The mini-stories behind each of Mariah Carey’s 19 Number One hits…

(December 29, 2019).  As another Christmas passes, it’s time to bid our annual farewell to the song that dominated the airwaves and playlists this holiday season, and which this year became the first Yuletide song to top the Billboard Hot 100 in over 60 years: Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”

Mariah Carey has a great Christmas in 2019.

And, as most chart followers and all of Mariah Carey’s lambs know, the legendary singer now has nineteen No. 1 singles, more than anybody except the Beatles (who had 20).

Now that it’s broken the chart ceiling after 25 years of existence, the Hot 100 crowning of “All I Want” is likely to become an annual occurrence as I don’t see any end in sight for the song’s preferred status as the go-to song each November and December as the holidays approach.  

And because her latest No. 1 came more than a decade after her previous one – and nearly three decades after her first, the blog thought it would be interesting to remind readers just what all those chart-topping hits were with a little piece of history behind each one.

More Mariah: How she will reclaim her longevity title from Lil Nas X in the new decade.

So as a late holiday gift to Mariah’s fans, and as a nod to Mimi’s tremendous chart accomplishment, here’s DJROBBLOG’s look back at all 19 of her No. 1 singles, with a small story vignette provided for each one. 

1.  “Vision of Love” – August 4, 1990. (4 weeks)

This is the song that got the ball rolling for Mariah.  It was “Vision of Love” that introduced fans to that incredible voice and a showy singing style that few – if any – of her contemporaries could match.  It included her famous whistle singing register and the use of melisma – or vocal runs – where she could wrap multiple musical notes around one word (think how many notes she sings with the word “all” in that final chorus).  

“Vision” wound up as one of the biggest singles of 1990 when it spent four weeks at No. 1 – tied for the most any song had spent at the top in the previous five-and-a-half years.  

2.  “Love Takes Time” – November 10, 1990. (3 wks)

Mariah proved she was no one-hit-wonder with this follow-up to “Vision.”  It was another ballad from her debut album that showcased her incredible multiple-octave vocal range and her ability to sing a love song like nobody’s business.  Just like “Vision of Love,” this ballad topped the pop AND the R&B charts in 1990, demonstrating that Mariah’s crossover appeal was intact as well.  

Interestingly, “Love Takes Time” was knocked from No. 1 by fellow superstar Whitney Houston’s “I’m Your Baby Tonight” that December – marking the first of four times the two divas would dual back-and-forth at the top of the charts.

3.  “Someday” – March 9, 1991. (2 wks)

This was Mariah’s first uptempo single after two ballads.  By rising to No. 1 with “Someday,” she became the first solo artist since Andy Gibb in 1978 to reach No. 1 on the Hot 100 with her first three singles.  Only one other act – the Jackson 5 – had done better with their first four hitting No. 1.  “Someday” also got a bit of redemption for Mariah by displacing Whitney Houston’s “All the Man That I Need” from No. 1 in March 1991, returning the favor from three months earlier when Houston displaced Carey (see “Love Takes Time” above).

“Someday” was no doubt a dance-pop song, but there were elements of new jack swing infused throughout the track – particularly with its drum programming.  This foretold Carey’s penchant for more hip-hop later in the 1990s with her songs having more of a black influence as the decade progressed.

4. “I Don’t Wanna Cry” – May 25, 1991. (2 wks)

Back to the ballads, this fourth single from her debut album also became her fourth No. 1 when it leapt from 8-1 on May 25, 1991.  As a result, she tied the J-5 for act with the most consecutive No. 1 singles to start their career.  “Cry” was produced and co-written by Narada Michael Walden, who had produced several of Whitney Houston’s No. 1 hits as well as Carey’s first single.  

Except, Carey’s experience with Walden on “Cry” didn’t go so well and she shunned the recording for many years as a result.  And while Carey would add fifteen more chart-toppers after this one, the song became the last No. 1 production of Walden’s career (though he had a near-miss with Shanice Wilson’s No. 2 single “I Love Your Smile” in 1992).

