On August 4, 1990, Mariah Carey’s first single ever began a four week run at No. 1 on the US singles chart.
“Vision of Love” was among seven songs written by the then 20-year-old budding recording artist for her demo tape. It was recorded in the back of a woodshed/studio owned by the father of Ben Margulies, her drummer friend that helped finalize the tracks.
Once signed to Columbia, her initial rough version of the song received a studio polish in Los Angeles with fresh vocals under producers Rhett Lawrence and Narada Michael Walden. Below, Carey explains why they all decided to keep her background vocals and ridiculous whistle note from the demo for the final mix, and why she says the demo vocals, recorded on a $25 microphone in Margulies’ “crappy” studio, were “better than the record.”
Despite Carey’s issues with the final version, “Vision of Love” was released on May 15, 1990, givng it a full month to steep and stir anticipation for the June 12 release of her self-titled album. In addition to the lead single’s four-week run at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100, it also topped the Hot R&B/Hip Hop and Hot Adult Contemporary Charts. The track was certified gold by October. Billboard at the time said the song, “has all the elements necessary to propel the newcomer to diva status: infectious melodies, lush instrumentation, and a vocal performance brimming with unbridled power and confidence.”
“Vision of Love” has also been credited for popularizing the use of melisma, a.k.a. vocal runs. Sasha Frere-Jones of The New Yorker called the song “the Magna Carta of melisma.”
On today’s anniversary of “Vision of Love” reaching No. 1 in the U.S., let’s relive some key performances of the track in the weeks and months after the song’s release, beginning with her first performance showcase for the entertainment press, and first televised performance of her career on “The Arsenio Hall Show.”
New York City’s Tattoo Club – 1990
Carey’s first performance showcase, included on her home video release “The First Vision,” featured music videos, live performances, and behind-the-scenes footage detailing the creation of her debut album.
The Arsenio Hall Show – 1990
Joined on stage by the Billie T. Scott Ensemble, a trio of male background vocalists.
Good Morning America – July 1990
Interview and Performance
The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson – 1990
Saturday Night Live – 1990
Introduced by Guest Host Patrick Swayze
The 33rd Annual Grammy Awards, Feb. 20, 1991
Vision of Love won Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, one of three nominations along with Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
MTV Unplugged – 1992
Recorded on March 16, 1992 at Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens, New York
The Oprah Winfrey Show – 1992
The episode was titled “Love Songs” and featured an interview segment with Amy Grant and Aaron Neville.