It's the album that launched a million runs. "Vision of Love" opened Mariah Carey's eponymous debut in 1990 and gave an entire generation of would-be divas something to sing into their hairbrushes. Beyonce says it's the song that made her want to want to go pro; Rihanna sings it in the shower; Christina Aguilera cited it as her first inspiration. Aside from launching the five-octave songbird's career, that single impacted vocal (over-)performances from there until eternity.
The album itself—danceable pop with gospel–inflected vocals—offered Carey lessons that would influence the rest of her career. Behind "VOL" came three more singles ("Love Takes Time," "Someday," "I Don't Wanna Cry") that hit number one, making her the first female artist to have four straight chart-toppers to start her career, all of which she co-wrote.
Despite the success of the nine-times platinum album, however, Mariah Carey is filled with adult contemporary tracks and videos from which Mariah Carey has spent the rest of her career distancing herself. She's referred to her early career, and marriage, as her own version of "Sing Sing" prison. And while we remember the way her voice sledgehammered onto the stage, the glare she gives the band at the beginning of her first Grammy performance did as much as Carey's whistle register to announce that a diva had arrived. —Elena Bergeron