“I’ll Be There”

’90s No. 1s Revisited: “I’ll Be There”

The sixtieth No. 1 song of the 1990s was “I’ll Be There” by Mariah Carey. After Carey’s second album, Emotions, was a mild commercial disappointment, the singer released a CD of her highly lauded performance on MTV Unplugged. This was a significant milestone in Carey’s career because it helped quiet detractors who suspected her sound was studio-created. In this live, acoustic environment, her talents were indisputable.

The album features five of her seven hits up to that point, plus two others: “If It’s Over,” a song she did not release from the Emotions album, and “I’ll Be There,” a remake of The Jackson Five’s No. 1 hit from the autumn of 1970. Her version also features un-credited vocals by Trey Lorenz, who shortly after this exposure launched his own solo career. He had one hit, the lovely “Someone To Hold,” which reached No. 19 in the autumn of 1992.

Music from the 1970s was oddly popular in 1992, illustrating the cyclical nature of popular music. George Michael and Elton John’s live version of John’s “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” had gone to No. 1 in February, and the re-release of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” peaked at No. 2 in May. As Carey sat at No. 1 in June, a bit further down the chart were remakes of “Wishing On A Star” (original release: 1978) and “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” (original release: 1976). And, of course, Whitney Houston ended the year at No. 1 with her remake of “I Will Always Love You” (original release: 1974).

Let’s listen to “I’ll Be There”:

We love Carey, and we love the Jacksons, and we love how well she and Trey Lorenz did with this song vocally. But there were so many better singles out at this time that the success of “I’ll Be There” seemed kind of unnecessary. It did serve to prove Carey’s prowess in a live setting, but beyond that didn’t do anything to push music forward. And, meanwhile, here’s what else was in the Top 10 the week “I’ll Be There” reached No. 1:

  1. Baby Got Back,” Sir Mix-A-Lot
  2. Jump,” Kris Kross
  3.  “Under The Bridge,” Red Hot Chili Peppers
  4. My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It),” En Vogue
  5. Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover,” Sophie B. Hawkins
  6. If You Asked Me To,” Celine Dion
  7. Achy Breaky Heart,” Billy Ray Cyrus
  8. Tennessee,” Arrested Development
  9. The Best Things In Life Are Free,” Luther Vandross & Janet Jackson

What an incredibly interesting and diverse Top 10 this is! Some of the best songs of the year were stuck behind “I’ll Be There,” making Carey’s success feel slightly frustrating. By the way, if 1992’s Top 10 hits is a topic of interest, here’s a nicely done video of all 67 songs to achieve that. “I’ll Be There” combined three things that were tremendously hot in 1992: live acoustic music, remakes of 1970s hits, and Mariah Carey.

Does it hold up? Because it’s live, sure. But given the breadth of Carey’s catalog as well as the interest in The Jackson Five’s original material, there’s not much modern-day enthusiasm for this particular track. But it doesn’t sound dated.

Dopeness: 2 out of 5 Birkenstocks


Mariah Carey
“I’ll Be There”
2 weeks at No. 1, starting June 20, 1992
Preceded by: “Jump,” Kris Kross
Followed by: “Baby Got Back,” Sir Mix-A-Lot

’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?


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