's popularity really took off, having reached a broader audience. Around this time Mariah Carey hit #1 on the albums chart, spending 11 weeks at #1, and going on to be Billboard's #1 album for 1991. The song got a remix for the video, which was filmed on location in a New Jersey high school complete with bucket drummers and dancers. This was her first decent video, and unlike her previous two, received a lot of play on MTV.
4. I Don't Wanna Cry (2 weeks, May/June 1991)
"I Don't Wanna Cry" was the fourth and final single from Mariah Carey, and like the previous three, it also hit #1, giving the singles from Mariah Carey a 100 percent #1 striking rate and matching the recent, albeit still remarkable feat of scoring four #1 hits from a debut album (Paula Abdul had just done it with Forever Your Girl). This one was another ballad, not bad, but not a classic. Unlike the previous ones, its video was also a hit.
5. Emotions (3 weeks, October 1991)
"Emotions" quickly followed "I Don't Wanna Cry" as the first single from Carey's second album, Emotions. Although not as a successful as Mariah Carey, Emotions was still a decent hit, and gave her another #1--now her fifth consecutive chart-topper--securing her still unbroken record as debut artist with the most consecutive #1 hits (a record that, incidentally, future Carey duet partner Westlife holds in the UK with their first 7 #1 hits). Having struck a hit with a younger audience in "Someday," "Emotions" features a similar uptempo dance-pop production, this time courtesy of David Cole and Robert Clivilles, who hit #1 earlier in the year with their dance act C+C Music Factory. This set the template for singles releases for future albums: lead with a breezy upbeat track and follow it with a ballad, in this case, "Can't Let Go." "Emotions" was nominated for the female pop vocal Grammy. It's a pretty decent song, although I liked "Someday" better. The video is somewhat unusual in that its color was drained and then tinted red, yellow, or blue in alternating takes. Carey's next single, "Can't Let Go," would break her #1 streak when it peaked at #2.
6. I'll Be There (featuring Trey Lorenz) (2 weeks, June 1992)
As a stopgap between Emotions and Music Box, Mariah Carey released an EP of her MTV Unplugged appearance in the summer of 1992. This was the first of a number of albums based off the MTV Unplugged show, two of which--works by Eric Clapton and Tony Bennett--won Album of the Year Grammy Awards. This remake of the Jackson 5 classic because Carey's sixth #1, and a was a major hit at radio that summer. The MTV Unplugged release was nominated for the best female pop vocal Grammy, and "I'll Be There" specifically was nominated in the R&B duo/group performance category.
The video is simply that portion of her MTV Unplugged appearance featuring this song, although it does have an interesting quirk, which is that Carey is heard introducing Trey Lorenz before his vocal segments, which was edited out of the album and single version of the song.
7. Dreamlover (8 weeks, September-October 1993)
The first single from Mariah Carey's third album, Music Box, was another breezy slice of upbeat radio friendly pop. Fans eagerly, propelling the single to #1, where it stayed for nearly 2 months, doubling Carey's previously longest stay at the top. This song I love, as it epitomizes what Carey was about at the time: carefree, tuneful pop. The appropriately lightweight video find Carey frolicking with dancers in a lush meadow and swimming in a lake in upstate New York. The track was nominated for the Female Pop Vocal Grammy.
8. Hero (4 weeks, December 1993-January 1994)
"Hero" was the last of a 3-single consecutive run of #1s. Released at the end of 1993, the song has become perhaps her most memorable of her early ballads. It was also nominated for the Female Pop Vocal Grammy. The video is rather uninteresting; it's a live performance. The album's following single, "Without You" has a similar video, recorded during the same concert. "Without You" was the first Mariah Carey single not to top the radio top 40 chart ("Can't Let Go" and "Make It Happen," which missed the top of the Hot 100, were still top 40 radio #1s). Notably, however, "Without You" was her first UK #1. "Hero" isn't bad, but I always liked "Without You" a lot better.
9. Fantasy (8 weeks, September-November, 1995)
"Fantasy" was the first single from Daydream, Mariah Carey's fourth album and second to get nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy. Daydream, like her last album, Music Box, would go on to be certified diamond by the RIAA for shipping in excess of 10 million units. Daydream is actually her best-selling U.S. album, and second worldwide only to Music Box. "Fantasy," like "Dreamlover," was a breezy pop ditty, although with a more R&B feel and a sample of Tom Tom Club's "Genius of Love." "Fantasy" was notable for debuting at #1, the second single ever to do so, following Michael Jackson's "You Are Not Alone." The feat owed more to record company manipulation than instant popularity--due to Billboard rules at the time, only tracks with commercially available singles could appear on the chart, so if companies withheld their singles for a few weeks until airplay was peaking, voila, instant #1. "Fantasy" was nominated for the Female Pop Vocal Grammy, one of five nominations Carey received that year (Daydream was also nominated for Best Pop Album). The video showcases a new hairstyle for Carey--straighter and blonder--than her previous long curly brown locks. Set mostly at an amusement park, the best bits are watching Carey try to lipsync while riding an actual rollercoaster. She's understandibly a bit off.
