“I need a lover to give me/ The kind of love that will last always…”
I was only 11 years old when Mariah Carey’s “Music Box” came across my path. I knew nothing about love. I didn’t know where this so-called dreamlover would take me, but I knew he would rescue me and it would be amazing. Actually, I still thought boys were pretty gross at the time. But I would sing Mariah Carey’s “Dreamlover” into my hairbrush, with the conviction of a grown woman who knew a thing or two about love. At that stage in my life, I got my love advice from Mariah and a shelf of Disney movies. If you know me, this explains a heck of a lot.
I’ve been a lifelong Auntie Mimi fan, from the moment I discovered her MTV Unplugged album in my mom’s stash of cassettes. On the 20th anniversary of her third studio album Music Box, I took one of my fave LPs for a spin. It was the soundtrack of the talent show era of my life. The point when every girl was either breaking down Janet Jackson video choreography Stephanie Tanner style, or belting “Hero” in my Queens elementary school auditorium. I was somewhere in between. I remember reading the words line for line in my CD booklet, and would belt out Mariah’s octaves (in my head) alone in my room. Mariah, though in her early twenties, had the same wide-eyed innocence of a young girl, something I could relate to as a tweeny bopper. She literally frolicked in parks on tire swings, wearing cut off shorts and flannel shirts. The fact that she wrote all of her music had me completely sold. It was as if she let us into her diary for a picture of love that was digestible and accessible for me to understand.
“Dreamlover” and “Hero” are undoubtedly the smash hits of the album, but “Music Box” outshines its 1993 shelf life with a collection of ballads strong enough for Mariah’s vocals to soar. She’s only accompanied by a choir on “Anytime You Need A Friend,” that adds a tinge of soul to a score of pop songs. Mariah made unrequited, “too shy to say” love a lane all her own. She took the power rock ballad l “Without You” for a masterful spin, and wrestled it from the song’s originators, Badfinger. The title track, “Music Box,” is one of my top three M.C. songs, from the simple notes of a freshly opened jewelry box opening, had me hook line and sinker. It reminds me of exactly how I felt about love at 11 years old, is still how I feel as a woman, 20 years later.
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The better left in the ’90s dance tracks “Now That I Know” and “I’ve Been Thinking About You,” seems misplaced among the ballads. But the Babyface-tinged “Never Forget You” is a sweet consolation. Even when she transitioned into a honey hued sexpot, Mariah always closes her album with an introspective ballad, and “All I’ve Ever Wanted” follows suit. No studio tricks. Just a woman with an eight octave range, piano keys and strings.
Like “Purple Rain” and “Janet,” “Music Box” is etched in my memory. It also reminds me exactly why Mariah Carey will always be one of the most lauded vocalists of our time. And it will always be an archive to revisit and remember: the boys who pulled my pigtails grew up to be not so bad after all. Whether they break your heart or take you anywhere you want to (baby now), M.C.’s got a love song for that.
Mariah Carey’s “Music Box” was originally released on August 31, 1993.
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