Four years ago this week, Mariah Carey made music history by scoring the 18th No. 1 single of her career. Think about that for a second: If you're reading this, Mariah Carey has recorded more No. 1 singles than women you've had sex with (a lot more). What makes the feat even more incredible is that she beat the record for a solo artist set by a true pop music titan -- the King of rock and roll himself, Elvis Presley.
Well, probably, anyway. Elvis recorded a bunch of early singles before the Billboard "Hot 100" era, and most of them were double-sided 45s that contained two smash hits.
Some hardcore fans argue hard that Elvis only had 14 No. 1s, some say 17 and some say 18, depending on the friendless loser you're arguing with. Simply put, it was a different time, one that's hard to compare to Mariah's heyday.
Still, though: 18. That ain't bad. As far as the Associated Press was concerned, the Diva took down the King. Or did she?
Is there really any non-hilarious comparison to be made between the careers of these two top hitmakers? In 1956, Elvis drastically changed the course of popular culture all over the world. In 1994, Mariah drastically changed her hairstyle. Can it be seriously argued that Ms. Mimi is the bigger, better chart-topper?
Let's find out, shall we? We won't try to match up every hit each artist had -- that would be stupid, and we ain't got that kind of time. Instead, let's just compare the highlights to find out which hitmaker really reigns supreme.
Their First Time -- "Vision of Love" vs. "Heartbreak Hotel": A comparison between the two artists' first No. 1 hits is pretty much a slam-dunk win for the King. Not that "Vision of Love" was a bad introduction for Mariah, mind -- a smash-hit chart-topper on your first try out of the gate is pretty awesome. "Vision" featured everything that people love about her: A smooth R&B beat, her inhuman range and spandex clothes in the video.
But come on. Without "Heartbreak Hotel," "Vision of Love" would have never existed and Mariah would have never made it out of church. Singers are still getting laid by covering this song more than 50 years after it hit No. 1. "Heartbreak Hotel" sits at the head table at reunions of classic rock and roll records, and it's as well-known in Shanghai, China, as Memphis, Tennessee. Tally one for the King, and let's move on.
Score: Mariah 0, Elvis 1
The Comebacks -- "We Belong Together" vs. "Suspicious Minds": This matchup is more interesting. Both artists' careers stretch over decades, and they weren't always on top. In 2005, Mariah looked like she might be done after her movie megaflop Glitter and a bout of debilitating "exhaustion." Behind the Music was licking its chops.
But psyche! "We Belong Together" became her first No. 1 single in five years and spent 14 weeks at the top of the chart, netting her two Grammys. It was one of the biggest smashes of her career, a great song featuring superlative emoting that's ideal for singing along to on the radio.
"Suspicious Minds" was... a good Elvis song. Sure, it was a major milestone in his career. It was his first No. 1 in seven years, sealing his comeback from Hollywood hell. But it only spent one lousy week at the top of the charts, and it's got none of the paradigm-shifting spark of his early tunes. I'm giving this one to Mariah.
Score: Mariah 1, Elvis 1
The Record Setters -- "Touch My Body" vs. "Burning Love": Here's where things get a tad controversial. "Burning Love" peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100, but it went No. 1 on Cashbox's Top 40 Charts in 1972, and to a lot of Elvis diehards, that totally counts, bringing his tally to 18. For the sake of argument, I'm inclined to give it to him. "Burning Love" was the King's biggest hit of the '70s, and it's a rockin' tune that sums up that era of his career nicely.
Like "Burning Love," "Touch My Body" is a sexually charged love song, both artists' shared forte. The 18th chart-topper from each features the singers at a point in their careers that's probably past their prime, but still powerful. It's a close one, but "Burning Love" gets the nod.
Score: Mariah 1, Elvis 2
Sexy Time -- "Honey" vs. "A Big Hunk O' Love": Now we're talkin.' Sexuality is a major part of both Elvis' and Mariah's appeal. Elvis was so hot in the '50s that TV shows only filmed him from the waist up. "A Big Hunk O' Love" went No. 1 in 1959, and it was Elvis at his hip-swiveling best. You can almost hear the still-echoing screams from teenage girls as he sings lyrics like "You're just a natural born beehive/ Filled with honey to the top/ Well, I ain't greedy baby/ All I want is all you got."
But for teenage boys watching MTV in 1997, "Honey" kicked the dogcrap out of Elvis. After playing the good girl for the early years of her career, this song was a true eruption for Mariah, showcasing a sexier, more street edge to her image and sound. Her voice practically drips from the speakers, and the music video was unforgettable. Elvis may have had the moves, but he's never inspired much grinding in the club; at least not in my lifetime. Marry me, Mariah!
Score: Mariah 2, Elvis 2
The Big One -- "One Sweet Day" vs. "All Shook Up:" It all comes down to this: The biggest hits of each artist's career. There's no fairer way to judge a hitmaker than by the hugest, chart-topping smash they ever produced, right? For Mariah Carey, that distinction falls to "One Sweet Day," her inescapable collabo with Boyz II Men that spent a record 16 weeks atop the Hot 100. Somewhere, this song is being played right now as the first dance at some wedding you weren't invited to, even though it's about dead people.
Elvis didn't need any help to achieve the longest-charting No. 1 of his career. "All Shook Up" spent a ridiculous 30 weeks in the Top 100 and eight at the top. It also happened to become one of the most iconic songs in pop music history, a feat "One Sweet Day" could never come close to matching. Mariah and the Boyz sang their hearts out, but their combined melisma can't touch the power in Elvis' humming alone in this song. Elvis wins, folks. Duh.
Final Score: Mariah 2, Elvis 3
So, despite her 18 No. 1s, turns out Mariah Carey is no Elvis Presley. But then again, nobody else is, either. There can only be one King of rock and roll. Not quite known for her modesty, Mariah even admitted it herself four years ago when she smashed his record:
"I really can never put myself in the category of people who have not only revolutionized music but also changed the world," she told The Associated Press. "That's a completely different era and time ... I'm just feeling really happy and grateful."
Well said, Ms. Carey. No need to hang your head. You've got more No. 1 singles under your belt than any of your contemporaries dare dream of. So what if they didn't help spawn an entire new youth movement? You've more than earned your place in the music-history books.
And hey, two more No. 1 singles and you tie the Beatles! Don't stop now.
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