She was once Brenda K. Starr‘s back-up singer; then, she became a star(r) in her own right. Mariah Carey made the music business revolve around her in the 90’s with fourteen #1 singles during the decade, including this chart-topper from 1993. Upon the 20th anniversary of it first charting, let’s remember the success and great pop sound of “Dreamlover”.
After a few years of making the charts, Carey was becoming a superstar, claiming eight top 5 singles on the Hot 100, five Gold singles and two multi-Platinum singles. Most of these releases tended to be ballads, like “Vision Of Love” (1990) and “Can’t Let Go” (1991). There were even hints of gospel music in her previous two singles, “Make It Happen” and a live rendition of the Jackson 5 hit, “I’ll Be There”. When preparing the new album that would become 1993’s Music Box, she experimented with new sounds with the help of Dave Hall, best known at that point for his production on Mary J. Blige‘s 1992 album, What’s The 411? With his expertise in the R&B field, he and Carey crafted a melody around “Blind Alley” by The Emotions, an album cut from their 1972 LP, Untouched. Although this wasn’t the first time she had sampled a song in one of her own, this was pretty prominent, and it gave Carey a chance to dive deeper into an urban feel, which was incorporated on all of her albums following this, while stay leaning in a pop direction. With some extra help from longtime collaborator Walter Afanasieff, the song was ready to be heard by a wider audience several months later.
There are several things to consider when thinking about the single that could have heavily affected it negatively. By the time “Dreamlover” was released as a single, Carey was off the charts for the better part of a year after consistently racking up hit after hit, occasionally in the top 40 with two songs at the same time. During that time, the musical landscape changed a bit; mainstream radio ratings were dropping like a rock, and programmers tried to plug up the holes with more Alternative product. At the same time, rap was back on the rise with the help of acts like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. She certainly didn’t fit into either category. Also threatening the single was another charting track that contained that same sample. It was the b-side of LL Cool J‘s “Back Seat (Of My Jeep)”, titled “Pink Cookies In a Plastic Bag Getting Crushed by Buildings”. Both sides were credited on the Hot 100, which meant both songs were getting sales and/or airplay points. It could have been a mess, but luckily, the response was overwhelming good.
On the Billboard Hot 100 dated August 7, 1993, “Dreamlover” debuted in the #40 position, the Highest Debut of the week. It also entered at #21 on the Hot 100’s Airplay Chart during the same frame. A physical single wouldn’t be available until the following week. Although Carey faced some stiff competition at the time from big new releases by Billy Joel (“The River Of Dreams”), Janet Jackson (“If”) and Madonna (“Rain”), it was ultimately hers that jumped ahead of the pack and led the chart for eight weeks in September and October. (“River” went to #3, “If” went to #4 and “Rain” went to #14.) As a result, Music Box was a smash, debuting at #2 on the Billboard 200 before climbing to #1 at Christmas and occupying the top spot for eight non-consecutive weeks through the spring of 1994. Further singles “Hero” and “Without You” also made a significant impact on the Hot 100, with the former going to #1, while fourth single “Anytime You Need A Friend” missed the top ten. The airplay for the single was there, but it peaked quickly, and physical sales couldn’t make up the difference. Thus, the era ended on a low note, but still well overall.
Since then, Carey’s career has had its highs and lows: “One Sweet Day” (with Boyz II Men) going to #1 for sixteen weeks, several #1 debuts on the Hot 100, “When You Believe” (with Whitney Houston) underperforming, pulling weaves in the “Heartbreaker” music video, Virgin Records selling the “Loverboy” single for 49 cents, the “ice cream truck” incident on Total Request Love, the breakdown, “We Belong Together” breaking all sorts of records, “I’m up in my bidness like a Wendy interview”, “He’s all up in my George Foreman“, the CGI-realness that was the “Auld Lang Syne” video and finally, “#Beautiful” being a #falsestart to her latest album. Obviously, I can’t cover it all, but hey, she’s an icon and that has to be the ultimate high. “Dreamlover” is just another footnote in her accomplished career, but one that’s definitely worth remembering as it celebrates this special day. Happy 20th anniversary!