5. “Emotions” – October 12, 1991. (3 wks)

This single – Mariah’s fifth – was produced by Robert Clivillés and the late David Cole – the two C’s of C&C Music Factory (“Gonna Make You Sweat”), and it drew some criticism when it was released.  Carey was accused of borrowing liberally from the popular ‘70s soul group The Emotions without giving them proper credit.  Not sure what the credit would have been considering the Emotions didn’t write any of their biggest hits, and there’s no harm in paying homage to your musical predecessors, as Carey was clearly doing (just look at the song’s title).  

At least the mini-backlash didn’t stop ”Emotions” from becoming Mimi’s fifth chart topper in 1991 and breaking the record for most No. 1s to start a career with five.  

6. “I’ll Be There” – June 20, 1992. (2 wks)

Perhaps all the news about Mariah tying (and later breaking) the Jackson 5 record for most No. 1s to start a career led to her recording of this classic J-5 hit.  It was significant because this was the song the Jackson brothers had established their record with two decades earlier.  Mariah’s version was a live recording from MTV’s unplugged series featuring Trey Lorenz on backing vocals.  Mimi handled Michael Jackson’s lead parts while Trey took on brother Jermaine’s choruses. 

“I’ll Be There” began a new streak of No. 1s for Carey after two previous singles – “Can’t Let Go” and “Make It Happen” (both from the Emotions album) – fell short.  “Can’t Let Go” was Mariah’s first of four No. 2-peaking singles, while “Happen” stopped at No. 5 just months before “I’ll Be There” returned Mimi to the top.  

7. “Dreamlover” – September 11, 1993. (8 wks)

Mariah’s seventh No. 1 was the first single released from the Music Box album.  It spent eight straight weeks at the top making it Carey’s longest-running No. 1 hit at that point.  

It also continued somewhat of a pattern for Carey as each of her five successive albums beginning with Emotions would lead off with an uptempo or hip-hop flavored release followed by a ballad as the second single.  “Emotions” was followed by “Cant Let Go” (both from Emotions); “Dreamlover” was followed by “Hero” (from Music Box); “Fantasy” preceded “One Sweet Day” (both on Daydream); “Honey” was succeeded by “My All” (both on Butterfly); and “Heartbreaker” was followed by “Thank God I Found You” (both on Rainbow).

I guess Mariah and her label, Columbia Records, went by the old adage: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  

8.  “Hero” – December 25, 1993. (4 wks)

Before there was “Firework” by Katy Perry, there was this uplifting self-love anthem by Ms. Carey.  “Hero” reached No. 1 on Christmas Day 1993, becoming her eighth chart-topper and one of her signature songs in the process.  Mimi has reportedly performed it at every one of her concerts since its release and at many charitable benefits and telethons.  Thus, “Hero” is perhaps the most performed of all Mariah Carey’s songs.  

“Hero” is one of several hits co-written by the singer and Walter Afanasieff, including all four of the pop singles released from the Music Box album.  In all, Carey and Afanasieff collaborated on more than a dozen top-40 hits sung by the chanteuse.  

9.  “Fantasy” – September 30, 1995. (8 wks)

“Me and Mariah…”  “Fantasy” is probably the song most remembered for ushering in Mariah’s true hip-hop phase in the mid-to-late 1990s.   First, the song’s melody sampled the huge 1982 R&B/funk hit “Genius of Love” by Tom Tom Club.  Then its even funkier remix teamed Carey with Wu Tang Clan member Ol’ Dirty Bastard (R.I.P.), who gave a memorable rap during the song’s bridge.

It was no doubt the remix that caused “Fantasy” to remain at No. 1 for eight weeks, tying it with the previous year’s “Dreamlover” as Mariah’s then-longest running No. 1 hit.  Its chart dominance was ended, however, by none other than Whitney Houston, whose “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” from Waiting to Exhale put the clamps on “Fantasy” in late November.  

