18 Mariah Carey Songs That Deserved To Reach Number One, In Celebration Of ‘#1 To Infinity’
Yesterday (May 18) marked the release of Mariah Carey’s #1 To Infinity LP — a greatest hits compilation housing all 18 of the legendary diva’s number one hits. From the sophisticated balladry of “Vision Of Love” to the pop/rap collaboration-inventing “Fantasy” and camp sassiness of “Touch My Body,” the album highlights the vocal genius and mind-boggling versatility of Mimi. A copy belongs on the shelf/computer of every music lover.
Impressively, the Queen of Octaves has just as many songs that should have, and probably would have, gone to number one if they were released/promoted. To celebrate the arrival of #1 To Infinity, I’ve pulled together a list of lost chart-toppers with a little help from a fellow MC addict. Some of them are pretty obvious (I think we can all agree that “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is a number one record by every measure except the Billboard Hot 100), while others are simply fan favorites that never got a shot at glory. We’ve also curated a playlist of the songs for you readers! (Please note that the tracks are listed in chronological order.)
“Vanishing” — Mariah Carey (1990)
Mariah’s debut LP is so uniformly flawless (and her popularity was so great at the time) that she could have released anything and topped the charts. “Vanishing” deserved some extra attention, however, if only for the spine-tingling whistle at the 2:40 mark. A slept-on classic.
“Make It Happen” — Emotions (1991)
Mimi’s gospel-inspired, soul-reviving dance number is one of the greatest songs of the 1990s. It boggles the mind that it stalled at number five on the Billboard Hot 100, while forgettable tracks like “Thank God I Found You” went the distance.
“Anytime You Need A Friend” — Music Box (1993)
The fact that this was Mariah’s first single to miss the top 10 — it peaked at number 12 in 1994 — is endlessly irritating. On the other hand, Music Box was certified diamond — so the chart placement of individual singles is kind of irrelevant. But still.
“All I Want For Christmas Is You” — Merry Christmas (1994)
Christmas hasn’t been the same since the arrival of this bop. It was chart ineligible at the time, but reached the top 30 in 2013 (nearly two decades after its release). “All I Want For Christmas Is You” has had a more impact on pop culture than a decade of actual number one hits.
“Underneath The Stars” — Daydream (1995)
The Lamb Whisperer served Minnie Riperton realness on this much-loved (but non-charting) gem. It’s not hard to imagine the breezy ballad performing a hell of a lot better with a proper release/promotion.
“Butterfly” — Butterfly (1997)
From Mimi’s elegant bangs on the single cover to the much-copied video, “Butterfly” was destined for chart domination — until label politics and archaic chart rules spoiled the party. This is a perfect pop ballad, and exactly the kind of music fans wanted and expected from the legendary diva at the time.
“The Roof” — Butterfly (1997)
Another modern classic that suffered from Mariah’s late-’90s beef with Sony Records. While the 45-year-old’s move towards an edgier R&B sound momentarily confused her fan base, “The Roof” was good enough to transcend genre barriers.
“When You Believe” — #1s (1998)
Arguably the two greatest voices of all time dueling on a (nuclear) power ballad. And it stalled at number 15 on the Billboard Hot 100. I’m still angry.
“Can’t Take That Away (Mariah’s Theme)” — Rainbow (1999)
A double A-Side with the irritating “Crybaby,” “Can’t Take That Away (Mariah’s Theme)” had the misfortune of dropping during the early ’00s lull in her popularity. At any other time in her career, Mimi would have had a monster hit on her hands with this spirit-reviving ballad. Instead, she had to settle with a then-embarrassing number 28 hit.
“Didn’t Mean To Turn You On” — Glitter (2001)
One day I’ll write a thesis on why Glitter is Mariah’s most underrated LP, but until then you’ll just have to take my word on it being an extremely fun and adventurous collection of ’80s-inspired originals and cover versions. A slick interpretation of Cherrelle’s 1984 hit, “I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On” sounded like a surefire smash — that is before the movie bombed and the general public lost interest in its soundtrack.
“Bringin’ On The Heartbreak” — Charmbracelet (2002)
I wish I liked Charmbracelet more. I’ll never understand why the golden-voiced songstress spent an entire album whispering, but “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak” is one of the better tracks from the generally underwhelming opus. It particularly comes alive (vocally) towards the end and even has a random guitar solo. Radio might have played along if it was released as the album’s lead single instead of “Through The Rain.”
“I Know What You Want” — Busta Rhyme’s It Ain’t Safe No More (2003)
Mimi’s transition from balladeer to flawless urban diva was complete when she hopped on Busta Rhyme’s “I Know What You Want” and landed a massive crossover hit. It climbed all the way to number three on the Billboard Hot 100, but deserved to go even higher. At least, in my (completely biased) book.
“It’s Like That” — The Emancipation Of Mimi (2005)
Lambs were overjoyed when “It’s Like That” pranced all the way to number 16. Mariah had been going through something of a drought at the time and a top 20 hit felt like breakthrough. Little did we know that career-reviving smash “We Belong Together” was just around the corner.
“Migrate” — E=MC² (2008)
Haters love casting E=MC² as a stale copy of The Emancipation Of Mimi, but I still think it’s one of Mimi’s best albums. She and/or her label just got the singles terribly, terribly wrong. After the sassiness of “Touch My Body,” nobody wanted a generic ballad like “Bye Bye.” If they had opted for “Migrate” — with its slick beats (courtesy of Danja) and infinitely quotable lyrics — the MC could have 19 number ones to her credit.
“Thanx 4 Nothin'” — E=MC² (2008)
Nobody does gut-wrenching break-up anthems better than MC. I wanted to include sublime Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel ballad “Standing O” on this list, but “Thanx 4 Nothin'” covers the same territory and was released first. It’s an impeccable pop song. I’d like to think it could have found a larger audience if officially released.
“H.A.T.E.U.” — Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel (2009)
Speaking of Mariah and bad single choices, the person who signed off on “I Want To Know What Love Is” — a dated Foreigner cover, no less — as the second single from Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel needs to resign. “H.A.T.E.U.” was an edgier choice that generated immense blog attention when the album dropped. By the time it was released as a single, however, the buzz had all but evaporated.
“Oh Santa!” — Merry Christmas II You (2010)
The Queen of Christmas was hoping that lightning would strike twice with this upbeat gem. It didn’t, but still puts on smile on my face — regardless of the season.
“Almost Home” (2013)
Mariah’s contribution to Oz The Great And Powerful sounded like a surefire smash. The diva’s voice sounded better than ever, the chorus is a gift from the pop gods and it courses with warm nostalgia. I don’t have a reason or excuse why this flopped — apart from Mimi not actively promoting it — but I can’t help but think it was a missed opportunity. Revisit the magic below.
Which Mariah Carey song should have been a number one hit? Let us know in the comments below.
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