A Black Gay Music Critic On: Mariah Carey’s 10 Most Important Dance Remixes
There’s a moment in the audiobook for Mariah Carey’s illuminating memoir The Meaning of Mariah Carey (co-written by the ever-insightful Michaela Angela Davis) where she talks about listening to New York City radio in the mid-’80s. Suddenly, she starts singing two of the era’s biggest hits: Jocelyn Brown’s “Somebody Else’s Guy” and Gwen Guthrie’s “Ain’t Nothin’ Goin’ On But The Rent.” These songs were smashes both on the airwaves and in the clubs. Back in the day, you could get a whole dance music education just by listening to NYC stations such as WBLS (which Mariah calls the “Black Liberation Station”), KISS-FM, and WKTU.
Mariah has consistently proven her deep knowledge of and genuine appreciation for club music through the remixes of her chart-topping singles. In her three-decade-long career, she’s worked with a number of dancefloor luminaries, including Shep Pettibone, Junior Vasquez, Louie Vega, and more.
But the two collaborators that most helped translate her sound for the club were David Cole and David Morales. Cole, a native of Tennessee, grew up playing the organ in church. After moving to the New York area, he got a job adding keyboard touches to tracks spun by DJs at the nightclub Better Days. Among those he worked with was Robert Clivilés. The two would go on to form the hit-making C&C Music Factory [“Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)”]. Said Clivillés: “We both came from big families, we both were into music and both just finding our way, and we were both poor.”
Cole and Clivillés first worked with Mariah on her sophomore album, Emotions from 1991. In her memoir, Mariah states: “I particularly adored working with David Cole…He was a church kid who loved dance music…As a producer, he pushed me as a singer...” Their work together yielded such hits as “Emotions” and “Make It Happen.” Sadly in 1995, Cole died of spinal meningitis at age 32. (She’d later dedicate “One Sweet Day,” her elegiac ballad with Boyz II Men, to Cole.)
Mariah’s next partner in making club jams was Puerto Rican DJ/producer David Morales. Mariah writes: “David would come to the studio, and I’d tell him he could do whatever he wanted with the song. I’d have a couple splashes of wine, and we would just go wherever the spirit took us — which were almost always high-energy dance tracks with big, brand-new vocals.”
Mariah, through her work with Cole and Morales, raised the aesthetic bar for dance remixes. The best of these tracks transformed Mariah’s pop and R&B hits into authentic club records.
(Recently, Mariah made almost all of her remixes available on streaming platforms, an act that should be applauded because of the way it preserves dance music culture. Other artists should follow her example.)
Here’s a look at Mariah’s 10 Most Important Dance Remixes in chronological order (Spotify playlist):
“Emotions (12” Club Mix),” Remixed by David Cole and Robert Clivillés, 1991
Why It’s Important: The acappella intro gives the mix a gospel house flair, and the synthesized strings evoke the disco classic “Let No Man Put Asunder” by First Choice, later covered by Mary J. Blige.
“Make It Happen (Dub Version),” Remixed by David Cole and Robert Clivillés, 1992
Why It’s Important: House music was created in large part by Black gay men, who regularly face multiple forms of discrimination. Therefore, many classic house songs deal with perseverance in the face of life’s obstacles. “Make It Happen” fits perfectly with this theme. And the track also works in a musical reference to another dancefloor staple from First Choice, “Doctor Love.”
“Dreamlover (Def Club Mix),” Remixed by David Morales, 1993
Why It’s Important: Her first collaboration with Morales has an even more forceful dancefloor energy than her previous releases. Rather than evoking the disco past, this propulsive track is throughly contemporary, and Mariah expresses the need for escapism that leads many to the dancefloor, when she sings “Come and take me away.”
“Anytime You Need A Friend (Dave’s Empty Pass),” Remixed by David Cole and Robert Clivillés, 1994
Why It’s Important: Fans of gospel music —which also has deep roots in the Black queer community — will know that Mariah is a serious student of the genre as soon as she turns “every” into a three-syllable word, singing “e-ve-ry day, e-ve-ry hour” in the extended intro. This churchy vibe runs throughout the mix, as Mariah and her powerhouse backing vocalists engage in a call and response dynamic as if she’s a Sunday morning soloist and they are the robed choir members.
