By the summer of 1993, the public had come to know Mariah Carey as the most successful new diva in the pop world. The brown-eyed, curly-haired singer’s glass-shattering voice and talent for writing hit songs was quickly setting the standard for ‘90s pop superstardom.
With two multi-Platinum albums already behind her, fans and music critics eagerly awaited the arrival of Carey’s third studio album, Music Box. While Carey’s previous studio effort, 1991’s Emotions, leaned on R&B, soul and gospel influences for inspiration, Music Box took a slightly different approach, focusing its attention toward more pop, radio-friendly confections. Lyrically, many of the songs depict Mariah as a hopeless romantic, while others (e.g. “Hero”) preach self-sufficiency.
Despite receiving some harsh reviews from music critics, who claimed that Music Box lacked emotion and substantial writing, the 10-track LP became Carey’s first to be certified Diamond by the RIAA, selling over 10 million copies in the U.S. alone, and spawned two No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, “Dreamlover” and “Hero.” The diva’s fifth studio project, Daydream, would mostly follow in the Music Box mold, to even greater success and favorable reviews praising Carey’s songwriting skill. Mimi would eventually return to her R&B roots with 1997’s Butterfly, but the blockbuster success of Music Box and Daydream ultimately helped the Long Island native become the top-selling artist of the ‘90s.
To celebrate Music Box’s 25th anniversary this Friday (Aug. 31), we ranked all the tracks on the now-iconic LP.
11. “Just To Hold You Once Again”
“It’s so hard to believe/ I don’t have you right beside me/ As I long to touch you/ But you’re out of my reach,” Carey laments in the second verse of “Just To Hold You Once Again” — a precursor to 1997’s “My All” from her sixth studio LP, Butterfly. Carey always had a knack for delivering convincing ballads about heartbreak (e.g. “Forever” and “We Belong Together”) that’ll make you want to rekindle an old flame.
10. “All I’ve Ever Wanted”
As far as closing tracks go, “All I’ve Ever Wanted” is quintessential Mariah, bursting with money notes and featuring the then-newlywed’s desire to ignite a romance with a longtime love interest. “If you were my own/ To caress and hold/ I would shower you with love/ And drown within your soul,” she confesses in the song’s second verse.
9. “Never Forget You”
Carey and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds joining forces on “Never Forget You” is a music lover’s paradise. For nearly four minutes, Mimi and Babyface demonstrate why they ruled the ‘90s as their voices blend perfectly on the chorus. “Never Forget You” is also one of the rare instances in which the two singer/songwriters created magic together in the studio, as on Babyface’s 1996 hit, “Every Time I Close My Eyes,” which features Carey on background vocals.
8. “I’ve Been Thinking About You”
Following a series of ballads, Carey, along with C&C Music Factory’s Robert Clivillés and the late David Cole, bring the energy on “I’ve Been Thinking About You.” On the set’s penultimate track, which samples Melvin Bliss’ “Synthetic Substitution” and Slave’s “Just a Touch of Love,” the young starlet sings about unexpectedly falling in love with a friend: “I’ve been around you a thousand times before/ And you’ve always been a friend to me/ But now I’m wanting more.” What’s memorable about this tune is that it’s the last time the trio worked together before Cole’s passing in 1995 — his death inspiring “One Sweet Day,” Carey’s megahit Daydream collab with Boyz II Men.
7. “Without You”
Carey did for Badfinger’s “Without You” what the late Whitney Houston did for Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.” The original version of “Without You” was a force to be reckoned with, but the gifted chanteuse made it her own with those signature vocal runs and high notes, eventually even outselling Nilsson’s 1972 version. The melodramatic ballad skyrocketed to No. 1 in Germany, Switzerland, New Zealand, the UK and the Netherlands, solidifying Carey’s international appeal. “Without You” also marked the first of several covers that Carey would go on to feature on her studio LPs, including “Open Arms” (1995), “The Beautiful Ones” (1997), “I Want To Know What Love Is” (2009) and “One More Try” (2014).
6. BONUS TRACK: “Everything Fades Away”
Don’t underestimate this bonus track, which was written by Carey during Music Box’s recording sessions. From the musical arrangements to the haunting melody and a climax that’s guaranteed to give you goosebumps, “Everything Fades Away” is a treasure that comes pretty close to outshining even the biggest singles off an album as perfect as Music Box.
5. “Music Box”
If there were any doubts surrounding Carey’s vocal ability, they were dismissed the minute the songbird supreme mastered legato — a crucial element in classical music — on this title track, which she co-penned with former longtime collaborator Walter Afanasieff. With its lullaby-like melody and a sample from a real-life music box, can you imagine how many couples must have had their first dance to this hidden gem?
4. “Now That I Know”
Music Box mainly consists of slower, pop-driven ballads, but “Now That I Know” is in a league of its own, taking cues from Clivillés and Cole, who were the masterminds behind some of Carey’s earlier uptempo hits (e.g. “Emotions” and “Make It Happen”). At a time when dance music was a major force on the charts, it’s a shame this club banger wasn’t released as a single.
Originally intended for Cuban-born superstar Gloria Estefan, Carey’s then-husband Tommy Mottola convinced her to keep “Hero” for herself after hearing the inspirational ballad. “And then a hero comes along/ With the strength to carry on,” she sings matter-of-factly on the chorus. Though Carey was reluctant to record “Hero” at first, the track instantly became a standard for singing competitions and for finding one’s inner strength, solidifying her as an icon in the making at just 23 years young. That alone automatically places “Hero” in the top three on this list.
“Dreamlover, come rescue me/ Take me up, take me down/ Take me anywhere you want to baby now,” pleas Mariah. The lead single off Music Box became Carey’s seventh Hot 100-topper, but it also showed off her creative side. Built around the groove of The Emotions’ “Blind Alley” from 1972, Carey recruited producer Dave Hall (Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love”) to help incorporate the looped sample into “Dreamlover,” giving the track its old-school vibe. The pair collaborated again in 1995 on the game-changing track, “Fantasy.”
1. “Anytime You Need a Friend”
The gospel-infused “Anytime You Need a Friend” was Carey’s first single to miss the Hot 100’s top 10 here in the U.S., but that didn’t stop her from taking us to church. Lyrics, such as “When the shadows are closing in/ And your spirit diminishing/ Just remember you’re not alone/ And love will be there to guide you home,” are sure to resonate with even the most casual Mariah fans.
“Anytime You Need a Friend” has been noted as Carey’s own favorite off Music Box, and it’s ours too for the simple fact that the singer shows off those golden pipes without losing sight of the song’s meaning, which focuses on unconditional love. Carey hasn’t performed the ballad live in concert since 1996, but it remains Music Box’s finest track.