From Mariah Carey (1990):
This is Mariah at her best, purest form – just her immaculate voice and a piano. “Vanishing” shows a more vulnerable side of the diva we know so well, while still showing off the power and grit of her soaring vocals.
From Emotions (1991):
2. “You’re So Cold”
Go ahead and just TRY not to get chills during the first 30 seconds of this underrated gem. This is Mariah’s voice in its prime and her vocal acrobatics are in full effect: low-register growling, soaring belts, whispers, coos, and, yes, whistles. Maybe the best, most chilling intro to a Mariah song too.
From Music Box (1993):
3. “Do You Think Of Me” (B-side to “Dreamlover”)
This bonus track from Music Box begins with a series of sad “do-doops,” which is fitting considering she’s pining for a lover who’s no longer interested in her. Although the music is darker, at least by Carey’s standards, her voice is just as bright as ever.
4. “I Still Believe/Pure Imagination (Damizza Remix)” feat. Krayzie Bone and Da Brat
Sure, Fiona Apple’s “Pure Imagination” cover was great, but Mariah’s reinterpretation of the classic Willy Wonka song shows off her creativity and nuance as a producer, having co-produced this with producer and radio exec Damizza. The two blend the song, taking Mariah’s original cover of the Brenda K. Starr song (on which she, ironically, sang backup) and gives it new life, reworking it into a silky slow jam that’s aided by Krayzie Bone’s velvety verse.
5. “Everything Fades Away”
This song reveals a different side of Mariah that hadn’t yet been seen at this point in her career: assertiveness. The track begins slowly with Mariah almost whisper-singing to a lover who has obviously wronged her, but by the end of the song she’s belting, showcasing her incredible range.
From Merry Christmas (1994):
6. “Miss You Most (At Christmas Time)”
Everyone knows Carey’s now-classic “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” but few have heard of “Miss You Most (At Christmas Time),” another holiday masterpiece written by Carey and producer Walter Afanasieff. Although the song is a slow burner, it’ll definitely get you and your soulmate in a lovey-dovey mood for the upcoming holiday season.
From Daydream (1995):
7. “Melt Away”
“Melt Away” has all the elements of Mimi’s best songs: her sensual lower register, killer songwriting (with knee-buckling lyrics like, “When you look at me I go soft and cave in / and I can’t conceal that I’m slowly weakening”), and her trademark melisma and whistle register. It’s an utter shame this song doesn’t get the shine it deserves, but it is time to give in and let yourself ~m-e-l-t~ into the groove.
8. “Underneath The Stars”
Throughout Mariah’s illustrious career, she’s always wanted people to know one thing: She’s a songwriter. “Underneath The Stars” is one of her personal favorite songs, and it’s easy to see why. She takes the listener on a vivid journey, describing a summer evening with a onetime lover with such specificity that you can practically feel the grass underneath you, the caress of the “warm gentle breeze” as you curl up next to whomever you love.
9. “When I Saw You”
Lambs know the power of this classic Mariah ballad — but it’s time it gets its due and joins the canon of Great Love Songs. Mariah narrates the devastating, life-altering moment of falling in love at first sight, and her delivery is so heart-bursting, when she sings, “I could not breathe / I fell so deep,” your chest tightens with each note. That the song is about previously not believing this kind of transformative moment was possible (“And I thought it was all untrue / Until there all at once I knew”), gives the final crescendo that much more heft.
10. “Slipping Away” (B-side to “Always Be My Baby”)
What makes this track stand out is the fact that Mariah incorporates elements of doo-wop along with contemporary R&B and it actually works. Her enchanting voice flutters on the song, and the “dum dum” of the bass in the song is infectious too. It’s a silky smooth ’90s jam. You’ll have to force yourself to stop hitting replay.
From Butterfly (1997):
11. “The Roof”
It’s kind of insane that “The Roof” isn’t a monster classic R&B hit, but somehow it just never got its due. It’s not only Mariah’s sexiest video, it’s also a song that still feels just as fresh, sultry, and baby-making today as it did in 1998. And the lyrics are basically as titillating as a soft-core romance novel, but specific and well-written. Basically, this song will make you blush as you remember your last sexcapade.
