“Can’t Let Go” by Mariah Carey (1991)

I have a weird appreciation for pop balladry from the early ‘90s, particularly the trebly, semi-new age production of Walter Afanasieff. He did a ton of work with primarily (exclusively?) Columbia Records artists (Celine Dion, NKOTB, Michael Bolton). His productions were the sound of adult contemporary radio for quite a long time.

While his productions with Mariah (who he worked with off and on through the ‘90s) were very hit or miss (I think I’ve mentioned how awful I find “Hero”, but no harm in mentioning it again), “Can’t Let Go” is a winner. It’s one of MC’s most powerful ballads. She sounds totally invested, which wasn’t always a given with her early material. There’s a difference between being a great singer and a great singer who feels their lyrics. Mariah was doing a fair share of writing-for-a-hit back in the day (and come to think of it, her lyrics have long wavered between impactful and frighteningly silly as much as Afanasieff’s production style has wavered between inspired and banal.) From the lengthy set up intro to the key change at the end…*kisses fingers*.

Random fact: after five #1 singles in a row, “Can’t Let Go” was Mariah’s first single to not hit the top spot…it peaked at #2. It’s arguably better than four of the five songs that made it to pole position–she hasn’t topped “Vision of Love” yet and probably never will.

Check out her Soul Train performance from 1992 here. Very few artists performed live on the show, and while she’s singing to a track, she is singing. Very well, I might add.

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