Originally published February 25, 2014
Back when I was a wee Gilly, my family used to be a member of Columbia House. Now, if you’re an American kid who grew up in the 80s/90s, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
For the uninitiated, it was a mail-order music club. You could order cassette tapes (tapes!) and CDs. They were sneaky though. They reeled you in with some unbelievable offer like 5 tapes for a penny (or whatever). What they put in the very fine print is you joined their mandatory, nearly impossible to unsubscribe from, subscription service.
I was on the hunt for new music one week and checked out the latest shipment my mom had to pay for. One of the cassette tapes (tapes!) was Natalie Cole’s “Unforgettable… with Love.” I had seen the video on MTV (MTV!), so I knew of “Unforgettable,” appreciating the beautiful duet between father and daughter.
I put the tape into my Walkman (Walkman!) and fell head over heels. I would literally march around my backyard, singing that record at the top of my lungs. I never had so much fun learning the lyrics. “Lush Life” is one of my comfort songs to this day.
I read the liner notes, but I didn’t even realize they were standards until much later. My exposure to music was limited to what my parents and siblings listened to. Standards were well before my parents’ Swinging Sixties, or my siblings’ gangsta rap/80s/90s boybands. Then, of course, my own education in 90s music provided by MTV.
I remember listening to every song on side A in a row (no fast-forwarding) right ’til to “Medley: ‘For Sentimental Reasons’/’Tenderly’/’Autumn Leaves’,” and then flipping over to start on “Straighten Up and Fly Right.”
It’s one of my favorite albums to this day. Anytime it shuffles up, it takes me back to those hot California days, the obsession with learning the lyrics to make them my own, and finding a voice in the madness.