The release of Mariah’s Butterfly not only conveyed an obvious departure from the big, swooping ballads she sang during the early ’90s, it was also a sexual awakening for the songbird. On “Babydoll,” she sings, “Zoning out thinking ‘bout you and me between the sheets / I wanna get intimate but you’re not within my reach.” The lead single from this album, “Honey,” may have been overtly sexual, but “Babydoll” is its polar opposite, combining a syrupy sweet melody with alluring and loving lyrics.
13. “Breakdown” feat. Krayzie Bone and Wish Bone
“Breakdown” might be the realest song Mariah’s written – for anyone who’s going through a breakup or knows the pain of unrequited love, this song cuts straight through all your defenses and forces you to acknowledge your feelings – all of the feelings.
I mean: “Friends ask me how I feel and I lie convincingly / ‘Cause I don’t want to reveal the fact that I’m suffering / So I wear my disguise till I go home at night / and turn down all the lights and then I break down and cry”
Way to hold up a mirror and force us to acknowledge our pain, Mariah. Well played.
From #1’s (1998):
“Sweetheart” shows off the magic of the longstanding relationship between MC and Jermaine Dupri. Mariah pioneered the now ubiquitous marriage between hip-hop/R&B and pop music in the early ’90s, and her Butterfly-era jam elevates it into a slick banger that shows off her edgier side.
From Rainbow (1999):
“Bliss” is a slow jam on another level. THIS is what you put on when you want to make a baby or stare googly-eyed into your lover’s eyes. Half Mariah’s signature coos and whispers, and half insane, soft whistle register, the song shows off her incredible voice control. She brings to life what stretching out and rolling around in your sheets in the morning sunlight feels like.
A melancholic lullaby for adults, “Crybaby” shows off Mariah’s versatility as an artist; her typically silky voice turns husky and sing-songy as she narrates walking around her new lover’s home during a sleepless night, Bailey’s Cream in hand, thinking about her ex and what could have been.
From Charmbracelet (2002):
17. “Irresistible (West Side Connection)”
Charmbracelet is maybe Mariah’s most-forgotten album but there are some gems that deserve their due, like the infinitely catchy “Irresistible (West Side Connection).” It’s a mid-tempo, crackly jam with an old-school groove – complete with light turntable scratches – that’s fun and coyly playful, which is Mariah’s sweet spot.
This track proves that Mariah doesn’t need to rely on belting to bring the song to life. It’s fun, it’s flirty, and it’s most definitely Mariah. This song is a fan favorite, but it can sometimes get lost in the bigger hits within the diva’s catalogue.
From The Emancipation of Mimi (2005):
This song, from Carey’s comeback album The Emancipation of Mimi, demonstrates a return to form for the diva. She belts and whispers, almost in a waxing and waning type of way. The track is reminiscent of a song that would’ve appeared on her Emotions album, minus the amount of vocal flair she exhibited on that album. Nonetheless, this is a stellar record.
20. “Say Somethin’” feat. Snoop Dogg
This Neptunes creation just gets better with age. In 2006, fans were maybe still yearning for Mariah, The Belter, but nearly a decade later, it hits just the right speed. Just put it on the next time you have a party, and watch people start to vibe out – think Groove Theory’s “Tell Me” meets Janet’s “That’s The Way Love Goes.”
21. “Fly Like A Bird”
Even if you don’t believe in an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent deity, you’ll still be moved by the conviction with which Mariah sings this song. It includes all of the makings of a terrific Mariah song too: awesome vocals, impeccable production, and a tremendously talented church choir. Listen to this undervalued gem, and let the spirit of Mariah envelop you.
From E=MC² (2008):
22. “For The Record”
This record is a treat because it includes a bit of an orchestral background. Pairing Mimi’s voice with backing violins is absolutely genius. And the goodies don’t stop there – Carey uses this song as an opportunity to reference other songs (“Underneath the Stars,” “We Belong Together,” “Can’t Let Go,” and “Honey” ) within her massive catalogue of hits: ” I told you underneath the stars that you belong to me/ For the record / It’s obvious that we just can’t let go of us, honey.”
From Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel (2009):
23. “It’s A Wrap”
What better way to tell off an ex who did you wrong than by telling them, “It’s a wrap”? The song tells the story of an “oh so acquiescent” Mariah, who finally tells her man to put all his “shit in the elevator” and “scoot do do doot,” and the result is a delicious, cheeky kiss-off song that may be Mariah’s best breakup anthem.