As I detailed in the Long Island Press, it is clear that Mariah Carey’s “Music Box” album didn’t give a full picture of her artistic ambitions. Carey grew up listening to R&B and was a teenager in New York as Hip-Hop transcended from its basement parties origins to a breakout phenomenon. Gradually, Carey began to make her love for the genre increasingly apparent.
When it came to R&B, Carey’s more authentic offerings with less commercial gloss and more bluesy introspection were kept from the spotlight. However, the diva-to-be sure did try.
This playlist is a reimagining of “Music Box,” a supposition of what, based on her later work, Carey might have preferred the album to sound like. Some of its singles have been swapped in favor of a remix or a live version. And, perhaps most controversially, a pair of discarded tracks replace album tracks. This is Mariah’s Version.
Music Box (Mariah’s Version)
1. Dreamlover (Bam Jam Soul) Remix
The story goes that Carey crafted a sparsely produced “Dreamlover” with Dave Hall, using the same sample as Big Daddy Kane’s “Ain’t No Half Steppin’.” However, Carey’s then-husband and label head Tommy Mottola called in her frequent, pop-friendly collaborator Walter Afanasieff to give the song the gloss it needed to become a commercial pop confection. Rumor has it that this remix is a little closer to how it would’ve sounded.
2. Hero (Live at Tokyo Dome)
You’ve probably heard the story: Carey wrote “Hero” with Gloria Estefan in mind for a film of the same name. Mottola heard it, and told her to keep it for herself, and the rest is history. “Hero” is one of Carey’s signature songs, but she’s always expressed her reservations about it, saying that she didn’t appreciate the song until she began performing it live and connecting with fans over its sentiment. For that reason, as well as the warmth that the live arrangement adds to it, I selected a live performance to replace the album version.
3. Anytime You Need a Friend (Soul Convention Remix)
While the album version is a gorgeous ballad complete with gospel-inspired background vocals, the Soul Convention Mix has more dreamy, sparse R&B sensibilities and soulful vocals to match. This mix really complements the lyrics and elevates the song beyond its more adult-contemporary-ready album version.
4. Music Box
The gorgeous title track remains; a chilling song that is likely an ode to Carey’s true soulmate: music. It not only gives the album its title, it also sets the tone sonically. Many of the songs on the album echo its enchanting qualities.
5. Do You Think of Me
Originally released as the b-side to “Dreamlover,” this song deserved to be on the album. A sensual track with all the hallmarks of a classic 90s R&B sound, “Do You Think of Me” was probably Carey’s sexiest song to date at that point. “When you feel the touch of another lover, do you think of me?” she asks, possibly to her then-husband’s dismay.
6. Never For You (Radio Edit)
Co-written with Babyface, the album version is pretty perfect, but the Jermaine Dupri-produced remix gives the song an extra thump. Literally; the heavier bass makes the song fall in line with Carey’s later penchant for a ballad with a beat.
7. All I Live For
Fresh out of the vault, Carey found “All I Live For” in 2020 while assembling her compilation of unreleased or obscure tracks, “The Rarities.” Fitting right in with the other, equally dated (but inferior) up-tempos that follow, Carey rightfully referred to “All I Live For” as “soooo 90s” in the “Rarities” liner notes. It’s puzzling that they left this one on the cutting room floor.
8. Now That I Know
9. I’ve Been Thinking About You
This pair of C&C Music Factory collaborations are fun and energetic, offering a hint at Carey’s soon-apparent love for House music. While Carey’s soaring vocals and C&C’s sizzling production succeed at uplifting an otherwise sleepy album, they are a bit substantively generic. For any other artist, they would be standouts, but after 30 years and 12 more albums… the bar is high for Carey.
10. Dreamlover (Def Club Mix Edit)
On 1995’s “Daydream” and 1997’s “Butterfly,” Carey included the shortened edit of one of her house mixes (“Fantasy” and “Butterfly” respectively) on the album itself. While it probably wasn’t recorded in time for the album’s release in 1993, this game-changing remix deserved to be on a Diamond-selling album.
11. Without You
Carey’s cover of Badfinger’s “Without You” has (debatably) become the definitive version, and one of her biggest hits internationally. While she certainly loves R&B and Hip-Hop, Carey has made it well-known that her knowledge of music is pretty limitless, and was choosing to cover Rock songs long after her musical liberation.
12. Everything Fades Away
On the international edition of “Music Box,” Carey’s worldwide fans were treated to “Everything Fades Away.” On Mariah’s Version, it’d be a non-negotiable, following in her oft-practiced tradition of closing an album with a deeply personal ballad. This haunting tale of a heart that’s breaking could’ve been autobiographical or could’ve been one of Carey’s many successful exercises in showcasing her literary prowess. Either way, its lyrics had more depth than the rest of “Music Box” and her first two albums. More of that would certainly follow.
**Just to Hold You Once Again
** All I’ve Ever Wanted
Something had to get cut, dahhlings! While these two songs boast some simply stunning vocals, they are by far the least interesting of the bunch… and the most adult-contemporary leaning. Never fear, “Dreamlover” would still need a b-side, and the album would still need an international bonus track, so do with that what you will. Or, there’s always the vault…