NAT ‘KING’ COLE & NATALIE COLE / “Unforgettable”
For 13 months I was the Jackie Robinson of television. I was the pioneer, the test case, the Negro first....On my show rode the hopes and tears and dreams of millions of people....Once a week for 64 consecutive weeks I went to bat for these people. I sacrificed and drove myself. I plowed part of my salary back into the show. I turned down $500,000 in dates in order to be on the scene. I did everything I could to make the show a success. And what happened? After a trailblazing year that shattered all the old bugaboos about Negroes on TV, I found myself standing there with the bat on my shoulder. The men who dictate what Americans see and hear didn't want to play ball. —Nat King Cole http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/N/htmlN/natkingcole/natkingcole.htmSome people don’t much remember Nat 'King' Cole. Some people never really knew about him. But, once you really heard him, he was in a word: Unforgettable. Decades after his death, a miracle resurrection occurred. It was one of those odd quirks of fate, one of those things that is not supposed to happen, not supposed to work, but it does. A daughter revives her father’s memory by the use of modern technology. On paper this sounds like an ultimate ego trip or some shady producer’s morbid idea of how to milk a legend for all it’s worth. Natalie Cole re-recording her father’s music including a duet with her renowned progenitor. And what do they choose as the major track? Unforgettable. I, and I am sure thousands of other old heads, shuddered when we heard about the planned recording. What desecration. Talk about digging up the dead. But, give credit where credit is due, somehow this half-baked idea ended up being a success, a bold experiment that really, really worked. Indeed, it too was unforgettable. The only other thing I have to say is: thank you Nat 'King' Cole, not only for being a major force in the development of our music, but also for being a man, a Black man willing to face down white power at a time when lynching was an American sport. You are truly: unforgettable. —Kalamu ya Salaam A very classy recording
Back in ’91 when Elektra released the Unforgettable...With Love album, I was still working for Time-Warner’s music distribution division, WEA. (Elektra is the ‘E’ in WEA.) I don’t recall there being much talk about this record before it came out. At the time, Natalie Cole was in the process of resurrecting her career, but she was still chasing the under-thirty fanbase with uptempo pop-dance records while simultaneously courting older fans with ballads. She was enjoying a few hit records, but the comeback was tenuous. There’s only so long you can pretend to be a kid when you’re not. So when Unforgettable showed up in the new release books, we sales reps responding with something of a sigh. OK, we though, fine. Another halfway decent album that might sell, might not. We were about as wrong as wrong gets. I might be remembering this wrong, but Unforgettable (the song and the album) was a massive hit from the moment the song hit radio and the video hit TV. Every customer I had—even the little boutique-type shops—were ordering it by the box. And the thing about records that hit with adults is they don’t stop selling. When kids like a record, they have to have it NOW. They drop everything to get to the record store, or nowadays, to get online—they simply have to have it, and they have to have it now. Then, once they have it, they move on to the next thing. Adults are different. Even if they’re crazy about a record, they’re content to pick it up whenever they get the chance, whenever they happen to be going to the drycleaner’s or something and there’s a record store nearby. And, they don’t buy just one copy. If they really like a record, they’ll buy multiple copies and make gifts out of the extras. They’ll give it as Christmas presents, anniversary presents, just-because presents. They’ll tell their friends about the record years later and they won’t care if it’s popular on the charts or not. Anyway, Unforgettable sold and sold and sold until it was eventually certified 8X platinum (8 million copies sold). Pretty amazing, considering that Natalie Cole has never before or since had an album that even went double-platinum.
I never was crazy about the album or the song personally, a bit too syrupy for my tastes. Still, you'd have to be deaf not to hear that this very classy, very cool recording was going to be likeable to an awful lot of poeple. So I always thought it was strange that Natalie's old label, Capitol-EMI actually passed on Unforgettable and let Natalie leave the label to shop the project somewhere else. I was thinking, "How could they hear something so obviously hit-bound and pass on it?" The thing is, as Natalie explains here, it wasn't that the folks at Capitol heard "Unforgettable" and didn't like it. They never gave her the chance to make the record in the first place.
—Mtume ya Salaam
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