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As Mariah Week draws to a close, I feel like I did a good thing. Mariah Carey, with all of her phenomenal talents, is a very underrated artist in the industry. People give her credit for her voice, because how could they NOT!, but her songwriting, production and innovation is often downplayed in favor of talking about her clothing and Diva attitude. With 14 albums now, those not in the know of all her talents might be a little overwhelmed by her Discography and confused as to where to start. This “Essential/Must-Own” list highlights the 5 albums (chronologically) that I think are the best starters. Of course, I’m a life-long LAMB who has listened to all of her albums obsessively, so my opinion counts for something here.
“Merry Christmas” (1994)
This Festive outing makes the list simply because everybody probably already owns it. With over 15 million in total sales, “Merry Christmas” is the best selling Christmas album of all time. And the ubiquitous “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is clearly the most enduring original Christmas anthem of this generation. Everybody should definitely own this album, because compared to other attempts by Divas in her position, Carey’s Holiday album is a lot more authentic and complete. It has a good variety of new songs written by the Diva herself (“Miss You Most (At Christmas Time)”, “Jesus Born on this Day”), along with cutesy family standards (“Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town”), and more traditional material (“Oh Holy Night”, “Silent Night”). The album provides a good balance of highs and lows, one of the few Christmas albums that can be enjoyed from start to finish. And of course a big selling point is that her voice is in top form, she sounds amazing and shows off some amazing techniques.
We will get a chance to cover Mariah’s earlier material shortly, but “Butterfly” is Mariah’s first real ‘Emancipation’ and a great piece of work. After her divorce from Tommy Mottola, Mariah had a drastic musical and image shift which was more centered on being young and fun and doing what inspired her. The album highlights her love for Hip Hop and old school R&B (“The Roof”, “Breakdown”, “The Beautiful Ones” to name a few), but she was also smart enough to include some amazing ballads to highlight her voice (“Butterfly”, “Whenever You Call”, “Outside”). Compared to her previous albums, this was a really confessional album that showed us who Mariah really was, instead of being a Pop singing Puppet.
“Greatest Hits” (2001)
Sure, you can go back and listen to “Music Box” or “Daydream” or her debut if you want, but this “Hits” package is easily the most complete package for discovering the beauty of Mariah’s music. Not only does it cover her biggest hits like “One Sweet Day”, “Hero”, “Fantasy”, “Vision of Love” and the like, it also includes a few of her flawless albums cuts. “Underneath the Stars” from the “Daydream” album is one of her best vocally and lyrically and definitely deserves it’s spot on this album. The set also includes songs like “Open Arms” and “Music Box” which are actually better than some of her hits. “Hits” also includes a few of her great collaborations, namely her duet with Luther Vandross “Endless Love”. The album gives a better overview of her career, making it a Must-Own and possibly the first stop in researching her career.
“The Remixes” (2003)
This two disc compilation is an important part of Carey’s discography because by the mid-90’s she invented a parallel discography with all her remixes, both Hip Hop and Club remixes, that previously weren’t available on one album. “The Remixes” is genius because it shows off a different side of Mariah and is expertly sequenced. One disc houses all of the extended Club mixes with David Morales, Clivilles and Cole and Junior Vasquez. Nearly all of the Epic club mixes I listed on my “Top 10 Mariah Carey Club Mixes” are here. It also includes a rare extended mix of “Emotions”, that is so nostalgic with the sounds of early 90’s House. The other disc highlights her Hip Hop remixes and Hip Hop leaning tracks, like the game-changing “Fantasy” Bad Boy Remix with Ol’ Dirty Bastard which single-handedly changed her career. Some of these mixes are hit and miss to be honest, but it’s great to have one album that includes material that is sometimes better than their originals. The Jermaine Dupri remix of “Always Be My Baby”, “My All/Stay Awhile” and “Thank God I Found You/Make It Last” with R&B crooner Joe. This compilation is essential because it shows off the fun and young side of the Diva during the time her label was trying to pigeonhole her as just a Pop singer.
“The Emancipation of Mimi” (2005)
At times, I feel this heavily celebrated “Comeback” album is overrated. However whenever I put it on, I appreciate the skill and talent displayed on it.”Mimi” is definitely a Must-Own, and mainly to show off the maturity and growth of her voice, which is highlighted on R&B leaning tracks like “Mine Again” and “Circles”. There’s also an awful lot of fun on up-tempos like “It’s Like That”, “To The Floor” and “Shake It Off”. Of course this album houses the #1 song of the 2000’s “We Belong Together”, which has become truly a Classic song. Overall though “Mimi” offers a good range of material to show that she can tackle nearly anything. There’s Urban, Old School, even a wonderful Gospel song in “Fly Like A Bird”, all to make for a very cohesive and complete album.
So that’s it for now. If you are going to accept the challenge and look into these albums and you decide you can’t get enough, well message me and I’ll let you know where to go from there. There’s lots of gems in each Mariah album, and I’d love to be the LAMB to educate anyone on Mariah-ography!