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 1980s/1990s, you know exactly what I’m talking about here.
For the uninitiated, it was a mail-order music club. You could order cassette tapes and CDs. They were sneaky. They reeled you in with some fantastic offers like five tapes for a penny. Buried deep within the fine print is their rules that you joined their mandatory, nearly impossible to unsubscribe from subscription service.
My parents and my siblings influenced everything that I consumed as I grew up. My father was a drummer in a band called the Amulets in the Philippines. The Beatles is his favorite group. My mother was in a family vocal band called the Guzman Sisters in the Philippines too. They sang a lot of popular music when they were coming up in the 1960s, and they modeled their look and sound on the Supremes.
My siblings and I grew up during what was arguably the last best decade for music. 1980s boybands, gangsta rap, new jack swing, dance, house. Whatever MTV didn’t feed me, I found sounds that were fresh to my ears on the radio. I came of age during the 1990s, so I had my share of pop girls and boybands.
I was on the hunt for new music one week and checked out the latest shipment my mom had to pay for here. One of the cassette tapes was Natalie Cole’s “Unforgettable… with Love.” I saw the MTV video, so I knew of “Unforgettable,” appreciating the beautiful duet between father and daughter.
I put the tape into my Walkman and fell head over heels. After that, it wasn’t unusual to find me marching 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. 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.