Q: Dear Cody, what’s the first album you ever owned?
A: Hmm. In my Jaida Essence Hall voice, “That’s a question.”
I’m not completely sure what album I owned first, but I can get close.
Y’all remember the Columbia House scam, I believe most prominent in the late ’80s and early ’90s? You could get 15 CDs for 99 cents. Until this day, I’m still not sure how this program worked. It felt like magic; however, I know capitalism is anything but. This music club was certainly marketed to poor people and included all sorts of hidden charges.
Columbia House would send us these catalogues through the mail, and we would select the albums we wanted and mail the catalogue back. Columbia would then send our ordered albums within four weeks. The entire process took almost six weeks, and that’s if you were efficient. Whew, those were the times. Gen Z, this process would have taken you out.
Many of you won’t remember this program. This is a time when radio was queen. Everyone listened to their favorite stations and on-air personalities. Radio was popular among all age groups of the time. We spent hours calling in and requesting our favorite songs to be played. We had to wait by the radio, sometimes for hours, to hear our requested song.
My favorite waiting game was to watch an episode of the original “Beverly Hills 90210,” wishing I was Brenda (Shannen Doherty) as I had that brunette energy at the time. And because there were no Black people in their world, my crushes became both Brandon (Jason Priestly) and Dylan (Luke Perry). I had something wicked for Luke Perry — I mean, truly, an updated version of James Dean.
OK. Y’all know by now I get sidetracked easily. So back to the albums.
I remember ordering the Toni Braxton album — you know the one. Toni is wearing a white cami and blue jeans, looking like a soulful Calvin Klein model. Ugh, every song was a banger. This was before her mega hit, “Un-Break My Heart.” This album had ballads and R&B galore — “Another Sad Love Song,” “Breathe Again,” “Seven Whole Days” and “You Mean the World to Me” are all iconic rhythm and blues creations.
Moreover, I ordered both Whitney Houston’s “I’m Your Baby Tonight” and Tevin Campbell’s “I’m Ready.” Whitney’s album had “All the Man I Need,” “My Name is Not Susan” and of course, “I’m Your Baby Tonight.” Imagine it, a young Cody belting out “All the Man I Need” in the shower, in a three-bedroom apartment and in a very low voice to not be heard or found out.
And my love for Tevin Campbell was otherworldly. You remember he showed up in an episode of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” He was Ashley’s crush, and sang happy birthday to her. Like she fainted, I melted. I flamboyantly sang, “I’m Ready,” and at no point did I know or understand what I was ready for. Additionally, Tevin sang my favorite Disney song of all time, “I 2 I” (Eye to Eye) from “The Goofy Movie” soundtrack.
I’ll leave y’all with a deviant young Cody story.
I must have been 14 or 15. I went to Walmart with my mother and auntie, and as I perused the music section, I found a couple of albums I wanted. I wanted a Patti LaBelle greatest hits album and the soundtrack to “The Preacher’s Wife.” I was certain that if I bought these particular albums on this trip to Walmart, my mother and auntie would have had a lot of questions about my positionality in this world. So even though I had the money to pay for the albums (I worked at H-E-B Grocery Store), I made the choice to steal them. Oops!
And I’m not sure how I got away with it, because I had not grown into my cleverness or out of my clumsiness yet.
– Cody Keith Charles (all pronouns) is the Founder and Executive Director of Haus of McCoy, a queer and trans community center in Lawrence, Kansas. Moreover, Cody is a writer, facilitator, cultural critic and dreamer who critiques pop culture at the intersection of liberation. Cody enjoys trash TV, spending time with beautiful queer people and loving on their dog, Monét.