But turnabout was fair play and Mariah’s next single kicked Whitney’s to the curb a week later, extending a chart rivalry that saw the two duking it out at the top four times in five years. 

10. “One Sweet Day” – December 2, 1995. (16 wks)

That next single was “One Sweet Day,” Mariah’s duet with Boyz II Men that, until this year, held the record for longest run at the top of the Hot 100 with 16 weeks at No. 1.   That record was tied in 2017 (“Despacito” by Luis Fonsi and others) and broken this past year when “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X featuring Billy Cyrus led the list for 19 weeks from April to August.

With all of its chart accolades, it’s easy to forget how and why “One Sweet Day” was composed in the first place.  After losing close friend and collaborator David Cole (see “Emotions” above) to AIDS, Carey decided to write a song in memory of the loved ones she’d lost over the years, but didn’t finish the song because she wanted to collaborate with Boyz II Men.  Boyz II Men had been separately working on a similar tune in homage to a friend who had also passed.  When the two acts came together, they used their synergies to create what became each act’s biggest single, chart-wise.

11.  “Always Be My Baby” – May 4, 1996. (2 wks)

Another song that got the remix treatment and incorporated hip-hop was “Always Be My Baby,” which became Mariah’s eleventh No. 1 single in May 1996.  This time, the remix – created by then-hot producer Jermaine Dupri – incorporated a famous SOS Band single from thirteen years earlier, “Tell Me If You Still Care,” with Mimi’s vocals re-sung in a higher key to match the revised melody.  Also in the mix were Dupri’s So So Def artists Xscape and rapper Da Brat, the latter providing a key verse during the bridge.

But it was the original version of “Always Be My Baby” that was the sweetest, and its one that ranks as one of this blogger’s favorite Mimi singles.   The song only spent two weeks at No. 1 – the fewest of any Mariah Carey chart-topper since “I’ll Be There” four years earlier – but it was no slouch.  It spent a total of eleven weeks in the top two, much of that time stuck behind future Mimi collaborators Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, whose juggernaut hit “Tha Crossroads” held “Always” at bay.  

12. “Honey” – September 13, 1997. (3 wks)

Keeping the hip-hop streak going, Mariah teamed with 1997’s it-guy for her first single from the Butterfly album, “Honey.”  Sean “Puffy” Combs, or Puff Daddy as he was known then, produced this single and – as with all of his productions at the time – laced the track with his vocal ad-libs throughout.  

“Honey” was the song that rewrote chart history in a number of categories.  It broke Mariah out of a three-way tie with Madonna and Whitney Houston for most No. 1s among solo women.  Before “Honey,” the three women each had eleven toppers.  Madonna has since added one to give her twelve, while millennial singer Rihanna has moved into second place with fourteen.

“Honey” also gave Puff Daddy his fifth No. 1 single of 1997 (out of the seven No. 1s that year up to that point).  It followed his own “Cant Nobody Hold Me Down” with Mase, plus two Notorious B.I.G. hits – “Hypnotize” and “Mo Money, Mo Problems” (the song that “Honey” displaced) – and Puffy’s tribute to then-recently slain Biggie, “I’ll Be Missing You,” with Faith Evans and 112.

Needless to say, both Mimi and Puffy were at the top of their game in 1997, with no end anywhere in sight.

13. “My All” – May 23, 1998. (1 wk)

“My All” was a noteworthy Mariah single for a number of reasons.  First, it tied her with Michael Jackson for solo No. 1 hits with 13 each.   Secondly, it was the last time Mariah collaborated with longtime writing partner Walter Afanasieff, who was a casualty of Mariah’s divorce from her former label boss Tommy Mattola, to whom Afanasieff remained loyal.  

Thirdly, its B-side and remix game was probably the strongest of any of Mimi’s previous singles.

On the CD-single, the original, Latin-flavored ballad “My All” was paired with “Breakdown,” Mimi’s collaboration with members of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony which had been getting significant R&B airplay for months before it finally got the single treatment.  “Breakdown” remains this blogger’s favorite Mimi song to date.  

