“Vision Of Love”

’90s No. 1s Revisited: “Vision Of Love”

The fourteenth No. 1 song of the 1990s was “Vision Of Love” by Mariah Carey. Be warned, readers: You’re going to be seeing a whole lot of Mariah Carey on ’90s No. 1s Revisited because she sent 14 singles to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart during this decade. After the ’90s, She would go on to have four more chart-toppers in the 2000s. “Vision Of Love” was, of course, her debut.

The release of this song marked the start of a momentous career that has literally changed the face of popular music. Listen to the radio today. Watch “The Voice” or “American Idol.” Watch random YouTube covers. Everywhere you turn, you hear echoes of Carey’s influence in every melisma, every high note, and every rap-sung collaboration. Carey is a pioneer, a record-breaker, and a force of nature.

“Vision Of Love” is an expertly produced ballad that explores themes of gratitude, possibly toward a lover, or possibly toward a friend, parent or higher power. After the bridge, the climax becomes a Mariah-Mariah duet, as her recorded vocals sing over one another, making this an impossible song to perform live without the help of a vocal track. The final line of the song offers what we interpret as a twist ending that casts doubt on everything that came before it, as she suddenly describes her “vision of love” as “all that you turned out to be,” implying that it was perhaps an illusion or that she suffered a betrayal.

Let’s listen to “Vision Of Love”:

First of all, believe us when we say: Absolutely nothing on the radio sounded anything like “Vision Of Love” in 1990. Yes, Whitney Houston had been around for a few years, and yes, Whitney Houston is an amazing singer, and yes, she did some ballads. But “Vision Of Love” took the industry and the audience on a sharp left turn with its depth, its scale, its ambition, and its unabashed embracing of gospel and soul influences.

That this tiny-framed teenager could sing like this blew minds and commanded attention around the world. In fact, people were so dumbfounded that they couldn’t believe her voice was real and started demanding that Carey perform live, which is part of what prompted her “MTV Unplugged” concert in 1992. She, of course, silenced skeptics by sounding even better live than in the studio.

With the release of “Vision Of Love,” Carey catapulted herself onto the A List purely on the basis of her talent. Back in 1990, she was not relying on sex appeal or shock tactics to get attention or sell records. She had faith in her songs and in herself. And, not incidentally, she had the love and support of Sony Music head Tommy Mattola, who invested heavily in Carey’s career and later married her, before she divorced him and developed an allergy to clothing.

Does it hold up? This song does sound as if it came from another time. One obvious reason is, of course, the production. But more importantly, Carey’s voice is so distinct that her recordings are immediately recognized and categorized into the era from which they came. So even if you had never heard any music in your life other than Carey’s, you would know that this is “early Mariah.” No one would confuse “Vision Of Love” with what she was releasing 25 years later. All that said, this song is so exquisitely written and so historically significant that, in the same way Gen X-ers might discover Frank Sinatra or The Beatles, we believe Millennials and their children will be discovering and rediscovering Carey, and therefore “Vision Of Love,” for many decades to come.

Dopeness: 5 out of 5 Birkenstocks


Mariah Carey
“Vision Of Love”
4 weeks at No. 1, starting Aug. 4, 1990
Preceded by: “She Ain’t Worth It,” Glenn Medeiros f/ Bobby Brown
Followed by: “If Wishes Came True,” Sweet Sensation

’90s No. 1s Revisited is a regular feature on “Was It Dope?” where we walk through every No. 1 song of the 1990s on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in order, give it another listen, and answer two critical questions: Was it dope? And does it hold up?

– John

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