Can't Let Go

Album: Emotions (1991)
Charted: 20 2

Songfacts®:

  • In this R&B ballad, co-written with her "Love Takes Time" producer, Walter Afanasieff, Mariah Carey has trouble moving on from a breakup even though her ex has found someone new. It was released as the second single from her sophomore album, Emotions.
  • Carey's hit streak started with her popular self-titled debut album a year earlier, which spawned a record-breaking four #1 hit singles, including "Vision Of Love" and "Love Takes Time." Her second album's title track also went to #1, but "Can't Let Go" broke her run when it peaked at #2 behind Color Me Badd's "All 4 Love."
  • Tommy Mottola, the head of Sony Music, took a special interest in Mariah's career and wanted to mold her into an Adult Contemporary pop star. In her memoir, The Meaning Of Mariah Carey, the singer explained that her original demos were raw and soulful, but were smoothed over at Mottola's behest to make them more marketable for the mainstream. Because her debut was so successful, she had a little more artistic control over her second album, but her label still wasn't confident in her soulful stylings. She said of this tune in 2012: "I think it may have leaned a bit too R&B for the record label at the time."
  • Most of the songs from her previous album were written with her former songwriting partner Ben Margulies. By the time work started on Emotions, the pair ended their relationship due to a financial dispute over Margulies' cut of Mariah's royalties. The singer struck up a new partnership with Afanasieff, going on to write "Hero," "One Sweet Day," and "All I Want For Christmas Is You" with him. Afanasieff explained their typical songwriting process in The Billboard Book Of #1 Hits by Fred Bronson.

    "Mariah stands next to me, I'm on the keyboard. I start playing a chord progression - or I'll start playing something on the keyboard - and she starts singing ideas, melodic ideas and lyrical ideas," he said. "We start feeding off each other: she starts singing to what I'm playing and I start playing to what she's singing... She'll either come up with a few lyrical ideas right there and then go home and write a complete lyric, or she’ll use the melody and write the lyric."
  • The radio edit removed Mariah's high notes from the beginning and end of the song.
  • The black-and-white music video, directed by Jim Sonzero, opens with Mariah cupping a rose in her hands. The singer, elegantly dressed in an evening gown, sings about her lost love in between shots of more roses. Sonzero is known for directing the 2006 horror film Pulse, starring Kristen Bell.
  • Mariah sang this on the November 16, 1991 episode of Saturday Night Live.
  • This was the subject of a copyright infringement lawsuit that claimed Carey and Afanasieff ripped off a song called "Right Before My Eyes" by songwriters Sharon Taber and Ron Gonzalez. Carey denied the plagiarism claims but reportedly paid out a $1 million settlement.
  • This was a #1 hit on the Adult Contemporary chart. It also peaked at #2 on the R&B tally.
  • Rapper Rick Ross included a remix version titled "Can't Say No" on his 2015 album, Black Market, that featured Mariah singing new lyrics.

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