On the 12” and maxi-single versions of “My All,” the song was teamed with “The Roof” and “Fly Away (Butterfly Reprise),” a combination that helped it top Billboard’s Dance Singles Sales chart for weeks.

And finally, the “My All” remixes included a So So Def version by Jermaine Dupri incorporating Loose Ends’ “Stay a Little While, Child,” and a “Classic Club” dance remix by David Morales.

With all that going for it, it was no wonder that “My All” was Mariah Carey’s 13th No. 1.  The only surprise was that it only spent one week at the top, the first time any Mariah single had been stopped short of at least two.  

14. “Heartbreaker” – October 9, 1999. (2 wks)

One of the reasons that Carey’s marriage to Tommy Mattola reportedly ended was their artistic differences.  Mariah was clearly moving past the schmaltzy ballads that made her famous earlier in the ‘90s and towards a more hip-hop base, much to Mattola’s chagrin.

The first single from her 1999 album Rainbow was “Heartbreaker,” which further entrenched her in hip-hop.  The original featured a rap contribution from Jay-Z and a hook that was built on a sample of a 1982 soul chart hit by Stacy Lattisaw, “Attack of the Name Game.”  The remix by DJ Clue was essentially a completely different song that featured sexualized raps by Missy Elliott and Da Brat. 

The song did well but it also had its critics and is easily one of Mimi’s most panned No. 1 singles.  A writer in Entertainment Weekly wrote: “What self-respecting artist would have the gall to recycle the Tom Tom Club’s ‘Genius of Love’ (the source of ‘Fantasy’) for a second time in four years? It’s a given that pop will eat itself, but this sort of self-cannibalization should be illegal.”

Of course that was a reach as “Heartbreaker” didn’t really sample “Genius of Love” like “Fantasy” had, but there were enough similarities to make that stretch of a critique compelling.

“Heartbreaker” also reached No. 1 dubiously, as the CD single was sold in stores at a huge discount – $0.49 in some markets – causing consumers to swipe over 270,000 copies in its first full week of release. 

15. “Thank God I Found You” – February 19, 2000. (1 wk)

Mariah was clearly in collaboration mode as the ‘90s wound down.  Six of her seven No. 1s beginning with “Fantasy” featured other artists – mostly rappers – either in the original versions or in remixes.  And the exception, “My All” included a collaboration on the B-side (“Breakdown”).  The last of those singles was “Thank God I Found You,” a power pop ballad featuring the boy band 98 Degrees and solo R&B star Joe.  The ballad was from her Rainbow album and became her first No. 1 single of the new millennium.

Like “My All” two years earlier, “Thank God” only spent one week at the top, becoming one of Mimi’s lowest-performing No. 1s.  Still, the song set records for Carey that have yet to be matched, including giving her eleven straight years of having at least one No. 1 hit dating back to “Vision of Love” in 1990.  It also was her fifteenth No. 1 as a lead-billed vocalist, a feat no other woman has matched.

Sadly, the song also began a downward spiral for Carey, as it would be five years before her next No. 1 hit.  In between came Glitter, the film and the soundtrack – both of which flopped.  Her “comeback” album Charmbracelet did a little better but didn’t generate any hit singles.   It wasn’t until 2005’s Emancipation of Mimi that things began to look up for the most successful female artist of the ‘90s.  

16. “We Belong Together” – June 4, 2005. (14 wks)

The first single from Emancipation was “Its Like That,” a playful uptempo number that returned Mimi to the top 20 for the first time in four years as a lead artist.  It contained the funniest line in a Mariah Carey single to-date: “them chickens is ash and I’m lotion.”  But the followup was even bigger, becoming her first No. 1 in five years and her biggest since “One Sweet Day” nine years earlier.

That was the mid-tempo ballad “We Belong Together,” a song that took the country by storm in spring and summer 2005.  It was built on a simple backbeat and a piano/bass melody.  But more importantly, “Belong” showcased Mariah’s multiple-octave range, particularly during the final chorus where she elevated her vocals to a register she hadn’t used in years.

