Visions Of Mariah

Blues & Soul (UK) February 5, 1991. Text by SB.

Mariah Carey headed straight to the top of the American charts with her debut single "Vision Of Love". But she had been captivating audiences long before then, charming her mother's operatic circle as a cute four year old.

She nurtured her taste for music on a diet of old soul and gospel greats, until one day she made her vision come true, as she found herself working alongside the likes of Narada Michael Walden, Taylor Dane's producer Rick Wake and Rhett Lawrence of Michael Jackson and Earth Wind And Fire fame. All three were brought in to work on the 20 year old New Yorker's debut album, "Vision Of Love", the fastest selling album since Tone Loc's record breaking debut.

Mariah's been compared to Whitney Houston and, although she's flattered with the comparisons, she's determined to carve her own niche.

"I just see myself as a singer/songwriter, and I'm trying to do this because I've wanted to do this all my life. I'm not trying to be like anyone. I'm not trying to take anyone's audiences away, to model or mold myself on anyone else. I'm just trying to basically get my music across and please myself."

Mariah started singing professionally at the age of 17 having already formed a songwriting partnership with high school friend Ben Margulies. She worked as a waitress by day but her work really began when she left for all night studio sessions with Ben. She got through almost 20 waitressing jobs, but maintained a steady commitment to her music.

"I was pretty much in a vacuum. We were working in the back of a little wood shop. I would go from work waitressing from one in the morning, work with Ben until 8 am, then go to sleep."

But it was a stint of background vocals with Brenda K. Starr that indirectly led to her big break. Brenda invited her to a party where she gave the president of CBS record her tape. Playing the tape on his way home, he was so impressed by what he heard that he went back to offer Mariah a deal. But Mariah had already left the party, leaving no forwarding number or contact address. He finally tracked her down through Brenda's manager, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Nobody could be more surprised than Mariah herself about the reaction her music has provoked. "At the time it wasn't really what was happening. It's not a dance record, or a rap record, so I wasn't really sure if people would get into it.

"I've had kids of 12 coming up to me saying 'we like your songs'. I guess it was more of a mass appeal thing than I originally thought."

Mariah grew up listening to the likes of Billie Holiday, Stevie Wonder, Al Green, and Aretha Franklin. Although she doesn't like to class herself as a soul singer in the classic sense, she hopes to provoke the same sensations and feelings that her heroes aroused in her.

It's an emotive album that belies her tender years. But as she explains: "I've always been mature for my age. My mother was an opera singer and vocal coach, and always had me around grown-ups. Even at the age of four everyone used to comment how I could concentrate and sing songs."

Mariah has never been frightened of a challenge, and would have preferred to record the album alone with Ben. She agreed to work with her three big name co-producers after conceding that her studio experience was rather limited. But it's an area Mariah is keen to master herself.

She sees her writing partnership with Ben as a long term commitment, though she's recently been working with Narada Michael Walden's keyboard player.

"I'm really enjoying it. We've done a few songs together. It'll probably be some else I'll have a writing partnership with for the next album. I'll probably experiment with some different dance stuff. But it's not my strength."

"Vision Of Love" and the current hit "Someday" has plunged Mariah into the spotlight, and all the hard work that goes with it. But she revels in her new-found success.

"When no one knowns you, you are constantly trying to prove yourself. But, after you have a bit of success, you're still doing it. You're always proving yourself in one way or another. I'd be under more pressure if I didn't have any success.

"It's not being taken over by something I don't like. I can't complain because I've wanted to do this my whole life."