Thirty years ago, when Mariah Carey stepped into the studio with David Morales and transformed “Dreamlover,” her seventh Billboard Number One into an underground dance-floor smash, it didn’t just place the singer-songwriter in front of a whole new audience, it changed pop-dance remixing forever.
By 1993, Carey was already a phenomenon, having seen her first five releases top the Hot 100. There were huge expectations for her third album, Music Box, and its lead single, “Dreamlover,” released on July 27 of that year. Both would go on to deliver that result, selling tens of millions of units worldwide. But this was also the first time Carey had control of her remixes, and the result would push her to a new level of superstar cool.
One night in 1993, I was at the infamous after-hours club Trade at Turnmills, then London’s only after-hours venue. Located in desolate Clerkenwell — an area long since gentrified and now more famous for boutique shops and quirky cocktail bars — Trade was a sprawling basement club that was everything Studio 54 wasn’t: Industrial, dark, and more deviant in its hedonism, it has often been cited as an inspiration to Berlin’s infamous Berghain.
The door-entry policy was renowned for being tricky and picky; we never knew if we would get in. It famously (allegedly) turned away Cher when she arrived with an entourage in a limo, and Madonna was rumored to have been spotted on the dance floor circa her Ray of Light era. I was legally too young to be in the club, but back then one didn’t need a photo ID to get in, just the right amount of wit to charm the bouncer.
DJs who would eventually crossover from Trade to mainstream success, like Tony De Vit and Fat Tony, spun only the freshest, edgiest music: hardass techno on the main floor (De Vit’s domain), and a funkier house sound in the Trade Lite room. It was here on the dance floor that I first heard the Def Club mix of “Dreamlover.“
A Mariah Carey remix? In Trade? It was, as Carey might describe it herself, “a moment.”
“As a joke I said, ‘Listen, the only way this will happen is that she will have to resing the song.’ I never in a million years would think that would actually happen. But she said, ‘I’ll do it.’”
Trade was a gay club – or “queer” by today’s standards, although that word was then yet to be reclaimed – but its music was worlds away from the fluffy songs found in the clubs of Soho. They didn’t spin commercial records, and they definitely didn’t play records by pop stars. Yet David Morales’ reinterpretation of “Dreamlover” was an altogether different beast than the original. It dared to take pop and make it darker, dancier…even dirtier. “When they asked me to remix the record I was like, ‘I can’t do nothing with this,’” Morales says when we speak by video call. “My job was to make a dance record, you know what I mean? For the clubs. And that original just didn’t lend itself to it at all. I was never a pop fan. Mariah actually opened that door for me. And when I first heard ‘Dreamlover’ the original, to be honest, I hated it. It just wasn’t my kind of music.”
At the time, pop remixes tended to take the lead singer’s vocal and speed it up, but Morales knew that cut-and-paste formula wouldn’t resonate with his audience. To bring the breezy original into his late-night world, he needed to start from scratch. “I had never gone into the studio with an artist of that caliber, ever,” he says of his shot-in-the-dark request to have Carey re-vocal the track. “So, as a joke I just said, ‘Listen, the only way this will happen is that she will have to resing the song.’”
“I never in a million years would think that would actually happen. But she said, ‘I’ll do it.’ That was unheard of.”
The first challenge was to change the key of the track. “The (original) song was in a major key,” Morales notes. “How do you take that song and put it into a minor key, because you’re going somewhere else? You’re changing the whole attitude of the song. Morales says the process was fully collaborative: “She tailor-made everything to the track. it gave it a different tone. It gave her a darker edge. It allowed her to have more attitude when singing.”
The remix delivered a 180 turnaround in tone and mood. Carey’s delivery went from the wistful wanting of a blissful love in its original incarnation to sensual desire, a yearning for a lover that manifested in this new take. It was a taste of the Carey to come, the one who would be fully realized four years later with the “Honey,” the first track off the Butterfly album.
“The original ‘Dreamlover’: It’s cute, it’s like, ‘Hold my hand and then let’s take a walk in the park,’” Morales says. “It’s a whole different approach. Now, with the remix, you really hear her emotions of what’s going on because she’s more naked in the track. Clubs were like, ‘This is Mariah?’ It was like, ‘Oh, shit, mama can sing a club hit.’ I had never even heard Mariah like that. She opened up. She always had that, because you can’t teach that. You got to have that.”
