First Hit #1: June 20, 1992
While Emotions was a disappointment – even if an album selling 8 million copies today would be an unqualified success – that doesn’t mean that the world didn’t want more Mariah Carey. Still, it was clear that Carey and her team needed to put in more time and effort into her next album, just rushing out albums every year wasn’t really a tenable solution. On the other hand, if you’re at the wheel of the Mariah Carey Money Train, you don’t want the flow of cash to stop any time soon, that’s just too risky. So what can you do? Well, MTV has this Unplugged series, where different artists go acoustic, partially to show off their talent. Mariah Carey’s talent lies in her voice, so she could go on the show and wow people without going too far off what she does on her albums. It’s quick, it doesn’t really need new material, and it’ll sell a few copies.
So that’s where I’ll Be There comes from. It’s just a cover of a Jackson 5 song, with Carey doing the Michael Jackson part in duet with Trey Lorenz. While this is acoustic, it’s not stripped down – the woman brings in an entire freaking choir, for goodness sake – but it does what Carey does best, and that’s put her big voice all over it. The thing with this song is that it exists to prove Carey can pull it off outside of the studio, and it’s an incredibly polished performance. Not a note is out of place, she’s pushing it hard and using the show as an opportunity to show that her voice is real and spectacular.
Personally, I prefer the Jackson 5 version, the song is kind of pummeled by the big voice Carey brings out to the proceedings. However, it’s definitely a showcase for that voice, and a song to silence anyone who might suggest she can’t pull off her bag of tricks outside the studio.