10. One Sweet Day (with Boyz II Men)(16 weeks, December 1995-March 1996)
I still amazing to think that "One Sweet Day" spent 16 weeks at #1. That was nearly 4 months, a longer stay at #1 than most #1 singles released in 1990 even spent in the entire top 40. Boyz II Men got equal billing with Carey on this, although I still mostly think of it as her single, given that it came from Daydream and did not appear on a Boyz II Men album. At the time, the 16-week run beat the longevity record established 3 years earlier by Whitney Houston's 14-week stay at #1 with "I Will Always Love You." It remains the longest-running #1 single of all time. The single was nominated for the Record of the Year Grammy, as well as Best Pop Collaboration with Vocal. The video is rather boring--it's just footage of them recording the song in the studio.
11. Always Be My Baby (2 weeks, May 1996)
In a nod toward the fact that Carey's sound was increasingly movng away from pop and toward R&B, this single was nominated for the Best Female R&B Vocal Grammy. The video finds Carey this time romping around a summer camp.
12. Honey (3 weeks, September 1997)
"Honey" was the first single from Butterfly, Carey's fifth album and further showed her move away from straight up pop toward R&B. It's a pretty decent song, one of my favorites, but the video has to be her best. The James Bond spoof is well done, Carey looks great, she really hams it up at the beginning, and I love how she escapes by diving into a swimming pool while changing her clothes, which is something Bond really would do. There's even some good dancing, courtesy of her personal crew of Navy men. Very cool and a nice break from her heretofore breezy or performance videos. The song got two Grammy nods, for female R&B vocal and R&B song.
13. My All (1 week, May 1998)
It was around this time that in the U.S., it became frequent practice for record companies to not always release a commercial single for popular tracks, which instead were promoted only through radio and video in hopes of strengthening album sales. In an apparently stroke of luck, Carey's record company withheld official singles from what turned out to be her weaker performing tracks at radio ("Forever," "Butterfly," and "The Roof") which resulted in her having a second 5-single string of consecutive #1 hits from "Fantasy" to "My All." This is one of my least favorite of her #1s. It's okay, but it's too simple and too slow for my taste.
14. Heartbreaker (2 weeks, October 1999)
At first I didn't care for "Heartbreaker," as I felt it was a retread of "Fantasy," given that it samples the same song. In time though, I've actually come to see its charm. It's even breezier than "Fantasy," if that's possible, and it has a cute video. But this is Carey at her absolute least substantive moment--meaningless song, singing through her nose, repetitive, sample-heavy, and Jerry O'Connell shows up in the video, apparently two-timing Mariah with her mean twin, while attending an animated film that features Mariah. Later good Mariah and bad Mariah duke it out in the girls room.
15. Thank God I Found You (feat. Joe & 98 Degrees)(1 week, February 2000)
This is my least favorite Carey #1. It sounds vaguely like "Love Takes Time," but not nearly as good. I'm not sure how it managed to score a Grammy nod for best pop collaboration with vocal. This was 98 Degrees biggest hit too. Boring vid.
16. We Belong Together (14 weeks, June-September 2005)
From "Vision of Love" in 1990 to "Thank God I Found You," in 2000 Carey had presence at #1 in every year. That all changed in 2001 with Glitter, Carey's first album not to score a #1 hit. It wasn't just that it didn't have a #1 though--it was a flop, and Carey's career suffered dearly. The lukewarm 2002 follow-up, Charmbracelet, did little to restore her credibility. Then came 2005's Emancipation of Mimi, which found Carey hitting R&B sounds--both traditional and contemporary--harder than ever. The first single, "It's Like That," wasn't a major hit, but the second one "We Belong Together" was the song that saved Mariah Carey's career. The earnest ballad become her first #1 hit in 5 years, and one of her biggest hits ever, spending 14 weeks at #1. It's a great comeback single, which ushered in the latest era of her successful career. The song and its album were also responsible for giving Carey her most Grammy nominations in one year yet--8 nods--including her third Album of the Year nomination--and wins for best contemporary album for Mimi, and for this song, best female R&B vocal and best R&B song. The song was also nominated for Record and Song of the Year.
17. Don't Forget About Us (2 weeks, December 2005-January 2006)
Having scored such a major hit with "We Belong Together," Mariah Carey re-released The Emancipation of Mimi just before Christmas in 2005 with new tracks, including this single, which is basically a remake of "We Belong Together." It's not bad, but it's nothing new. It also managed to score Grammy nods for Female R&B vocal and R&B song.
18. Touch My Body (April 2008)
That brings us to present day, with "Touch My Body," Carey's 18th #1, which pushes her just above Elvis's 17 #1 hits and second only to the Beatles' 20 for most #1 hits.