by Sarah Gray
Music was always important in my family. My grandfather intended to be an opera singer (which, honestly, I cannot even begin to fathom) before he got “the call” and became a minister instead, which as you might imagine, is quite a longer story that in some way involves the army and meeting my grandmother at church camp. My parents both played instruments growing up (they actually met in high school band practice and have been together ever since) and insisted both of my siblings and I at least attempt to play an instrument. By high school, being the over achiever I once was (which, no worries, I abandoned with gusto the minute I entered college) I had amassed three instruments, two of which I have long since forgotten how to play. The one I started first, the violin, I have always been, and remain, extremely attached to. Almost twenty-five years later, I still have one in my apartment mostly collecting dust that I will probably have buried with me.
As an after dinner ritual, my family used to dance in our living room to things like Journey and Billy Joel the way a normal family might have dessert. My dad had this giant stereo that was probably three feet tall and came with two equally large speakers (remember when electronics were big and cumbersome?). He was always big on stereo equipment and one of our first big “grown-up” gifts was always a nice stereo. My dad, generally a man of few words, would often expound on things he found irreplaceably important, a good stereo being high on that list. See also, Hellman’s mayonnaise, flashlights (nobody was more excited about the advent of LED flashlights than my dad), and action movies. Perhaps most importantly, we always (and I do mean always) went to sleep listening to music. I slept with music on every night well into college. It is a habit I still fall back on when I am having trouble sleeping, which is often.
As kids we all had our favorites, a lot of Disney soundtracks made long term fixtures, but one of our long-standing favorites was Kenny Loggins’ Return to Pooh Corner. You might say, Kenny Loggins? Of “Danger Zone” and Footloose? Yes. The very same. I maintain that this is one of the greatest children’s albums of all time. I hadn’t listened to it for a long time and picked it up again as a refresher for this article and it is still as calming as I remember it and it brings with it all this nostalgia for my family, particularly my siblings, who, it turns out, are people I quite like.
The album itself is mostly covers of classic, but not necessarily obvious, children’s songs. And, bonus for adults, not particularly annoying children’s songs. (Yes, these exist.) This is no “Wheels on the Bus” for the fortieth time while you reconsider every major decision you’ve made about your life since college, especially that minivan. Even if you don’t like the songs themselves, they can’t be described as anything but soothing. The album opens with a lullaby, “All the Pretty Little Ponies,” featuring Crosby and Nash. It has a few covers from great kid’s movies, “Somewhere Out There” (Fievel!), “Rainbow Connection” from “The Muppet Movie,” and “The Last Unicorn,” a lesser known kid’s movie, which you should immediately go out and find if you haven’t seen it already. And, hello! If you don’t love Winnie the Pooh, you are obviously some kind of Communist.
The album is nearly impossible not to like, but the best thing about it is that it is full of songs your kids will think of years later and remember, in between the aggravation of work and the stress of their adult lives, how great their childhood was. I hear the songs on this album and remember very distinctly my childhood room. Specifically, the one my parents let me pick out for myself when we moved into the house that my parents still live in. Choosing that room was one of the first real decisions I got to make for myself. I chose it, almost exclusively, because it had a slanted ceiling, and thus a very short closet, which I thought was just the greatest thing because I was five and it is not often things are sized conveniently for you when you are under four feet tall. My bed was across from my old toy box, filled with things like My Little Ponies and a Rainbow Brite doll. The room has since been changed, but I always remember it as I first saw it, before the walls were painted blue and the horrible orangey-brown rug had been replaced.
Certain things are always family things, like the way your parents’ house smells somehow different and better than other people’s houses, or the way every family trip involved driving an extra two hours than it would have taken any normal person, or the I Spy game you played with your Nana for hours upon hours. This album is one of those things for me. When all is said and done, there isn’t much you get to keep. Friends, priorities, ambitions all shift in the space it takes to become an adult. You lose so much of what is important when you’re young to time and memory, but music is one of those things that stays with you.