The record feels as ambitious in scope today as it was back then. Opening with echoing electronic beats alongside Carey’s syncopated ad-libs, “Ah, ah, ah, oh, ah …” she repeats, bouncing up and down in pitch, before the piano riff kicks in and that unmistakable voice echoes out: “I need a lover to give me/The kind of love that will last always/I need somebody uplifting/To take me away-ay-ay, oh, baby …”
The remix was less a conventional interpolation and more an outright reworking of a radio-friendly pop song. It dared to be dangerous. “It was an amazing experience,” says Morales. “I learned a lot about vocals working with Mariah Carey. She’s no joke. She puts in the work, she can sing. There’s no Auto-Tuning with her, there’s no fixing shit. Mama’s the fucking real deal.”
Six minutes into the record, when Morales drops a series of sound bombs and the ensuing explosions make you think it’s all over, the track takes us deeper into the night, the sounds get twisted and turned, the pace slows, and the beats build as Carey’s whistle tone opens into a full gospel-house breakdown. At 9:08 into the remix, the singer’s then backing vocalists Kelly Price, Melonie Daniels, and Shanrae Price join her to take the record to church to close the track, before the lead star’s vocals fade us out: “Baby, come and take me away.…”
“When she’s doing her pop records, you’re not hearing the church girl,” adds Morales of how “mainstream Mariah” was presented at the time. “I mean, you’re hearing Mariah, make no mistake. But on this remix is somewhere that she gets to go into that other zone.”
Tapping into Mariah’s connection to the church and adding gospel-house elements to an already colossal production was another forward-thinking moment. Gospel house at the time existed on the fringes of club land. Although prevalent today, it was a then-emerging subgenre born out of the need for Black and gay young men and women to gather and celebrate life in sanctuaries away from the persecution of religion.
Writing for the Toolroom Records website, Kristan J Caryl says the parallels between clubs and churches are clear: “Early mornings spent in the company of friends old and new, singing and dancing along to music served down upon us from an elevated booth is no different to a Sunday service where sermons are commanded by a preacher from a raised pulpit. These days, the DJ is our reverend, the records are our psalms.”
In its entirety, the Def Club mix of “Dreamlover” shines as a 10-minute and 46-second odyssey of dance, pop, house, gospel, and vocal exhilaration — best enjoyed loud on a quality sound system. It was an instant statement that Carey was stepping out of the realms of expectation and ready to position herself as an artist at the forefront of the game, adding her own unique stamp on dance music, embracing the genre effortlessly yet authentically.
“The Dreamlover remix had a bigger effect in the U.K. than it did in America. It went more bananas in the U.K.,” recalls Morales. “In America, yes, eventually it did. But they didn’t first sell it in America, it was a promo only. They didn’t want Mariah to be known as a dance artist.” Morales believes Sony held off distributing the remix in the U.S. for fear of tarnishing Carey’s then all-American-sweetheart status as a polished pop star on whom they banked on generating multiplatinum records.
“Mariah didn’t need a remix,” adds Morales. “‘Dreamlover’ was massive anyway, with or without that. But Mariah, she loved and cared about club land. She cared about our culture. I have so many different versions of ‘Dreamlover’ that nobody’s ever heard.”
It was an era that foreshadowed a Carey ready to cut loose from the safe space of balladeering pop. Where the original “Dreamlover” dipped its toe into R&B beats, the remix dove headfirst into the underground club world. Carey was getting ready to fly. What would come next would be the singer-songwriter embracing hip-hop in its fullest on “Fantasy,” featuring Ol’ Dirty Bastard, two years later, a pivotal moment that brought a hard-edged hip-hop rapper and a pop superstar together on mainstream radio in a way that no artist of Carey’s level had done before.
Morales and Carey would go on to collab on the equally massive “Fantasy (Def Club Mix)” and criminally underrated “Always Be My Baby (Always Club Mix),” which both transformed their palatable original radio-friendly takes into free-falling dance epics that dared to reenvision two of Carey’s big hits as no-nonsense dance records.
The success of that first Def Club mix for “Dreamlover” resonated across club land. Respected DJs were suddenly spinning a remix by the singer they only knew as the voice behind “Vision of Love.” Suddenly, Carey had stepped out of the mainstream and was now cool. For years after its release, the “Dreamlover (Def Jam mix)” would rank in the annual Top 100 lists of DJ Mag and altered the perception that a pop song could also become a credible club smash. It sounds as uncompromisingly fresh today as it did in 1993 — the hallmark of genuine game-changing music.
Carey’s continual devotion to Christmas may be pushing back any hopes of a long-overdue summer jam. Until that time, her legacy will speak for her.