Mariah Carey - MTV Unplugged
OK, now on to the post. Early period Mariah Carey is one of my all-time favorite teen pop (any kind of pop really) stars of all time. This post will document, via the magic of Youtube, her MTV Unplugged special, which was surely some kind of high moment in pop history. The special originally aired in 1992, right after the release of her 2nd album, and features great live versions of some of her best songs. [Apparently a DVD of this is available, but I've never seen it. I'm taking the tracklisting from the EP of the performance that was released.] Let's see, shall we:
1. First of all Mariah's dress and image are pure class here. And her hair looks so good long and curly! I tend to prefer this image to her current one, but whatever. The set opens with her doing a performance of one of her most recent hits at the time, "Emotions", which is one of my very favorite Mariah Carey songs. Right up there with "All I Want For Christmas Is You", and probably one of my 25-50ish favorite singles of the 1990s. The performance starts out with background singers, piano, and Mariah singing the words to the chorus of the song in a completely different melody. With plenty of melisma and gymnastics of course. On record this song absolutely pops, it's a totally joyful testament to new love. For the most part, the MTV Unplugged version is basically the same as the recorded version, except slightly worse. She still nails those high notes, and they still absolutely convey the joy she is trying to convey with them. Mariah is the best singer I can think of at using the super high notes and melisma and whatnot to great effect in a song. Great song, but not substantially different from the recorded version.
2. Mariah then goes into "If It's Over", which is one of the non-singles off her Emotions album. Although, this live version was released as a single in some international markets. I've never actually heard the recorded version of this song, just this MTV Unplugged version, and I have to say that I enjoy it a lot. Featuring a rather jazzy instrumental backing of strings, bass, and horns and interesting background vocals, this is a ballad that's really catchy and that is, of course, sung extremely well by Mariah. She utilizes her underused lower register for this song, and it's very pretty. Once again, many will criticize Mariah for her vocal gymnastics, but when she's so goddamn good at them, I see no grounds for complaint. The lyrics describe a dead relationship sputtering along. Mariah strongly suspects based on physical cues that her boyfriend wants to break up with her, and is begging him to just sack up and break up with her already if that's what he wants to do. Very simple story and lyrics, but they are effective.
3. We then get treated to "Someday", one of the 4 #1 hits off of her first album, and another of my personal favorite Mariah songs. Very catchy melody and f'n awesome, TRUE RAWK, lyrics. Somebody should do a rock cover of this song, because it could totally scorch if done right. Anyways, the story behind the song is that Mariah's boyfriend has just broken up with her. And she's telling him "You know what, you've made a huge mistake. One day you're gonna want me back and YOU CAN'T HAVE ME." Totally empowered, turning the tables on her pain. They do a relatively subdued version of this song, more of a slow burn, with liberal usage of the background vocalists. Substantially better than the rather cheesily produced studio version. Ass kicking.
4. Mariah's huge breakout hit, "Vision of Love" comes next -- her chart topper that put her on the map in the US and internationally. A lot of times a singer's big breakout hit is one of their better songs, since in order for it to become a hit for an artist who was unknown at the time, it must have an unusually high quality. Unfortunately, this ballad is a real snooze. The lyrics are rather cheesy and generic love song lyrics that really add nothing to the song. It's pretty and Mariah's still a good singer, but the whole thing is just kind of there, and nothing particularly stands out about it. Her voice is building to an explosion gradually throughout the song, but even when it comes it's nothing special. For all of Mariah's strengths, consistency is not one of them, and this falls squarely in the bland AC section of her repertoire.
5. After "Vision of Love" comes "Make It Happen" [not on Youtube wtf, well here's a different live version anyways], which was the third single off her album Emotions. To be honest, I have no idea if this was released as a single before or after this special, but whatever. Anyways, it's the worst single off of Emotions but still OK. Like emotions, the live unplugged version adds nothing to the song. The lyrics to this sound like the lyrics to a Hannah Montana song, about the personal power to bring yourself through hard times ("If you believe in yourself enough/And know what you want/You're gonna make it happen/(Make it happen)", "I know where I stand I know who I am I ain't gonna run away when life gets bad"). This song has never grabbed me like her best songs do, though it's plenty catchy. Inessential, but not BAD, per se.
6. This goes into her version of "I'll Be There", which is one of the most famous moments ever on MTV Unplugged. As far as I know, this is the only song from that show to ever hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. I'm sure you've seen it before, Mariah sitting nervously on the chair, then standing up, just belting the damn thing out with all her might. Nothing fancy to this one. And, well, it's a GOOD cover, but there's nothing particularly great about it. The original never really grabbed me, which is probably why the cover doesn't either. That being said, it IS a great moment in TV, even if not in pop music. Don't really know why this is THE famous moment from this special, since it's hardly the best part of it from a musical standpoint, but I do like this version at least as much as the original.
7. The set ends with her acoustic version of "Can't Let Go", which I presume was her current single at the time. And not only is this one of my very favorite Mariah Carey songs, not only is it one of the greatest R&B ballads of all time, but this is a (rare, for pop music in my experience) example of a song that is actually superior in the live version to the recorded version. God DAMN does Mariah absolutely bring it on this song, one of her greatest vocal performances of all time. In this song, the relationship is over, but Mariah just cannot let it go and move on. She really wants to, but the relationship just meant so much to her that she can't just do away with it like that. Starts with a cute and heartfelt thanks, acknowledging that this is hard for her since she didn't at the time perform live very much (supposedly due to stage fright). If "I'll Be There" is a great moment in TV history, this is one of the very great moments in pop history. 10/10, and yeah, whatever, Mariah has 3 of my 50 or so favorite singles of the 90s but she's just made a lot of great music. Of course, she's made a lot of crappy music too.
Thus ends one of my favorite TV specials of all time. Hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did. I will be back this weekend/early next week with a new song analysis (I'm thinking "Stumble" by Natasha Bedingfield, though I reserve the right to change my mind), and I guess I'll have to put something down about my thoughts on Jump In!/Cory in the House.