“We Belong Together” broke records for radio airplay at the time, but also showed that Carey could compete during the then-growing digital download era.  It was her first million-seller via iTunes downloads and it was so strong that it prevented Mariah’s follow-up, “Shake It Off,” from reaching No. 1.  That song peaked at No. 2 behind “Belong,” becoming Mimi’s fourth and final career runner-up hit so far.  

17. “Don’t Forget About Us” – December 31, 2005. (2 wks)

A song that didn’t have the misfortune of contending with one of her own tracks was “Don’t Forget About Us,” another mid-tempo ballad that became the second chart-topper from a revamped Emancipation of Mimi album at the end of 2005.

“Don’t Forget” was intended for a follow-up album, but Mariah and her Island Records bosses felt the song was so good that it shouldn’t wait.   Instead, they re-released Emancipation with “Don’t” being one of four new songs included.  The song was essentially a rehash of “We Belong Together,” musically speaking.  But it held its own enough to top the charts and gain Grammy nominations for Mariah. 

“Don’t Forget About Us” was the song that tied Mariah with Elvis Presley as the solo singer with the most No. 1 pop chart songs in history at seventeen.  

18. “Touch My Body” – April 12, 2008. (2 wks)

The song that broke Elvis’ record was “Touch My Body” from Mimi’s album E=MC².  The album’s title was a play on Albert Einstein’s famous energy/mass equivalency equation, where energy (E) equals mass (M) times the speed of light (C) squared.

Continuing with this nerdy theme was the video for “Touch My Body,” in which an excited Geek-squad-like service technician comes to Mariah’s house to upgrade her computer, only to find himself engaged in a variety of private games, like laser tag and pillow fighting, with the newly svelte singer whose curvy body is clearly the video’s focus.

In keeping with Mimi’s more playful lyrical bent during the 2000s, “Touch My Body” lyrically cautioned her love interest that she’d better not find a video of their rendezvous on YouTube or else she would hunt him down.  Maybe she would do so using the unicorn that was featured prominently throughout the video.

“Touch My Body” would be Mariah’s last No. 1 single for nearly twelve years, until just this month when a song recorded more than a decade earlier finally returned her to the top. 

19. “All I Want for Christmas Is You” – December 21, 2019. (3 wks)

Who would have thought that Mariah’s first No. 1 in nearly twelve years would be a song she recorded a quarter century ago?  “All I Want for Christmas Is You” finally achieved its rightful place at the top  this year after being the most played Christmas-time song of the past decade, thanks mainly to streaming and Billboard chart rules that allow popular oldies to return.

It took a Christmas miracle for Mariah to get that nineteenth No. 1 hit, and it will likely take another miracle for the elusive chanteuse to get her 20th and tie the Beatles.  That’s because a current Mariah song hasn’t even cracked the top ten since “Obsessed” in 2009.  Her only top-40 hit since then was a song called “#Beautiful” in 2013 with Miguel, which reached No. 15.

Maybe all the new love being thrown her way will give Mimi a better chance in the new decade.  Hmmm, we’ll see.  

In the meantime, you can enjoy all nineteen of her old No. 1s right here with this Spotify playlist…

And again, congrats to Mimi and her fans on this huge milestone.

A quick recap:

  1. “Vision of Love”
  2. “Love Takes Time”
  3. “Someday”
  4. “I Don’t Wanna Cry”
  5. “Emotions”
  6. “I’ll Be There”
  7. “Dreamlover”
  8. “Hero”
  9. “Fantasy”
  10. “One Sweet Day”
  11. “Always Be My Baby”
  12. “Honey”
  13. “My All”
  14. “Heartbreaker”
  15. “Thank God I Found You”
  16. “We Belong Together”
  17. “Don’t Forget About Us”
  18. “Touch My Body”
  19. “All I Want For Christmas Is You”

DJRob 

DJRob is a freelance blogger who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.

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