’90s No. 1s Revisited
The seventy-second No. 1 song of the 1990s was “Dreamlover” by Mariah Carey. Because our “’90s No. 1s Revisited” series walks through every No. 1 song of the ’90s in order, we have covered Carey six times already, and will do so seven more times before the decade is finished. “Dreamlover” was the first single off Carey’s third studio album, Music Box, her most successful CD to date with 32 million copies sold globally. “Dreamlover” became Carey’s longest-running No. 1 at the time with eight weeks on top of the Billboard Hot 100, helping allay any fears that Carey’s career was trending downward in the wake of Emotions, an album that underwhelmed commercially.
“Dreamlover” is a love song with a Pop arrangement featuring guitars, organ and ’60s-inspired backing vocals, making it somewhat out of sync with the urban direction Top 40 music was taking at this time. But this helped it garner cross-genre appeal, as it reached No. 1 on the Dance charts and No. 2 on both the R&B and Adult Contemporary charts. A crowning achievement of “Dreamlover” was that it managed to keep the gratingly inescapable novelty song “Whoomp! (There It Is)” by Tag Team from reaching No. 1, although perhaps Tag Team had the last laugh when their track ended up at No. 2 for the year, while “Dreamlover” came in at No. 8. (“Whoomp!” racked up a lot of sales and airplay points over a long period of time during the year; it spent 50% more time in the Top 10 than “Dreamlover” did. Slow and steady wins the race.)
Let’s give “Dreamlover” another listen:
What a lightweight summertime frolic! “Dreamlover” is a simple song, repeating the same two chords over and over — a trick she would repeat later on “Fantasy,” then again on “Heartbreaker.” Carey, in the spirit of great Pop songwriters, seems more interested in catchy melodies than innovative chord progressions. But like Janet Jackson’s “That’s The Way Love Goes” a few months earlier, this track achieves optimum synergy of vocal performance, lyrics, backing track and video. With “Dreamlover,” the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And it just puts a smile on your face.
This single represented a bit of a reboot of Carey’s popularity, and of course it drove sales of what would become her best-selling album of all time. It was a bit more saccharine than what we’d seen from her previously, but a little sugar is nice every now and again.
Does it hold up? As of this writing, “Dreamlover” is only the 28th most viewed video on Carey’s YouTube channel. That’s not a scientific measure of durability, but it indicates that perhaps this track isn’t among the most sought-after works in Carey’s catalog. The instrumental sounds mildly dated, and the song has an innocence that’s rare to find today, but it also has a fundamentally classic, timeless quality that holds up pretty well.
Dopeness: 4 out of 5 Birkenstocks
’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?