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This former Gap employee is on a quest to collect hundreds of in-store playlists

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It was the blistering summer of 1992 in Dallas, Texas. Michael Bise had just graduated from college, and he needed a job. He saw an ad in the paper for his local Gap store.

MICHAEL BISE: You know, it was just seasonal sales. I needed something.

SHAPIRO: Bise got the job, but he found something unexpected when he started.

BISE: That very first day, immediately, I was hit with the music.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROZALLA SONG, "LOVE BREAKDOWN")

BISE: Rozalla, "Love Breakdown" - that was the one that got me.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROZALLA SONG, "LOVE BREAKDOWN")

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

Bise is talking about the music that was playing over the speakers of that Dallas Gap store as the customers shopped. He had an ear for music. He was a DJ in college. But this carefully crafted mix of music was like nothing he'd heard before.

BISE: You know, classic R&B, and then it's followed by modern pop song and then followed by acid jazz and then trip hop or something.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAMB SONG, "COTTONWOOL")

FLORIDO: That music opened up Bise's world, and that first job turned into 15 years at Gap.

BISE: And so it's like, I found a career, but I probably wouldn't have stayed if it hadn't been as fun being there and listening. It was just drudgery. It would not have worked. I still have some of the best memories being in that store and learning how to do it all on my own. I'm serious. Those memories - the music brings all of it over.

SHAPIRO: Bise would collect the paper playlists that were posted in his break room each month and in Gap break rooms all across the country. The mixes were curated by an outside company Gap had hired.

FLORIDO: But to Bise, they were special - not only because the music was good, they also represented what was happening beyond the doors of Gap stores.

BISE: As the years went by, the tapes did seem to reflect what was going on in the country. There was a lot of experimentation at the beginning of the '90s. Then, you could, I mean, literally feel the change. And September 11, 2001, it was very, very somber. And, you know, that's how the country was. We felt it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BELIEVE")

LENNY KRAVITZ: (Singing) I am you, and you are me.

FLORIDO: A career change and a move meant he lost that stash of lists until 2010, when he found...

BISE: In the flap of a folder, there are about 24 Gap playlists.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEROES")

RONI SIZE AND REPRAZENT: (Singing) I don't know no heroes.

SHAPIRO: The hunt was on. Bise wanted to find every playlist from his years at Gap - 1992 to 2006. He started a blog where he posted the playlists he found and some that he simply remembered.

BISE: In January of 2017, I had an email from a guy in California, and he said, I think I have what you need.

(SOUNDBITE OF RONI SIZE AND REPRAZENT SONG, "HEROES")

FLORIDO: That former employee had playlists from 1993 through 2000. And the responses are still rolling in. Bise only has a few incomplete years of music left to find.

BISE: It's almost like doing a service because I have so many people tell me how much they enjoy it. And so, you know, even if I find 100% of everything I want, I'm always going to continue doing this.

SHAPIRO: Michael Bise, elementary school computer teacher and former Gap employee.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEROES")

RONI SIZE AND REPRAZENT: (Singing) Shidoobeedoo, beda, bedaii. Shidoobeedoo, da, down da down (ph). I don't know no heroes. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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