Toward the end of the mix, however, things take a different turn, and Mariah — who grew up improvising with jazz bands — starts scatting in a manner that evokes the late, white, R&B singer Teena Marie (check out 1998’s “Work It.”)
In fact, Marie was an inspiration to Mariah when record execs were concerned that her biracial identity might limit how her music was accepted: “…Teena Marie never cared about crossing over. And I didn’t want to cross over either. I wanted to transcend.”
This mix also marked her last release with David Cole.
“Fantasy (Sweet Dub Mix),” Remixed by David Morales, 1995
Why It’s Important: Experienced club-goers know that there can be times when you enter a nightspot after midnight and leave just before noon with the feeling that only a few hours have passed. You’re so caught up in the allure of the lights and the people and the movement and the music that you enter a trance-like state. This is the feeling that Mariah conveys on this mix, where she completely abandons song structure and just muses about how “it seems so real, but it’s just a dream.” It’s as if she’s twirling on the dancefloor lost in her own world. At one point, the track slows down, suggesting how being at a club can distort time, but then it speeds up to an orgasmic crescendo, fulfilling the fantasy.
“Always Be My Baby (Groove-A-Pella Mix),” Produced by David Morales and Satoshi Tomiie, 1996
Why It’s Important: Tomiie, a jazz and classical pianist who was born in Japan, frequently collaborated with Morales. On this mix, they send Mariah straight to the outer reaches of clubland. Over a pulsing electro track, she sounds like a funky Barbarella, sashaying through space as she pledges eternal love to her “boy” back on Earth. It’s the trippiest mix of her career.
“Honey (Def Rascal Anthem),” Produced by David Morales and Mariah Carey, Additional Production by Albert Cabrera, 1997
Why It’s Important: Mariah started in the industry when freestyle was the dominant dance music sound. One of her early breaks was singing background for freestyle queen, Brenda K. Starr. The Latin Rascals (Tony Moran and Albert Cabrera) were one of the genre’s hottest production teams. Mariah enlists Cabrera on this mix to add some loops and edits, giving the track a playful “filtered disco” feel.
“Fly Away (Butterfly Reprise — Def “B” Fly Mix),” Produced by David Morales, 1997
Why It’s Important: It exemplfies another reason why people often head to a nightclub, to get over a painful breakup. The soft, intimate way Mariah delivers the verses suggests that she’s still trying to make sense of why the relationship ended (“When you love somebody more than life itself, it’s easy to succumb to those feelings of insecurity”). But by the end, she’s clearly committed to her own freedom, telling herself over and over, “Spread your wings and prepare to fly.”
“The Roof (Back In Time — Morales Funky Club Mix),” Produced by David Morales, 1998
Why It’s Important: In theory, this mix should be far inferior to Mariah’s other work with Morales because she didn’t re-sing the vocals. But surprisingly, it still works — masterfully. To underscore Mariah’s tale of a sexy rooftop kiss with, as she writes, “a man who seemed to have stepped out of my dreams,” Morales constructs a pulsing groove and a steady, bouncing beat. It brings to mind the rhythm of a racing heart.
“Can’t Take That Away From Me (Mariah’s Theme — Morales Revival Triumphant Mix),” Produced by David Morales, 1999
Why It’s Important: No other mix so grandly conveys the meaning of Mariah Carey. With gospel urgency, it captures the way she’s walked by faith through a painful childhood, the myopic scrutiny that comes with fame (especially for a Black woman), and a marriage to and subsequent divorce from a controlling mogul.
Mariah delivers her message of perservance with rare grit, as a harmonica bears bluesy witness to her testimony. “I won’t be afraid no more,” she sings in a way that acknowledges past triumphs and suggests she has learned what it will take to face trials yet to come.